Key Points: World Economic Forum (WEF), April 2021, Technology Futures Report

The report is an exercise in foresight of specific technology segments by using research together with some sprinkles of speculative fiction that provides a vision of the future in the mid-2030s. The technology segments include:


· information

· locality

· economy

· education


The future is coming at us fast and the pace will be accelerating, as exemplified by the exponentially advancing computing power. Societies should expect disruptive innovations.


Many of the future technologies are decentralized, available to individuals (DIY – Do It Yourself), the private sector, and the government. Experimentation and innovation will take place at all levels in society.


Foresight is about identifying what is possible, and what is probable. The report argues that “humans are poor at understanding exponential trends, ...those that start small, sometimes imperceptibly so, but repeatedly self-reinforce so as to become material, and eventually, game-changers.”.


Much of the trends and technology development and applications are about the digital world. “Leaders would be wise to plan for a world where every interaction is mediated through a technological interface.”


With the digitalization of all elements of society there are risks with widening digital divides within societies and between countries. As we can see already today a smart phone is increasingly needed to do everyday things, using a digital ticket to enter an event, or having a digital wallet for transactions.


INFORMATION LENS


· Always-on connectivity is going to be a reality as humans move around in an increasingly more populated environment of sensors that are exchanging data and information faster and more widespread.


· At the same time, the data privacy struggle will continue, and both individuals, companies and governments will try to secure sensitive data.


· Tools and methods for encryption of data will likely be superseded by quantum computing. How can anything be kept secret? Or trusted? Perhaps blockchain technology will provide that answer.




LOCALITY LENS


· The pandemic drove home the realization that remote work from home did not mean a loss of productivity. According to the report 83% of US employers think remote worked turned out to be a success and the cultural shift of acceptance is likely to persist.


· The pandemic also grew the fear and dislike of crowded spaces in metropolitan public spaces and transportation systems, which will revitalize suburban communities.


· “The increase in global urbanization is expected to continue well into the future, we also foresee the growth of global suburbanization. Large urban metropolitan areas may continue to spread, spurring innovation in transit, energy, services, and infrastructure that exist beyond traditional borders.”





ECONOMY LENS


· The report predicts continued advances in battery technology, leading to an electric vehicle (EV) led future. “...we anticipate that alternative sources of clean energy will further fuel a gradual shift into increasingly “clean” transportation.”


· Much progress is expected within public health. Breakthroughs in gene sequencing, 3D-printed organs, and AI applications in life sciences will improve societal health.




EDUCATION LENS


· If the “gig working” economy continues to increase in the future, so too will the “gig learning” economy.


· Due to constantly evolving technology lifelong learning will become a necessary means of staying relevant.


· The report expects a decoupling of degree and diploma programs to be replaced by “nanodegrees”, a “project and skills-based educational credential” delivered entirely online.


· Hiring will be more meritocratic and skill-based where apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job training will be important.





Some other interesting observations:


· Expect every person to need, and have, their own a Social Media manager (virtual) to monitor and control the numerous platforms that a person is connected to.


· The economy will be increasingly experiental rather than material.


· Although it is about technology, the report highlights that in contrast to finite “supplies of certain precious elements, chemical compounds and organic species, human ingenuity is inexhaustible.” For technologies, the impact will depend on the used applications.


· “AI’s next act is likely to be affective intelligence: the ability to discern and emulate human emotions and, in turn, to begin to engage in empathic interactions and even relationships.”


Link to this report: https://www.weforum.org/reports/technology-futures-projecting-the-possible-navigating-whats-next

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