2014: Crunch Time!
Here are our thoughts on 2014.
See the slideshow for the graphic version, with full text below.
For many years we have all observed massive change, driven not only by extraordinary developments in information, medical, and material technologies, but also by accompanying social shifts that have been as dramatic as technological change.
These shifts have been incremental over years, so while we are all aware of these shifts, many still do not realize quite how dramatic the impact will be.
We are now reaching “Crunch Time”, when cumulative change is reaching the point of fundamental disruption in many aspects of society. Now is when the extent of change truly hits home, leaving many dazed, yet others seizing the extraordinary opportunities that emerge from rapid change.
In this brief report we highlight 14 domains in which we are reaching crunch time, and how we need to respond.
Given the pace of change, everyone from primary school students through to retirees must learn to understand these fundamental shifts. With the world of work being utterly transformed, only those who learn continuously will experience better opportunities tomorrow.
In every domain new ethical issues and quandaries are emerging. The job of ethicist will grow massively moving forward, yet we are all responsible for grappling with the new challenges and choices we have, individually and collectively.
Everyone a futurist
The role of thinking effectively about the future cannot be outsourced. Not just leaders in business, government, and society, but all of us must actively engage with the extraordinary challenges of the future, so we can act better today.
Crunch time is, most importantly, a call to action. Those who have already understood these fundamental shifts are on the front foot. Now the world will divide between those who choose to take action and those who ignore or deny change.
Work is being transformed through two dramatic forces: the rise of remote work and rapidly increasing machine capabilities. This is resulting in a dramatic polarization in which those with world-class skills and capabilities experience unprecedented opportunities, while the less-skilled are commoditized by icy global competition. The middle ground is massively eroding. As existing jobs disappear at an unprecedented rate, the dramatic question we face is whether will be able to generate sufficient new kinds of jobs to replace vanishing categories of work.
Governments must focus on enabling education for all ages and supporting industries that will create tomorrow’s jobs. Companies need to re-organize so that work is flexible and inspiring. Individuals must continually develop skills that will be relevant next year and beyond.
Individuals are increasingly choosing to buy online as they are given more choice. Online retail is far from new, yet many more products are rapidly shifting in how they are bought, with enhancements such as same-day delivery, easy no-cost returns, and digital fitting making the case. Physical retail will certainly not die, but it is in the midst of a dramatic transformation, in which a far smaller number of suburban stores thrive or survive, and the successful larger retailers merge physical and online to create unparalleled experiences.
To succeed, retailers – both in physical stores and online – must focus on improving in four domains: Experience, Personalization, Immediacy, and Community. They will reach out to their customers across multiple channels to create value that transcends any single retail avenue.
The extinction of print media is rapidly approaching. Newspapers are struggling, shifting to weekend only, or simply dying, while magazines are rapidly disappearing from newsstands. Free-to-air television’s resistance to online distribution will be transcended, helping create a mind-boggling abundance of channels covering the full spectrum of formats, professionalism, and budgets. Crunch time for old media unwilling to respond to change goes hand-in-hand with an explosion of possibilities for quality news and content, shaping what will be an entire global economy based largely on media.
“Pro-am” models that merge professional and amateur capabilities will be at the heart of the highest-quality, most profitable news and content. Rapidly iterating experiments in revenue models will sense and also shape people’s willingness to pay for content, while traditional advertising will rapidly morph into engaging communities with shareable content.
The use of cash is finally receding as contactless cards and mobile wallets are broadly accepted. Reasons for physical notes and coins to remain, including anonymity of transactions and lack of trust in financial institutions, are helping the case for digital currencies such as Bitcoin. Digital currencies’ volatility and resistance from governments will slow their uptake, but individuals’ desire to transcend the fortunes of nations will push more value and transactions beyond fiat currencies.
Far too much economic value is still being taken by yesterday’s payment systems. Those who provide better alternatives will be richly rewarded, even as they destroy old franchises. Individuals are right to be suspicious of currencies both past and future.
After years of erosion, all the outer layers of our privacy have vanished, leaving the core of who we are exposed. This enables corporations and government agencies to know us literally better than we know ourselves, in our behaviors and inclinations. Facial recognition is moving beyond recognizing us wherever we go, to being able to pick up the micro-muscle movements in our face and uncover our hidden emotions. Yet the erosion of privacy goes two ways, and institutions are rapidly losing their secrets and ability to hide their intentions from us.
The debate on privacy cannot be private, it must be open and engaged, so citizens and consumers understand and are comfortable with how personal information is used. The purported value of having our personal information gathered must be made clear, highly specific, and constrained. This just might shift the debate.
Governments everywhere, from local to national, stable to precarious, now realize they must enable rather than quell engagement and input from their citizens. Citizen crowdsourcing is being applied across the board from shaping policy to delivering services. Massive government debt means new solutions must now be created, in which the borders between government and citizen dissolve for joint creation of social value. Transparency exposes politicians’ intimate, ideological and pecuniary relationships, yet enables them to catalyze movements as never before.
Governments must battle their structural rigidity to focus on how to create value for society in a connected world, and not just on perpetuating institutions. Citizens must seek to actively engage in creating change, as that is how that change will come. We must all seek to tap the promise of truly participatory democracies.
The focus of education is shifting dramatically from institutions to individuals, as we are able to access better teachers and resources online than in our classrooms, and peer recognition becomes more valuable than certificates and degrees. Schools have always focused on homogeneity and conformance; now they can and will enable our uniqueness through learning designed for the individual. Continuous education will be at the center of the world, for all of us becoming the difference between prosperity and unemployment.
Almost no schools today are effectively preparing children for the world of tomorrow. The pace of institutional change is far too slow and radical prescriptions are required. All adults are responsible for their own ongoing education. The resources they need are now readily available.
Shifts in the Earth’s climate have been visible for decades. During that time the center of the debate has moved on from whether the climate is changing and whether it is caused by human activity, to what and how much should be done. Extreme weather events around the world are bringing home the potential impact of continued climate shift. There remains very high uncertainty about the nature and extent of climate change, yet there is a real chance in just the next few decades of a destructive impact far beyond what most people can even imagine.
When the future of our planet and indeed humanity is in question, there is no doubt that a massive response is required. Finding mechanisms to limit carbon emissions is essential. We must also go beyond these immediate challenges to explore technologies that may be able to positively shape Earth’s climate.
The most important technology developments today are not in the technologies themselves, but in how humans interface with them. Wearable technologies such as the forthcoming Google Glass and smart watches will familiarize us with an entirely new level of information access. Voice, gesture, eye gaze, facial expression and even thought control will finally allow us to transcend the ancient technologies of keyboard and mouse. Our clothes and devices will continuously capture vital medical information, assisting to live healthier, richer lives.
Be prepared for a whole new level of information access and immersion. Those who develop their skills at using next generation interfaces such as thought control will have a strong advantage over others.
The entire structure of business is shifting towards a collaborative economy, in which value is created collectively. An array of services are emerging to match availability and surplus with latent demand, transforming domains as diverse as gardening tools, accommodation, cars, textbooks, leisure, and fertility. The inexorable drive to greater efficiency in the economy is helping to drive this collaboration, in turn reducing waste across many domains and spurring greater connection in communities.
The extraordinary opportunities in the collaborative economy are ripe for the seizing, in the process generating not just profits but also social value. Those who are worthy of trust will be strongly advantaged. We will need to shift our attitudes beyond ownership.
Social media is connecting people as never before, yet it is also dividing us. While many are now deeply absorbed in the connected world, others are choosing to live wholly IRL (In Real Life), eschewing digital connections. The reality is that those who are actively engaged in online networks are finding far more opportunities than those who do not. Another divide is emerging between older users of social media, who are familiar with Facebook and LinkedIn, and a younger generation that is moving onto new platforms.
We must all choose how we want to participate in a world increasingly driven by digital connections. It is a valid choice not to engage, as long as you understand the extent of the lost opportunities. More of us need to know how to sometimes switch off, to avoid being sucked into an online vortex that ultimately subtracts from us rather than adding possibilities.
Since chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was first beaten by a computer in 1997, the capabilities of computers have soared, and are now reaching extraordinary levels. IBM’s Watson provides advice to doctors, computers are writing sports stories, and driverless cars are licensed on the roads of three US states. Technology is threatening not just blue-collar workers, but many of today’s middle-class jobs, from insurance claims processing to legal work. We are hitting the long-anticipated juncture where machines’ capabilities at cognition and “thinking” often transcend those of humans.
Individuals, companies, and governments must understand which jobs are in imminent threat of replacement and plan for inevitable shifts. We must all focus on and develop our uniquely human capabilities, of imagination, innovation, relationships, and indeed humanity in its truest sense.
Technology and connectivity mean that warfare from today on will be massively different from the past. Drones and robots are replacing pilots and soldiers, leaving no humans on the battlefield, and turning game-players into detached killers. As importantly, much warfare is shifting from physical war to cyberwar, with the potential for power, dominance and destruction vested largely in digital worlds. Warfare will be undertaken not by nations and armies, but arrays of hidden vested interests striking selectively in a world become utterly dependent on technology.
If robot soldiers might be making autonomous decisions to kill, the ethics of unmanned warfare must be fully on the table. We must strive to achieve consensus and treaties between governments and citizens on what is acceptable, even in times of war.
We have become as gods. We are entering a world in which we can literally create ourselves. New medical technologies include lab-grown organs, genetic modification, thought-controlled limbs, and the ability to choose our children’s DNA. Technological augmentation gives us the ability to achieve far more than ever before. As robots and other machines achieve extraordinary capabilities, we need not fear, because we will be one with the machines.
Our ability to choose who we are will uncover our deepest nature. As we amplify ourselves, we amplify our underlying attitudes. We should embrace the possibilities of self-creation, but spend far more time considering who it is we truly aspire to become than on enacting that desire.