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Study: Biodigital future scenarios

Shifting the boundaries
of technology and biology

Client

BMBF (Future Office of the Strategic Perspective)

Year

2022

Partner

Z_punkt


Around the world, actors are already researching combinations of biological and technological systems. Many things that were previously unimaginable have since become a part of everyday life – neuroprosthetics, artificial organs, biocomputers, smart wearables, or cell research to produce artificial meat. The boundaries between biology and technology are increasingly dissolving. This blurring of lines is not a new phenomenon, but more recently there is a new dimension emerging with increasing numbers of companies developing products and solutions for this area. The combination of biological and technological systems is increasingly aimed at a mutual fusion.

The distribution and use, and thus the future dynamics of borderless technologies, requires an understanding of the future we want to live in.

Data protection and cyber security, the controllability of technologies as well as the – intentional or unintentional – external control of living beings, are central points for the necessary social discourse.

For our client, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), a Prognos team of foresight experts, together with Z_punkt, investigated how these new opportunities could impact the future. Current technological and societal developments that could contribute to the dissolution of the boundaries between biology and technology were illuminated.

For this purpose, six scenarios were created: For which areas of life could these technologies be used in the future? And what might people’s everyday lives look like as a result?

Application scenarios for the 2030s

The consequences of dissolving the boundaries between biology and technology were reflected in six application scenarios. They show a broad spectrum of boundary removal dynamics. But there are also elements that are consistent in all scenarios:

  • Advanced forms of digital androids, smart wearables, and comfortable exoskeletons are used in all application scenarios. Digital androids and smart wearables are already widely used today. Exoskeletons, on the other hand, have only occasional, niche applications.
  • In the future, biohybrids, living materials, and biosensors will become equally important. They are used in five of the six application scenarios. They play an important role, in particular, for facing critical environmental and energy challenges, for example, in increasing the energy efficiency of processes or reducing the emission of pollutants.
  • In addition to the environment and energy, health and work are the most important fields of application for the delimitation of the technologies across the scenarios. In this context, they bring a significant increase in control, comfort, and physical and mental relief.
  • The more the boundaries of a technology are dissolved, the greater the challenges associated with its use. The handling of this and the question of whether a technology is approved or socially accepted varies from scenario to scenario. The economic situation and the political environment within the respective scenario have a major influence on this. The boundary removal could take place primarily in the areas of health and the environment, but its development perspective is characterised by longer development times and challenges.

Links and downloads

Read study (PDF, in German)

More about our work in the Foresight process

Project team: Cordula Klaus, Lennart Galdiga, Jonathan-Aton Talamo (Prognos), Christian Grünwald, Max Irmer, Julian Sachs (Z_punkt)

Frequent questions about the Foresight process and methodology

What is foresight and how is it different from a forecast?

Foresight describes the future space of what is possible whereas forecasts make concrete predictions.

Strategic foresight is intended to describe and analyse possible futures on the basis of different methods (qualitatively and quantitatively). The key question is: What could the future look like? In a forecast, on the other hand, a fixed anticipated state of the future is described on the basis of current framework conditions: What will the future look like? Foresight is long-term and asks, for example, how technological or climatic changes might affect our daily lives.

What is a scenario in this context, and how is it different from scenarios in other research work?

Scenarios describe possible futures that take already recognisable development paths as well as taking into consideration disruptive (= erratic) events and possible trend breaks. The development of scenarios is based on established and recognised methods and has an important field of application as an instrument of policy and strategy advice. The scenarios are based on an expert-based, qualitative approach based on pre-identified key factors. In the self-conception of strategic foresight, the scenarios are intended to describe a wide range of possible realities.

 

What can be achieved by scenarios?

Scenarios are intended to provide impetus for public discourse on selected future topics.

The scenarios developed in the BMBF's Strategic Foresight process are exploratory and describe a wide range of possible future (societal) realities. Above all, they help us to deal with different conceivable worlds and to examine them with regard to their social, but also economic and political consequences.

What are the value added and strengths of this method?

It is precisely the sharpening of the individual lines of development or social phenomena that open up new political perspectives. This encourages breaking away from established paths and opens up new avenues of forward-looking policy making. Individual scenarios are not prioritised and evaluated in terms of their desirability. They are intended to provide impulses for discussion and to contribute to social discourse. Research and education policy in particular will need to be brave enough to deal with various and sometimes uncomfortable issues.

What can and should a scenario methodology not do?

Scenarios are not predictions of the future and do not exclude options that may for whatever reason be less desirable. 

 

What are the results and where can I find this information?

The results are regularly presented on the project website (vorausschau.de):   https://www.vorausschau.de/vorausschau/de/home/home_node.html#WasBringtDieZukunft.

In the first study “Future of the Values of the People in our Country,” the main influencing factors for the development of social values were first identified and systematised. In a second step, six scenarios were developed that describe different societal futures. In doing this it became apparent that different groups of values can dominate in these futures. Based on this, questions of openness to the use of technologies, the strength of solidarity forces in society, or the preferred economic model, can be discussed and reflected in the various scenarios. For policy making, this means deliberately dealing with different development options. 

Do you have questions?

Your contact at Prognos

Dr Elena Aminova

Project Manager

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Michael Astor

Partner, Director

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