Monday, December 10, 2007/
What will the world be like in 30 years? And what opportunities will this world provide entrepreneurs? Europe’s foremost futurist, Ray Hammond, tells AMANDA GOME.
Ray Hammond is Europe’s most experienced and widely published futurologist. For 25 years he’s researched, written, spoken and broadcast about how future trends will affect society and business.
He is the author of four futurist novels, 10 non-fiction books and lots of films and TV and radio dramas. He tells us what life is going to be like in 30 years and about the business opportunities that are going to arise from these changes.
Amanda Gome: In the world of 2030, what are some of the big changes that we’re going to see that could let Australian entrepreneurs jump ahead and start thinking about future business opportunities?
Ray Hammond: Well there are six key drivers of the future and these six key drivers are going to make the world a very different place to today.
The first is an explosion in world population. We are currently about 6.6 billion people on the planet. By 2030 we’re going to somewhere between eight and 8.5 billion, and by the middle of the century somewhere between nine and 12 billion people, if you can believe it. Almost doubling.
Now there’s good and bad to that. The good is that we of course have got an ever-growing global market. More and more consumers. The downside is how are we going to feed them? How are we going to find the water for them? How are we going to find the energy for them?
And all at a time when we have to reduce our carbon footprint, so for business, clearly, there’s massive opportunities to help these people but there are also massive opportunities to provide renewable energy forms. To provide improved agriculture, to provide new ways of extracting, refining and desalinating water. Wonderful opportunities. But on the other hand the challenges are immense.
What about in Australia? What are particularly good opportunities for Australian entrepreneurs?
Renewable energy, right at the top. Australia has been blessed with the most immense natural resources. I think of, for example, the immense amount of coal in this particular country. However we know it’s dirty and we know that Australians – not their fault – but they are among the most polluting people on the planet because of burning this coal.
But beneath our feet, on this continent, there’s enough geothermal heat to provide all the energy needs, not just for the whole of Australia but to export as well. The opportunities are immense and of course think about the solar power opportunities.
And the second one?
The second key driver of change is climate change. Now, I firstly would suggest we’re not thinking properly about climate change. We haven’t got the right language. I think you should (think of it as) climate crisis, or climate catastrophe, or climate cataclysm. What we mustn’t think of it is a cosy thing like global warming. Sounds almost a nice thing. But it’s not.
We’ll all be like Florida.
It’s a really serious challenge, and what we have to do is we have to provide for this growing world population. Most of them aren’t in Australia, this growing population. They’re not in Europe, they’re not in North America, but they’re definitely in Africa and they’re definitely in parts of Asia and they’re definitely in parts of Latin America.
We have a real difficulty. How do we double our output while at the same time make sure that our carbon needs go down.
Number three is related to one and two. It is what I call the looming energy crisis. We are running out of fossil fuels, and you may laugh at me, and you may say ‘oh look at the coal we have in Australia’ but the fact is, that it is a finite resource and because of the carbon it emits, we have to find… I was in Sydney last year. I got a terrible terrible sunburn, it was the height of summer and I looked around the city. I didn’t see a single solar panel.
So the third is this looming energy crisis. How do we keep our cars and our planes moving while reducing our carbon? I think I know some of the answers, and the opportunities for business people therefore are enormous.
Let me give you one example. We fly so much, (but) are we planting enough trees to offset the carbon? Let’s just start a tree planting operation. Properly run, properly managed. Plant thousands and thousands of trees a month. It really does help.
And of course the other thing is the heavy investment and subsidies incentives from government needed, and it’s something we’re just not doing in Australia.
Well there’s been a recent U-turn by John Howard as he sensed the world mood changing. Just in the last few months he’s done a U-turn on the whole issue of climate crisis and I don’t know whether he means it or not, but I was encouraged.
But where’s the subsidies and incentives? I mean it’s still very hard to get these new technology companies going in Australia.
Well it is hard unless you’ve got a government that is on their side. Now if you’ve got a government on their side, what you’re going to do is provide tax breaks for companies who are pioneering. You’re going to provide tax incentives for consumers to use energy from clean areas. That’s what’s needed.
And number four?
Globalisation. I have a question for you Amanda. Is globalisation a good or a bad thing?
It’s a fantastic thing.
You’re right, but only if it’s done properly.
I agree with you. I think it’s a fantastic thing from Australia’s point of view as long as we make sure that we don’t cut off the poor and…
Oh you’ve [grasped] it. You’ve got it absolutely right. In other words, ethical and sustainable globalisation.
Well you look how it backfires as it is in China, leaving half the population behind.
Well what’s actually happened in China is both good and bad, but actually it’s a very good example of globalisation. Since the year 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organisation, over 40 million people have been lifted out of poverty.
People who on less than $US1 a day have been lifted up to 20, 30, 40 dollars a day, and they’re talking about their own apartments and getting their own cars. I mean this is amazingly good and the Chinese Government has been quite canny in resisting the worst sort of rapacious globalisation, but we all know that it goes on.
We all know that some companies exploit children. We all know that some companies pay minimum wage and don’t care about their workers’ health and safety, but if globalisation is pursued ethically and sustainably with a care for the local people who are providing the labour.
With a care for the local community in which the labour is being provided, it is the greatest chance we have of world peace that’s ever existed because if you offer a young man (I’m deliberately being sexist because trouble usually comes from young men)… if you offer young men a chance of fulfilment and prosperity and career prospect, they will not take up a gun or a bomb against you in general. And I think that it’s a marvellous marvellous weapon for global peace, but if it is done ethically and sustainably. Do it the other way and you’ll have war.
Number five, the revolution in medicine that’s coming along, because there are so many new technological breakthroughs in stem cell research, in DNA profiling of individuals and in genetically targeted medicine that in the next 30 years, the next 25 years, our lives will be extended so that we live 120, 130 years old – plus we won’t be ancient and decrepit when we get there.
There will be rejuvenation therapies so you’ll be thinking of a 100-year-old person who looks like they may be a fit 50.
The problem with this is, and there’s always problems, that it’s going to be available to the wealthy and it isn’t going to be available in public health, so what we’re going to have (is) an elite people who are the very rich who are sort of living and using more and more resources on the planet. I’m not sure if that’s fair. I’m not sure if it’s right but we can’t curtail their human right to do so if they’re prepared to pay for it.
What’s number six?
Number six is the joker in the pack. It’s the wild card. It is accelerating exponential technology development, and I put the word accelerating and exponential together because the exponential rate of change is itself accelerating, and what’s going on is the computers are now doubling in power every year.
It used to be once every two years. Soon it will be every six months, and what this means is that by the time we get to the year 2030, for the computers of that day are going to be somewhere about 32 billion times as powerful as they are today. That’s what exponential means.
And that means they’re going to be as intelligent as humans and a year or two later, twice as intelligent, and a year or two later, four times as intelligent and a year or two later eight times as intelligent. We are going to have to live with new companions on earth in the form of software personalities.
How will that change the way we communicate? I mean you talk about the super ware…
Well I think it becomes completely seamless. Like having a Google behind your left ear, but it’s implanted and the Google expresses him or herself – that’s your choice, as a personality.
I mean I am actually a visitor from the year 2040 and I have implanted behind my left ear a nanoscale implant that I call Maria. She is my constant companion and my helpmate and she is far far cleverer than I but she’s too smart to let me know that.
So what does Maria do for you?
She does almost everything. She manages my money. She manages my travel plans. She manages my social life. She sifts through all my business communications and when I’m sitting down weighing up my options about a big strategic decision I have to make, she is like the closest friend you can imagine, advising me wisely without ego, without being competitive. It’s like having the perfect sage counsel.
Sounds like God.
It’s getting close.
What happens to PAs?
Well I’m afraid they have their own Marias and they don’t need to work for you anymore.
Who else is out of a job?
Well a lot of people are out of a job. I mean if you go to a supermarket and you put your goods in your trolley and your trolley knows what goods are in there, and the trolley knows to ask Maria for payment – who actually needs anybody on a checkout?
But we’ve always been worried about displacing jobs, and in fact displacement does cause real hardship for people, but we cannot hold back the tide like a King Canute. We cannot say we must freeze things as they are because we don’t like change. That is a non-starter in the first part of the 21st century.
We have to embrace change in business, in social life, in everything we do, and that is the recipe to be successful. Embracing change and constantly learning.
How will robots change the business world?
Well robots are a strange thing. We’ve been kind of expecting them for 30 years. They haven’t arrived and we’re already disappointed, but just at the point that we are turning our backs on them with disappointment they’re just about to step out of the labs.
You’ve probably seen the adverts for Honda’s Asimo and all the others, but they’re real and in the next two or three years there’s going to be robot shops on every High Street. In every shopping mall you’re going to find robot outlets and they’ll be selling robots that do your cleaning, that do your ironing, that do your laundry.
Which do all the small things, and then they’re going to sort of invade our cars and they’re going to invade every part of our life, and by the time we get to 2015, 2020 we will not be able to imagine how we actually managed without robots, but it won’t be the old fashioned model of a sort of butler robot or a housecleaner robot, but instead of that one robot we’ll have 20 all doing individual things.
What about our leisure activities? Our communications entertainment you say will be wholly immersary so we’ll have multimedia…
Do you have today an account on Facebook or Second Life.
OK. Our kids love it. They’re there all the time. Business people I meet say to me ‘oh no no Ray, that’s for kids’. I’m going to tell you something. IBM Europe holds all their meetings in Second Life. In that virtual online virtual world called Second Life, but instead of doing video conferences with their far flung clients they meet around a table in a specially constructed room in Second Life.
They have their business meeting and at the end of the meeting they might hang around and have as it were a virtual coffee while they have a chat. This is working for them as a reality today in 2007. By 2030 half of our lives, whether it’s social or whether it’s business, will be conducted in virtual parallel universes and we won’t even be thinking about whether that’s odd or not. It is a natural extension of humanity because we are very virtual creatures.
How will life be pursued with the surveillance society?
Surveillance society essentially means that every time you are in public you’re recorded, but in fact it won’t just be as it were the police or the security services recording us.
We will be recording back because when storage encapture is so cheap you can’t measure it and we’re almost there today, to walk around with a tiny little minute camera sewn into the lapel of your jacket or in a piece of jewellery, you constantly record everything all day long, not because you want to play it back or watch yourself in the supermarket…
The question is why?
Because it’s security. Because every time you have a dent in your car, every time there’s an incident on the street, every time there’s anything, you are all of a sudden within a society which has safety features built in. It’s rather like giving your kids a mobile phone to clip on their belt so that you know where they are at all times.
So how does that change the insurance industry?
Well it improves the lot of the insurance industry because they actually can have tighter control over their risk which means frankly we should get better deals from them.
We already see where that’s going don’t we. The utility retailing, by which I mean when you buy the necessities of life, can be done either in person on foot or you just have it delivered. You order online, have it delivered as it’s needed.
The discretionary retailing, when we go out for pleasure to find new clothes or a new car or a new handbag or a new set of golfclubs or whatever it may be, that is going to be themed. It’s going to be destination visiting.
We’ve already got destination cities in the world like Dubai, which actually is a shopping destination. I mean that’s what it is and we’ll see that sort of extending more and more and more, and physical retail outlets will become experiences for us to savour and enjoy – but the everyday necessities will just become delivered automatically.
And of course the issue that we’re already touched on, a global brain of immense intelligence and instant access to the whole store of human knowledge.
Well that is already possible to see that. I don’t know whether you feel this, but I use Google hundreds of times every day and I’ve been using search engines now for 30 years, and it’s clear to me that Google gets a little smarter every day because when I don’t quite get my question right, when I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for, Google usually knows.
And this is the beginning of something emerging which over the next decade or so will seem to become like the most knowledgeable friend you’ve ever had and of course it is that. It is he or she which transcends to my nano implant called Maria. Because that’s actually what it is. Because if you have a search engine which knows what the world’s population is looking for at one time, it’s feeling the zeitgeist. It’s feeling the cultural mood in every region, every territory, every country, every hemisphere on the entire globe.
Are we worried about such power being in the hands of a company?
Well the answer is many people are today. I am not, because we don’t have a natural monopoly here. If somebody else finds a better way to do that, they will scoop the market as quickly as Google did and then somebody else will scoop it away from them and away from them. All the time improving it. There is no natural hold over me that says you must Google today. It is my choice.
If you were a young entrepreneur overall, what would be your top seven things that you would go off and start researching right now?
New businesses in virtual worlds.
New forms of virtual worlds.
New forms of retailing.
And perhaps most important of all, new ways of actually helping these nine to 12 billion people live fulfilled lives with all the energy they need and to provide education, education, education.
This is an edited transcript.