By Edie Weiner, Co-Founder, President and CEO of The Future HuntersSeptember 22, 2020
The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, carrying enormous implications for every aspect of our lives—from the economy to technology, education, politics, healthcare and the very structure of society and civilization. Renowned futurist Edie Weiner explored 11 of the most critical trends at a recent Golden Seeds Trend Talk hosted by Golden Seeds member and venture partner Kathryn Swintek. Edie is co-founder, president and CEO of The Future Hunters, one of the world’s leading futurist consulting firms. Her comments, summarized here, provide a roadmap to what lies ahead. This is one in a series of Golden Seeds Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.
If you feel like time is moving faster than ever, it’s not your imagination: The world is changing more rapidly than at any point in human history, causing time to speed up and compress. We call it “templosion.”
What once took years, decades or eons is being condensed into a fraction of that time. With genetic engineering, for example, scientists can accomplish in a few minutes what would have taken nature hundreds of thousands of years. And while the agricultural era lasted for millennia, the industrial era lasted only 200 years, and the post-industrial gave way to the emotile (emotion and motility) economy in a matter of decades.
TRAVELING THREE PATHS
At The Future Hunters, we believe trends will progress along three distinct pathways over the next five years, all affecting humankind simultaneously.
The first is epidemiological: COVID-19 will be with us as long as we live on this planet, affecting everything from scientific developments to healthcare, geopolitical conditions, massive migration and the world economy.
The second is preparatory or remedial: The pandemic has highlighted the need to address the healthcare system, socioeconomic disparities, governance, supply chain issues, public services and much more.
The third is opportunistic: We are leaving behind everything that was proven and accepted as normal. We are reimagining products, services and systems of all types; establishing new goals and metrics; expecting different outcomes. This is what we at the Future Hunters are most excited about, and where we are focusing our attention.
TOP TRENDS TO WATCH
Within this framework, I’d like to focus on 11 emerging trends that we see as the most critical.
1. Starting over.
We’re going back to square one in almost every way imaginable. COVID-19 didn’t cause this, but it has sped up the process. We’re rethinking even the very basics of physics and biology.
In medicine, there’s new understanding of the gut biome, the influence of genes and the notion that engineering underlies the body’s interconnected systems. Wearable technology, home self-diagnostic tests and the expanded role of nurse practitioners and telemedicine are changing the landscape.
Language is evolving to remove gender-based concepts. In education, the role of teachers may evolve into guides who help students think critically about what they learn by experience through virtual reality and video games.
2. Public vs. private capitalism.
Traditionally, there have been three economic models: socialism, communism and capitalism. Now capitalism is cleaving into two: the familiar private version, in which business owners can focus on individual profits, and public capitalism, which considers the good of the whole. Public capitalism still allows free markets to operate but employees, investors, consumers and insurance companies can set boundaries and influence decisions to benefit society and the planet as well as the individual.
3. Intergenerational cauldron.
With life expectancy climbing, the older population is expanding and societal tension is mounting. The younger generation sometimes feels that seniors are consuming more resources, leaving the young with fewer opportunities and an environment in crisis. They also observe that older generations are making political and economic decisions with long-lasting impact, feeling that they have less understanding of contemporary technologies and viewpoints than those who will have to live with the results.
4. Visual literacy.
Communication is taking new forms as people convey ideas through videos, memes, emojis and GIFs rather than words. That requires “fluensee,” the ability to interpret visual messaging. Education in conceptual communication is critical to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication, especially now that technology makes it possible to create fake images, video and audio that appear to be real.
Trust is emerging as the newest luxury, something that is much-wanted but in short supply. Because of advances in artificial intelligence and reduced vetting by news sources, we can no longer believe everything we see and hear. We will need experts we can absolutely trust to tell us the truth, confirming and interpreting information and helping us use it.
6. The rise of the neohumanic work force.
Intelligent, learning robots are here. It’s already possible to operate robots remotely, having them function in a workspace or perform surgery as if the person were actually there.
Neohumanics will begin displacing higher-order workers, even board directors, in the belief that they can better assess risks, more quickly provide systemic feedback, and come up with less biased and more sustainable solutions. Some disagree, stressing the importance of the human factor. There are serious questions about the ethical and knowledgeable oversight and liability of neohumans, as well as the idea that at some point robots may be taxed to replace the income tax paid by the human workers they supplant.
7. The rapid spread of popularism.
This differs from the traditional idea of populism, which is based on the dichotomy between ordinary people and the privileged elite, usually driven by a charismatic leader. By contrast, popularism is about issues, not haves and have-nots. Both camps may unite behind charismatic ideas (about gay rights, immigration or the environment, for example) that develop from the ground up.
8. Betting on the DICE: Distributed Income Compensation Enterprises.
There are more DICE in the game as new methods of compensation become more common. More companies are hiring dispersed populations to offer goods and services. Examples include crowd-sourced software, viral influencers, online coaches and eBay sellers.
Advances in technology such as block chain and virtual currency are fueling the move to distributed compensation. As more workers join the gig economy when they lose traditional jobs, this raises the question: How do we regulate fair compensation and the value and quality of delivered goods and services?
We’ve coined this phrase to reflect the worldwide public urgency surrounding climate change, noise pollution and light pollution. There is rising ecological anxiety, especially among the young, and the big question is: Will these become political issues that bring out younger voters? This is also becoming a major driver behind public capitalism and impact investing.
Mental health is under stress globally and depression and anxiety are climbing, due to COVID-19 and issues such as social injustice, migration, gun violence, gender imbalance and shifting cultural norms. We need an entirely new field of study to address those psychological problems as well as addictions, sleep disturbance, and fears of hacking and ID theft.
11. Feudalism 2.0.
Landowners used to rule workers and their lives, but nowadays those who own and generate data are ruling over digital serfs. Omni algorithms dictate hiring and firing, bank loans, insurance rates, criminal justice and much more. The algorithms reflect the biases of those who create them and the norms they detect in chats and social media. There is growing demand for candor and transparency across the tech industry and regulation of data usage.
These trends are some of the most important we’ve identified, but we encourage everyone to look at things with fresh eyes, as if they were children or aliens from another planet, and envision a different future. Read science fiction and subscribe to publications about subjects you know nothing about. Read respected political publications that don’t align with your views so you can understand opposing ideas. The extremes inform the middle, and it is the centrists who must decide what makes sense for our future by evaluating the extremes and finding the right balance.
Learn more about The Future Hunters and Edie Weiner here.
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