ARE you worried about for the future? Our grandchildren’s future should certainly concern us. Because, to be brutally honest, their future not only doesn’t look bright – it looks dangerous and confusing.
For dangerous, read “nuclear proliferation”/ If Kim Wrong-Un succeeds, then watch out for a South Korean nuclear capability and, unbelievably, Japan of all countries having to go nuclear to protect itself. Then watch for the Mad Mullahs of Shi’ite Iran coming clean on their nuclear programme, to be quickly matched by a Saudi and a Turkish Sunni bomb, “just in case”. Is war inevitable?
And, away from the alarming world of defence, look at the confusing technological changes coming our way. Take computers and artificial intelligence, for example. Computers are getting better. Last week one beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. Facebook now has identification software that can recognise faces better than humans. By 2025, computers will become more intelligent than humans.
This digital revolution is already changing education. By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. Soon everyone will have the same access to world-class education, because the Khan Academy allows free online access to lessons and lectures in English for everything a child can learn at school.
New software will also disrupt many traditional industries. For example, Uber is just a software tool, nothing more.Uber don’t own any taxis; Uber is, legally, just a tech company offering an online meeting place, providing a service using self-employed drivers.
Never mind taxis; by 2025 the first self-driving cars will be commonplace.This will overturn the whole car industry as we know it. Why bother to buy a car when you can call a driverless vehicle on your phone? It will show up at your location and drive you, hands free, to your destination.
You will not need to park it, you only pay for the distance driven and can be doing something useful while it gets there. Who will need to own a car, let alone bother with a driver’s licence?
This threat to their industry terrifies the big car companies and the jobs and pensions of their workers. They will have to adapt quickly or risk bankruptcy. The new “autotech” companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) are already building what are effectively self-driving computers on wheels, not cars.
As Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche said last week:“Profits on EVs [electric vehicles] may be half what the company makes on the internal combustion engine, because EVs have far fewer moving parts and last longer.”
This transport revolution will change cities:soon you will be able to live and work where-ever you like, thanks to AI and computers. You won’t need parking at work or at the supermarket. Transport will be just an app call away. Suddenly, a lot of space will become available as National Car Parks goes out of business. Driverless computerised vehicles are also much safer. With “autonomous driving”, car accident rates will drop by at least 50%. Insurance companies will be in serious trouble because car insurance will become much cheaper. Insurance companies must adapt or disappear.
Where’s all this electricity to power this revolution going to come from? Electricity will become cheap and clean in the next 20 years. Global solar production is expanding exponentially. Last year more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. Fusion power is already waiting in the wings – Britain’s nuclear Hinkley Point will be obsolete before it has even been built. Although energy companies are desperately trying to limit “new” electricity’s access to their grids to prevent competition, technology will outflank that strategy.
With cheap electricity, cheap and abundant water follows. Desalination of salt water now only costs about 20 pence per cubic metre. The world will soon have access to plentiful drinking water. Abundant clean water will alter the economies – and population size – of poorer countries. With clean water comes better public health and increased life expectancy. As the average global life span increasesthen, by 2030, so populations will increase dramatically – wars permitting.
Whichbrings us to medical advancements in the pipeline. IBM’s Watson computers can already diagnose cancer more accurately than humans. Remember Star Trek? The “Tricorder” now exists. It’s a medical device that works from your phone, scans your retina, your blood sample and, when you breathe into it, will analyse critical 54 bio-markers that can identify most illnesses. It will be cheaper than hospital tests; so in a few years everyone will have access to world class medical diagnosis. Goodbye, medical establishment.
And IBM’s legal version of Watson already provides more accurate legal advice than human lawyers. In the US, young lawyers are already finding it difficult to get jobs. So if you study law, consider quitting. Our grandchildren will need fewer lawyers in the future; only specialists will remain.
What happens with humans is already happening with things. The price of the cheapest 3D printer has dived from $18,000 to $400 in the last 10 years and become 100 times faster. By next year new smartphones will have 3D scanning. You can even scan your feet and print a 3D shoe at home. Result? All major shoe companies will have to start printing personalised 3D shoes if they want to stay in business.
Some spare aeroplane parts in remote airports are already 3D printed. The space station uses an on-board printer that eliminates the need to carry emergency spare parts. It’s not just small items either: in China, they have already built a complete six-storey office building using 3D printed parts.There’s no obstacle to house building becoming cheaper and faster.
The computer evolution will overturn traditional food production as well. Agricultural robots will do the work on the land. Aeroponic production needs much less water. Right now, 30% of all agricultural land is used for cattle. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore, as meat can be “grown” in a computer-controlled greenhouse producing “natural protein”.
The fact is that computers will make our grandchildren’s world unrecognisable to most of us. By 2020 there will be apps that can tell from your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine “Question Time” where you can tell when the politicians are telling the truth and when they’re not?
So, emerging technology will bring incalculable effects, both socially and politically. As Uber proves, it is already changing our understanding of what constitutes work. We are moving to a world in which self-employment will be the norm for many services, with new technologies placing power in the hands of the consumer. With a couple of clicks on a smartphone, ordinary citizens will now be able to secure a growing range of services directly from fellow workers and to agree the price. Work as we know it will change as the distinction between salaried employment and self-employment fades.
Many jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. Big factories – and their jobs – are doomed. Soon we will have more self-employed people than public sector workers. You want a plumber? Forget the big company with its overheads, invoices and pensions; a local self-employed tradesman is but an app click away. Is he a capitalist or a worker? The truth is he is both – it’s his capital that floats his enterprise and his labour that produces a satisfactory product for the consumer. You won’t have to pay for his time off, pension scheme or holidays in the future: that will be his business – literally. The old political argument between capital and labour is yesterday’s struggle.
What all this means is we are living through the cutting edge of a revolution that will change society forever. How our grandchildren adapt to these momentous changes will redefine their brave new world – economically, socially and politically.
It’s scary stuff . . .
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