Tech Disruptions Brought to the Table

A team from Imperial College London wanted to create a tool to stimulate a discussion around the technologies and their impact on individuals and societies.

A team from Imperial College London wanted to create a tool to stimulate a discussion around the technologies and their impact on individuals and societies.

PATTERNED loosely after the framework of the Periodic Table of Elements, Imperial College London’s Table of Disruptive Technologies may generate some future-oriented water cooler banter that may lead to real-world applications for the disruptions cited.

The idea for such a “disruptive” table stems from some casual conversations among members of the Tech Foresight Team at Imperial College (imperialtechforesight.com), especially Anna Cupani, stakeholder engagement manager of the William Penney Laboratory—Data Science Institute at the Imperial College London (ICL), and futurist in residence at ICL, Richard Watson. 

The Tech Foresight team had completed a project on the future of water and happed upon “disruptive” technologies. 

“The adjective sounded a bit too vague and too much of a buzzword, so we started discussing [it],” Cupani recalls.

Such a discussion aligns with the vision of the Tech Foresight team, which exists to help companies and organizations “be prepared for change and have the tools and the skills to respond to change or to be the change they want,” Cupani says. So she and the team set out to determine whether Imperial College could add some research-supported insight to the “disruptive technologies” scene. 

The goal? Identify how to organize these technologies in “a meaningful and easily accessible way for outsiders.”

She and Watson envisioned a visual to represent their findings. A chemist at heart, Cupani gravitated to the idea of a table that roughly resembled the Periodic Table of Elements. “Instead of metal/non metal/transition elements we grouped the technologies in short-, medium- and long-term impact, which is where the colors originated,” she says.

As the table took shape, the team consulted academics at Imperial College with expertise in fields such as energy, robotics, computing and bioengineering to comment on what was missing or out of place and why, according to Cupani. 

“All of them … spent their precious time giving me their opinion and discussing why they thought certain technologies are still too far ahead despite the hype and why others are not discussed much but may have a massive impact,” Cupani says.

Informed Opinion, Not Science

She adds a caveat: “I should stress that the way this Table came to life is quite different from the way scientists operate. The scientific method is based on hypothesis verified through tests and experiments, but we could not use it here, for obvious reasons given the topic.” 

Cupani wanted to create a tool to stimulate a discussion around the technologies and their impact on individuals and societies. The researchers also dared to be provocative and make hypotheses that may turn out completely wrong, she notes. 

Technologies in this table (see page 12) “give an insight on what humanity is searching for, what unaddressed needs we are exploring and what ultimately makes our life meaningful,” Cupani adds.

To view the table, click on Imperial College London's PDF here.

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