Book Review: Explaining the Future by Dr Sunny Bains

Book Review: Explaining the Future by Dr Sunny Bains

Corlett Novis reviews the first book on researching emerging technology by UCL academic Dr Sunny Bains.

Making predictions about an emerging technology and contextualising it in the wider world are vital activities across every sector of international industry from finance to agriculture. Unfortunately, however, the skills which facilitate these practices are also difficult to develop, often requiring a long high-level technical career in order to master. In her first book, UCL Engineering lecturer and skilled science journalist Dr Sunny Bains aims to make these exclusive skills available to a wide audience without the need to learn them through the challenging and extensive process of developing them firsthand. As Bains herself puts it: “[these skills] are so basic to a high-level technical career that they should be made explicit and up front”.

In this way, Dr Bains has set a clear goal for her text and, much to her credit, her command of clarity and pith don’t stop there. The entire book is written in an accessible register without unnecessary jargon or confusing detail, and in merely 189 pages, Explaining the Future gives meaningful and clear steps to take in order to ensure a robust understanding of any new emerging technology following a few simple stages. Not only does it provide the reader with brief questions to ask of an emerging technology, like “what problem are you trying to solve?” and “how is this technology different to its competitors?”, it goes on to give practical advice on how to answer these questions in a useful way by directing research into specific areas. Applications, timeframes, features and the evolution of new technology are all part and parcel of this process and Bains takes time to break each one down and explain how to organise researched information around each piece on a ready-made “canvas” in which information can be summarised and arranged.

Moving on from this, the book tackles the ins and outs of technical analysis before giving the reader an overview of how to engage and win over an audience to get them to trust your reasoning and advice. Above all else, the book even provides worked examples in order to fully clarify how the process ought to look leaving very little doubt in the reader’s mind about whether they are getting the process right. To add to all of this, each chapter ends with a very brief summary, in bullet points, of what has been covered to improve readability and to help you remember what you’ve just read. In this way, Bains has managed to make incredibly accessible the kind of practices which can prove painfully elusive even to skilled professionals, and this is certainly no small feat.

The book launch in March

With all this said, any blemishes the book have seem really quite insignificant, though there are some. As mentioned, this text is very brief and in its brevity it has been forced to become very dense. This is by no means a bad thing in and of itself, but if you are looking for a book which goes more into detail and takes its time then you may find Explaining the Future moves too fast, saying too much in a very small space. On the other hand, if you are looking for a quick and pithy way to understand the ins and outs of emerging technology then it is exceedingly difficult to think of any other book which can match the succinct advice you will receive from this one. As Bains herself put it at the book launch at UCL:

“People are both busy and smart. That meant I could say what I needed to without labouring the point, and so keep the book to under 200 pages.”

Not only is her text exceptionally accessible, the subject matter is also one which doesn’t get anywhere near enough recognition. In this sense, Explaining the Future has a combination of scope and brevity which really are quite peerless and without much precedent.