In a world that is constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.- John Naisbitt
An important disclaimer before I begin my story. I am, by no stretch of imagination, a technology expert or a soothsayer. I am just a curious observer of the world who relies heavily on his common sense to guide his understanding of the seemingly complex world we live in. I do subscribe to the aphorism “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Having shed the garb of an expert, I feel more comfortable discussing my observations.
The year was 1997 and the book i was reading was called Megatrends. It was authored by John Naisbitt. The book was published in 1982 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 2 years, mostly at No. 1. It was a result of ten years of research, was published 57 countries and sold more than 14 million copies. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Naisbitt). The reason this book was important was because it introduced me to a genre of writing called ‘futures studies’ and to people called ‘futurists’. I was curious to learn that there was a serious group of researchers who were trying to look through a crystal ball.
Megatrends influenced me heavily. I would recommend it even today. Since then, my fascination with futurists has grown exponentially. To name a few — Alvin and Heidi Toffler (Future Shock fame), Ray Kurzweil, David Houle etc. Any of these authors can serve as a good starting point for any futurist.
So, I have always been interested in the world of the future. Who wouldn’t be, right? However, as years go by, the crystal ball i.e. the ability to foresee trends that shape the global landscape has become foggier. I would attribute three major catalysts to this phenomenon.
First, the rate of change has accelerated beyond the attention span of many average humans. If you are an avid follower of social media, you know what I am talking about. It’s no longer just Facebook Live but a whole new brand of apps such as Musical.ly and Snapchat that is powering M-commerce and is creating a new platform for talent search and launching everyday celebrities — a true democratization of fashion so to speak. In any given week, it is hard for me to keep track of social networking apps that keep getting added to the app store.
Second, volatility and the variables that influence volatility are relegated to the domain of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Petaflops of computing power can be dedicated to predicting outcomes of global geopolitics. Yet, all that computing power could fail in predicting the outcome of interdependent and self-reinforcing global forces.
Third, Democratization courtesy technology is transferring the power to alter the world to the common people. More power to us.
Bottom line, it’s almost impossible to predict Megatrends that can influence profound, lasting change. However, I have observed a few powerful forces that could end up shaping the world of the future:
1. Banking 2.0: Who needs plastic anyway? : Let me begin with a force at play near an industry close to my heart-financial services. Technology behind digital currencies has been morphing and mutating beyond belief. I have followed Bitcoin since it was $10. Today, Coinbase has declared bitcoin “stagnant” and has started supporting Ethereum. The Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) has created a new form of democracy contract. DAO has been the largest crowdsale in history (https://daohub.org/). Bottomline, Blockchain may give way to Ethereum. However, the underlying concept- a digital currency platform is here to stay. As financial services grapples with FinTech, I tend to agree with Andrew Ross Sorkin in that banking will end up adopting robust technologies pioneered by startups and transform to version 2.0. On that journey, it may be time to say goodbye to the plastic card soon.
2. The Lawnmower Man: I know! Some of you must be wondering how old I am? Yes, i am referring to the 1992 Pierce Brosnan, Jeff Fahey starrer. I am also alluding to an otherwise old technology Virtual Reality. While Microsoft Hololens, Playstation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive vie for your eyes through VR and Augmented Reality (AR), Rony Abovitz’s creation Magic Leap and the concept of Mixed Reality fascinates me more.
Mixed Reality appeals to me more and I could imagine a future where we interact with the virtual world using Mixed Reality. I realize this is a very dangerous statement to make. However, as i said before, the crystal ball is always foggy.
3. The Empire strikes back: After Austria, it is not very hard to imagine a growing sense of Xenophobia and the rise of the far right. As underlying economic factors push people’s frustration to it’s limits, the forces converge on other sub-trends i.e. protecting the home turf. Inequality has widened and is pushing people slowly into an abyss characterized by anarchy and fear mongering. Geopolitics is creating Tsunamis of depressed growth and the fear of negative interest rates. Helicopter money, free stipends were unheard of a few years ago. The rise of new superpowers and extreme economic volatility could threaten central banks worldwide and push governments towards greater control of the economy. The search for alpha remains elusive and markets remain choppy. Higher growth economies with relatively strong political underpinnings will attract the next wave of capital. This is reminiscent of world wars but of a different kind i.e. a conflict that is largely economic and geopolitical. A concerted effort to beat inequality and to stabilize economies is the future.
The above represent a very abridged list of major forces shaping the world today. There are others that I consider very important — climate change, driverless cars, rise of adaptive Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (MLAI), building of a new line of educational institutions, crowdfunding, a mass exodus of the working class towards entrepreneurship, outsourcing etc. However, what is more interesting is the interplay of these factors on a global stage.
In the words of Ray Kurweil — “If we look at the life cycle of technologies, we see an early period of over-enthusiasm, then a ‘bust’ when disillusionment sets in, followed by the real revolution”
I am waiting for the revolution to unfold. I hope all my readers are waiting with bated breath to see the future unravel.
To conclude, my thoughts are not the result of many years of research but a simple collection of trends I have observed over a few years. This article is not intended to predict the world of the future (I don’t profess to see the future) However, it is written with two simple objectives in mind i.e. to inform and to encourage budding futurists.
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