In 2015 a diverse range of thinkers – known as the London Futurists – met to ponder the exponential change likely to take place over the next decade. The book – Anticipating 2025: A guide to the radical changes that may lie ahead, whether or not we’re ready – is a compilation of their papers. The book leaves one questioning whether we’re ready to embrace such extraordinary changes in citizenship or are we so caught in the present that these shifts will thrust us right out of our comfort zones?
To take advantage of the scientific marvels to come, a reboot will be necessary in the economic, political and social systems that run commerce, education, healthcare and human wellbeing. We know change is inevitable so the million-dollar question is; will global institutions shift by evolution or will they rapidly be made redundant through disruptive revolution?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already changing everything. Not only is this being felt in business – and in the way we work – but it’s also blurring the lines between human and machine. Instead of using devices, we will soon be able to answer complex questions in our heads by silently interacting with information sources; it could be how we end up relating to one another too. Although full AI-human interface is unlikely by 2025, progress will make us all a lot smarter and – potentially – these deep changes could lead to ‘superintelligence’ determining the future of humanity.
Disruption in medicine will provide quick personalised and cheap alternatives to today’s expensive choices making health an option for the poor. The combined potential of the Internet of Things (where everything is smart and connected), data collecting wearable tech, AI, robotics and virtual healthcare – such as a diagnostic ‘Doc in your Pocket’ – will soon make today’s hi-tech medical practices appear old and outdated.
- Designer genes: The building blocks of life are nano-sized and advances in nanomedicine allow scientists to target treatment at a molecular level providing the ultimate in personalised care. Wellness is likely to be exponentially improved by: self-editing genomes (DNA) that fine-tune our genetic inheritance; biosensing for a diagnosis and biomedicine for treatment; surgical nanorobotics (built from DNA but can be programmed like a computer), bionic limbs that are operated by our nervous system; medical computer chips embedded in our heads and – if what you’ve got is incurable – cryonics is becoming sophisticated enough to preserve you in a frozen state until a cure becomes available.
- Prolongevity: Aging itself will not be slowed but the physical wear-and-tear can be mended making us more youthful and healthier as we age. At a nano level, scientists understand in principle how to remove, repair and replace damaged cellular ‘machinery’. Popping some ‘refurb’ capsules containing such nano-bots could delay experiencing the effects of aging of a 60-year-old to 90. If the same process is repeated at 90, the aging experienced at 60 potentially could be delayed until we’re 150 years old. This will mean having to rescript retirement and ‘work’ will involve sandwiching periods of productive contribution with periods of learning. Breakthroughs in speed-learning will assist us to keep up with the speedy pace of progress.
Our traditional socio-political and economic systems are incapable of solving many of the world’s serious problems and – right now – we’re at the crossroads of unprecedented promise or total catastrophe.
- Politics: A shift towards group problem solving could move us from competitive power-driven political hierarchies (á la DJ Trump) to more collaborative Ubuntu-style social structures where democratic, decentralised institutions will evolve naturally from mutual support networks. Could it be that governments will end up having no greater power than administrating the money generated by these collaborative structures?
- Economics: Capitalism is the only system not grounded in natural principles which is well illustrated by the gross inequality of 1% of the population holding the same amount of wealth as the remaining 99%. To avert catastrophe, calls for a universal basic income echo those made by many presidents, philosophers and economists since the 1600s. If you’re concerned about producing idleness, then take note of economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s question: “why is leisure uniformly bad for the poor but uniformly good for the well-to-do?”
- EmPowerment: Poor people’s income and time are consumed by fuel issues – either gathering wood or buying fuel. On average, kerosene (paraffin) costs $8 per kilowatt hour while Brits pay only 20c for the electrical equivalent. Solar power makes sense on a continent awash in sunshine as the extra time and incremental money saved can be used to make an income. Mass literacy initiatives using digital media will also give people access to information so expect an explosion of creativity from Africa and Asia as people find new, appropriate solutions to their pressing problems.
- Environment: The other side of the coin is the extraordinarily high level of consumerism needed to sustain capitalism. 99% of materials used in the US end up in landfills six weeks after production. 3D-printing could relieve some of this environmental pressure and it could also put an end to cargo-based trade. Instead of end-products, trade will involve moving the raw materials needed to feed 3D-printers.
These massive social shifts will in turn have implications for our financial future and it is predicted that disruption will wipe out and/or replace most of today’s more traditional investments.
Using our imagination creatively is what’s needed to see beyond the restraints of the known and having a mindset of lifelong learning will help us stay healthy and sane. With most jobs being taken over by machines, it is anticipated that by 2025 most of us will occupy ourselves providing services to some of the planets 8 billion or so inhabitants – much of this will involve helping people to manage change.
Oh … and there’s just one last thing: it won’t be too long before robots will be so convincing that many people will choose a relationship with a robot over a human partner … and, when we’ve programmed the ‘bot to our liking, we may even marry them.