Any experienced surfer knows how important it is to keep one eye fixed on the horizon. While a wave is still forming a long way off, that is the time to start paddling, to get into position and get ready. Leave it too long or fail to move at all, and you’ll be wiped out as the wave crashes you.
It’s much the same when looking to ride the waves of change. Smart individuals recognize how important it is to have one eye firmly fixed on what lies ahead. Failing to identify and prepare the waves of change will set any business or professional on a collision course with irrelevance or annihilation.
In the words of London Business School professor Gary Hamel, ‘You can’t outrun the future if you don’t see it coming.’
Having spent much of the last decade interacting with and interviewing some of the brightest and most visionary thinkers on the none of us can afford to ignore as they define the coming 10-15 years;
1. The Rise of the Robots
For many of us, the very mention of Artificial Intelligence (AI) conjures up futuristic notions of Skynet and the malevolent robots that rose up to destroy humankind in the Terminator film series.
While the ethical and moral implications of AI are still up for debate, what’s clear is that this automation technology will dramatically impact every single one of us. A few years ago, researchers at Oxford found that as many as 47 per cent of employment had a ‘high risk of computerisation’ by the early 2030s — more than 64 million jobs in the US alone.
Computers are getting smarter with every passing day – some even predict that they’ll overtake human intellectual capacity by as early as 2029. In this brave new age of hyper-intelligent machines, it will be uniquely human capabilities like intuition, judgement, empathy and creativity that will matter most.
2. A world Without Drivers
Despite recent setbacks, the driverless age is far closer than most of us realise. Tony Seba and James Arbib of the think tank RethinkX predict that by 2027, 90 per cent of passenger miles each year will be travelled in autonomous vehicles and that many of those vehicles will not be owned by the ‘driver’. Instead, this 90 per cent of travel will be done in driverless Uber-style vehicles, which will make up 60 per cent of the vehicles on the road. Even if Seba and Arbib are a few years ‘off’ in their prediction, what’s clear is that mobility is about to change forever.
Consider this: within 25 to 30 years, owning a car could be like owning a horse today — something you do if it’s a passion or hobby, but not as your primary mode of transportation. Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson has said US vehicle sales will likely decline by 40 per cent by 2040.
Not only will we increasingly choose not to purchase cars but we’ll soon stop paying to park them too. In a driverless age, a vehicle may drop you at the desired destination and then head off to a designated wait area or perhaps even drive home only to return and pick you up when you need it.
The auto insurance industry specifically is set for a massive shakeup as driverless cars become mainstream. After all, if you do happen to be unlucky enough to have an accident in an infinitely safer driverless vehicle, who will actually be at fault? By extension, what would the purpose of car insurance be? KPMG estimate that as much as 80 per cent of auto insurer’s revenues could evaporate in coming decades.
3. 3D Printing
3D printing is far from a new technology. Hideo Kodama of Japan’s Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute invented the first working 3D printer as far back as 1982. Since then, 3D printing technology has remained at the fringes of commerce — mainly used for prototypes, architecture, construction, aerospace or the military.
The years to come will likely see 3D printing become mainstream in some powerfully disruptive ways. In their book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler name 3D printing as one of the world’s most exciting new technologies — referring to it as the ‘democratisation of distribution’.
To see how 3D printing could change the game and tip the scales of power toward consumers, consider recent advancements in the printing of consumer goods such as shoes.
In the past few years, all the major shoe manufacturers have taken significant steps toward 3D printing. New Balance CEO Robert DeMartini recently reported that his company was working on a design for 3D-printed running shoes. ‘It’s really just the beginning’, DeMartini said. ‘As personalisation takes the next step, and as the 3D ecosystem gains steam, we’re envisioning being able to print these in consumers’ homes.’
The emergence of virtual currencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them represents the most significant change to financial services in decades and possibly centuries. While Bitcoin has had a spectacularly dramatic last 12 months, the fluctuating value of cryptocurrencies isn’t where the real story is.
Known technically as ‘distributed ledger technology’, a blockchain is essentially a secure protocol where a network of computers collectively verify a transaction before it can be recorded and approved.
Blockchain could be an enormous opportunity for banks and financial institutions to improve customer service and efficiency.
Blockchain will also significantly impact the real estate industry as it will allow anyone to manage, track, and transfer land titles and property deeds — with no need for intermediaries or the fees they charge.
Other professionals including journalists, insurance brokers and academics will likely see the impact of Blockchain due to research-driven applications of the technology.
Defined as the branch of technology that deals with the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules, nanotechnology has long been a source of fascination for scientists and futurists alike. It is estimated that currently 3-4 nanotech products are hitting the market every week and are having a significant impact on product design and functionality.
For instance, nanotechnology is already allowing tennis balls to last longer, wounds to heal more quickly due to bandages infused with silver nanoparticles, and specially-designed socks that actively fight odour and regulate temperature.
Within a few short years, nanotech solar surfaces will be able to split water via electrolysis and generate hydrogen to run a fuel cell – thus significantly disrupting the revenue models of battery manufacturers and utilities providers. Scientists at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University have even developed nano-thin particles of titanium dioxide fabric which will use natural or ultraviolet light to self-clean clothes without the need for detergents.
As we consider the road ahead, there is one great universal and levelling truth: the future will impact us all and only we can decide what sort of impact that will be. To paraphrase the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, resisting change is like trying to hold your breath – even if you’re successful, it won’t end well.
So get ready – it’s time to lift our eyes to the horizon and get in position to ride the waves of change that are already taking shape.