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AI and ethics – event review part 2

May 23, 2018

This is the second of two blogposts by Huw Williams about the Law Society event on “AI and ethics”. The first covered the Opening Address by Lord Clement-Jones, and the Keynote Address by Professor Richard Susskind. This blogpost covers the three panel sessions and the closing remarks by Christina Blacklaws, Vice President of the Law Society.

The Opening Address gave a brief overview of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence’s report, in particular highlighting a recommended AI Code. Professor Susskind’s talk raised several issues of concern, notably whether there are “no-go zones” where AI systems should not be used, and the discussion raised a deep question of “whose ethics is it anyway?”

Susskind was followed by three panel sessions. The first panel addressed the question of how to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to AI.  The audience apparently represented a wide range of disciplines, not just lawyers, and the idea was that diversity of this kind was essential for any debate on ethics. The panel itself covered academia, consultancy, developers and government.

Issues raised included:

  • How to measure the performance of an AI system: are we content with a system which relies on a good average performance? Or are we concerned about its worst performance? Or its performance in non-standard cases? Maybe it depends on what the system does – occasional bad performance in film recommendations may be tolerable, whereas in cancer diagnosis it might not be.
  • The debate on AI should be conducted in language all could understand – quoting a Sun headline – it needs to be a comprehensive debate if it is to engender public trust.
  • How people in Japan appear to be more accepting of robot technology, even in personal care settings.
  • How the new AI Sector Dealoffers new opportunities for the service sector.

In the Q&A session, discussion covered:

  • how to help Boards and technologists communicate the risks and values; how to establish ethical review boards that engaged at the development stage;
  • how, given that AI systems are already out there, ethical development can keep up; the lack of transparency of the AI “black box” was seen as a major concern; how with a lack of transparency there at least needed to be accountability;
  • how ethics boards ought to be constituted – lawyers, technologists, consultants!

The second panel addressed the topic of the role of global standards and regulation. We could use the concepts of liability that apply to other products – had systems been developed with “reasonable care” and “due diligence”?  It was important that developers demonstrated that they had understood the data which the system used – to what extent was it biased?  What were its limitations eg when applied to different ethnic groups.  The IEEE has crowd-sourced the views of 250 “global thought experts” to produce guidelines for “ethically aligned design”, based on principles of human rights and wellbeing.

One panellist, Patricia Chrsitias of Microsoft, argued that their designs were based on “timeless values” of:

  • Fairness and diversity
  • Privacy
  • Safety and reliability (planning for unintended consequences)
  • Inclusivity; and,
  • Transparency and accountability.

The Q&A session soon challenged Christias’ view. Were there really universal, timeless values? This surely is a fundamental point – views on slavery, gay marriage and meat-eating will vary over time and between cultures.  If much AI development is done in China, does that mean that Chinese communist orthodoxy is intrinsically built-in? How would Jewish and Muslim traditions be accommodated in an AI coroner system?  Whose ethics do we give preference to?

Other questions covered:

  • Transparency: to what extent was it possible? Was it a fallacy anyway? Should the “editorial policies” of algorithms be as obvious as those of newspapers?
  • How can we ensure higher levels of digital literacy? A better understanding of the context of data?
  • Can we build greater values of responsible research? Would people be prepared to pay more for systems labelled “ethics inside” like they do for organic food?
  • Do we hold AI and people to the same standards? Or stricter ones?
  • Two developers were concerned that they were already providing AI systems which hadn’t been through any ethical vetting; we need to get on with this.

A key element of the response was the notion of “trustworthiness” – some sort of certification process like for airplanes – where probability of failure is not zero, but at an “acceptably” low level.

The final panel was chaired by Christina Blacklaws, the Law Society Vice-President and President-Elect. Its topic was “No-Go and Must-Go Zones” – are there any solid absolutes in this area?

AI ethics blog 2

The first panellist advocated a political process akin to Human Rights Treaties and  building ethics in to AI curricula, with professors in different countries adapting the courses to local cultures. Boards must be educated too; we needed certification bodies and regulators; and developing countries should be engaged too. She called for a Global AI Council, probably under the UN.  In other words it was a political discussion rather than a technical one.

Other panellists argued for:

  • “critical active engagement”, a combination and human and machine learning approaches, as a way of navigating differing ethical values
  • Transparency and open data – eg incentivised in some way. He challenged the assertion made earlier in the day that film and book recommendations were somehow of less concern – filtering news and cultural exposure led to self-reinforcing “bubbles”, reducing debate in society.
  • Current case law as a good base, more proactive regulators and “must-go” education – teach philosophy to primary school children.

Summing up the morning, Christina Blacklaws highlighted:

  • Multi-disciplinarity and inclusiveness: all views were needed
  • Trustworthiness: to avoid a public reaction like that to GM foods
  • Whose values, at what time? Only political debate could resolve that.

Congratulations to the Law Society for arranging such an intensive, intriguing and thought-provoking morning. Let’s hope that these initiatives and ideas are able to keep up with the pace of technological change. It’s clear the House of Lords report is just a first step in this process.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter here and/or browse our website


AI and ethics – event review

May 16, 2018

This is the first of two blogposts by Huw Williams about the Law Society event on “AI and ethics”. It covers the Opening Address by Lord Clement-Jones, and the Keynote Address by Professor Richard Susskind. The second blogpost will cover the three panel sessions and the closing remarks by Christina Blacklaws, Vice President of the Law Society.

At the end of April, the Law Society organised an “AI and ethics” event, hosted by Hogan Lovells in their modern lecture theatre in Holborn. The timing was very pertinent, as the previous day the Government had announced  an AI Sector Deal worth almost £1 billion, including almost £300 million of private sector investment and 1,000 new government funded AI PhDs. And a week earlier theHouse of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence  had published its report on AI, including some 78 recommendations.

The Opening Address in fact was given by Lord Clement-Jones, the chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on AI. In the time available, he wasn’t able to go into much detail about the report and its recommendations – we may review the full report in a future posting.  But he did stress that the UK was well-positioned to lead the debate on ethical AI, because of its history and contacts.  He argued that it was important not to stifle the development of novel AI systems through over-regulation, and so they were looking instead to ensure an ethical dimension in the actions of existing regulators, like Ofcom.  He also noted that AI systems were already operating, so there was no time to waste.


He spent much of his time covering a new recommended 5-point “AI Code” with the aim of it being adopted nationally, and internationally:

  1. Artificial intelligence should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity.
  2. Artificial intelligence should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness.
  3. Artificial intelligence should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities.
  4. All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.
  5. The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in artificial intelligence.

These sound very worthy and sensible points, but the more one looks into them, the more the difficulties emerge:

  1. In a capitalist system, how can one ensure “common good and benefit”?
  2. Artificial intelligence often lacks transparency (a point much debated later), so it may be hard to ensure intelligibility or guarantee fairness.
  3. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has already highlighted how hard it is to manage a sensible line on data privacy.
  4. Education is clearly a vital need, but will it be funded? Lifetime learning will be essential, as the world of work is transformed.
  5. Several automated weapon systems already exist. The Phalanx close-in weapons system, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, is essentially a large machine gun that can detect and automatically destroy anything coming its way.

The Keynote Address was given by Professor Richard Susskind, joint author with his son Daniel of the book “The future of the professions”.


He said that he would primarily concentrate on “narrow AI”, rather than “artificial general intelligence”, but even then significant developments are already happening. Commentators often over-state the impact of new technology in the short-term, but under-state it in the long-term (say 10 years for AI).  He stressed that in assessing which areas of human thinking AI could replace, people often argued that the human method of thinking could not be mimicked. However, all that is required is for the narrow AI system to achieve the same or better outcome.  An autonomous vehicle for example would not have a humanoid robot sitting at the driving wheel.

Furthermore, when you delve into experts’ explanations of why they took a decision, it often comes down to intuition or judgement – even they are not fully “transparent”. The AlphaGo system which beat the world Go champion made a move which experts thought at first was a mistake but in the end they described as “creative”. The inductive nature of machine learning makes transparent explanations impossible. And a narrow AI system doesn’t “know” anything – AlphaGo didn’t go out celebrating with friends after its win!

Turning to ethics and meta-ethics (how we build ethical systems), he said that ethics were “normative” (what oughtto be) rather than objective (what is).  Can anything be argued to be objectively right or wrong?

He ended with four concerns:

  1. a) Is there an existential threat to the human race from AI? Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have all suggested there could be. Susskind suggested reading Nick Bostrom’s book “Superintelligence” on the subject. Personally, he felt the possibility was very far off, but AI would have major disruptive societal effects well before then.
  2. b) Are there moral limits to decisions we should let AI systems make, even if they could?Would you want an AI doctor deciding to switch off a life support system? An AI judge passing a life sentence? A death sentence? How do we establish where the “no-go” areas are?
  3. c) What will happen to the future of work? Will change come so quickly that we face technological unemployment, or will enough new jobs be created to offset those lost?
  4. d) What effect will there be of AI ownership and control? Income will be a return to capital rather than labour, likely to increase societal inequality – it’s concentrated already, but will become more so. Does this call for new forms of re-distribution?

Being an optimist, Susskind suggested that new developments in the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, and the Nuffield Ada Lovelace Institutewould help us move towards some answers.

With a tight agenda, so there was only time for one question. An AI entrepreneur asked whether we needed to worry about AI-equivalents of Greenpeace resisting “progress”. Susskind replied that balanced sensible debate would make sure good ideas weren’t crowded out. To my mind, this highlighted a more fundamental question – whose ethics is it anyway?

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at



Four Grand Challenges and Megatrends

May 9, 2018

As part of its Industrial Strategy, the Government identified four “Grand Challenges to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future”. The aim is to build on the UK’s existing strengths and develop new ones through the collaboration of business, science and policy makers. In this note we explore how the twelve “megatrends”, identified by SAMI through its ongoing horizon scanning, will impact on these challenges.

The four Grand Challenges are:

  • Putting the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolution
  • Maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth
  • Become a world leader in shaping the future of mobility
  • Harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society

SAMI identified twelve complex inter-related megatrends, and categorised them using a standard Social, Technological, Environmental and Economic/Political approach.  Many of these are global trends and so may have varying levels of impact on the UK.


AI and the data revolution

Pervasive IT and the Internet of Things incorporating many more sensors will generate massive amounts of data. Big Data analytical tools will enhance our understanding, and machine learning/AI will come to respond and take decisions. Not only will developments spawn industries in their own right, they will radically change the structure of existing sectors, the pattern of employment and  skills requirements. The UK has many existing strengths, in microelectronics, cybersecurity, games, VR/AR, and the Government plan to set up an “Office for AI” to help build on these.

But this technological trend doesn’t exist in isolation. Some trends are supported and enhanced by AI and Big Data; others may have surprising outcomes. Developments in biotechnology will be significantly accelerated by such tools, the development of “smart” energy systems too,  and one would expect economic growth will benefit as well. AI and IoT offer the prospect of better health care and support for an ageing population.

But depending how they are exploited within the economic system, there is the potential for increased inequality and significant job disruption (though new jobs may be created they are likely to located in different places), challenging social cohesion, and potentially changing societal values. A Universal Basic Income has been suggested (even trialled) to address such disruption, but there remain significant problems with that concept.

The global trend to a multi-polar world means that many innovations in this field will not be made in the West, but in faster growth countries such as China and India.  Different motivations and values will underpin these innovations, which may not be readily apparent when AI algorithms are doing the reasoning.

Clean growth

With the Paris Agreement looking to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, there is significant stimulus globally for growth in clean energy technologies.  Various alternative energy sources are identified, though surprisingly perhaps solar isn’t touched on. Apart from the technologies themselves, and the links with AI and smart systems, perhaps the key megatrends affecting policies in this area are social cohesion and changing generational attitudes.  The latter is likely to encourage the deployment of new technologies, while the former could be a challenge if austerity policies continue.


The Government plans to build on the work of the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, the Transport Catapult, and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.  It seeks to put in place enabling legislations which will see Autonomous Vehicles (AV) on the roads by 2021, though many practical challenges remain.  The drivers of climate change and changing generational attitudes will stimulate the take-up of electric vehicles.  Changing attitudes to asset ownership (the “sharing economy”) may underpin a move towards “mobility as a service”. Similarly, the boundaries between public and private transport could blur, as one can summon a shared vehicle. Many commentators assume that AVs will lead to more car sharing, but this is not inevitable as the “car” could remain “My” space – my mobile office or living room – in the same way that people personalise the interiors of their cars today.

An ageing population may be made more mobile by AVs and other transport innovations. Increasing urbanisation would be expected to put more pressure on city transport systems, so smart city solutions will become increasingly important. In general, we can expect to see greater interaction between vehicles and the road network as a whole – eg AVs taking instructions from the centre as to which route to take to minimise congestion.

Biofuels, especially for marine transport, will become increasingly important.

Ageing population

The AI/data challenge and the mobility challenge will be major forces for providing innovative services to the ageing population. Biotechnology, with more gene-tailored medicine will also be powerful.

There are two distinct aspects of the challenge of an ageing population – health and finance.  An ageing population need not necessarily be an increased burden on the health service. Improved health monitoring and treatments may enable people to live healthily for longer.  Robotics can improve healthcare, though there could be an issue with their acceptance (conversely, some people may prefer intimate care to be done by a robot to avoid embarrassment).

Changing attitudes to healthy lifestyles will have an effect.  Today’s younger generation drink less and smoke less than their predecessors, so should have healthier outcomes; conversely, they suffer more obesity and diabetes, and mental health problems.  The key issue overall is the proportion of people’s lives when they are healthy.

Financial stresses will emerge unless there are changes to working lifetimes or perhaps the more radical UBI concept. The IMF projected in September 2006 that in Europe we will go from four workers per retiree to two workers per retiree by 2050.

What does this mean for you?

Both the opportunities from the Government’s challenges, and the uncertainties of the megatrends will affect most organisations.  If you would like to read our review of megatrends, or work through the implications for you, please contact us at

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

Set up by the University of St Andrews as the St Andrew’s Management Institute over 25 years ago, SAMI Consulting helps leaders and their organizations take robust decisions in uncertain times. Working with clients in business and government we explore key drivers of change and use a range of tools and techniques, such as scenario planning, to encourage understanding of how political, economic, societal, and technological forces will shape their future.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

The Future of International Institutions

May 2, 2018

The World Academy of Arts & Sciences is organising a Colloquium with organisations including the World University Consortium, and a number of academic institutions, in Paris in early May. The topic is “The Role and Impact of International Institutions on Economic Theory and Policy”. I am kicking it off with a talk on “The near future to 2030 and its potential impact on the role and impact of International Institutions on Economic Theory and Policy”. The abstract of the talk is as follows:

“Post World War II, UN-connected international institutions have been highly influential in developing economic theory and policy. In this paper we examine the global megatrends which are shaping the world in new directions and explore some of the implications for international institutions and economic policy.

We use the expression ‘megatrend’ to describe grand directions of travel in economic, social, political, technological or environmental spheres. Whilst the study of megatrends is a subset of foresight and scenario planning, the megatrends themselves inform national and company-sized foresight work, We have developed the ideas outlined in this paper in part through extensive work with global organisations  – they will be developed in more detail in Getting to 2032: Megatrends creating A Different World(Lustig, P and Ringland, G, Cambridge Scholarly Publishing, autumn 2018.

The world seems really chaotic at the moment.  As we write, headlines overturn many of our assumptions almost daily. How can thinking about megatrends help?

First, trends are not forecasts – they suggest directions of travel.

GR WAAS blog

What they do is to provide a framework. Sometimes it is hard to spot major changes as they unfold around us because they do not make headlines. However, these trends are happening now and have effects both now and in the longer term.

Megatrends have far-reaching implications for economic policy. For instance, digital technologies: the paper will build on discussions within the European Commission’s Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts Group. Their recent report argued that the advent of digital technologies is making science and innovation more open, collaborative and global, with clear implications for economic policy. Other megatrends – such as demographics, migration and inequality – also have clear implications for economic policy. Many of the trends constrain nation states and governments financially. And of course the trend away from the Washington consensus towards a multi-polar world is central to considering the future of international institutions.

The overall net effect by 2032 is likely to be the reduced funding of international institutions, due to a multi-polar international environment and the decreased ability of nation states to contribute – as they wrestle with shrinking revenues and unmet demands from their populations. We conclude by asking how this will affect economic policies by 2032.”

The colloquium promises to be a fascinating three days, with contributions from across the globe and based on analysis of a range of international and transnational organisations.

I will blog again after the colloquium.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

Set up by the University of St Andrews as the St Andrew’s Management Institute over 25 years ago, SAMI Consulting helps leaders and their organizations take robust decisions in uncertain times. We work with clients in business and government to explore the key drivers of change and use a range of tools and techniques, such as scenario planning, to help clients understand how political, economic, societal, and technological forces will shape their future.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures – review

April 25, 2018

The Museum of London’s “London Visions: Exaggerated realities for possible futures” event ended recently.  Its deliberately over-the-top visions were intended as scenarios of the future to provoke discussion and stimulate imagination.  Although exaggerated, these visions are grounded in today’s realities, rather than being wild fantasies.  The curator sought to avoid dystopian or utopian views, instead aiming to identify what adaptations to our way of living each scenario might require.

“Flooded London” takes the current trends of climate change and rising sea-levels and envisages much of the current city underwater. But rather than regard this as a disaster, the vision sees it as a tranquil scene to be enjoyed. A man is pictured rowing into St Paul’s cathedral, and treating it as a swimming pool.  Personally, I don’t think this vision was worked through enough – the ramifications are massive, even if one does look for the upsides.

“Endless vertical London” considers the forecast of 13 million people in London by 2050 and asks how they might be housed. The response is a skyscraper that can be extended upwards without limit because of its spiral construction, and house the whole population of the city. It would contain its own ecosystems to support the occupants.  This contrasts with another vision called “Megalomania” (though it’s not clear to me why) which sees the city endlessly being re-developed, buildings being replaced before they’re completed, the city as a never-ending building site – as I looked around the City afterwards, it seemed that was a very plausible scenario!  Another high density scenario imagined widespread use of autonomous vehicles, which led to reduced need for roads, and the creation of more green spaces.

Another scenario looked at how the development of AI and robotics might play out. It described a fictional company called Farsight which created work environments that were fun – called “playwork”. These places would be so much fun that the issue of work/life balance doesn’t arise, it was all “funemployment”. Interestingly, it acknowledges this might not suit the shy, anti-social or recently bereaved.

A separate part of the exhibition featured the results of a hyper-local social radio project in one tower block in Finsbury Park.  This enabled people to share their views on their locality and their wishes for the future of the city.

Overall, I’m afraid I don’t think the exhibition achieved what it might have done.  The exhibits were all well produced and attractively presented, but I found little emotional resonance; I didn’t get a real feeling of what it would be like living in that world. The concept of taking a known trend and exaggerating it sounded exciting, but the visions produced weren’t worked through enough – what would my home look like, how would I travel, what would work be?

When SAMI produces scenarios for clients we put particular emphasis on how people would behave. Illustrating the scenario with news headlines is another way of capturing the feel of a new world. We often produce “a day in the life of…”  word-pictures, or actual cartoons to capture the challenges and novelty of different potential worlds.  It is essential that the scenario, no matter how different or challenging, continues to feel like a real world, with all its complications and difficulties.

JR's scenario picture

We run training courses on scenario building – if you are interested please contact

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at  and/or browse our website at

“Not all who wander are lost”

April 18, 2018


Dr John Carney, Principal Scientist in the Systems Thinking and Consulting Group of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) recently wrote a blog on the Foresight section of the Government Office for Science website – “Ten Commandments of Horizon Scanning”. In this he sought to capture the critical factors for successful Horizon Scanning (HS) in a UK Government Department.  I’d say the lessons apply to HS for all organisations and are useful to practitioners and clients alike.

He points out that the term “Horizon Scanning” itself has a range of interpretations, and so a critical first thing to establish between practitioner and client is an actual definition and clarity of scope. In work that SAMI Consulting has done for Government clients, the term has been used to mean anything between “technology watch” and full scenario planning.

Clients need to understand early on that HS is not forecasting or prediction. Sometimes clients ask “what is your track record in getting your scenarios right?”  This misses the point: HS is aiming to bring new perceptions, to challenge set world-views and assumptions, and to open up strategy or policy-making to more options.  To achieve that you need to be looking in different places from the usual subject-matter sources, trying to find the novel and surprising “unasked questions”. “Not all who wander are lost” (attributed to JRR Tolkein).

In our experience, it’s also necessary to encourage scanning beyond the technology developments of the day.  AI, Big Data and the Internet of Things will of course have major impacts on almost every organisation, but they are not the only significant forces around – changing generational values, new economic structures, unstable geo-politics will all have profound impacts on the future.

Also, we’d argue that one needs to consider second- and third-order effects. A tool called “Futures Wheel”can be used to systematically explore these effects by explicitly identifying each effect and its further consequences. For example, climate change will have many effects, but if it leads to more efficient non-fossil fuel energy sources, what impact will that have on the economics and stability of oil-rich states? And then on migration and energy demand?  Especially if at the same time there is increased competition for scarce natural resources like water.

Dr Carney makes several very good points about the organisation and processes of HS.  You need a champion or sponsor; the need to retain scientific credibility (some, but not too many, wacky ideas);  the difficulties of being in a “challenge” function, conveying unpalatable views; sustaining the team.

We saw this last point ourselves when we worked with the Futures Council of Conference Board Europe. This was a group of futurists set up with over 30 members from companies across Europe. Five years later only six were still in the role – half the others had gone back to a line role, the rest became consultants focusing on foresight and futures. Sitting in the middle is hard.

Have a read of Dr Carney’s “Ten Commandments” – and let us know what you think.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

What might be the future for the sea?

April 11, 2018

Huw Williams, SAMI Principal, reviews a report from the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Foresight Future of the Sea.


The Government Office for Science Foresight team published this report in March. It looks to suggest a new strategic direction to UK marine and maritime policy, in particular to seize opportunities and avoid strategic threats.

The report points out that the sea matters to UK because of the economic effects both on established sectors (eg fishing, oil and gas) and emerging ones (eg aquaculture, off-shore wind); and environmental effects (biodiversity and ecosystems). They also focus on governance (eg international treaties). It argues that the UK can seize new opportunities because of its historically strong marine and scientific capabilities, and that “business as usual” is not an option (it didn’t actually say why, but it would have been surprising if it said it was!).

The report makes many recommendations for policy action, but in this note I have focused more on the trends it identifies. SAMI itself has produced a set of 12 “megatrends” (email for a copy) and it’s interesting to compare those with what Go-Science have come up with.

At a top level they suggest that:

  • New technology, such as autonomous vessels, will open up new areas for exploration and exploitation, and increased trade will make the oceans busier;
  • A growing world population will put pressure on resources;
  • Climate change will impact both industry and communities.

Looking in more detail, the report uses a STEEP approach to identify trends:

  • Social: Population growth and consequent resource demand; the impact  of an ageing population on workforce and coastal communities “where people are on average older than in the rest of the UK”; global migration to the coast as a result of urbanisation – 12 of the world’s largest 16 cities are within 100km of the sea. The SAMI megatrends also identified changing generational values as an interesting trend, which in this context could translate into greater environmental awareness and willingness to act.
  • Technology: Autonomous vessels and AI will enable a better understanding of the sea’s potential, make exploration of the deep sea easier and also improve monitoring of the marine environment and illegal activities; as will improved satellite communications (we would argue that the Internet of Things plays in to this too); cybersecurity will be an issue here too; biotech will open up new “marine genetic resources”; alternative fuels are being developed to help reduce carbon emissions; AI will also impact the skills requirements for the maritime industries.
  • Environment: Clearly climate change is a major issue but more immediately so is over-exploitation – fish stocks are under threat with over 30% being fished unsustainably, creating opportunities for aquaculture (fish farming in plain English); ocean warming is leading to a decline in cold-water species and changing patterns of fish distribution; sea levels are forecast to rise by up to a metre by 2100 impacting coastal communities and infrastructure; the sea is become more acid and algae blooms are leading to de-oxidisation; pollution from plastics (expected to treble by 2025) and chemicals continues to increase; there could be an effect on carbon sequestration, which to date has absorbed much of the anthropogenic carbon emissions.
  • Economics: The report notes OECD expectations of growth in the “ocean economy” eg in trade and offshore wind power, and growing reliance on the sea for resources ; there may be a decline in some UK industries (eg offshore oil and gas) and disparities between regions; overall they expect to see more seaborne trade and the emergence of new sectors such as deep-sea mining and offshore renewable energy (wind, wave and tidal).
  • Politics: Brexit, and what follows the Common Fisheries Policy and its impact on trade patterns, represents an opportunity for a “Global Britain” to take a lead in international maritime organisations; the increasing value of marine resources may increase potential geo-political conflict eg in the South China Sea or Eastern Mediterranean; political instability may be caused by extreme flooding and the failure of economies based on fishing. Wider geo-political issues which we’ve identified, such as challenges to international co-operation and the rise of other economies are, perhaps understandably, missing.

As to the implications of these trends, the report takes an upbeat view for the UK, arguing that is uniquely positioned to lead because of its historical position. It calls for an Industrial Strategy that features the “ocean economy” and, through appropriate support for marine science policy and certain emerging sectors, maximises the UK strengths in areas like offshore wind power and marine insurance.

The report makes some 16 different recommendations, the first and most fundamental being that “The UK should develop a more strategic position, with clear priorities, with regards to its marine interests”. No surprise there. Generally, the recommendations focus on ways for the UK to exploit commercial opportunities, manage environmental challenges, and take a leading position in international governance bodies.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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