2020 has transformed us, not into a “post-pandemic” future, but a new era for humanity, with the tragic events of this year massively accelerating our transition from past to an extraordinary future.
Bondi-based Ross Dawson is ranked as one of the world’s most influential futurists. He has helped business and government leaders in over 30 countries prepare for the future, while The New York Times credits his book Living Networks with predicting the social networking revolution.
Dawson points to 9 themes that will define 2021 and beyond. See short summaries below or the full explanations at: https://rossdawson.com/2021-9-themes-for-next-year-and-beyond/
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has given us hope, but delays in rollouts, many vaccine sceptics, and stiff containment measures in response to even limited outbreaks will lead to an irregular rhythm in and out of lockdowns and optimism in cities and nations around the world. New viruses will continue to emerge and mutate. Now we realise that any new pathogen could trigger another global pandemic, we will take drastic measures for any concerning new viruses, but we learned important lessons this year and will be far better prepared in future.
The mental toll of this on the elderly, single, disadvantaged, and newly unemployed has been immense, leading to an increasing focus on wellness by nations, employers, communities, families, and individuals. Empathy has grown as many have experienced difficulties and grasped how hard it must be for many others. The shift to healthier eating is moving apace. In particular, the shift to vegan eating is accelerating, with $3 billion venture capital investment this year helping create far tastier plant-based foods.
Efficiency to Resilience
COVID-19 has reversed the drive to hyper-efficiency. When borders can be closed in an instant, resilience to shocks are the highest priority. Specialist manufacturing is returning to Australia, the demand for quality local food production is soaring, and nations are focusing on food and energy independence. When major new crises from climate, disease, terrorism, or conflict emerge, our collective resilience will depend deeply on our sense of community, with those regions prioritizing local-first economies, community health and aged care, and civic innovation initiatives far better positioned to respond to adversity.
Most organizations will shift to ‘hybrid’ models in which staff come to the office when useful but frequently work from home or local ‘third spaces’. An array of new technologies are helping us excel at virtual work, helping create serendipitous connections, balancing work and home lives, and using an array new technologies including 5G and virtual reality to transcend location. The shift to flexible work is contributing to the rise of the ‘economy of individuals’, in which not only classic gig workers such as drivers but also high-end professionals shift from full-time employment to independent work.
Vectors of Travel
Our thwarted wanderlust has led to massive pent-up demand to fly abroad. The slow and bumpy road back will start with travel bubbles between nations or regions (which sometimes close down again), often vetted by health passports, pre-boarding checks, and digital vaccination records. The travel industry will reshape, with airlines merging, prices adjusting to ensure profitability, and new premium services for luxury tourists and business travelers. Travel will go beyond our planet, with space tourism commencing for the wealthy, and the space ventures of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos intent on building massive industries beyond Earth.
The escalating polarization of values, society, politics, and wealth over the last decade has driven economic and social division. Social media has ended up dividing us more than bringing us together, challenging our belief in democracy as it stands today. There is an immense opportunity to evolve our democratic structures for a new era, starting by being open to debate and change. The coming years will be defined largely by how successfully we can transcend these acute divisions. There is new discussion around “post-capitalism”, with 58% of Australians saying they support every citizen receiving a basic income. Companies will increasingly focus on social impact as well as financial returns.
Attention is shifting back to climate change, with record heat once again in 2020, spiralling wildfires around the world, and unprecedented weather intensity. Governments leaders globally are shifting from rhetoric to action on carbon reductions, including pressure on their peers. This year is the inflection of the shit, with renewable energy accounting for almost 90% of the increase in global total power capacity in 2020. The balance has tipped and we are swiftly moving to a renewable-first energy economy in which many households produce as well as consume energy.
Human Machine Symbiosis
The extraordinary capabilities of AI threaten intense disruption to human work. In 2021 and beyond leading companies will focus on the unique human capabilities of expertise, creativity, relationships, and ethics, and design work so that AI and humans work together, tapping each’s distinctive competences to create something greater than they can on their own. Education will be at the heart of the future, and will be driven by human-machine collaboration. AI-personalized lessons tailored to individual learning styles, interests, hobbies, and social environment will help everyone learn in the way best suited to them. Yet demand for talented teachers will soar to frame, engage, inspire, and connect, working with AI to make children and adults alike ready for tomorrow.
Gene editing and biohacking now allow us to alter the DNA, not just of human embryos, but also of grown adults. It is inevitable that parents will seek to improve the intelligence, beauty, and athleticism of their children. Neuroplasticity means our brains literally change depending on their environment, with pervasive digital screens moulding our mental processes. Recent advances suggest that cancer treatments are within reach, and that we may not just stop but reverse the ageing process, raising pointed issues about who gets to extend their lives.