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BBC Explores The Future with 'What If?'

BBC Explores The Future with What If?

A series of programmes about what the world might be and a global competition inviting audiences to create their own vision of the future

'What if?' peers into the future. 10, 20, even 50 years from now, how will we live, how will we look, how will we organise ourselves? What if we stayed young forever? What if everyone had a car? What if women ruled the world? 'What if?' A brand new, thought-provoking, season of BBC programming in early 2013.

BBC audiences around the world are invited to present their own vision of the future in a unique competition to coincide with the season of programmes and online content called What If? From 28th January – 31st March the BBC’s international news services on BBC World News TV, BBC World Service radio and online will broadcast a series of programmes focused on the future – from imagining how the world might look, to the new technology, innovations in health and science, and the people who will shape our new world. Central to this special season audiences are invited to enter the BBC competition, and send their vision of the future, either a still or a moving image, using any visual medium – animation, photography, film, paint. The entries will be judged by leading artists and animators around the world.

Entrants can interpret “What if?” in any way they choose. They can imagine the future where they live, inside the home, outside, how we’ll look, what we’ll eat, how we’ll relate to each other, how we’ll move around, and what the planet will look like. But most of all the competition needs original creative work that the world should know about. Full competition and What If? season programme details will be available from 28th January 2013 at:

The multimedia and multi-lingual programmes that shape “What If?” pose intriguing questions about our future, including:

What if humans and robots sat down together?
Recent developments in human/robot interaction are starting to open up a new debate. For instance, South Korea plans to install robotic teaching assistants in more than 8,000 kindergartens next year. So how will we learn from robots and how will robots learn from us? If robots are ever going to be truly useful in domestic or social settings then this question needs to be addressed. This hour long live radio discussion on the BBC’s technology programme Click from London on 29th January will feature a high profile panel including robotics experts – and a couple of robots. The programme will also include remote control audience participation with a robot interacting with the audience.

Live on BBC World Service - Tuesday 29th January.

What if we were all cyborgs?
How far could we go and how strong could be become if we embrace human augmentation? When the senses become programmable, can we trust what they tell us about the world? Where can human augmentation take us in the future? And above all, are cyborgs still human? Stories from the new frontiers of humans and robots, and the ethics behind it.

BBC World Service - Monday 26th February.

What if we stayed young forever?
Peter Bowes in Los Angeles looks at how we are starving, injecting, modifying and increasingly allowing ourselves to be operated on to stave off the aging process. Just how far are we prepared to go? And why?

BBC World Service - Mondays 4th, 11th, 18th March; and BBC World News - Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd March.

What if we all had a car..?
There are 1 billion cars in the world today. In fifty years’ time that’s predicted to grow four-fold. Theo Leggett teams up with Kent Larson from MIT’s Media Lab in America to look at strategies to avoid global gridlock.

BBC World Service, BBC World News, and BBC Online - Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th March.

What if we could decide our own form of government?
Safaa Faisal from BBC Arabic takes new politicians from the scenes of Arab Spring to discuss their visions of the democratic process in their own countries. They travel from Cairo and Tunis to Washington to meet high-profile politicians, political theorists, and activists as they ask whether US-style democracy is the answer.

What if – the new tech billionaires?
The BBC’s Alastair Leithead enters the valley of invention. For the last decade Silicon Valley has had more patents pending than anywhere else on the planet, and is the home of many of the new industries that dominate the global economy. Smart money is in the start-ups that could shape our lives for decades to come. Leithead asks who the people who “invent” are, who is putting the money in and what the most exciting ideas about to come our way are.

BBC World Service - Tuesday 19th March, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March; and BBC World News - Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March.

What if women ruled the world?
Dee Dee Myers, author of ‘Why Women Should Rule the World’ is the former White House Press secretary to Bill Clinton. She was the first woman to hold that role (and acted as advisor on the West Wing TV series). Myers shares her personal take on women and power. She looks at the US State Department which has had three female heads in the last fifteen years and asks whether that has changed the culture of the organisation. She also takes a wide-ranging view on the status, responsibilities and realities of women in power around the world.

BBC World Service – International Women’s Day Friday 8th March; Short films and web features will be shown from mid-Feb to 9th March; and a BBC World News - Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th March.

What if Africa was the new hub of global science?
In March 2013, the BBC World Service will host an international science festival at Makerere University in the Ugandan capital Kampala. The BBC Science Radio team will be at the heart of the festival and broadcast live from the event over five consecutive days. Makerere University is the oldest university in East Africa and it has played a pivotal role as a centre for international science research projects, notably in agriculture and healthcare. The science festival will take place in marquees on ‘Freedom Square’, at the centre of the university campus. BBC World Service will broadcast an hour-long special programme from the festival each evening with practical demonstrations of scientific research relevant to the region, interviews and discussions with leading scientific thinkers, from Uganda and across the whole of Africa.

What if there was a better way of finding love?
Nine short films and a radio feature from around the world looking at who we fall in love with and the way we do it now, and how that’s changing. It’s a comparison of our experiences of finding love and how that might change throughout the whole world, coping with different cultures, languages, religions and technologies.

What if we all lived in a smart city?
Three specially commissioned online pieces will explore the future of the smart city. There will be an overview of what smart cities are and how they will change our lives, and examples of the hi-tech cities that currently operate around the world. They will also feature an audio slideshow with pictures by Rick Smolan, a National Geographic/Time photo-journalist who has captured images of the human face of ‘Big Data’ which allow smart cities to ‘develop a nervous system’.

What if soldiers were machines?
In a three part mini-series for radio, TV and online Jonathan Marcus will ask: What If… robots were the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the future? A variety of robots are being designed to do a number of tasks such as fight fires on warships or deliver supplies to besieged troops. But increasingly robotic systems are going to be able to actually fight wars – clouds of small UAV’s could surround enemy targets like locusts, programmed to copy their swarming behaviour. Marcus explores how real the concerns of warfare are without humans in the loop. What If….wars were not fought on far-away battlefields but at home? For the technologically advanced nations, war is something that happens on far-flung foreign shores. But cyber-conflict is bringing the threat of war back home. Marcus will question if this really is war in the conventional sense, what new challenges it poses, and whether the strengths of modern technological societies are now their primary weakness. And, in the final instalment Marcus goes to the heart of the matter and asks: What If…..military force just isn’t quite so useful anymore? Much of the history of warfare has been a quest for the decisive battle and the decisive engagement. Finding an enemy’s centre of gravity and destroying it. But so many modern threats have no obvious centres of gravity. Highly capable technologically superior forces have floundered in wars in Gaza and Afghanistan for example. Marcus asks if there is a mismatch between what military force can do and what it is increasingly being asked to do.

The What If? season will also feature special editions of HARDtalk on BBC World News and BBC World Service to be aired in March, including Mark Post, the scientist at the forefront of growing meat in a laboratory with no need for animals.

Full competition details with Terms and Conditions of entry, and What If? season programmes are available at: from the 28th January 2013.


Notes to Editors:
The BBC attracts a weekly global audience of 239 million people to its international news services including BBC World Service, BBC World News television channel and

BBC World Service is an international multimedia broadcaster, delivering a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices. It uses multiple platforms to reach its weekly audience of 180 million globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. Its news sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. BBC World Service offers its multilingual radio content to partner FM stations around the world and has numerous partnerships supplying content to news websites, mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices as well as TV channels. For more information, visit

BBC World News and , the BBC's commercially funded international 24-hour news and information platforms, are owned and operated by BBC Global News Ltd, a member of the BBC’s commercial group of companies. BBC World News is available in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, and over 350 million households and 1.8 million hotel rooms. The channel's content is also available on 158 cruise ships, 53 airlines and 23 mobile phone networks. For further information on how to receive BBC World News, download schedules or find out more about the channel, visit is one of the most respected brands on the internet and the global news content on the site offers up-to-the minute international news and in-depth analysis for PCs, tablets and mobile devices to more than 58 million unique users each month.


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