The Future Is Exciting - 10 positive trends

5 October 2017

A group of leading future-thinkers, working with the specialist consultancy,Futerra reviewed the grand shifts in the world over the next 20 years for Vodafone. From the speed of technological change, the pressures of environmental change and our growing and changing global population.

Most of us have noticed these changes. But too often they are portrayed only as threats, not as potential for progress. And although few things in the world are entirely positive, the opportunities for a better world are more numerous, intriguing and closer to reality than we might think.

Did you know that by the late 2030s we could…

Turn today’s water, food and energy scarcities into abundance.

Offer health to everyone and in ways that are unique to your genetics and lifestyle.

Live, work and play alongside machines designed to help, and not compete, with humanity.

See, smell and touch far off places and the lives of others while never leaving a classroom or living room.

Work in meaningful ways, trading on our talents and contributing to the world through our jobs.

Thrive in green and clean cities, where we grow our food and visit parks in the same skyscrapers where we live and work (all without stepping into a car)

None of this is guaranteed of course. And every social and technological trend has inherent risks as well as potential opportunities. However, our experts nominated 10 trends that excite them. We hope they inspire, surprise and motivate you too.

10 Positive Trends

Looking at what is already possible today, we can imagine… 

1. Future Cities – in 20 years cities will be cleaner, healthier places to live and very different to today. New green spaces, including vast ‘vertical forests’ on the roofs of skyscrapers will clean the air. New urban agricultures (in tunnels and skyscrapers) can grow fresh food in city centres. Homes will be 3D printed rather than built and filled with 4D furniture that can reconfigure itself to fit the differing needs of your home. This technology will also have lifesaving application to quickly provide temporary shelter in emergency situations.   

2. 100 Terawatt World – in 20 years humanity could have access to 100 terawatts of clean, cheap energy – five times what is produced today (17.5 terrawatts). This is possible through the better capture, storage and deployment of renewable energy. The shift to this energy abundance will see solar panels not only on rooftops but built invisibly into windows, walls and even some highways. New advanced storage systems will provide steady, reliable power to people in the remotest parts of the world.

3. Everything Online – more everyday objects will incorporate sensor technology connected to the internet, allowing companies, homes and everything in between to operate smartly. By 2050 we will need to feed 9.6 billion people, and through a tripling in sensor use the agricultural internet of things could increase food production by 70 percent. 

4. Intelligent Assistance – with breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence, machines will increasingly support human intelligence. AI will become the ultimate PA, anticipating our needs to help us spend less time doing menial tasks. Our personal digital assistants will manage more complicated tasks too, such as anticipating our needs, protecting our time, monitoring our health, and even helping us avoid problems and stay safe.

5. Personalised Medicine and Healthcare – tailored medical advice and new treatments will take account of our lifestyles, physiology and even our genetics, improving life chances in both developed and developing countries. Personalised physical repairs, made possible by the early 2020’s through 3D bio-printing and ‘living drugs’ designed to turn an individual’s own immune system against disease, will end the era of one-size-fits-all healthcare. This will cut costs, reduce waiting times and potentially even end the need for donor lists.

6. Purposeful Work and Priority Shift – the ethical and environmental values of the young will increase pressure on businesses to seek purpose beyond profit. As automation fulfils the ‘dangerous, dirty and dull’ roles, there will be a premium on human creativity. These trends of purpose and creativity will drive a second-wave sharing economy, with more direct transactions between individuals to share ownership. This will change how we make, buy and use ‘things’, such as an up to 80% reduction in individual car ownership in developed markets like the United States by 2030.

7. Mega Water Projects - large-scale water capture projects, ranging from innovative precipitation harvesting techniques through to groundwater replenishment and improved desalination, will enable every human to have access plentiful clean water (including the 1.2 billion people already impacted by water scarcity). The rise of innovative responses to sourcing water will make it more common in coastal, arid countries to grow vegetables in the middle of deserts using nothing but sunlight and seawater.

8. Travel Shift – by 2021, some countries are expected to start replacing current air and rail links with super-fast mass public transport, such as Hyperloops and intercity trains travelling at speeds up to 600mph. In 20 years (or sooner), a new generation of driverless cars, trucks and drones operating within connected systems will make mobility a pleasure and offer more choices of where we can live, work and play.

9. Protein Shift – within 20 years, we will have a wide range of healthy and delicious sources of meat-free protein and realistic meat alternatives that don’t come from animals. This will bring both global carbon emissions and heart disease down to an all-time low.

10. Immersive Living – education and entertainment will become more immersive using technologies like virtual, augmented and mixed reality. This realistic remote access will let you not only see, but also smell and touch your way through events, exotic destinations and even to learn about history by stepping into a simulation based in the past. In 20 years’ time, you will be able to dive into coral reefs or sit in the front row of the World Cup final, all from the comfort of your living room.

The future-thinkers who contributed to the research included:

Gerd Leonhard, Germany - Owner of The Futures Agency. Latest book is called ‘Technology vs. Humanity’ and explores how the exponential development of technology redefines the way we work, live and think and the questions surrounding our future. Global client include: Unilever, Microsoft, WWF, Google, Visa.

Jennifer Gidley, Australia - President of the World Future Studies Federation representing leading futures academics  from 60 countries. Specialises in educational and youth futures and sustainable urban development.

Cathy Runciman, UK - Former MD of Time Out International, Cathy helped launch media businesses in 37 cities from Accra to Zagreb, and founded publishing projects from Paris to Buenos Aires. Now advising openDemocracy, and on the boards of Makerversity and Goldsmiths University.  Co-founder of Atlas of the Future.

Santosh Desai, India - MD & CEO of Futurebrands. Also a weekly columnist (Times of India), media critic and the author of ‘Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India’.

Pieter Geldenhuys, South Africa - Vice-Chair of the Innovation Focus Group for the International Telecoms Union. Also a lecturer in Technology Strategy at Northwest University in South Africa.

The Future is exciting - 10 positive trends