I am a futurist. Or a futurologist, if you prefer. When I am introduced by this title, I often get inquisitive looks and furrowed brows as people ask, “what’s that?”
Simply stated, futurists tracks trends, analyse data related to innovations and changes in markets, as well as bring together analysis from a variety of different disciplines including politics, economics and demographics. We do all of this to attempt to identify what might happen in the future, so that people can start preparing for this today. Sometimes we’re bold enough to make specific predictions, but most often our focus is on identifying scenarios and their implications.
Futurists can do formal studies in Futures and related topics, although most of us have multi-disciplinary academic backgrounds. We can also be part of a number of professional associations that help us develop our skills and network with some of the best in the business.
Obviously, it’s quite easy to identify the good futurists – you just need to evaluate the track record of their predictions. And you can also look at the detail they give in their future scenarios, and whether they’re able to make these valuable and applicable to our world today (this separates the science fiction writers from the professional futurists).
Recently, Business Insider interviewed futurist Ian Pearson, founder of Futurizon on his predictions for the key new technologies we can expect to see by 2050 and how they will change the way we live. Ian has a great reputation for technology predictions at about a 10-15 year horizon, and we like his list a lot.
Here is what he suggested:
• We could start seeing delivery drones finally start making deliveries in the next two years.
• A Hyperloop could take us in between cities in just six years.
• Machines could start thinking like humans as early as 2025.
• Space trips designed to send people to Mars could start taking place in 2030.
• Prosthetics could get so advanced in the next 10 years they could give people new skills.
• Clothing could give people superhuman skills in the next 10 years.
• Virtual reality could replace textbooks during the next decade. • The smartphone will become obsolete by 2025.
• Self-driving vehicles could be ubiquitous in the next 10 years.
• 3D-printing could be used to construct more houses in 20 years.
• People could start using robots to do housework and provide companionship starting in 2030.
• We could live in a Matrix-like virtual world by 2045.
• People could also become Cyborgs by 2045.
• People could live in artificially intelligent homes by 2040 as well.
• Super tall buildings like vertical mini-cities in the next 25 years.
• We could rely entirely on renewable energy by the year 2050.
• Space tourism could be feasible in 2050, but likely only for the very wealthy.
For many people, this sort of list feels a little bit like reading a science fiction wish list. But we believe that this is a credible view of our near future. And it illustrates one of the key findings of our team’s research: that we are living at a time in history characterised by deep disruptive changes. The list above provides an insight into some of the technologies that are about to disrupt our world. Three of the key areas of disruptions are:
1. The next evolution of human beings and integrating with robotics – It could be argued that we’re already technically cyborgs (part machine / part humans) as we keep our mobile phones (which are technically super computing devices) less than an arm’s length away from us at all times. They might as well be implanted – and they probably soon will be. As robotics develop, we will integrate them into our lives and then implant them too. But even if that’s a step too far for some people, we will use the Internet of Things to connect ourselves more and more to the digital devices in our lives, making our homes, cars, offices, cities and environment smarter and smarter.
2. Changes to how we travel – From drones to hyperloop trains, driverless cars to interplanetary travel, the near future of travel looks set for revolution. But maybe even more so than most people think. Driverless cars are going to go from legal to compulsory very quickly, as we realise their potential to dramatically increase road safety and efficiency as soon as every car in a system can speak to every other car. Driverless cars will also shift us quickly sharing cars. Uber doesn’t just want to take over the taxi industry, they’re actually aiming to take over all cars everywhere. If your car is self-driving, and can earn money while you’re not using it, then it makes sense to put it into Uber’s system.
And when you do that, you’ll quickly realise that you don’t actually need to own a car – you can just use the closest Uber vehicle. We’ll also need less parking spaces – you can turn your home garage into an extra room, and your workplace and the local mall can convert parkades into usable office and retail space. Changing how we travel is going to be one of the biggest game changers in the world in the next decade or so. And we know – for sure – that this WILL happen.
3. Revolutions in energy production and storage – We have been following the development of alternative energy sources for a few years. Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition is going to accelerate the delivery of “miracle energy solutions”, which could see the price of energy plummet in the next years. And that is a lever that will affect everything else, and especially impact the lives of the poorest people on the planet.
What a time to be alive. And what a time to be a leader in the world. We need to recognise that we live at a time of deep structural change, and that we must prepare for a future that will be unlike the past. This requires confronting limiting orthodoxies, accelerating creativity and innovation, and changing not just products and processes but entire business models as well. We’re always changing, and so is the world. But sometimes the constant march of change beats to a different drum – and takes a different path. When the music changes, so must we.