Dr Keith Suter is a long-term resident of Potts Point, and one of Australia’s leading commentators on foreign affairs and global politics.
Keith is a global futurist, has three doctorates in international law and guerilla warfare, the social and economic consequences of the arms race, and scenario planning. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to international relations and to the Uniting Church in Australia. He’s one influential and extremely busy man, and I was fortunate enough to catch up with Keith for a Q&A.
We bump into each other on Macleay Street all the time, Keith, and you’re a well known local. But the other morning I saw you on Sunrise!
Ah yes, there is never a shortage of foreign affairs issues to discuss with Kochie and the Sunrise team.
Look, I’m sure you get this all the time, Keith, but can you explain what exactly a global futurist does?
Well, we are all futurists really. We plan what we’re going to do on the weekend, what we’ll have for dinner.
But I like to explain futurism in three parts. The first part is prediction.
Back in the 1960s, an engineer called Gordon Moore – who went on to become co-founder of Intel – predicted the number of transistor elements that could fit onto a single microchip would double every 18 months to 2 years.
‘Moore’s Law’ predicted the doubling power of computers, and it still rings true to this day. I mean, we know how infinitely more powerful our smartphones are compared to the computers that sent rockets to the moon, right?
So, are you talking about exponential growth here Keith?
Yes. There’s a famous story of an Emperor who was so delighted with this new game called chess, he asked the inventor what he would like as a reward. The chessboard has 64 squares, and the inventor asked for one grain of rice for the first square, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third, eight for the fourth and so on. That’s 63 doublings.
Now, if the Emperor had honoured his promise, he would have needed to plant the entire surface of the earth twice over, including the oceans, to produce enough rice.
In terms of computer power, we are about halfway through the chessboard…and there are more extraordinary and dramatic changes yet to come.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that the ‘year of singularity’ will occur in 2045. This is the point at which computer intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Which takes us to the next question… What will computers do when they have superior intelligence to us? How will they treat humans? Will we become their pets? It’s fascinating stuff!
Hang on Keith, this is starting to mess with my head.
Well, these are challenging things to get your head around, Jason. And this is what futurists do – we highlight the issues that, as humans, we are going to need to come to grips with in the future.
Right, what’s the second part of futurism?
The second part of futurism is preferred vision. In other words, what you’d like to see happen in the future.
In his famous 1962 speech, President Kennedy envisioned sending humans to the moon among other things, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills…”. Kennedy’s preferred vision of human endeavour became reality in 1969.
Preferred vision in the context of business is often referred to as Blue Ocean thinking. In business, Red Ocean thinking is mostly about how to beat the competition and grow business by cutting costs. But we know that you can’t grow anything by getting smaller. On the other hand, Blue Ocean thinking is about making the competition irrelevant by creating new markets, and new growth.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s always great to hear your business tips, Keith. So, what’s the third part of futurism?
The third part of futurism is scenario planning. This is where futurists urge people to get out of their comfort zone – to think about the unthinkable.
We’re living in a period of rapid change. Many things we have taken for granted are changing. But some things remain the same. The challenge is to be prepared for the changes and continuations.
I could talk about this for hours, Jason.
OK, maybe it’s time to pivot, Keith. You’ve lived in Potts Point for more than 30 years. What do you love about this area, and what changes have you seen over that time?
Well, as you know Jason, I live on Macleay Street, in a wonderful old building.
This area was always very diverse with a real bohemian feel. Many colourful characters have lived in Potts Point over the decades including notorious businessman Abe Saffron, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, publisher Sydney Ure Smith and activist Juanita Neilsen. There were definitely some gangster elements to Potts Point in the early days, but it has become a highly-prized and very live-able suburb of Sydney. I love it!
Oh, I do too! To finish Keith, what are your favourite haunts here in Potts Point?
Well, unlike a lot of people in the area, I’m not a foodie at all. I remain a true Englishman at heart and I love simple, filling food. I love Maggie’s restaurant for a schnitzel, or a hearty goulash and Ollie’s Kitchen for the shepherd’s pie. And you can’t go past Piccolo Bar for a coffee!
Great! Thanks for such an interesting Q&A, Keith. See you soon for a coffee at Piccolo Bar.
An absolute pleasure to chat, Jason.