Digital trends at the International Science Festival Gothenburg

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Hello, Per Olof! During the International Science Festival you were on stage in Nordstan. What did you talk about?
– I spoke about digitisation from the perspective of logistics and transport, and how it will change our lives. I brought out three trends that I’m watching just now, and which I believe will come to play a major role in the future, regardless of what industry people are working in. The first trend is that we’re all on the way to becoming cyborgs.

Wait – cyborgs? What does that mean?
– A cyborg, or cybernetic organism, is a person who has been “upgraded” with the help of technology. A pacemaker is one example, and we could say that our smartphones are a step in that direction, even if they haven’t yet been surgically implanted. We’re getting better and better at interacting with the digital world around us. Now Google Glass is being launched, and in the not-too-distant future the phenomenon of augmented reality will be publicly available. If I have the possibility of projecting digital information directly into my field of vision with a pair of glasses or even contact lenses, it will affect a lot. Think of it: you not only have a GPS in your field of vision, but also information on where there are goods to be picked up and where you can synch up with other logistics flows.

That definitely sounds exciting! What are the other trends you’re watching?
– There’s 3-D printing, and that consumers are now starting to get the power to produce things themselves, things that previously might have been produced in another part of the world entirely. It’s developing at breakneck speed, and if it makes a major breakthrough we’ll see how even more products are transformed from analogue to digital. The music and film industries have already made this journey, and with 3-D printing, more physical objects could be replaced with digital drawings and raw material.

Vetenskapsfestivalen NordstanAnd the third trend?
– Digitisation in logistics and transport. At heart, transport is a physical, analogue activity. By digitising goods, vehicles, business processes and infrastructure, we create dashboards that can be treated like a digital copies of the physical reality. In many respects, it’s a question of managing digital information. There’s really not that big of a difference between sending an e-mail message and ordering home delivery for a new washing machine. The latter results in an obvious change in the physical world, but the transaction consists mainly of pure information management.

What was it like to stand and talk about these things in the middle of a crowded shopping centre?
– It was really fun, actually. Beforehand, I wondered if anyone would actually come and listen at 10 AM on a Friday, but they did. I appreciate that there were some 40-50 people of all ages there during my seminar.

Later that day, you took part in Science Roulette for the second year running – an event where each of the 42 gondolas in the Ferris wheel at Liseberg were staffed with a researcher who talked about their subjects. How did it feel to be part of that?
– Science Roulette is a really enjoyable event. Just like last year, I had a whole lot of fun. I got to meet three different groups and spent around 20 minutes with each of them on the Liseberg Ferris wheel where, with the help of my iPad and showing them things we could see from the air, I talked about the same trends I spoke on at Nordstan.

As if that weren’t enough, you talked about transport of the future at Pedagogen. Can you tell us about that?
– That’s right, I did. I was moderator at a seminar where I and three other Chalmers researchers presented different scenarios for the transport of the future. Anders Grauers from the Department of Signals and Systems talked about future personal transport in cities, Maria Lindholm from my own department – Technology Management and Economics – talked about future city logistics, and Frances Sprei from the Department of Energy and Environment talked about the cars of the future. I myself had a short lecture on global trends.

So, what do you think is best of all about the International Science Festival?
– It’s a fantastic meeting place where we researchers get the chance to meet committed people we might never otherwise have met. They actually take the time to come out and listen to what we have to say. I would really like to think that what we achieve during events like this will be seen in future applications to our courses at Chalmers. Science affects humanity and it is unbelievably important that both we as researchers and those outside the university are aware of that. What I can say is missing in general from the festival are live broadcasts of the seminars, and that’s something I hope for next year. Anyone who has a smartphone can, even today, start a live broadcast via, for example. Imagine if we’d been able to see, search, and afterwards watch all the seminars that were held during the festival!

Per Olof Arnäs
Technology Management and Economics
The International Science Festival Gothenburg

Photo: Private