The 2020s Will be a Crucible of Change
The following topics are vast and complex, and the purpose of this piece isn’t to explain them in detail.
The purpose is to provide a very high-level sketch of trends that will play a significant role over the next decade. More importantly, thinking about these trends — especially ways in which they intersect — could help future-proof your business.
The transition from combustion engine to electrification is a big deal. It’s part of why Tesla shares have had a meteoric rise, and it’s the shape of things to come. We tend to think of cars, but motorcycles, boats, and even aircraft are moving toward electrification.
And the transformation of transportation won’t stop there. That flying car the Jetsons zoomed around in? That’s coming, too.
Just take a look at the Tesla supercharger infrastructure already in place for North America, which looks similar in much of Europe. It’s only a matter of time before electrification infrastructure (Tesla and others) blanket the globe.
In a decade whose watchword is “climate change,” expect to see a Cambrian explosion of solar, wind, thermal and hydroelectric energy technologies. Skeptics may look at some of these technologies and (rightly) see that they aren’t currently cost effective global solutions. Ah, but they aren’t looking through the lens of exponential efficiency — as an example, solar has gotten much more affordable.
When the tipping point occurs and renewables reach what is called “grid parity,” expect to see a big transition to renewables across every industry.
Fintech (short for “financial technology”) is revolutionizing the way the world conducts commerce. While we have observed the rise of credit, credit cards, and digital payments this century, back in 2008 a massive leap forward in digital payment was taking shape. Namely, Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin white paper, and since then numerous cryptocurrencies have emerged, found their niche, and even fallen by the wayside. While this movement began as a grassroots push, officials have taken note. With almost every central bank exploring how to issue digital versions of their sovereign fiat currency, fast forward a few years and payments will be almost exclusively in 1’s and 0’s. This is already happening in China.
Further, with the development of smart contracts, we are witnessing no less than the birth of global trustless digital transactions that remove the need for intermediaries. Indeed, it appears as if the infrastructure of a new, exclusively digital financial system is being built — from options to derivatives to yield curves — so watch this space closely.
AI and Machine Learning
Six years ago I watched the 15-minute “Humans Need Not Apply,” (below) and started thinking more seriously about AI and automation. As in, we may be fooling ourselves that some of our creativity and more “human” traits can’t be eventually be mastered by AI.
Today, as machines teach themselves to learn in ways that are incomprehensible to humans, we are clearly on the exponential track. AI is already writing music, drafting news articles, and trading the stock market. How are they transforming your industry now? How about in five years?
The video above touches a bit on robotics, and the main point here is that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Economics favors efficiency, and here are a few things that robots don’t do:
- Call in sick
- Sleep or take breaks
- File for unemployment
- File lawsuits
- Get injured and file for workman’s compensation
Because technology is deflationary (costs keep coming down), employers will have more and more access to robotics to redesign their manufacturing and supply chain processes.
“Robots making robots” sounds like a pretty clever headline, and it’s already happening. Will it have a role in your business?
Thanks to decoding the human genome and the arrival of CRISPR, humans have opened a door to vast gene-editing possibilities. Think transplant organs on demand, extended longevity, and shutting the door on genetic disease for good.
Historically bound by agriculture, GMO’s may expand into the human species before too long, with all its advantages and disadvantages. One thing is for certain…technology moves forward, so expect to see new developments this decade.
Take for instance the space where quantum computing and genomics intersect. We are growing ever nearer to the possibility of diagnosing genetic disease quickly and incredibly accurately. Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have already developed the algorithm to do it.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
While a post-pandemic world may be “virtual everything,” we’ll focus on augmented and virtual reality (“AR” and “VR”) here.
One of the more popular examples of AR we can think of is the Pokemon-hunting craze. But more practically, we can see this technology disrupting commerce as well. Macy’s and Wayfair are already letting customers see how furniture looks in their actual home using AR overlay. Are there any possibilities for your business to help customers through AR?
Moving into the much more immersive virtual reality, think of Star Trek’s holodeck as the ultimate goal. In fact, Dreamscape has already brought an early version to life, complete with realistic 3D visuals and touch-sensitive haptic suits. Eventually you’ll be meeting with your colleagues not on Zoom but in a VR space of your choice.
Profound Social Shifts
As humans we are part of nature, so it should come as no surprise that we move in cycles too. In the early 1990s, professors William Strauss and Neil Howe began studying history through the lens of generations. What they discovered was groundbreaking — that human society tends to have rhyming patterns in 80 to 100-year cycles.
The 2020s happen to fall smack-dab in the middle of big social and cultural paradigm shifts. This means we can expect to see seismic structural, economic, and even geopolitical shifts as the prevailing structures make way for the new.
The following 15-minute video outlines their observations and should provide context for your business as we move through this decade. It’s worth watching, and even watching again.
Whichever way you slice it, change is here and more is coming. This is not an exhaustive list of the global trends of the 2020s, but it is a starting point for business leaders to ask, “How could these trends affect my business?”, or “Looking out on the horizon, what are some challenges and opportunities that could present themselves for my business?” “How can my team be proactive in planning for change?”
Hopefully this has been a helpful exercise. We are living in very exciting times!