Back to the Future

Back to the Future

It might seem a little odd that one of the first things I was asked to do as Futurist-in-Residence at the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Business School was to look backwards.

Richard Watson.
Richard Watson

But considering where things have come from can be a useful prelude to prediction.

Familiarising oneself with the origin of things, sketching both the historical landscape and present terrain is a solid foundation upon which to build what might otherwise be overly shaky speculations.

This visualisation of Nobel Prizes won by colleges and other affiliates of Cambridge University between 1905 and 2020 shows that the University has won Prizes more than any other institution in the world.  It also demonstrates the importance of pure research and the world-changing impact of unbridled curiosity and speculation. Along with the power of accidental collisions with people and information, this is perhaps something that successful entrepreneurs have in common with Nobel Prize winning academics – the ability to see the world as it is and ask ‘why?’ or to see the world as it could be and ask ‘why not?’.

At the Entrepreneurship Centre, we intend to use this chart as a welcome to Cambridge slide, but also as a way to start speculating about future Nobel Prizes. What might a physics prize be won for in the year 2040 and how might such research eventually be applied to real-world problems? Moreover, how might the Nobel Prizes themselves evolve? Could there be a new category created in 2029 for data modelling or data ethics perhaps? And why, for a University that has been home to Charles Darwin, Alan Turing and Bertrand Russell, is there still no suitable accommodation made for aspects of environmental science, artificial intelligence or philosophy relating to robot rights?

Below is the final version, together with some early sketches showing the origins of the visualisation. No doubt updates will be needed in the not too distant future when the next set of Prizes are announced.

Early drawings of the Nobel history map:

Richard Watson, Futurist in Residence, Cambridge Judge Entrepreneurship Centre is helping us to identify, interpret and visualise what we’ve seen before, what we see now, and what we might see next for those inspiring and enterprising individuals, teams and organisations that we have the privilege to work within this very special place. Find out more about his projects >

Richard Watson
Futurist-in-Residence at the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Judge School, Cambridge University.
Richard Watson

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