10 Themes Of Our Future
Life is like a jigsaw. There are thousands of pieces, seemingly disconnected, that either fit or conflict. A missing, broken or duplicate piece causes problems. Staring at it from a 30,000 foot view sometimes helps, sometimes it helps to look at it from 30 centimetres away.
In the midst of the noise of pandemics, elections, wars, financial crises, inventions, break-ups, creations and make-up, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. I’ve attempted here to set out 10 themes I see playing out over the next 30 years. By grasping these, maybe we can see the opportunities to build a bit more of the jigsaw and to play our little part in a bigger picture.
- Technology & The Future of Work
Technology is shaping our future beyond ways that we might wish or fear. Technology isn’t neutral, it is invested with the morality and potential embedded into it by its creators. Look for the areas you can leverage and encourage, and for the negative trends you can oppose. AI in weaponry. Robotic armies. Work from home technology. Work from anywhere technology. Flying cars (finally). The end of keyboards. Data privacy. Cyber security. Transhumanism. Silicon Valley is highly progressive and its values will be embedded into many of the technologies we see. However, the technologies of the future are as likely to come from Kenya, China, Brazil or Sweden as they are from Silicon Valley thanks to the rise of working from home, the access to venture capital globally and the lessons learned by others on Silicon Valley’s success.
2. Geopolitics, Terrorism and War
Global tensions are rising. This is being fed by nationalism rising; the proliferation of nuclear weapons; climate change leading to extreme poverty in parts of the Sahel in Africa and across parts of India; malevolent and autocratic leaders in Russia, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and North Korea amongst others; the growing trade and economic disparities between China and the US; the reshaping of the Middle East into Iran and proxies vs Saudi, Israel & proxies; US retrenchment from being the global policeman of old; distrust in multi-national and global institutions; sectarian and worldview conflicts being played out on a global stage and also the advances in technology (drone with a dirty bomb?) meaning that asymetric warfare is simpler and cheaper than ever before. 76 years since the end of WW2, are we heading for a world with much greater conflict and risk than we have had in the last 7 decades? Looking at the history of the world, it seems very likely.
3. Climate Change and Our Environment
Climate change is present and accelerating. It’s highly unlikely that the world will make sufficient changes to slow the pace of change to a modest increase in climate. Therefore we can anticipate greater climate volatility (hurricanes, storms, floods, wildfires, cyclones, droughts, etc.), mass migration from low lying areas and desert areas and a move towards the poles to get away from the extreme heat. Artic ice melting is tragic for the environmental effects — but also opens up new mining and resource opportunities, faster shipping from China to Europe and potentially makes Northern Canada a boom area. Do humans have a track record of reacting before the crisis hits when it comes to a slow burning change like this? Not really. So we can anticipate migration (even within countries) and eventually market solutions coming to bear. Masses of capital will be thrown at this in Europe and US, and consumers will seek green goods, but the key determinants of our future will be China (28% of 2019 global CO2 emissions), India (7%), Russia (5%), the USA (14%), Iran (2%) and Saudi Arabia (2%). Look for innovative technology solutions to be the answer, not reduced human consumption or government interventions.
4. Finance & Assets
We have lived through three financial crises already since 2000 — the dotcom crash, the global financial crisis and the Coronavirus pandemic economic collapse. What has been a connecting factor is the willingness of Central Banks and Treasury Departments to print money and loosen the fiscal belt to soften the blow and keep things moving. This has led to the most unbelievable expansion of the global fiat money supply and yet not to CPI rising. What we have is like a fairground stall that has several items (physical and financial assets) for sale at $1 each and a money launderer just walked up with a bag of $1m in new cash and said I want to buy everything you can give me. Unsurprisingly the price of those assets can rocket — and this has been seen in stockmarkets, bond markets, house prices, stamps, art, luxury goods, collectible items, property, cryptocurrencies, private equity, SPACs and venture capital. If Quantitative Easing ever goes into reverse, or even slows or stops, the effect will be painful. But why would you do that if you can just keep printing money? Modern Monetary Theory is gaining a lot of ears as it helps people think you never have to balance a budget — you just have to keep printing money to make it work. In the meantime there are growing disparities between those with capital and assets, and those without.
5. Media & Entertainment
The Media we consume is fragmenting, polarising, has a shorter life-span and more populist. People want to consume what makes them feel good about themselves and gives them someone else to blame for what they perceive is wrong in the world. Social media; Over The Top pay TV streaming (Netflix etc); Short form Video; Messaging Platforms; Influencers; Advertising and Subscription models; Data Mining; Election micro-targeting all come together to create a series of micro-communities within global platforms. We will see the end of free to air terrestrial TV. We will continue to see the effects of giving everyone an equal opportunity to have a voice online, regardless of competency and values. We will see battles over moderating of content (which some call censorship) and fragmentation of platforms people go on. We will see social media fatigue and burn out and yet each generation will have its own platform it loves. Subscription models will win out over advertising models. Fake news will get worse rather than better as we start to see it created by artificial intelligence using deep fake videos in a way that is impossible for the human eye to identify. We will seek out brands we trust that share our values.
6. Politics & Government
The old narrative of artists imagine, businesses create and governments regulate seems to be falling over. Businesses, thanks to mass amounts of capital being available, are doing the imagining (but driven by commercialisation ambitions rather than idealism) and Governments are seeking to share in the commercialisation and also to avoid the regulating. The nationalism vs globalism battle will continue — but it seems like for the next decade or so, nationalism will win out — this tends not to be good for world peace and stability. We will see the rise of the far right in the Western World, including terrorism acts and fascist leaning governments. Progressive politics will fail to live up to the idealistic future it promised and will lead to jaded middle aged Gen Z’ers. Politics will no longer be seen as a career path, but as a route to power than can be corrupted and exploited for selfish gain. Russia will seek to conquer those closest to it, divide those that are close but not to close, and oppose those furthest away. A house divided is a house that falls. The EU and UK will continue to fracture. Separatism will, on the fringes, become violent. Local politics will be the last remaining bastion of idealists who make a difference. Globally we will see the rise of autocrats, corrupt governments, failed states, narco states and decades long family dynasties without fair and free elections. There will be a need for political leaders with vision and great integrity.
7. Injustice and Justice
The global inequity of wealth, health and education, as well as the systemic challenges of racism, climate change, crime, female exploitation, human trafficking will see significant progress made to creating a better world. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will be seen by some as a move to a global ruler but will actually provide a framework for nations to move in the right direction. The left will be fantastic at diagnosing the problem but terrible at coming up with solutions. The right will be able to catalyse a healthy and credible solution but will fail to acknowledge the systemic issues. Foundations, Global bodies and select Governments will step in where market failure does not allow for free trade solutions. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street, #Metoo and BlackLivesMatter will be frequently created and will catalyse many to bring positive change but will ultimately fragment and dissipate due to differing visions of the cause of the problem and what the solution should be. New systemic issues will arise from the arrival of AI and cyber warfare. Youth unemployment across Africa remains a massive issue and will need to be addressed to avoid mass migration or failed states.
8. Food & Water
The population is rising but the land mass isn’t. Unless we achieve Elon Musk’s dream of building a new city on Mars, it’s hard to see how we provide sufficient food and water for everyone to meet their needs at the same as their expectations of rising living standards. We will see the mass development, and acceptance of artificial fish and meat. We will see peak freshwater and so many conflicts (legal and military) over access to water. Desalinisation technology will be one of the main areas to focus on this century — there is no shortage of water, it just takes too much energy to take the salt out and then move the freshwater to where you need it to go. Alongside the rise of nationalism, we may see a growing pressure for countries to be food and water self-sufficient — and so less global trade in agriculture and instead the rise of farming again as a % of GDP. Robots, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence will all combat the ageing-out of the farmer in Europe. Consumers in Developed Nations will seek experience, authenticity, story, provenance, traceability, brand and quality.
9. Health & Wellbeing
We will seek to tackle the frailty and mortality of our bodies using more and more technology, or more and more natural solutions. There will be a great push to “solve death” (which will fail but will extend lifespans). The rise of elderly will continue to lead to massive mental health issues. The lack of community and family structures for many will lead to loneliness and isolation compounding, or causing, these illnesses. Some will resist vaccines. Some will exploit pandemics and create bioweapons. We will have more automated, privatised, personalised health care. The NHS will shrink. We will ask hard questions of ourselves and our systems following Coronavirus. Community care will be preferable to large city centre facilities. Operations will be conducted by robots, controlled by a surgeon on the other side of the world (or another robot). We will fail to understand the brain but will cure cancer. We will see more pandemics. We will pay more attention to our own health and fitness and live a more holistic life. We will spend on our health and wellbeing. Counselling and therapy services will become the norm for those that can afford them. Health insurance will become a big expense for individuals across Europe. Parents will return to living with their children for decades.
10. Religion, Ethics and Morality
The fragmentation of worldviews globally will continue to spark conflict. The different religious and secular narratives will be more divided, not less. Each camp will have its fundamentalists. Each camp will believe it can convert the other. Each camp will seek political, legal, media and consumer support to impose its narratives on the population of its relevant jurisdiction. Morality and values will be seen as important aspects of leadership but in a post-modern world, it will be left subjective as to who decides what those are. The absence of absolute truth accepted by many will lead to more leaders just telling lies. The global south, as well as China, will remain highly religious and both Christianity and Islam will expand significantly through migration and trade. Religion in the West will continue to shrink and be seen increasingly as extreme and unacceptable for the public square. Relevance and power will be swapped for faithfulness and distinctiveness in many religions in the West.
These are predictions, not certainties. As with all predictions, they tend to extrapolate the present too much, and fail to see the black swan (or meteor) sailing (or flying) right at us. I am both an optimist and a pessimist about our future and these themes reflect that. I intend this to be a living document and regularly update it. For more regular analysis around these themes, sign up for my newsletter — The Weekly Distillation.