Geek of the Week: Futurist author Richard Yonck helps us better prepare for a rapidly changing world

Author Richard Yonck at SXSW in Austin, Texas, to promote his new book “Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence.”

Daydreaming about the future is one thing. Actually being an authority on what’s to come — or at least how to be better prepared for it — is quite another.

Richard Yonck is a futurist, author and speaker with Intelligent Future Consulting. He’s also GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

“I help businesses, readers and audiences become better prepared for a rapidly changing world,” Yonck said. “With a focus on emerging technologies and the increasingly intelligent ecologies these generate, my perspective is informed by 25 plus years as a futures, computing and media technologist.”

Yonck is a widely published author who has written extensively about computing and information, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, biotechnology, nanotechnology, transhumanism and science literacy.

His new book, “Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence,” explores the rapidly developing technologies that interact with human emotions and how this will soon transform our relationships with technology and with each other. A best-seller in two Amazon categories, the book was well-received in the New York Times Book Review (by Ray Kurzweil) and elsewhere.

Yonck is also taking part in the 15th gathering of the Association of Professional Futurists in Seattle this week. The event runs through Saturday and includes speakers from the Gates Foundation, Boeing, the University of Washington, the Living Future Institute, Planetary Resources and more.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Richard Yonck:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “As a futurist I love helping organizations, readers and audiences identify tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities so we can work together to bring about their preferred future. This can take many forms, such as working with clients, writing books and articles about a range of emerging technologies or presenting tomorrow’s world to audiences large and small.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “There are two major, almost contradicting misconceptions about futures work. The first is that the future is unknowable which is far from true. Different things happen with different degrees of reliability. The orbit of the earth and the motion of the tides are very reliable while other events and developments have lesser probabilities of occurring. Taking such variables into account, strategies can be developed to prepare for one or more eventualities without overextending resources.

“The other misconception is that there is one fixed future out there, as if we were traveling along some preordained timeline, but this isn’t the case. Most futurists speak in terms of futures plural — the possible, probable and preferable futures that could potentially occur depending on different choices that are made and paths that are taken in the present. With this in mind, it’s then possible not only to plan for a range of eventualities but to also be proactive in taking the actions that promote one’s preferred future, ideally beginning sooner than later. A basic example of this is the 20-something who recognizes they’ll one day retire and so begins saving early on instead of waiting till their 50s. The earlier a desired future is identified and acted upon, the greater the likelihood of realizing it.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Life and the world around us. We live in such an incredibly rich, vastly complex universe, I can’t help be continually fascinated thinking about how it functions, how it came about, and where it’s going.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Language. The written word.”

Richard Yonck during a presentation at Town Hall in Seattle.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Increasingly my workspace is wherever I am, especially if I can connect my mind with that massive exocortex called the internet. Whether compiling data at my office, researching at a library, doing an interview at a research facility, speaking at a think tank, addressing an audience on stage, or doing a reading at a bookstore, that’s effectively my workspace.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Change is inevitable. When it does, often the best thing to do is see it as an opportunity. A static world view is very limiting and is likely to get you steamrollered.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “I try to be OS agnostic, but I’m most familiar with Windows.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Kirk’s acting style and fighting methods are unequaled in this or any other quadrant of the galaxy.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “A Time Machine. If I could travel into the future, I could pretty much collect all three, couldn’t I?”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I would explore the terrain of emerging technologies looking out over the next 10 years, identify key opportunities as supporting technologies and infrastructures were forecast to come online, consider what I could remain passionate about for several years, factor legal and regulatory considerations and then decide. At that point, I’d bring in the necessary talent and continue from there.”

I once waited in line for … “The opportunity to speak with and get a book signed by Harlan Ellison.”

Your role models: “Beyond members of my family for obvious reasons when I was a young kid, I don’t think I have specific role models. More accurately, I’ve looked to luminaries from science and science fiction as general role models, amalgamating them into some quintessential figure seeking truth in the universe.”

Greatest game in history: “Hesse’s Glass Bead Game.”

Best gadget ever: “Sonic screwdriver.”

First computer: “My first computing experience was with a DEC PDP-11 when I was 12.”

Current phone: “iPhone 6, waiting for the iPhone 8.”

Favorite app: “Hootsuite.”

Favorite cause: “Eradicating ignorance.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Artificial Intelligence — Deep learning neural nets.”

Most important technology of 2018: “CRISPR and immunotherapy.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “The apps, services, and technologies we’re building are not simply the tools of today. They will form the foundations and infrastructures of tomorrow’s world, the world of our children and grandchildren. With this in mind, we should continually ask ourselves: Are we contributing to a better world for the generations to come?”

Website: Intelligent Future

Twitter: @ryonck

LinkedIn: Richard Yonck