I had the pleasure of talking with futurist and the managing partner of ChangeistScott Smith recently about some of the biggest macro trends everyone should be aware of today. While these trends had already begun prior to the coronavirus pandemic, in many ways, they accelerated as the world fought to deal with the pandemic and now as we begin to build our post-COVID-19 world. Here are the six future trends he believes everyone should be ready for.
The Great Disconnection
The “decoupling” of economies had already started pre-COVID-19 with early indicators appearing five to 10 years ago, according to some thought leaders, but the pandemic certainly made it more clear how dependence on globalization could create vulnerabilities. Some of the world’s major powers, such as the UK, the United States, Brazil, Russia, India, and parts of the European Union, had already started to favor nationalism. In addition,China’s dominance as the world’s manufacturing center began to be questioned more aggressively during COVID as supply chains ground to a halt and the difference between the Chinese government and the West became more apparent or at least harder to ignore.
As nations look toward building a new future, it seems likely globalization is in the rearview mirror in favor of amultipolar world where there are three or four large regions (America, European Union, Asia with China at the apex and possibly India) that have distinct economies, security networks, cultures, and laws. These poles would be able to operate from a similar position regarding data privacy, standards, trade agreements, and more, whereas with globalization, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with too many variances among global leaders to operate in a unified way.
Some of our biggest societal systems and modern industries such as education, transportation, energy, food, and healthcare are in the midst of gargantuan changes. Spurned in part by the measurable climate change that can no longer be defended as a myth, these industries are working to reinvent themselves in this new reality. Sincelivestock production is cited as being responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions, there’s been a groundswell of support for going vegan or vegetarian, as well as the food industry working to develop “fake” meat that is as convincing as the real thing to satisfy reticent carnivores. From e-cars to autonomous vehicles, the transportation industry is in transition as well to develop the next generation transportation that is safe, reliable as well as good for the earth. In the energy sector,decarbonization of power is underway to meet the emissions reduction targets agreed to as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change. And the transition shocks experienced due to COVID as teachers scrambled to educate the next generation amid stay-at-home-orders and workforces were challenged to keep business running remotely while juggling all that came with the “new normal” caused tension and conflict. The shocks of our transitions are still reverberating and will continue as we shift to the next phase of our experience in all areas, including the economy, technology, healthcare, social development, and more.
Rethinking the Social Contract
What can we expect from our relationship with our governments and companies? Under intense pressure, our traditionalsocial contract is no longer working for a wide swath of individuals. Societies have become divided between the haves and have nots, and any differences, whether religion, race, or sexual orientation, create chasms rather than common ground in the echo chamber of social media. As our experience is digitized, workforces feel threatened by automation and don’t feel valued or protected by either companies or the government, as was more common in the past. Discussions of auniversal basic income increased in economies that were decimated with shutdowns from the pandemic. As economies work to recover from COVID-19, discussions will continue regarding what should be included in the social contract between people, companies, and their governments. Some are starting to considerGovernment as a Platform (Gaap) to provide better public services, more efficiency, digital public infrastructure, and more.
While the 1970s and 1980s were characterized as Artificial Intelligence (AI)winters, those decades were followed by a deep learning revolution that increasingly democratized artificial intelligence developments. Today, a trend referred to as an AI reset is being witnessed—where there are significant challenges to overcome, such as regulatory obstacles, cost of development, and more that leave companies, organizations, and governments taking a moment to regroup regarding AI initiatives and planning. Although there is much to figure out, I believeartificial intelligence is accelerating, and the next big wave is imminent. We already saw before and during the pandemic how AI could disrupt and add value to our world, and it’s quite evident that trend will continue thanks to smarter big data analytics and insights, increased uses for automation, behavioral predictions, and more.
The Identity Stack
Who are you? The answer to that can be quite varied and complex with technology’s digital representations of individuals plus the erosion of normative definitions of gender and social roles. Today we have the ability to represent ourselves as a “stack” of identities that account for various affiliations, situations, values, and more.Virtual reality and augmented reality add another layer of possibilities for physical-world identities. Will you be the same identity based on who you’re interacting with? Will our mental health suffer if we lean too far into our virtual selves and ignore the physical world? Given the tools at our disposal, smartphones, social media, and technology, we are free to create a digital narrative about who we are that might not match our physical world persona.
Deep hybridity—a blend of the physical, biological, and digital worlds—is the final future trend you should be aware of. Our “new normal” will be a place where these worlds mix and mingle in our daily experience. Every organization needs to consider how they offer physical and digital experiences that work seamlessly for those who interact with it. For example, thePost Office Group must have a multi-faceted approach to creating a frictionless experience and the right systems and infrastructure to support the home businesses, remote working, and online shopping habits of its customers. Every organization must now consider how they provide products and services equally as well and complementary, whether interacting online or in the physical world. TheFourth Industrial Revolution is all about cyber-physical systems and using technology to dramatically change our world. It may have begun in the manufacturing world where sensors and smart machines facilitated production, but it’s now impacting nearly every industry, from healthcare to entertainment to energy and more. The opportunities are extraordinary in this next phase of our global economy.