The Future of Drones: Changing Landscapes and Urban Design

photo of man holding remote control
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on

When you imagine future cities, you probably picture tall buildings reaching high into the sky with lanes of drones, hover cars and other flying vehicles. Taking to the sky has always been a part of our cultural imagination. Flying cars feature in all kinds of futuristic novels, TV shows and films, from the dystopian landscape of Bladerunner to the utopic Earth Star Trek envisages.

It’s no coincidence that these fictions have such a grip on the way we approach the future. Design fictions are hugely valuable in unpacking our ambitions for the future as well as forming a critical analysis of how those fictions could work in reality. But often, while films and novels interrogate the ethical or moral dilemmas technology might bring, they ignore the more mundane practicalities such as how the drones might move around the space or how they could influence a range of other industries and designs.

In this podcast, Hannah and Ian are joined by Paul Cureton, from Imagination, Lancaster, a design research department that looks at design futures, speculative design and design fictions. One of Paul’s interests is how visions of the future translate into reality, which has led him to write his book, Drone Futures: UAS in Landscape and Urban Design.

We ask what the future could look like with drones, how they could change the landscape and who is most likely to use them. Our conversation takes us from the history of our imagination of flight right through to the idea of being able to drive a drone into your apartment for it to be taken down to a basement parking area by automatic lift and everything in between!

Listen to our podcast here:

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The Future of Manchester Futurists?

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This month’s podcast is quite a different one…

Manchester Futurists has done a great job in highlighting some of the emerging technologies coming over the horizon e.g. CRISPR, AI, VR, IoT, etc

As inspiring as that mission was, we feel that its time to move on and explore new and different boundaries with our audience.

Futurists will always be about future technology and its impact. Still, we would like to pivot and bring in unique perspectives and new thinking about technological developments and hear about the impact from people who are often unheard in technological rush.

There is a world of general discussions about new technology. We feel Futurists will thrive in a new space where we give a platform to those who rarely get one.

That’s our provocation…

Have a listen to the Manchester futurists team, Ahmed, Hannah, Ian, Caroline and Georgia discuss this new and important direction. (direct mp3)

The future of AI legibility podcast

This month, the futurists podcast team were joined by Paul Caulton (@ProfTriviality) and Franziska Pilling from Lancaster University (@ImaginationLancs). To give you a sense of place, while we were all sitting in home offices, Paul was swinging gently in a hammock being serenaded by birds. As such, the song of sunset going on in the background is 100% organic; no birds were harmed in the making of this podcast.

Paul and Franziska have been looking into the emerging field of AI legibility. Their research focuses on how the complex ideas behind AI can be translated into simplified terms that give the average person a better idea of what a particular AI is doing behind the scenes. As Paul points out, when most people think of AI, they immediately go to killer robots but the reality is that AI is far more mundane and is probably just calculating your credit score. For now at least…

Understanding what various AIs do is an essential component of informed consent. The pair argue that since most people are unaware of the various AIs and algorithms they encounter most days, they do not have the information they need to make a decision. As Franziska points out, there is a significant danger in the mundane because when you aren’t really paying attention, it is easy to give away more data than you intended. Presenting people with icons to designate particular functions or uses of data could become a shorthand to allow people to understand AI functionality better and, therefore, make informed decisions about their use of AIs.

And yet, the difficulty with this project is that often simplification obscures depth and nuance of meaning. A single icon might give someone an idea of what an AI is doing but this is not the same transparency as showing them the code at work. Here lies the issue. Where is the balance between offering a simple explanation and fully explaining an idea?

Listen to our podcast here | direct mp3

To find out more about Paul and Franziska’s project, visit their website here:

The Future Post-Covid19

As the pandemic continues, the future, or at least possible futures, seem to change with every passing day. Many commentators have noted that at such a time we have the opportunity to choose how we progress. We can decide to return to normal or we can choose a new direction. We have a chance to address issues such as inequality and healthcare but we can also tackle the biggest crisis we are likely to face: climate change. 

One of the key themes that returns to the futurists almost every month, though it is never expressly spoken about, is that the future is always up for grabs. We are constantly shaping what tomorrow will look like, whether this is a conscious decision or not. This is why talking about the future is so important. From our vantage point, anything is possible. 

In this podcast, the futurists team, Ahmed, Hannah, Ian, Caroline and Georgia discuss these important questions. We debate the pros and cons of the new NHSX app for tracking and tracing. We talk about how different approaches could advance our progress against climate change. We talk about how the pandemic has exposed inequalities within society. 

While we might not reach any particular conclusions within this podcast, we do hope to raise some interesting questions. Conversations about the future often start with “what if?” 

So, with that, here it is:

Podcast links page for the podcast and the direct download in mp3 format.

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MCR Futurists lock down podcast with Chris Sizemore

Since the coronavirus has made getting together for our usual talk impossible, this month (April – we’re sorry we’re a little late!) we have decided to discuss our subject in a responsibly socially-distant manner. So, we are very proud to present the very first in a series of Manchester Futurists podcasts. 

Our guest this month was Chris Sizemore who has taken an interest in the notion of synthesized realities for a long time. The definition of synthesized realities is difficult to pin down but broadly speaking, a synthesized reality is constructed through a variety of synthesized means. So, a synthesized reality might include a visual component such as VR or AR, it might be purely auditory and geolocated to provide certain information at a certain point. 

Synthesized realities are already well established within our culture, whether we are aware of it or not. Literature, film and TV are often the best places to find examples but the most famous is probably The Matrix where the whole world has been fabricated. In these examples, the synthesized reality is often there to question what reality is or how people behave in different circumstances. Take a look at this compilation:


These synthesized realities are quite easy to spot and the characters are usually aware – at least in the end. But as the technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated there are real risks associated with synthesized realities. We should already be cautious about the information we trust on the internet but what happens when you just can’t tell whether a video is real or manipulated? 

In our podcast, we discussed all these ideas and more. As always, feel free to tweet us with your comments or raise some questions of your own @mcrfuturists 

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Podcast links page for the podcast and the direct download in mp3 format.