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What the Future Looks Like in 2021 and Beyond
Ten key innovation themes for the next decade.
Life is more digital than physical. And that’s going to accelerate, with more of our identity moving online daily. The implications of how we live and do business are enormous.
With 24 hours in every day, 11 are spent in front of a screen. Let’s say for 7 hours, we sleep. That leaves us only 6 hours each day in the physical world ( eating, traveling, exercising, social in-person contact, live events). So 65% of waking hours are in the online world, not the physical.
So Much Information, So Much Comfort
We have endless experiences online, infinitely more than we can consume. Multiple ways to be fed content (email, Twitter, tv apps, messaging apps, social networks, notifications, news sites, and even the odd phone call). More jobs are becoming ‘digital’ jobs. Network effects accelerate the need to spend more time in the digital world. ( because everyone else is, you have to) Social networks pull us into multiple, never-ending communication streams that last for hours, days, even years ( Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin). Be online or don’t exist, always attached to your phone. Your online persona and image are now more important to you than your physical one. ( Does anything below the waist really matter now?) The experiences created in the digital world for us are so comforting and compelling, why leave?
Augmented reality will invade our physical world further, moving more time online to let’s say 80%, leaving under 3 1/2 hours in the physical world each day. Blurring the lines between the two so we are never disconnected. Removing our innate ability to do what were once basic tasks without digital support. Tried getting around without Google maps lately?
Define Yourself or Be Defined
What does that mean for our identities? If most of who we are, exists only online. How do we best translate our personality to the digital world and retain it? Will we be ‘ourselves’ anymore or a product of the messaging and media we consume? Can we be controlled more easily now we are an ever-connected node on a network; our every whim, desire, and action recorded. Will the physical world become less and less attractive as our addictions are fed by algorithms (AI) that become too smart for our own good? (Kid’s don’t want to go outside and play, 3D games are much more fun!)
A bunch of smart scientists, worried about the future of humankind because of these issues, put in place some guiding principles to protect us from the AI genie now released out of the bottle:
Personal Privacy: People should have the right to access, manage, and control the data they generate, given AI systems’ power to analyze and utilize that data.
Liberty and Privacy: The application of AI to personal data must not unreasonably curtail people’s real or perceived liberty.
Human Control: Humans should choose how and whether to delegate decisions to AI systems, to accomplish human-chosen objectives.
The three listed above seem to be the most difficult guidelines to deliver on given the nature of governments’ protection and control instincts.
One Massive Network
“Surveillance capitalism establishes a new form of power in which contract and the rule of law are supplanted by the rewards and punishments of a new kind of invisible hand.”
Software maps of the world are being built in ever-increasing detail so the exact location of everything can be known. We are sharing our location every second; together with health data, shopping habits, social connections, and even our internal thoughts. Our responses to a stimulus can be exactly predicted and optimized: to protect us, guide us, and meet our needs perfectly AND control our responses, actions, and decisions. Dubbed Surveillance Capitalism in this research article. Well worth a read.
Great benefits and great risks walking hand in hand like soul mates.
Ten Key Themes
Thinking about the above trend to ever connectedness, and a digital life; here are relevant themes of innovation and consequences:
This one is my favorites. Commerce will grow that helps you avoid being consumed by the digital world; to be self-sufficient, more self-connected, able to balance with nature and the physical environment. The Circular Economy is a component of that.
Manual Work Will Disappear
Self-driving cars, robotics, and AI will remove most manual work and chores, freeing us to spend even more time in the digital realm. First, your vacuum cleaner became a robot, then your warehouse job, then your car.
Taxes & Regulation
There will be a digital war of taxes and regulation as governments, states & cities attempt to own the commerce ‘happening’ in their physical location.
Media Becomes Increasingly Important
Branded media outlets with trusted information become even more powerful in a world of over-supply and disinformation.
Covid has shown people it is human nature to learn skills constantly when given the time. (so many proud new bread bakers, artists, and woodworkers during lockdown) The move to digital jobs will compound the need to always be learning.
Genetics & Technology
We can mix biology and technology. Elon Musk’s high profile brain chip was successfully ‘installed’ in a pig. Why wear glasses, carry a phone when you can have it installed under your skin?
We can manipulate matter at the level of the atom. We do this already in sunscreen and car paint; human DNA is next.
The impact of the above two on healthcare will be game-changing, meaning people can live much older and healthier lives; although Covid has shown us nature finds a way to remove imbalances in animal populations.
Will allow us to power innovation, productivity, and speed at scale. Any company not having AI as a muscle it flexes easily will get out-competed. As if you're still using a typewriter and sending letters while your competitors send thousands of emails. (though sending letters is not a bad strategy at all!)
CB Insights Top 100 AI Companies of 2020
Climate Change Technology
In moving to renewable energy, thousands of new innovations never before imagined will sprout from green, virtually zero cost, energy sources.
I like this technology simply because it’s the mirror opposite of current manufacturing (additive vs subtractive). Printing anything we want, anywhere. Including homes.
Am sure there are more key future trends and themes. But the above seems promising in creating an equitable, healthy world and a huge amount of new business opportunities and innovation too!
Good luck in 2021!