TAKE A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE AND DISCOVER THE TRENDS THAT ARE SHAPING OUR WORLD IN 2019, I WROTE THE BOOK SUPERTRENDS ABOUT THE FUTURE, WHAT DRIVES IT AND HOW TO DEAL WITH IT. IN 2009, I WROTE A NEW VERSION OF THE BOOK BUT WITH A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. THE SAME YEAR, I FOUNDED THE COMPANY SUPERTRENDS. SOME OF THE MAIN CONCLUSIONS FROM THESE PROJECTS:
- There is no end to innovation.
Human scientific activity doubles every 15 years and grows 100-fold every 100 years. This can continue as far as the eye can see, since computers will handle increasing parts of it at ever faster pace. Furthermore, since innovation is essentially about recombining what already exists, the more we have developed in the past, the more new things will be possible to create in the future. Innovation is therefor, to all practical intents and purposes, endless and only limited by the extremely generous laws of physics plus the existence of liberal societies that permit free thinking.
- The breakthrough of core technologies can often be predicted simply by extrapolating exponential progress rates.
However, the first market response to new core technologies is often disappointing until - over time - people figure out new business models and applications, which trigger endless cascades of new business opportunities and technologies. Tracking application development requires extensive “listening to the word” as done by Supertrends AG.
- On that note, we have lots of technologies with exponential or hyper-exponential growth.
An increasing number of technologies exhibit exponential or hyper-exponential growth. This includes, for instance, the sequencing and synthesising of DNA, global growth in the number of IoT devices, the amount of digital data produced and stored, the amount and speed of bandwidth available, the global OLED screen area output, the number of usable radio frequencies, the performance of LEDs, batteries, hard drives, and the progress in nuclear fusion experiments, etc.
- Among the most radical changes is the degree to which we can now programme biology.
We can now code and re-code life with ever greater precision. With these technologies we can eliminate existing species (specicide), make extinct species reappear (de-extinction), change species, and create new ones. We can also re-code our own species to remedy an increasing number of diseases, and we can soon partially reset the human aging process. Increasingly, we are also re-coding cells to make them produce pharmaceuticals, food, materials and more, as if they are self-replicating robots at our service. In short; we are the new programmers, and nature is our new computer.
- There will be sensors and Internet everywhere.
Far more than before, we will – through IoT – equip the non-organic part of the world with artificial nerve fibres, organs and small brains. So, a huge number of worldly objects will be able to do things akin to what insects do – and our mechanical devices will sometimes even look like them. In other words, we will create a completely non-biological ecosystem that will expand collective intelligence and capability, and unlike biological eco-systems, this one will be constantly analysed with big data and AI. This will certainly make the world as a whole smarter, but also less private.
- AI and quantum computers will lead to recursive superintelligence.
In an ever-growing number of disciplines, computers beat the human mind, and increasingly this includes areas involving intuition. In this context, AI – supported by IoT and Big Data - plays a huge role. Furthermore, quantum computers are on the verge of breaking through with powers to tackle certain kinds of calculations billions of times faster than the fastest supercomputers today. All of this will have wide implications, but perhaps the biggest is that computers will become increasingly brilliant at formulating scientific hypothesis and writing software, which will stimulate run-away scientific discovery and technical innovation.
- We will never run out of resources.
The ultimate resource is innovation, and since this is not running out but rather evolving exponentially, the expectation that we will soon run out of resources will remain an unrealistic fear, as it has already been for centuries. Indeed, over the last 200 years, the real prices of all main categories of commodities have declined substantially and rather consistently, and according to the Simon Abundance Index, the global affordability of commodities doubles every 18 years. This happens because of innovative (1) synthetisation, (2) compression, (3) virtualisation, (4) recycling, (5) sharing and (6) substitution. Oddly, since our ultimate resource is innovation, the more people we are on Earth, the faster the rate of innovation – and the greater the abundance of resources per capita. In the future, this increased abundance will play out through, for example, the launch of new super-materials, smart genetic engineering, synthetic meat, cultured meat, vertical farming and new nuclear energy, including perhaps the use of thorium plus nuclear fusion.
- Environmental- and resource-based challenges will not be solved through light or dark environmentalism. However, bright environmentalism (more growth, wealth and innovation) will eventually do the jobs.
Experience tells us that the introduction of new and smarter technologies almost without exception resolve unsustainable practices, and that, overwhelmingly, these technologies are developed and first deployed in the richest of nations. Furthermore, the most efficient birth control is increased wealth. For these reasons, we cannot solve environmental and resource-related challenges by limiting growth, wealth or consumption. On the contrary; the way forward lies in more growth, more wealth and thus more innovation and less children. Fortunately, a myriad of exceptional technologies to address sustainability challenges are either rolling out or in the pipeline.
- Labour markets are turning Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs upside down.
Increasingly, machines, robots and computers meet the demands described in the lower end of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Meanwhile, human labour increasingly makes products and services that belong to the higher levels of the hierarchy – including theatre-like experience economy, assisted self-help, transcendental experiences and labour-of-love activities such as entrepreneurship, do-it-yourself and maker activity.
- Digitalisation is not only about bits and bytes, but also about new granular markets and flexible lifestyles.
Digitalisation facilitates real-time dataflows, which again provide the information needed to break markets down into smaller tradeable units such as we see in crowdsourcing and the sharing economy. This includes granular markets for labour, data storage, software use, electricity and much more. Such granular units of products and services become available in clouds and at prices that fluctuate in real time. These markets are subject to ratings and transparent competition. This rating and cloud-based exchange of granular products and services, whether big, small, or tiny, constitutes a significant refinement of our market economies and also one that counteracts inflation. Furthermore, when it comes to labour markets, these trends lead to the growth of a flexible gig economy, in which people increasingly have no fixed workplace, working hours, holidays or pension age. Instead, they become more prone to live their adult lives in fluid combinations of work, leisure and learning – but perhaps without ever retiring.
- The concept of money will radically change.
Money and other digital tokens and stores of value will increasingly become programmable so that they can be tied to specific situations such as purchase of specific kinds of goods under specific conditions only. Contracts will also increasingly become machine-readable and self-executing.
- New technologies will stimulate new forms of organisations.
Just as mainstream computing migrated from a master-slave setup towards a client-server setup, followed by networked and edge computing, new technologies will frequently drive management styles towards distributed, autonomous networked organisations, or what ex-McKinsey author Frederic Laloux has called ‘evolutionary organisations’. In this respect, the sharing economy and rating systems are vital and will continue to develop explosively. In other words, we are no longer talking only about smart objects, but also about smart ecosystems, in which both humans and machines will do business with each other in new, improved ways. However, in public management, the predominant management style will remain the hieratic conformist organisation for far too long, which will create inefficiencies and tensions.
- We will gain access to more exciting experiences.
Some experiences will come from new computer games and associated e-sports; others from new types of media and the likes of virtual and ambient computing: in other words, from electronics. We will also be offered fascinating new, physical, hybrid experiences that will enrich all our senses and play on all our feelings, not to mention new combinations of physical and electronic experiences as in augmented reality.
- Along the way, all sorts of startling things will occur.
Some of these predictable to a fair degree of certainty; others we can only conjecture about, while still others will materialise like a bolt out of the blue. Examples of the probable, which are now being worked on, are nuclear fusion, quantum computers, cultured meat, superintelligence, deexcitation, cancer vaccinations and radical life-prolonging technologies. But we must also expect the unexpected. For example, did you so much as envisage blockchain before it appeared? I doubt it. And how many people foresaw vaccines and anaesthesia before they arrived? Err… not many.
- Future challenges will largely be met with future technologies.
Thanks to the staggering innovation of the future, we will inevitably discover that common assumptions that the challenges of the future will be solved with today’s technologies will often be wrong. For instance, in my opinion, it is obvious that within the next 100 years the world will have access to extreme amounts of comparably clean energy. But do I think that most of it will be generated by solar panels and wind turbines? Actually no. I think it will largely come from something that does not work today.
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This book has been published in international markets in several other languages and editions.