Some of the boldest thinkers were asked by Quartz what the world will be like in 50 years. What did they say?
I found it fascinating and though I would share it here. Of course, digital technologies will be part of it all, but the amalgamation of various technologies (e.g. biology and AI) will be the real game-changer.
Here a selection of the most interesting questions and answers…
1. Who will run the world?
- AI networks and networks of quantum intelligence
- The US and China
- Global governance will be pluralistic—states, multinational companies, megacities, and civil society organizations
My favourite answers:
There are two countries that have power that matters: the US and China. China will have a bigger economy, there’s no question. They have human capital, education, etc. to drive economic growth. But the reality is that for the biggest AI breakthroughs, it will be either the US or China that succeeds—and just one breakthrough could make the difference. It’s possible that we see either the US or China make a major breakthrough and everyone else will have to align to their standards, systems, and technology. It’s also possible that we end up in war. These challenges are only getting bigger, and in a G-Zero world [where there is a vacuum of power in international politics created by the decline of Western influence], it’s unclear that today’s ideas about what constitutes governance will continue to work. Ian Bremmer, President, Eurasia Group
Women. Katrina Lake, Founder and CEO, Stitch Fix
2. What kinds of companies will be the most important?
- Public-private meta-platforms (PPMPs)
- Those which meld technologies
- Companies that do work in AI and technology—likely companies working in spaces that don’t currently exist.
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Companies that can guarantee good-quality food
My favourite ones:
Engineering petroleum has led to the world we see around us today. Energy, plastics, chemicals—we live in a world shaped by the seemingly miraculous things chemical engineers can do with crude oil. But these processes have also created lots of problems. The future needs to be sustainable: from stopping the production of more greenhouse gases, to using materials that don’t trash the planet, to feeding 10 billion people, and keeping them healthy.
The new dominant paradigm for this will move from chemical engineering to biological engineering. The shift will be similar to the way IT has transformed our world, giving us devices that allow us to have unprecedented connections to each other—all through bits. But at the end of the day, we live in a world of atoms, and the best way to program atoms is biology. Over billions of years, Mother Nature has created the ability to make more and more wondrous creatures and mechanisms, fundamentally transforming Earth from a big rock to a garden paradise. The companies of the next few decades will not just learn many more of Mother Nature’s secrets, but will use her tools, via genetic engineering, biological engineering, and materials engineering to design, scale, and transform the world of atoms. Vijay Pande, General Partner, Anderssen Horowitz
Agriculture. Two types of companies will be very important. Professional agriculture companies—Pioneer, DuPont, Monsanto (ah! Monsanto!). Yes, companies like Monsanto will be very important. I believe that in the developed world there will be fusion energy. The companies that supply electricity and distribute it, and agricultural companies, will be the big companies in the future. Information companies, like Amazon and so on, will be important, but, I predict, there will be a lot of competition by then. Bill Nye, Scientist and Author
3. How will we get information?
- Facial, head wearables, wristwatches
- Googleplex and Facebookdom
- From the content we now call video games, but they will be more content-rich
- Pre-schoolers will be trained to discern trusted sources of information as a daily activity along with learning their letters and numbers.
My favourite ones:
The internet isn’t going anywhere. What the big apps have shown, though, is that they can heavily contain our experience of it. They can manipulate the edges of our consciousness and force us to limit our exploration to the lens they provide. Still, two visions contend: the Googleplex dominion of highly-curated, de-personalized, ranked truths and the Facebookdom of hearsay and sentiment sensing. What kinds of information are we going to want the most? As more of the important day-to-day services in our lives move to hyper-connected platforms capable of pulling in data from all manner of sources in anticipation of our needs, we are less consciously searching for information independent of the flow of our actions. Unless an individual is in a line of work that requires seriously original thinking, curiosity is increasingly more oriented toward understanding the viewpoints of others and the nuances of social belief than it is toward dry facts and curated opinion. Structural recall may already be on the downslide. It seems to me that in the near future, systems that enable more unstructured peer learning and immersion, like the next generation of WhatsApp groups, shall acquire higher stakes in our contested attention span than the systematic search engines in vogue today. Bright Simons, President, MPedigree Network
In 50 years, we will be much better trained in how to discern the veracity of information from all kinds of outlets and sources. People will also get information and “news” from the content we now call video games, but they will be more content-rich. Preschoolers will be trained to discern trusted sources of information as a daily activity along with learning their letters and numbers. Sources of information will be essential to safety and security as disinformation is increasingly a weapon in political and social discourse. Kathy Baughman McLeod. Director, Adrienne Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center
4. What forms of transportation will we use?
- High-speed rail lines
- Electric planes
- Personal, Uber-like helicopters
- A reimagined, coordinated mass transit system
- By Virtual Reality
Most autonomous-mobility companies are completely deluded. Look, if self-navigating platforms are going to become a thing, it will only happen as part of a reimagined, coordinated mass transit system. That is to say, it is not Ford’s datacenters that will have the responsibility for tele-guiding a chute-pod down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx—it will be the borough government’s nav system. Most investments today are toward individual autonomous vehicles, but the real challenge is how to manage a swarm of independent self-driving cars. For cities to allow large numbers of self-driving cars, they would need to deploy some of the most complex swarm management systems the world has ever seen. Due to heavy underinvestment in this critical layer, I am completely certain that our modes of transportation won’t change much for the next two decades at least.
But, of course, people may finally begin to see the folly of past focuses and build the municipal transit systems needed to enable coordinated, swarm-based navigational platforms. Once that happens, expect that cars will look very different as they are redesigned to fit within the “transit tapestry.” There will be dense sensor networks for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and a redundancy-led safety approach. Cybersecurity is going to be the dominant constraint, so expect all the lessons we have learned from the disastrous way TCP/IP [the protocol that runs most of the internet] was designed to come in handy as mass transit designers rig the system with rampant failsafes. Bright Simons, President, MPedigree Network
We will travel very little. Fear of pandemics and the carbon-shaming of those who take flights will keep us at home. Plus, VR will be advanced enough that we can go to a Parisian cafe without leaving our house. AJ Jacobs, Journalist and Author
5. What will cities be like?
- Cities are going to become much more eco-conscious
- More green space
- With autonomous cars there will be no honking
- With electric taxi pods half as wide as cars
- Encouraging serendipitous encounters will become the all-consuming passion of municipal designers.
Cities are known for their intense sounds. In 50 years they will sound different. Electric vehicles will make almost no noise. With autonomous cars there will be no honking. If there are drones, they will be quiet. The hidden sounds will emerge. We will hear our neighbors more. We may even hear birds. Emile Sherman, Co-founder, See-Saw Films
Future cities will be crowded, wired for public connection, more segregated, on either end of weather extremes—very hot, very wet or very dry—yet, better, more strategically vegetated and forested. Investment in public spaces like parks and natural areas will increase as those spaces will be appreciated for their multiple values to cities and their inhabitants, especially immigrants. People will also no longer need to go to work in the traditional sense; very few will need to commute so people will stay in one part of the city, which will boost reliance on and the importance of community. Kathy Baughman McLeod. Director, Adrienne Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center
6. What technology will bring about the biggest change in society?
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Neural implants
- DNA manipulation
- Micro-bots swimming through our bodies
- Local, automated and cost-effective farms
- Fusion energy
- There won’t be any need for planes anymore
The first phase of the internet was about software and virtual innovation. The second phase (from now to the next 50 years) will be about optimizing, sharing, and changing the physical world. This will take longer, but have a much more substantial impact on our daily lives. Transportation will undergo such a change, as companies work to move the marginal cost of delivering anything or anyone to zero. Another area that will experience a major change will be food production. We will see a shift toward local, automated and cost effective farms. Artificial meat will also replace the need for raising livestock since we will just grow the meat instead. Noam Bardin, CEO Waze
I think there’s a bunch. Probably AGI, or general purpose AI, whatever you want to call it, is the one that is going to enable acceleration of a lot of other discoveries. But my guess is that it’s some combination of AGI, better-fidelity direct connectivity to the brain, and broadly speaking the intersection of wet [biological] technology and computing. So things like in-cell RNA modification, DNA manipulation—all of those things will lead to the ability to cure diseases without destructive side effects. I think we’ll probably get there faster if we focus on AGI. And then I happen to think that optical quantum computing is going to be very important, but that’s just a super specific, very speculative thing. I think quantum computing will be important, but I think the way we will get there is probably through optical quantum computing. Max Levchin, CEO Affirm
The whole list can be found here: https://qz.com/is/the-world-in-50-years/