At long last The Global Trends Fieldbook: From Data to Insights to Action is in production! A companion to The Global Trends Report 2013 which outlines the major trends reshaping the world, The Global Trends Fieldbook focuses on the critical steps of moving from data to insights to taking actions today to prepare organizations for the future. Drawing on a wealth of case studies, examples and food for thought, as well as additional analyses of some potential “game-changing” trends, it provides practical suggestions for senior leaders of businesses, governments, NGOs and societies and communities who are responsible for preparing their organizations for the future. It also outlines 8 key principles for thinking differently in going about this important task.
We hope to have the Fieldbook available electronically and in hard copy in the next few weeks, so do look out for it. Ahead of the launch, here’s our first preview of some food for thought on how technologies — and those that promote them — could impact our future.
When Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle leader Tesla Motors, suggested the “hyperloop” to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco moving people at speeds up to 700 miles an hour rather than an expensive high-speed train link, critics immediately said that it would not work. The concept underpinning the idea has been around for many years and the technology challenges remain substantial – plus, they said, “Musk is not going to take it forward himself, which means of course that he does not believe in it.” His response was that he simply did not have the time to focus on this as well as building up his other businesses – rather he wanted to start a debate around a potentially transformational idea in personal transport.
Musk is not alone in proposing transformational ideas. A number of technology’s best-known billionaires are turning their attention to some of the world’s biggest challenges including resource scarcity, transportation, energy, space, and healthcare, seeing nascent market opportunities, and in the process pushing forward the frontiers of science, technology and human capacities. The question is whether they have the appetite and resources to push such radical ideas through, reshape industries, and build popular support for dramatic change. Or is it simply hubris? Whether or not these so-called visionaries succeed, the debates around the ideas that they are promoting could well challenge how the world operates in future.
On the space front, pioneer Peter Diamandis, has co-founded Planetary Resources which aims to mine asteroids, as well as creating the X Prize for the first privately backed suborbital flight. His partners in in the venture include Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Meanwhile Musk is moving on to the challenge of space flight to Mars after his company SpaceX became the first to launch a privately-funded rocket to dock with the International Space Station. Another tech leader chasing his dreams of new era in space is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and founder of Blue Origin, a company dedicated to help enable “anybody to go into space.” The company is committed to decreasing the cost and increasing the safety of spaceflight with news reports in 2013 suggesting that Bezos is discussing business opportunities with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who is Chairman of Virgin Galatic, another company aiming to open up space travel to paying customers.
Personal transport closer to home could be radically reshaped by the impending era of intelligent, electric and driverless vehicles, with again the founders of Google making an appearance at the forefront of driverless technology, alongside Musk’s Tesla Motors electric vehicles. Sergey Brin of Google is also focused on the challenge of food scarcity, largely funding a project to grow beef in a laboratory – the first taste of which was unveiled in London in August 2013.
Peter Thiel, a co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, concentrates much of his philanthropic donations on breakthrough technologies, including anti-ageing research and the technological singularity, when machine intelligence will exceed that of humans. He is also funding the Seasteading Institute whose mission is “to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems.”
These ground-breaking initiatives funded or led by the tech billionaires could change the world, and create whole new industries. With the decline of government funding for advanced research in many countries, the dismantling of corporate labs that used to lead the way and the rise of short-term thinking in both business and politics, the ambition of these entrepreneurs is plugging the gap, pushing the bounds of possibility.
However, The Economist warns that the tech elite may risk public opinion turning against them, as the young and wealthy of Silicon Valley become more involved in politics, more visible through lavish events and more recognized as paying low corporate tax rates and employing far fewer privileged geeks than companies of similar sizes. This coming “tech-lash” could see the “oligarchs” (and their “troops”) regarded with as much dislike as bankers and oilmen the magazine contends, as the money culture of tech, its links to national security surveillance scandals and its elite lifestyles infuriate the broader population. Already the bubble may be starting to burst. Residents of San Francisco have been protesting against the cocooned, wifi’ed luxury coaches used to transport elite techies to the headquarters of Facebook, Google and others, holding up public transportation along the way even as their passengers push up city property prices beyond the reach of many. Broken windows and eggs in local neighborhoods may be just a first step towards a tech-lash where tech visionaries become regarded as plutocrat illusionists.
Sources: FT, Wikipedia, The Economist