Before January gets away, I feel obligated to look forward and mention a few changes I see in the world in the next 10 years. These may not be the biggest or the most dangerous changes coming, but I believe this is a range of changes that are likely to have an impact:
1. Automation of Work — The continued automation of various labor roles will continue to grow, improving productivity and displacing human labor short-term. Depending on the severity of the changes (in terms of structural unemployment), there may need to be policy changes, like the institution of universal basic income, in order to maintain social stability. Positive outcomes could include a future of abundance and the diversion of human energies in interesting new directions; negative outcomes could include a deeply divided and conflicted society of haves and have-nots.
Related: Universal Basic Income and Robots.
2. Global Economic Restructuring — The state of the global economy is unsustainable because of various factors including massive debt, volatile financial markets, and poorly integrated global economies. The current cycle of boom and bust will only increase in amplitude over time until it could possibly tear the world apart. Positive outcomes of facing this problem might be stability through large-scale financial restructuring (including debt write-downs and new regulatory approaches); negative outcomes include a massive global economic crash that impoverishes everyone. Either way, we’re likely to have to face the music and restructure it soon.
Related: McKinsey on Global Debt.
3. Our Robotic Friends — Further growth in machine learning and artificial intelligence will facilitate the growth of social robotics and artificial personal assistants. Currently, human beings in the developed world are being aided by early machine intelligence in the form of Siri, Cortana, Google search engine, and various shopping recommendation engines. Also, social robots are available now that provide guidance, comfort, advice, friendship, and even companionship. Once AI researchers realize that many humans are lazy and lonely, and that social robotics is the killer app for AI, the field will blossom even further. Positive outcomes include various social and personal benefits (less depression, more efficiency) and the birth of many additional AI applications; a negative outcome might be the fears about AI taking over coming true.
4. The Collapse of Geo Petro Politics — The emergence of efficiency and alternatives in energy will liberate us from the old fossil fuel regime, and improve our environment to some extent, but the geopolitical world is likely to go through tremendous change. Regimes will tumble, alliances will shift, the balance of power in the world will be recast. Negative outcomes include widespread conflict and suffering; positive outcomes include the opportunity to reframe global cooperation in a new light and with new objectives. Need some visionary leadership here, for certain.
5. Nomads, Immigrants and Global Citizens — Human displacement will continue to grow, both as people flee conflicts or failed states and as people pursue work and other opportunities across the globe. The rise of the “digital nomad” will increase as well. Borders will have to come down to some degree, and citizenship could possibly become more fluid. International law will be put to task as criminals will move more freely, as will terrorists, which are some of the negative possible outcomes; on the positive side, people could become more free to move about and find employment or other opportunities across the globe.
Related: Immigrant Crisis Impacts in 2016
This list could go on, of course, but these are my five big ones.
Note: I first developed this list as part of a World Futures course in the University of Houston Strategic Foresight program.