Skip to main content


If we only iterate away from pain, how will we design let alone move towards a better future? This post explores the necessity of collectively exploring potential future states for how we live as individuals, organisations and community, so we can work towards something meaningful. Otherwise we run the risk of simply recreating the past with shiny new things. It covers some work we are doing to explore optimistic futures.

See the Optimistic Futures for 2070 event happening this week for alterative ideas about the future, with the intent to explore what is possible, from which we can reverse engineer how the systems of today need to evolve to enable optimistic futures for New Zealand Aotearoa.

Optimistic future virtual reality experience

The Service Innovation team has created a Virtual Reality (VR) personal experience of ‘a day in the life of’ in 2070, which will be on display at the D5 Showcase this week. This video represents the VR experience. See the walkthrough below for a text decription of the video.

Exploring the future

In the Service Innovation Lab we have identified three systemic challenges around vision that impede the design and delivery of better public services.

Firstly, most people are designing to address problems or pain points, not explore opportunities. This becomes a largely retrospective and normative activity which often reinforces the status quo systems and assumptions.

Secondly, people tend to design and deliver based on what they know, so we often end up with better websites and “apps” rather than holistic services that can support multiple channels as they emerge. Often channels, products and services as terms are used interchangeably, and the result is that people often design better single-channel products without purpose, rather than better services or experiences for people.

Finally, we need a vision of the future that both agencies and those outside of government buy into. There are many ideas, principles, and concepts, and we are working towards a unified digital strategy, however a common vision needs to be entrenched to give everyone something to aim towards. Then we can start reimagining the future together.

Whilst we know a Digital Strategy will be developed by the new CTO (Chief Technology Officer), we wanted to kick off 2018 with a call to action for everyone to imagine and discuss optimistic futures. We would love to explore with you all the sorts of future you WANT to work towards, and in doing so, perhaps we could then consider the role of government in enabling such futures rather than just building for the present.

This activity is especially useful in New Zealand now, because this week we are hosting the Digital 5 (D5) and will have the world’s leading digital nations looking at what we are doing. If we can challenge and reimagine the future, not only could we improve the lives of New Zealanders, but we could help start an international conversation about what “digital government” could mean, and the opportunities for citizens and society.

In our Service Innovation team, we are continually exploring the art of the possible. We did some early work on “future modes of service delivery” based on user research and feedback. We are also taking current research about emerging technologies, trends and user expectations to create a Virtual Reality (VR) personal experience of ‘a day in the life of’ in 2070. The VR experience will be on display at the D5 Showcase this week, as well as available for download and as a video, and we hope it is a useful contribution to reimagining life in the future, and the role of government therein. Please find the video below, the video explanatory text and transcript at the bottom of this post (we want to encourage you to experience it before reading the transcript and supporting information), and we will link to a downloadable app for Androids to check it out with Google Glass or other droid VR options.

See below to read the walkthrough of the experience with explanations, but we recommend you don't read it before having the experience either in person or by watching the video above.

We are also working with InternetNZ and Victoria University of Wellington (Victoria Business School) on an upcoming open event in Wellington, during the D5 week, to present and discuss alternate optimistic futures in 2070, and explore the potential roles of government in future.

A key goal for this VR work is to have the huge technology and social/economic shifts almost just background noise to the user experience, not a key focus, so those who experience it hopefully walk away and continue to consider possibilities. Let’s call that the “William Gibson effect”. It was also a handy way for us to explore the implications and opportunities for government with Virtual and Augmented Reality. For more infromation about the possible uses of VR and AR see the presentations from our Emerging Tech session on VR/AR.

For our optimistic future VR experience we had a small but diverse number of people throw ideas in the ring. The key concepts we wanted to explore and integrate included:

  • Personal empowerment - individual control, active and seamless engagement in the system that affects them, a personal Artificial Intelligence (AI) tethered to the individual to help navigate the world (not provided by anyone, but a personal helper like how we currently have personal cars or phones), digital inclusion through personal empowerment.
  • User control - over personal data and experiences, realtime support to make better choices, enablement, dialing up or down the “helpfulness” of government, predictive analytics to help understand consequences to self, to business and community.
  • Participatory democracy - direct participation in policy, budgeting, open source, open models/data, media (a automatic “truthiness” checker), digital legislation/regulation, co-design and real time feedback to policy and laws, actively funded civic participation, explicit digital rights, the role of libraries and community hubs combined with 3D printers for anything from goods to medicine, predictive analytics.
  • Emerging technologies/trends - Internet of Things (IoT)/sensors, blockchain, AI and machine learning, transhumanism, openness, exoskeletons, self driving vehicles and drones, localised agriculture, emerging identity concepts, VR, Augmented Reality (AR).
  • We are also explicitly including a New Zealand context with integration of Māori culture, language, disability/ability and ethics into the story.

Also check out the future papers from government departments on our Service Innovation Toolkit.

Māori perspective integration

We started out considering the Te Whare Tapa Whā (four cornerstones of Māori health) to see whether we could create four day to day interactions of each pillar. Each experience was guided by this, but it didn’t end up quite matching to all four which we felt was also fine as that was one philosophy to take from. This model was developed by Sir Mason DurieMalcolm Mullholand, who contributed to our VR experience, worked under Sir Mason Durie during this research.

We wanted to make sure that Māori culture was naturally integrated into the everyday activities to ensure the culture is not lost, but held up through generations. Through the script we ensured that Te Reo is dually used where appropriate. We are also considering a full Te Reo version.

We also considered the Māori sustainable development model with the quadruple bottom line of social, cultural, environmental, and economic stability. This was thought about through the whole experience.

The heitiki symbol is used as the AI character within out VR experience. Tiki represents fertility - ‘There are several opinions but the most accepted are that tiki stands for fertility, the frequently occurring hands placed on the loins is a direct reference to fertility. Tiki is a good luck charm meant to keep evil spirits away. Other theories state that tiki represents the human embryo, or the Māori god Tiki who was considered responsible for the creation of life.’ - This information is considered to be mātauranga Māori, which varies from region to region within Aotearoa and the Pacific.

Intergenerational / long term planning e.g. 150 year goals - this was subtly weaved throughout, but is most obvious in the business grant scene and then tax allocation scene.

Connecting each individual with the land they are from is simply represented through the mountain, river etc. This is shown in the tax allocation section.

When considering the hand replacement we explored what this might mean for Māori. We looked at the sacredness of the body and that it should not be tainted, but we also explored the discussion of the right to choose how you ‘govern or own’ your life choices. However, we respect that from the Māori perspective the individual rights become secondary to that of the greater collective. We ended up going the more simple route of using Te Reo to name the choices.

Walkthrough of VR experience video

This is the full experience walkthrough of the video above. It includes some notation on the emerging tech, trends and ideas embedded throughout in brackets. The story and experiences therein are not meant to cover everything possible, and not to be prescriptive of the future, but rather a conversation starter for optimistic futures.

Opening Scene

You find yourself in a wide open space under a blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. Looking around you can see a grey contraption with a red lever on it. A souvenir heitiki floats over your left arm. It begins speaking in a voice that is upbeat, efficient, compassionate and occasionally cheeky.

"Kia ora! Welcome to Exploring Optimistic Futures!

"I’m your personal AI helper here to guide you. First you have some choices to make. If you look at your left hand, your wrist bit is showing options for tailoring my appearance to your tastes."

(This concept is the idea of personal AIs that are tethered to the individual, not provided by government or companies to serve the interests of anyone outside the individual. The perfect user centred service!)

Push and hold your right hand over each button to see me in Pounamu (greenstone), Wheua (bone) or Rakau (wood).

"Great job! You’ll have options like this throughout the experience and now you know how to view them.

"To select an option, you simply push and hold the button down on it, then squeeze the trigger on the controller.

"Let’s try out your new skills by selecting how you’d like me to sound. If you prefer this voice (female voice), select the yellow button by holding on the button and squeezing the trigger again. If you prefer this voice (male voice), select the purple button.


"Ok, you’ve got it!"

When you’re ready to begin, walk over to the lever, reach out and touch the handle, squeeze the trigger, and pull the lever down.

"Here we go!"

Scene 1 - Education

"Maranga mai, wakey wakey my friend!

"Great idea to have a power nap on the way here. Digital GP shows you’re now 65% more alert, which is great coz it’s time for class.

"Take a moment to look around at the university of the future!"

Helper hops out of the way to let you get a good look at the classroom, resembling a lovely green, tree-lined park with a curiously traditional teachers’ desk placed under a large and beautiful tree (of knowledge). She’s standing beside it running a rather unusual looking lesson. Helper explains.

"If you’re wondering what that group is up to, they’re exploring economic paradigms via the medium of dance. Miss Robinson is an award winning economist and used to be a competitive breakdancer. She’s 138 but still got the moves!"

You stare in amazement as the older woman pops and locks like a teenager.

(There are a few interesting concepts here, including alternative education concepts, the implied longer life of modern medicine, multi-discplinary approaches to complex challenges and learning modes.)

"Anyway the simulator’s ready so let’s go. Walk through the portal to start."

A glowing portal has appeared in front of you. You reach out and walk through it.

"The strategy simulator uploaded details of your business so you can model options for using the grant you were awarded yesterday."

Scene 2 - Business

You’re transported to an empty room. A floating city block has appeared, hovering in the space, like a 3d board game or a pop up book. It’s a neighborhood of the future with a large civic centre/library/communal kitchen, an open source innovation lab, open air school, synthetic butchery. You can spin the board to view the city from different angles.

Connected to the board are three watering cans labelled Premises, People, and Sustainability. As you reach out and grasp one, the board glows. Your helper explains.

"So you earned 200k for being one of New Zealand’s most sustainable businesses in 2070. Use the watering cans to invest portions of the grant and you’ll see the potential outcomes."

You can pick up a watering can by squeezing the trigger. Then pour it over the corresponding area of the city to see the potential impacts of your choice.

You can also rotate the city for a different perspective or to reach other areas with your watering can.

You pour one container onto Sustainability. Wind turbines and solar panels appear.

"Looking good. Stats New Zealand says your net positive impact on the CBD would be in the top 10 percent of all local pakihi. That's business in Te Reo."

You pour a second container onto Premises and the building doubles in height.

"Vertical community gardens have helped enormously with nutritional equality in the city while also beautifying the place."

You pour onto People next, and suddenly vertical gardens appear up the walls of the high rise buildings.

"Congrats again on the award. It was based on predictive analytics from your business’s growth and development numbers that you shared last week."

"Okay, that's a great start. We can use the learnings to make actual decisions about spending the grant next time."

"Looking good. Stats New Zealand says your net positive impact on the CBD would be in the top ten percent of local pakihi, that’s business in te reo."

"The outcomes of your choices for last month's tax allocations in your turangawaewae or "place of connection" have been very positive also."

"Nice work with the solar panels, you’ve helped the country maintain it’s 100% renewable energy rating."

You look around the board, admiring what you have created.

(This concept explores proactive grants based on business behaviour, real time modelling of impact of investments to support anyone from small businesses to departments in planning, realistic impact not just economically but on communities and society as well as personal impact. It also introduces abstraction for the purpose of planning and understanding impact.)

"Ok, that’s a great start. We can use the learnings to make actual decisions about spending your grant next time.

"The outcomes of your choices for last month’s tax allocations in your turangawaewae or “place of connection” have been very positive also. Let’s head over there and tax-tag some more initiatives. Choose how we travel using the Wrist Bit on your arm."

Beside the helper three buttons appear - hover bicycle - drone taxi - exoskeleton. Underneath each option are their estimated travel times, average emissions, and health benefit ratings.

"Ooooh hover bikes and drone taxis are fun, but you gotta lovvve that exoskeleton. So slimming on you."

When you’re ready to select how you want to travel, push and hold on the button, then squeeze the trigger.

(This neatly covers participatory democracy where people direct a proportion of their taxes directly, where travel modes are weighed up for benefits, and again, a personal AI supporting the individual to make meaningful contributions to their community.)

Scene 3 - Democracy

You choose one, the scene dissolves and you find yourself in a natural landscape with a prominent mountain and a river. As you look around the helper appears and speaks.

"Welcome to your turangawaewae -- this is where we make choices to meet the needs of our people and balance them with the needs of Mother Nature.

"Right, so fundamental services are all developing nicely via your general tax, and the flexi tax that you tagged to air quality initiatives last month, contributed to a 300% net improvement - nice one. Point your hand at the air quality icon and squeeze the trigger to see this result."


You point the trigger at air quality icon and squeeze the trigger, then watch the dirty clouds covering the mountain peak disappear.

"Ka pai, well done"

"Now based on that result and your trending kaitiaki or guardianship preferences, I’ve tagged your latest flexi tax allocation to reducing toxic algae in your local river and fighting deforestation. Complete these actions by pointing at the icons and squeezing the trigger."

You select your river and mountains and see the water clear up and reforestation modelling.

"That deserves a pat on the back. Tap the controller on your actual back to do this."

You squeeze the trigger on the river and deforestation icons and admire the results.

"While we’re here, there’s a regulation being developed that could impact your ability to make these kinds of choices in future. I’ve drafted a piece of feedback based on your past legislative submissions and the importance of autonomy to you. Would you like me to input it to the government’s manapori (democracy) AI tonight?”

(Again, exploring the idea of realtime policy feedback and iteration between citizen AIs and a Government AI, based on open data, open models, open business rules and publicly interactive government systems. You can also see the need for high trust systems, blockchain perhaps, to ensure a shared common understanding of systems in an immutable way.)

"Select yes or no on the Wrist Bit on your left arm."

You choose yes or no.

"Ok your wish is my command. Hey good news. As you requested, your digital GP has developed options for the treatment of the RSI in your wrist. Let’s head home, have a snack and check out the results."

You walk through the portal and…

Scene 4 - Health

The scene dissolves and reappears as a tidy home interior.

"Ok, so based on data from Manatu Hauora, the Ministry of Health, 97% of people with RSI in the past 2 years have reported a simple lower arm transplant as the best course of action. But it’s up to you. Check your Wrist Bit for options."

You bring your Life Bit up in front of your face, and three options have appeared.

"Choose Rongoa to keep your current hand and apply natural healing methods, or try Huaranga to select a tentacle or a robotic hand. I suggest the tentacles, they’re so hot right now. Apparently Lorde just got one."

You select your preferred treatment.

"Great choice! The home surgery capsule is ready when you are. All data collected will be kept private as per your usual preference, but you can grant access later if you like."

We look around and see a glowing capsule has appeared on the dining table.

"Open the capsule by touching the handle. Then put your hand into the cuff and squeeze the trigger to complete your treatment."

(This covers high veracity research from your personal AI in collaboration with medical experts and AIs helping give you options for health challenges. It also explores culturally acceptable uses of transhuman augmentation for health matters, drone delivered health services, and of course, longer life with Lorde, a New Zealand music icon, still going strong :).

The scene flashes and you look down at your fully healed right appendage.

"Doesn’t that feel better? Looks great, too!

"Hey it’s time for lunch. Try out your new appendage by grabbing us three veg from the vertical community garden at the window, and put them in the bowl by the sink. I’ll whip up my world famous synthetic beef tacos!"

You turn and click on the window to move over to it. Against a lovely sunny sky outside, several vertical wires are revolving beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables past the window.

"Point at your desired veg and squeeze the trigger to grab it."

You pluck carrot, bell pepper, and eggplant and place them in a bowl next to the sink.

"We've got a tutorial in 15 minutes these tacos will have to be take away, let's get a move on eh."

(Giving people a first person experience of transhumanism will be uncomfortable for some, novel for some, and exciting for some. In any case, it is an emerging trend worth exploring. Also included is 3D printing (for the tentacle), novel approaches to food production and distribution (harvested from the building itself) and personal control over personal data from IoT.)

The scene dissolves and reappears. To your surprise, it’s the open air classroom from the beginning. Only now, looking around, you realise you’re at the front of it, with a diverse range of young and old people seated on the ground staring up at you.

“Aaaah cue the lesson, friend. Yes, that’s right, it’s your turn to be the teacher. Everyone is here to learn about your profession. Each one, teach one remember?"

(This final idea is of people contributing to the national good in myriad small ways, as part of their average day or week. The idea of a work week that might only be 10-20 hours of high value AI and automation enabled "work", with greater time and cognitive capacity to education, collaborate, innovation and participate in civic duties.)

A billboard appears in front of you that says:

For more info about this experience and how it was created, visit: WWW.OPTIMISTICFUTURES.NZ


Utility links and page information