2016 was an unprecedented year, with massive global political upheaval, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and centre stage being taken by issues such as ‘post-truth’, resurgent nationalism, and technological unemployment. With the world now more accustomed to such seismic agenda changing developments, I decided to turn my thoughts to the future by identifying 20 critical trends scenarios that we could see emerging and evolving by the end of 2017.
Politics, Government and Regulation
- The Presidency as a Business Model – Following his inauguration in January 2017, President Donald Trump rides roughshod over accepted norms of presidential behaviour and regularly blurs the line between national and family interests. By year-end, analysts are suggesting he could easily exceed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s estimated net worth of US$200 billion by the end of his first term. Some estimate that he could even become the world’s first trillionaire over the longer term.
- Who Needs a Constitution? – While opponents desperately seek a mandate for his impeachment, Trump’s team, his supporters and the major beneficiaries of his reign seek to extend the powers of the President. They also pursue the removal of limits on the duration of the U.S. presidential term and the number of times an individual can hold the office.
- Brexit Brouhaha – Despite invoking Article 50 in the spring, the UK government was blocked at every turn by a string of legal challenges that hampered progress. Negotiation priorities increasingly flip-flopped between securing a sensible agreement from an economic perspective and ‘protecting’ the political face of the UK and EU. The ‘UK question’ hyperbole was increasingly used by both sides in several national debates across EU member states. In the UK, the public grew wary of those trying to garner continuing support for Brexit by claiming to represent the political will of the UK electorate on the one side, and of the scaremongering on the risk to the UK economy and the European project on the other.
- May Day May Day – Exasperated by the Brexit roadblocks and under pressure from many in her own party, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a general election for October 2017 to let the public decide if they want her Brexit plan. The result was a hung parliament, with UKIP the biggest single party and Nigel Farage leading the next coalition government.
- Wildcard Wagers – The tumultuous events of 2016 sparked a rise in public event betting markets, with 2017 becoming the year of the wildcard wager. Betting shops saw an incredible rise in bets being placed on all manner of events from animals escaping zoos to the sudden collapse of buildings. A new breed of artificial intelligence (AI) based betting companies emerged which even allowed us to bet on the life expectancy of an individual. These companies draw on social media and ‘permissioned access’ to personal data to determine your life expectancy. Those that give permission for their personal data to be accessed by the betting companies can then share in the proceeds of the bets on their life.
- Will They or Won’t They? – While regulators were called upon to question the ethics of betting on life or death scenarios, advocates saw the potential for public engagement through such betting, and single interest political groups arose around the potential outcomes of specific events. Online political networks surrounding betting events were created by disparate groups; individuals identifying as will-happen or won’t-happen. This saw sudden huge surges of political activity and engagement, which dropped off drastically after each such event.
Technology and Privacy
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Following the hype phase of 2016, real applications started to emerge – ranging from intelligent assistants on our smart phones to medical decision support tools. Cash-strapped governments turned to AI for the automation of a range of functions from processing student loan applications and chasing outstanding debts through to fully automated smart divorce adjudications.
- Driving Ambition – In a bid to become a key centre of innovation and sector development in driverless vehicles, China and the UK led the way in allowing ‘on road’ trials on driverless vehicles. Both governments accelerated the process of regulatory change to allow fully or semi-autonomous cars, trucks and buses onto roads across their nations in 2018.
- Self-Powering Nations – Faced with continued uncertainty over the price, availability and environmental impact of fossil fuels, 2017 saw a record number of nations powering themselves with renewable energy for at least part of the year.
- Leave me Alone – 2017 saw a dramatic increase in the availability and adoption of Blockchain[footnote]Allows digital information to be distributed but not copied[/footnote]technology-based personal privacy management applications. By year-end, these were increasingly being used by individuals to secure their own communications and information storage to avoid sharing data with massive corporations such as Facebook and Google.
The Economy and Business
- Corporate Flight – Uncertainty over Brexit led several major companies to announce that they were moving their headquarters, R&D functions and core operations to Dublin, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. The exodus is well underway by year end.
- Wealth Haven Britain: Taxes are so 1990’s – To help cushion the expected economic impact of Brexit, the UK government introduced drastic tax measures to retain and attract foreign investment and wealth. The key pillars of the strategy were the introduction of the lowest corporation taxes in the G20, with massive increases in tax allowances for both R&D and establishment of local production facilities. In parallel, a range of personal taxation measures were introduced that make Britain look highly attractive when compared to the best of the offshore tax havens.
- Masters of the Universe – The major technology players such as Google, Baidu, IBM and Amazon continued to pull away from the pack with ever-more sophisticated technology applications. These range from super intelligent ‘brain in the cloud’ solutions to extract insight from the wealth of data being created by the Internet of Things (IoT)[footnote]The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data[/footnote], through to smart assistants managing our daily lives and instantaneous translators covering over 50 languages.
- Digital Dementia – The corporate sector and many governments continued to adopt a somewhat cautious approach to the use of disruptive technologies such as Blockchain and AI. Those who are pursuing expensive digital transformation projects began to see that their technology initiatives were eliminating the distinguishing human element and effectively commodifying everything they do. They began to learn that digital differentiation is impossible to maintain and that their strategies were almost identical to their competitors. Stock markets began to write down the value of firms that appear to have got lost in this digital maze.
- Parallel Worlds – A parallel universe of new economy businesses has emerged here on Earth. Digital era mindset firms are proliferating – trading with each other using Blockchain contract systems, transacting in digital currencies, deploying AI for core activities, and – in some cases – creating entirely digital Decentralised Autonomous Organisations with no physical employees.
- The New Professionals – A raft of AI client advisor applications have been launched by the major legal, accounting and consulting firms – automating tasks previously performed by professionals and driving a reduction in headcount.
Social and Leisure
- Technological Unemployment – The use of new smart technologies, coupled with increasing automation and the termination of ‘non-viable’ activities by large businesses, led to unemployment rising across a range of sectors in countries around the world.
- The Crumbling Middle – Stalling growth, technological unemployment, the Trump effect, Brexit uncertainty, and general cost cutting bit hardest in the educated middle classes in professional and managerial roles across the developed world. The impact has been felt in areas as diverse as theatre attendance and private school enrolments through to the purchase of new cars and holidays.
- Virtual Immortality – Holographic versions of David Bowie and Prince went on tour. A student team were able to generate new stage performances for these and other artists using previously unreleased tracks and composite digital imagery. A crowdfunded campaign raised enough money from fans to finance a global tour for Bowie and Prince. Holograms of the stars toured the planet, occasionally doing duet gigs together. The use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality allows viewers to purchase VIP and Platinum VIP passes that put them in the front row on even on stage for the performances.
- Robo-Retail –The traditional shopping model was subverted as the Amazon Go concept store was rolled out across the U.S.. Using smart phone technology, item tracking and mobile payment methods, shoppers simply pick up their desired items and leave – the purchases being automatically logged and their accounts debited. The stores saw roaring trade, with customers spending much higher amounts than they normally would, and Amazon’s more traditional competitors forced into a near permanent ‘black Friday’ mentality of continuous discounting.
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, strategic advisor and the CEO of Fast Future Research and Fast Future Publishing.
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