“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society,” said Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum at Davos in January this year.
My research at TomorrowToday, a global consultancy, supports Mr. Schwab’s view. For the past six years I have been researching and speaking around the world about the disruptive impact of new technology and shifting social trends. Today, as you look to the future, we find ourselves truly privileged to be leaders at the start of an emerging epoch that will be unlike anything ever experienced. With this privilege too comes enormous responsibility.
This new era is evolving and transforming at an exponential rate, disrupting every industry in every country. We are currently witnessing a massive paradigm shift in what makes companies competitive and contributors to society. It is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the decisions you make today will have a profound impact on the outcome of this century, for yourself, your family, business and country. Even as you read this article, the foundations are being laid at tremendous speed. The time to act is now. Bold leaders who take the lead and embark on quests that shape the future and make the world a better place will be the winners.
What will the future look like?
It’s hard to say, we have never been here before. One thing we can say about this new era is it will be an Age of Quests. Here are a few of the technology and innovative trends shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution:
The advent of hyperloop trains – the brainchild of Elon Musk, a maverick entrepreneur and investor – propelling passengers in airless tubes at the speed of sound. Travelling from Barcelona to London would be completed in a brisk and very comfortable hour.
Companies like life-extension biotech Calico, owned by Alphabet (Google), are on a quest to end ageing. It is probable that the first person to live to the age of a hundred and fifty years has already been born. And, if advances in AI and robotics are factored, then the technology already exists to enable an evolutionary form of humans to live for a thousand years. Ray Kurzweil, the Head of Engineering at Google predicts that singularity, the moment at which machine intelligence matches human intelligence will happen in 2045. At this point human intelligence will be digitally stored and a super-intelligent life-form will arise. Kurzweil says: “The pace of technological advance will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but transcends our biological roots.”
The quest for fusion energy – the ability to build a miniature star on earth using little more than an isotope found plentifully in seawater – which will power everyone’s energy needs for the next million years, is tantalisingly close. Fusion energy technology, being perfected by an organisation called ITER, promises to herald a new age of energy that is plentiful, safe, pollution, carbon and fossil-fuel free.
Perhaps surprisingly some of the most important innovations over the next decade will be found in the area of battery technology. The growing expertise in nanotechnology and graphene means that batteries are poised to take giant leaps forward. Currently an inefficient and unglamorous technology batteries offer massive innovation opportunities. Battery technology has not advanced in decades but we are now on the verge of a power revolution. At a cost of $5 billion Elon Musk’s Gigafactory in the Nevada desert, will produce half-a-million lithium batteries per year for Tesla automobiles and represents an investment in a future that is battery powered. Innovative battery designs will charge in seconds, last months and be powered over the air.
Some of the most important advances and innovations will arise as a result of the Industrial Internet a derivative of the Internet of Things. The impact of billions of people connected real time by mobile devices, combined with unparalleled processing power, cheap storage capacity in the cloud has already changed people’s lives and this technology trend is now pervading through manufacturing, medical, engineering and scientific sectors. As billions of sensors and smart machines increasingly get connected smart analytics drive a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. GE, the manufacturing giant predicts that trillions of dollars of savings will arise as the Industrial Internet becomes ubiquitous. Global supply chains and logistics will become more efficient and effective, the cost of transportation will diminish, as will the cost of communication and trade. This will stimulate further innovation and propel economic growth.
It won’t be plain sailing
Innovations over the next four decades have the potential to dwarf all of the innovations of the past 300 years. But this version of the future will only become true if leaders are courageous enough to take giant leaps forward. The growing inequalities gap is of grave concern and innovation led economic growth appears to have all but flat-lined. Studies reveal that since the early 1970s there have been no significant innovation advances in important fields such as energy, transportation, medical, engineering and education. With most investments going to communications and the internet the world is not experiencing the rise in productivity that the digital age promised. Innovations of the future will require every ounce of intelligence and courage. As Klaus Schwab concludes “In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”
History tells us one thing, human spirit and ingenuity prevails. We are living during a wondrous time but it is also an exceedingly dangerous time too. The leaders tomorrow need to focus today on what they can do to fix what is broken in the world. They need to empower their people, especially women and the youth, so that we can realise the awesome value creation that is possible when organisations embark on quests to deliver meaningful benefits.
Finally, the most exciting emerging trends is forward-thinking companies seeking to do well by doing good. This is encouraging because it is the leaders who are on quests to make their world, the world they influence, a better world who will be the winners of the future. The opportunities, trends and innovations are available the world just needs more quester leaders. Are you a quester leader?
A version of this article was published in the Spanish CEOs Magazine TDN Tendencias De Negocio
About the Author: Dean van Leeuwen is an author, TEDx and international speaker who talks on leadership, future trends, strategy and competitive advantage . He is a successful entrepreneur and the cofounder of TomorrowToday Global. His book Quest: Competitive Advantage and the Art of Leadership in the 21st Century, is available from Amazon in print and kindle.