Watercooler: Technology Forecasted To Profoundly Change The World By 2040
As both consumers and professionals, we know the role of tech. It’s everywhere, entirely ubiquitous and, even when a digital detox is much needed, it can be difficult to pull away for long. But a new study commissioned by Allianz Partners, a global insurance and assistance company, “The Future of Healthcare, Mobility, Travel and the Home,” and written by British futurologist Ray Hammond, touches on seven major trends expected to drastically affect the world over the next 20 years. A major one—particularly for the promotional products industry—is the developments in IT, though the other six may have just as profound an effect. They include asymmetric global population growth, climate change, the renewable energy revolution, globalization, multiple revolutions in health care and the impact of the world's two billion poorest people. Read on for more on IT developments.
Hammond reports that, today, the six-most valued companies worldwide are in technology. But as tech continues to move forward, it’ll take a few steps back in terms of human-held jobs and even interpersonal relationships. The rapid pace of growth, particularly with smartphone apps, will continue to change traditional business growth. Many markets, thus far, have been significantly affected, namely the hotel industry, with the advent of apps permitting travelers to book rooms in private homes; a change that has compelled many hotels to reduce prices and expand their range of services. Another is the restaurant industry, with apps allowing guests to reserve tables online and schedule third-party food deliveries. The banking and financial industry has also taken a hit due to apps that allow access to crowd-funded loans and new ways to make online payments and exchange foreign currencies. Taxi services, too, have been gravely affected by the plethora of ride-sharing apps, coupled with electric bike and scooter rentals now available in many cities.
Artificial intelligence may cause many human-held jobs to become obsolete by 2040, posing challenges for workers that may lead them into the gig economy. By the mid-2030s, Hammond reports, the extent of digital disruption will be so great that a large population of people may be unable to find paid employment, and the county will shift to relying on “robot taxes,” or taxes on robots manning the formerly human-operated positions to provide a universal income for those who can’t find work.
In addition, technology will continue transforming the way people interact with computers. According to Hammond, by 2040, smartphones will develop into a “body network” of smart devices, like connected wearables, contact lenses or glasses, earbuds, smart jewelry, and health and fitness monitors, some of which can be sewn directly into clothing, and that will be manned by a virtual assistant—something that’s already well under way. The virtual assistant, however, is predicted to become more “human-like,” and will be given a name and assigned a gender by the device’s owner. For many, Hammond says, the virtual assistant will even become a close and intimate friend, of sorts, despite the lack of a physical presence. (Perhaps the 2013 film Her, a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix where the main character falls in love with his virtual assistant, is not too far-fetched after all.) However, it’s important to note that although AI will continue performing at ever-rising levels of intelligence, it will not surpass human intelligence by 2040.
The other six major trends cited in Hammond’s report are described briefly below:
Asymmetric global population growth. By 2040, the world population will exceed nine billion, straining existing resources. This will force changes in farming productivity, like anti-waste packaging, to significantly decrease food waste. To access fresh water, Hammond suggests that fleets of water tankers may start transporting clean water across the oceans, but for developing countries, resolution will come in the form of small-scale purification plants that rely on low energy and low costs. And even though the world’s energy consumption is estimated to increase 30 percent by 2040, the growth of renewable energy sources is believed to help offset major challenges.
Climate change. The world will see double the amount of extreme weather events by 2040 as it did between 1980 and 2004—which Hammond says is the main sign of an over-heated atmosphere. Regions that have never before had to prepare for hurricanes and tornados may begin to do so.
The renewable energy revolution. Hammond reports that by 2050, renewable resources will meet 50 percent of the world’s energy needs; a number that currently stands at 8.4 percent. The cost of renewable energy has decreased and is anticipated to continue falling, which makes it a more affordable option. Further, developments will be made in energy storage, with a $620-billion investment in battery development for this purpose anticipated by 2040.
Globalization. Since 1995, globalization has helped lift one billion people out of poverty worldwide, with projections that by 2050, poverty will be eradicated across the globe with the exception of Africa. Globalization will continue, following a free-trade agreement signed between the European Union and Japan in February 2019, and a group of 15 Asia-Pacific countries slated to sign a new trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, this year.
Health care. According to Hammond, there will be five major changes to come in medicine and health care that will revolutionize wellbeing and longevity: personalized medicine, based on DNA analysis and electronic health data; stem-cell medicine, Nano-scale medicine, gene-editing and digital health.
The bottom two billion—the world’s poorest people. Currently, there are two billion people experiencing profound poverty in regions of little to no economic growth and even reduction. These people do not have access to international markets, making it very difficult to get basic necessities, and have little of value to exchange aside from natural resources. This population also lacks electricity, suffers from diseases and hunger, is largely illiterate, have only the most basic health care and do not attract any foreign ventures due to instability. Despite the trillions of dollars in aid that have been given to these regions—$5 trillion by 2012, according to Hammond—some of it has been seized and embezzled by those in power. As a result of this large population in extreme poverty, massive costs will be accrued for developed nations and large numbers of people will travel, illegally, from poor countries to developed nations, causing greater economic instability.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.