Your World in 2030

Ten years is not a very long time, but in a world of exponential technology, a lot can happen. So I thought I’d provide some predictions for the world by 2030. Thirty of them, to be precise. Let’s call it 30 for 2030.

Sure, some of the ideas below might seem like science fiction or fantasy, but so was much of the technology we take for granted today. It makes sense to think about these now, so that we can consider longer-term career, financial and corporate strategy decisions today. So buckle your seat belt, open your mind and enjoy!

1. All-Electric Economy: The vast majority of the energy we consume in the future will be electric. Fossil fuels will be replaced almost entirely by electricity, generated by renewables. Electricity will win not through a political battle, but purely through economics. Fossil fuels won’t be able to compete on cost. The energy will be generated by the the sun, wind and water. We’ll find a storage solution 10o times more efficient than the lithium ion batteries we use today.

2. The Energy Internet Emerges: We will be trading energy with each other through a new type of distributed energy grid. It will be akin to the way we trade information with each other on the internet now – except it will be energy – and we will generate excess energy on our buildings. Sometimes we’ll get paid for it and sometimes we’ll simply give it away. Centralised energy production will go the way of centralised news and media – and mostly be replaced by user generated content (but this time it’ll be energy).

3. Data Becomes a Liability: Data is currently seen as a commercial asset that companies try to acquire from us. By 2030 this will be reversed. Data will become a well-regulated liability. If companies hold our data it will be like a bank deposit that we own and they look after, and they’ll even have to pay us interest or fees. If they lose it, or it gets stolen, they will have to pay heavily for the mistake.

4. Globalisation Will Go into Reverse: The current trend to re-nationalise, and de-globalise will continue. Countries will become more closed and trade less. Fear of technology, job losses and immigrants will continue its current pattern. This will be further enabled by automation and manufacturing where the low-cost labour market trading advantage evaporates.

5. Climate Issues Will Re-Globalise: We will only become a truly global community when climate catastrophe demands it. While the technology to de-carbonise our economy is already here, we’ll be stifled by politics and the worst will hit in the early 2030s creating a necessary global alliance across countries for species survival.

6. Mobile Work > Office Work: More people will work away from office and formal work locations than those who work in them. Large companies will realise modern offices are a poor allocation of resources and de-centralise their workforces. Most people will be mobile in their work and cross-fertilise ideas with people outside their company and industry.

7. Freelancers Overtake Employees: There will be more freelance workers selling their time and skills on projects for companies than people who are full-time employees. As technology removes the friction of employment, we’ll all become modern day digital craftspeople.

8. Gigs with Benefits: The gig economy will evolve from its current exploitative business model. New startups will emerge to perform the roles of what unions and HR departments used to do to represent and organise gig economy workers. These quasi-union organisations will facilitate work benefits once only available to full-time employees. Think sick leave, annual leave, superannuation, training, wage negotiation. This will become a huge industry and may work in conjunction with the superannuation industry as employee numbers decline.

9. Regional Renaissance: Administrators and residents from regional areas will realise the internet can change their fortunes. Global e-commerce, lower living costs and higher living standards will create a renaissance for non-city places of great beauty. They’ll leverage their geographic monopolies and localised products, sell to global market places and compete effectively with cities.

10. Public and Private Transport Morph: The two forms of transport will continue its trajectory to differentiate from each other. Autonomous vehicles will be owned by private people who rent them to public systems. The shape of public and private transport will replicate each other and become mobile forms of commerce, relaxation and entertainment zones.

11. National Parks 2.0: National parks are generally enclaves reinventing the way the ‘world used to be’. A new form of National Park will emerge in cities. Places where there is no internet connectivity at all. These ‘zones’ will replicate pre-internet industrialisation where humans need to connect directly and nothing can be copied, documented or shared.

12. Cities Redesigned for Living: During industrialisation cities were designed around factories and offices. But cities will be reinvented to be built almost entirely around human living spaces. They will be more green than grey and grow most of the produce for their inhabitants in buildings. They will be pedestrian-centric with clean air.

13. Nationalisation of Technology Platforms: Big tech in America won’t just be split up – they may be acquired by the government and be redefined as national infrastructure – as we saw with railways. Some big tech companies will be repatriated. Many countries will build their own digital platforms such as search and social, taking them out of private hands. Algorithms will be regulated, and listed like food ingredients on digital platforms.

14. Government Will Love Small Again: Governments around the world will finally realise big powerful companies are reducing their tax revenue. They’re doing this in two major ways: through tax avoidance and reducing their number of employees paying PAYE tax due to production automation. New policies will be set in place the world over favouring local and small businesses. The current rhetoric of ‘corporate tax reduction creates employment’ will be rebuffed and the trend of lower corporate tax will be reversed.

15. Highly Paid Because Human: The highest paid jobs in the economy will be paid as such ‘because a human is actually doing it’ even if it could be automated or done by a machine. Think of the cost of a concert versus a digital download, think barista coffee versus coffee machine . We’ll start paying more for the real thing. Highest economic value will be placed on humans doing tasks for other humans, even if a robot ‘can’ do it.

16. Personal Operating Systems Will Arrive: Software systems will organise our personal lives. We’ll train them like dogs and they’ll be our personal life assistant. They will owned by the individuals (rather than a company), powered by open source software and backed up by machine learning.

17. Humans Start Merging with Machines: Information technology and biotechnology will increasingly overlap. We’ll have the first versions of ‘upgraded cognitive ability’ for humans inserted into our bodies. This will start an inevitable split in our species: neo-humans and organic-humans.

18. Humans Become a Hackable Species: As we merge with the machines, we will for the first time become hackable from the inside. The hacking process will mean that we could be programmed to behave in ways we didn’t intend. The hacking will mostly occur without our knowledge that we’ve even actually been hacked.

19. Posthumous Existence: Our memories and intelligence will become uploadable into the cloud. In doing so, many of us will have a posthumous existence and continue relationships with loved ones after we’ve passed.

20. The Higher Education Bubble Will Burst: People will wake up to the fact that all but a few (eg medical) university qualifications can be obtained online, for free, from the world’s best practitioners on those topics. Alternative education methods will emerge and gain more credibility. Knowledge will also start to become a commodity we can buy and download directly into our brains.

21. Crypto Currency Replaces Fiat: Governments around the world will launch crypto currencies to replace their fiat currency. A global crypto currency will emerge and replace the USD as the quasi-official global trading currency.

22. 3D Printing Will Have a Smart Phone Moment: A revolution in 3D printing will occur, probably associated with new materials science. Materials like graphene will become ubiquitous, like ‘plastics’ did in the 1950s.  We’ll finally end up with desktop manufacturing in most homes and offices, the way PCs became household items in the 1990s.

23. The Toilet Will Become a Laboratory: The toilet will become a digital health parter as a mini lab in your home. It will be the most high tech device in every home.

24. Everything with Electricity Will Be Smart: If it has electricity, it will be smart and connected to the cloud. There will be near zero dumb devices that require electricity to operate.

25. Augmented Reality Metastructure: A new type of virtual infrastructure will emerge in cities and homes. We’ll put some technology into our eyes (eg glasses or contact lenses) that enables enhanced digital vision of everything around us to augment the physical world and provide bespoke, on-demand information for cognitive shortcuts.

26. Universal Basic Income Will Fade Away: The robot and automation job apocalypse will never eventuate as technology will create more jobs than it destroys. With this, the fashionable concept of UBI will fade away.

27. Clean Meat Movement: Clean meat (nature identical meat grown in a lab) will be lower cost financially and environmentally, than meat grown through traditional agriculture. This will create a massive consumer shift starting with the humble burger, ending in disruption to agricultural industries.

28. Semantic Language Coding: New software will be developed granting coding powers to anyone who can speak. Software that builds software based on voice commands will democratise the code development process, mostly through AI and machine learning.

29. AI Cold War: A cold war around winning the AI race (which has already commenced) will continue, resulting in a handful of AI superpower nation states.

30. Blockchain Digital Commons: Many platform businesses like Uber and Airbnb will be replaced by a new form of Digital Commons. Software will be owned and operated by the providers of the services,  instead of a giant internet company like Uber taking 30 percent for every ride organised.

 

Some of these ideas will happen within a couple of years and some will be closer to the end of the decade – but I’m confident most of them will eventuate. The exciting bit? It’s our turn to go and build all the good stuff and help circumvent the bad bits.

 

There’s only one real world

It’s very hard to understand the consequences of something when you can’t touch it, feel it and experience it in the physical form. Many of our virtual experiences seem displaced from a physical reality. It’s as if it didn’t really happen, that it’s only information and information isn’t real. Digital privacy fits neatly inside this parable.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following statement when it comes to online privacy:

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

The next time you hear that, ask the person who said it to hand over their phone. Ask them to tell you the password, unlock every app inside it and to let you browse through at your leisure. I’d be surprised if any adult in the free world would feel comfortable with this. I know I wouldn’t. It’s not because I have anything to hide, it’s because privacy and secrets are not the same thing. And some things in my life, like everyone, are private. The phone is not a phone – it’s a digital manifestation of the physical self. It’s the most personal device humans have ever owned in history.

To gain access to it, our governments and tech companies have conspired to conflate privacy and secrets to be the same. It suits both of these actors. Governments get access to all that we do – just in case a terrorist is hiding inside their gigantic digital dragnet, or someone tries to use crypto currency to dodge tax. Simultaneously the tech giants get to continue their business of Surveillance Capitalism. And the externality of both these things, is that basic human decency, respect and freedom is compromised for all.

If there’s one thing we need to get better at as a society, it is understanding the physical consequences of informational actions. If you’d keep something private in the physical world, then we should have the ability to do that in digital realm too. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, we shouldn’t say it on-line. And if you think that your online life is different to your physical life – then it’s time to start remembering that all these things interact in the one physical world we live in.

The shape of the future

Reviewing visuals from the first ever television programme is interesting. You’ll notice that they were basically radio shows, which happened to be filmed. A couple of people. In a room. With a camera. A few years earlier, they would have been in the exact same setting, doing audio recordings. Early TV was essentially still an audio programme with pictures. It took them (the television producers) many years to realise that things didn’t have to be the same shape.

Even when they started to create on-screen interactions, such as the Late Night talk show format, it was essentially live theatre for the TV – props and segments being interacted with on a small stage. It seems that we so often have an incremental mindset of how new technology can substitute whatever came before it. It’s not isolated to TV either. Our cars are still horse carriages with a motor. Our houses are caves with electricity. Laptops are typewriters with screens where the paper used to be.

It seems that only once we realise the new technology can be a different shape that really innovative things can happen. The smart phone changed so much because it removed buttons and built in a screen on a very flat device. Videos, app stores, mapping…. sure, the technological had to catch up, but the new shape had a massive impact.

Right now there’s lots of opportunities to change the shape of things:

  • How could supermarkets look now that we have self-checkout, and will soon have no checkout? How should the selves and aisles be arranged?
  • What will department stores look like when we try on clothing virtually and fit out our homes with furniture we buy from home using augmented reality?
  • How should car parks look given that many won’t even have drivers? Will they need pick up & drop off bays for goods and people, as well as charging stations in every bay?
  • Will commercial car parks be empty during the day and full during the night? How can we utilise that space? What about car-stopping spaces in cities?
  • Do cars need to have front facing seats or can they look more like rolling lounge rooms or rolling offices now we can take our eyes off the road?
  • Will houses need drone delivery pads for ecommerce and drone landing pads for our personal flying machines?
  • What will kitchens look like when automated vertical gardens in offices and houses are common?

This is a micro-sample of some of the changes we know are coming. They’ll be more we can’t even imagine yet. It just might be that the biggest opportunity of the future isn’t inventing the technology itself, but reshaping our physical spaces to accommodate it.

The Technology Wildfire

Fire – one of the first technologies we mastered around 230,000 years ago – isn’t much different from our modern day torch light, the smart phone. They both became vital work tools. We hunt with them, they give us access to new types of food, they provide signals and direction, and they facilitate all manner of night time activity which was previously impossible.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine our ancestors walked around with a lit torch in their hands for most of their waking hours. There seems to be an eerie similarity with fire and our lithium ion-powered, handheld digital torches. They both have life-changing power and utility, but unless we learn quickly of their dangers, I fear we’re going to get burnt.

The problem, as I see it, is that we are allowing the technology to control us, instead of us being in charge. We haven’t learned when to put it down, or out, and to let it serve us. It seems at this point we are serving it – and it is the technology companies who power the fire. I was speaking at a conference just last week when a question from the audience was, “Do you think there will be a new technology which will help us put down the technology and get on with a little bit of humanity?’ And this was my answer:

‘We already have that technology – it’s called self-discipline. We can choose to switch off and ‘go dark’ and if it is that our boss, industry or family expects us to be connected at all times, then it might just be a matter of communicating when we won’t be available. Sure, there might be an emergency – but we all know there probably won’t be. Besides we still catch those long flights when emergencies could happen… It’s really just a choice.’

But in all honesty, I do think we need more regulation around digital technology and its use. At the moment technology is spreading like a wildfire which we do not have under control, and the few organizations with the power to bring it under control (our Governments and the big tech companies) are happy to let it burn – even thought it might hollow out important parts of our homes and maybe our civilisations.

Humans have sadly proven again and again that we’ll misuse technology unless guardrails are put in place to protect us, by those who know and care enough about the dangers. It’s easy to forget that workplace health and safety didn’t exist for most of the industrial revolution. We forget that road rules and safety features on cars didn’t just magically appear and that air travel was reserved for crazy risk takers early last century.

We may even be able to convince ourselves that the examples above are vastly different – that this time the technology is just information and can’t possibly harm people the way cars and dangerous machines can. I like to think of it this way: everything physical is informational first. We must first conceive, design and communicate all physical things informationally we make before they come into being. We must also remember that anything technology companies do, happens at scale. They don’t just effect a cohort of buyers or an isolated market.

But it’s not just the technology itself – the size and power of these firms is worth pondering. Consider the fact that the top 5 tech companies (Alphabet / Amazon / Apple / Facebook / Microsoft) now have a collective market capitalisation of $3.7 trillion. That’s more than $1,000 for every person single connected to the internet. It’s also more than 15% of the entire US stock market value which tracks over 3,000 corporations. Every now and again capitalism is put at risk by winner takes all technology. This is why Standard Oil and AT&T were split up into a bunch of smaller firms.

It’s time to tame big tech and regulate – they need to be responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of their products. And if you think regulation is bad for the economy – just remember that next time you board a plane, strap on your seatbelt or have more than one choice of product at a shelf.

The Startup Bubble

There are few things any established industrial economy needs more of than new businesses, but I’m here to say that ‘startups’ might not be the answer. Firstly, there are a lot of businesses calling themselves a startups, when in reality, they’re really just new, small businesses. So, what is a startup?

Startup = A new type of business trying to uncover a business model which doesn’t exist yet. Often, they want to leverage a new technology and be a better solution to an existing problem. A startup isn’t just a small business trying to grow with an established method, like say, a café. It’s a new way of doing business in a certain arena.

This definition is why they can attract large sums of speculative investment – the prize of winning can be big.

– – –

The amount of technological innovation is providing scope for many great startups. But business, like anything, isn’t immune to getting caught up in fashion. Yep, business is massively influenced by what is fashionable. If you run a startup – here are a few things that are highly unfashionable at the moment.

  • To be profitable
  • To self-fund
  • To want to remain small or medium-sized
  • To enter an established industry and just do it better
  • To not try and change the world

The Silicon Valley ethic now runs deep – despite the current tech-lash. There’ll be a lot of startups that realise not everyone (in fact, nearly no one) ends up with a unicorn or gets bought out by big tech. And this is where the problem lies. No one wants to simply run a business, make profit and employ people. Everyone wants to change the world instead of their suburb.

Yes, every technology revolution creates new behemoths which redefine commerce, but the probability of being one of these is extremely low. In fact, it’s a really bad bet to even try.  I’m not trying to steal anyone’s dream. I’m trying to do the opposite and actually help you achieve it. Here’s why.

There has simply never been a better time in history to start a small business, be a freelancer and earn a well above average income by staying small and not aiming for all-or-nothing. Never before have we all had such an equal playing field to start anything. Access to knowledge, finance, manufacturing, promotional tools, distribution, logistics, publishing, you name it. It’s all possible for anyone with internet access, imagination and tenacity. We can literally invent money through organising the factors of production in a new manner, and we don’t need a venture capitalist to help us do it.

What every entrepreneur should remember is that when a startup raises capital, they end up with a boss, which is exactly the thing that most entrepreneurs want to leave behind.  If I see another so-called success story of some startup founders standing in front of a brick wall at a co-working space smiling because they just raised $x million in capital I might even scream… it seems to me so many people have forgotten what should be the biggest motivation of all – independence. Isn’t that why people chase money? For the independence it buys?

So here’s the kicker with all this: more entrepreneurs should aim to run business instead of a startup, to actually make a profit and grow organically. A successful business has options, the owner can stay in control, gain financial power and some wisdom along the way. If entrepreneurs do that, then they might have a better chance to scale and actually change more than their suburb.

Thanks for reading, Steve.

What data doesn’t understand

It’s true data, and our new found ability to sift through large volumes of it, has come with many benefits: fraud detection, genomics, natural language processing to name a few. But, data doesn’t get humanity. It’s just a reflector, not the director. As a tool it has certain biasses built into it. One of which is its ability to take the wide, and make it narrow. It’s also great at finding correlation between the disparate. You know data what it isn’t good at? Detecting boredom.

We humans are weird beings and right at the point when data might tell us something is heading a certain way, we about face, and go in the exact opposite direction, often quicker than anyone expects. Probably because we love variety, nuance and something a little different.

It turns out that computers don’t actually understand – they calculate. The word computer itself used to be a job title of people who literally added things up. The large majority of algorithms we employ calculate the probability of something. That probability calculation will be based on the stack of code it feeds from. And the larger that stack, the deeper and more hidden the bias will be inside it. What this means for us, is that when we change our mind, on a whim, ‘the system’ won’t see it coming.

The stimulus we get as humans comes from the real and messy world we we live in. So much of which still sits outside of the data economy, even with all the tracking we do these days. So what does this mean for us? It means that unexpected change is inevitable, and the data wont tells us it’s coming. We need to look for it ourselves and measure it from personal human experience. Variety is one of the great human desires, and just when something is peaking in popularity, we decide to leave the building for no real reason other than the fact we are human.

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What is TATE? A mega growth industry

After a keynote speech, I was asked again today what will happen to all the people who will lose their jobs due to Automation and Artificial Intelligence. The example cited was people who drive for a living. While I’ve written about this before, as well as the shift off farms to the cities in the industrial dawn, this time I thought it might valuable to propose an entirely new economy – The Autonomous Transport Economy or TATE.

TATE will allow a set of entirely new business models, consumer products and employment created by the advent of driverless vehicles and drones. Before we do that, let’s explore the last time something like this happened, something we all experience daily: The Night Time Economy.

A little over a hundred years ago there was no night time economy. Artificial light used to be inordinately expensive, unobtainable to many, smelly and dangerous. Candles, kerosine lamps, open fires and gas lanterns that did provide light weren’t nearly as convenient as the electric light we now take for granted. When wood was the main source of light, it took 60 hours of work to generate the equivalent lumens of a modern light bulb shining for a measly 54 minutes. ‘Light’, which was once too expensive to use, is now too cheap to notice. The significance of cheap electricity is profound. Electricity invented the 24 hour economy. Before that our productive life, and economy, was mostly restricted to daylight hours. Think of everything you now do at night, and you’ll get a perspective of what the ‘night time economy’ has generated – cinemas, bars, nightclubs, night markets, restaurants and 24 hour production. In the home, we have television, radio, entertainment, gaming, white goods and pretty much everything that happens when the lights go down. And yes, it would’ve been difficult to predict the industries and jobs that inevitably arrived to support this entirely new economy. As it is difficult now to predict The Autonomous Transport Economy (TATE).

The possibility for economic change, and therefore growth driven by TATE, is bigger than everyone imagines. A few simple ideas for stimulus display how much opportunity lies before us to create tomorrow’s jobs. The best way to predict the future by asking a few simple questions:

What will happen to Carparks? How will we reconfigure the real estate of high rise and underground carparks. What will we use these concrete caves for? Day time popup shops and night time charging stations? Places for Autonomous cars to sleep and get cleaned?

What will happen to the ground space in cities allocated to car parking – where our cars have a little rest? This averages 30% in large cities. Will we green them, make pedestrian friendly or build on them?

We can expect real estate prices and populations in Exurbs (places of great beauty within 2 hours of a major city) to increase as people decide to live further afield, work remotely and travel to the city autonomously for their meetings or 2 office days per week.

Offices will shrink, as large companies realise costs for running a Corporate Taj Mahal in a city can be reduced re-assessing the need for expensive real estate and the impact on a lengthy commute for staff. As they realise team members only need to be in the same room a few days a week and not five, the corporate office will fragment into smaller distributed work places. A large corporate might have satellite offices or share co-working spaces around the state, knowing of course that the autonomous vehicles will zip workers to the city at 200km per hour when meetings are needed.

These new driverless vehicles will be reconfigured very differently to current day cars. Some will be fitted out as fully connected rolling offices, and they’ll look more like a business class cabin on a plane than seats do today (which are really just stage coaches with a motor instead of a horse!).

We can expect cars to be redesigned and new versions of cars to be invented. Just like we invented buses and pick up trucks, we’ll invent Sleeper Vehicles. These will be designed for longer trips (Overnighters), or for those requiring a bit of luxury while in transit. People will own them, some will order on demand. They’ll look more like a bedroom or lounge room than a transport device.

E-commerce arrived with the web, and now we can expect R-commerce or Rolling Commerce. It’s an entirely new type of buying we’ll do which is time- and geographically-specific, based on where we are and where we are going. It will claim some of the time we used to allocate to drving.

As a result, industries will pop up to support R-commerce, including RX designers (Rolling Experience) and build strategies around the money which is expended in vehicles. It will become a commercial measure among retail, ecommerce and other documented economic indicators.

Shopping centres will become distribution hubs, where the giant carparks we currently have are converted into autonomous retail pick up up bays by day and electric recharging stations and cleaning zones by night.

Why just sit and relaxing in the car on the way? Why not order an a GymCar with built in exercise machines and do some rowing or weight lifting on the way to the city?

With the worry of crashing your gone, we’ll still need Hacking Insurance. While it will be rare, it’s already proven to be possible and hacking will generally become a major pivot for the insurance industry in many product arenas. The fear of cars being hacked will recruit and educate consumers to insure every digital product they own against hacking.

We can expect cars to be tracked thorough using blockchain technology. One owner who only drove it on Sunday? We’ll know everywhere the car has been, done and had done to it. Even our payments for utilising cloud cars will be built on this tech sooner than we think.

Of course, cars will use more data than houses. If we choose to own one, there’s a good chance we’ll send it out to work when we are not using it. It’ll need data for entertainment, commerce, deliveries, and of course driving itself. Expect data packages to become a major selling point with cars. Cars sold in regional areas might just come with satellite data access. (Powered by SpaceX? Maybe they’ll provide the cloud that powers transport data?)

Roads will need to be redesigned to cope with autonomous transport. Concrete, steal and meta-strcuture will need to be built by hand and machine creating significant employment. We’ll first see signs on the road which say “You are now entering an autonomous vehicle zone.” Eventually, human driving will be outlawed as new laws redefine how we move.

All this excites me – I see new industries, employment and opportunities to create a greener, safer more fluid world – most of which we are yet to imagine.  All we really need is the willingness to move towards our inevitable future.

Go build it – Steve.