A Futurist’s Perspective: 10 Things to Know About the Next 10 Years (Part One – Three)

By Richard Worzel

The next ten years will dramatically change your life and almost everything in it. And while there are lots of things likely to change, I’d like to focus on ten that enhance what exists and will be of particular importance to you personally and to our society. Someone always benefits from change – and those who will benefit most will be those who prepare most successfully for what’s to come.

1. Everyday robots

The first thing you need to know is that we are about to experience the emergence of what might be called “everyday robots” and computer intelligences. We’ve been raised on the idea of robots, and they’ve always been just beyond the horizon, like flying cars, vacations on the moon, and the three-day workweek. We grew up with pulp fiction fantasies about what robots would be like, such as Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, the Terminator from the governor’s mansion in California, or the classic Isaac Asimov I, Robot series of stories. But over the next 10 years, we are going to experience an increase in computing power of roughly 1,000 times, and that means that that the hesitant, clumsy robots that are now appearing in laboratories will get dramatically better over the next decade, improving about as quickly as an 18 month-old toddler improves at walking. Robots will first be used with applications in the military, police, health care, and be created by hobbyists for fun. Much of the non-military development is in Japan, because they have, by many measures, the oldest population in the world, and need arms and legs to do things.

Aside from the sex trade, which seems to soak up new technologies and harness them for sexploitation, the development of robots for civilian use will start primarily in the workplace, especially in fields like health care. It will take time for robots to come to households, because they will cost about as much as a car. But the business potential of another household possession in a field that may become as important as the automotive industry is going to drive development. And along with everyday robots, we will also get computer intelligences that rival human intelligence in certain, tightly defined areas. This leads to my second point.

2. Dramatic increases in productivity

Related to the rise of robots will be automation and dramatic increases in productivity, which has several implications. The first is that increased productivity will lead to cheaper goods and services, which will produce a substantial increase in your standard of living and a much higher level of wealth – if you have a job or occupation. But greater productivity also implies that companies won’t need to employ as many people, which will mean that many jobs will disappear, replaced by automation.

Traditionally, automation has led to new jobs with better wages and prospects appearing, and that will happen – but these new jobs will also require more education, more intellect, and more creativity. This means that people who don’t have appropriate skill sets will become chronically unemployed or underemployed. This could make it even harder for young people, just finishing their formal educations, to get their feet on the bottom rungs of the employment ladder.

3. The ascent of women

Next is the ascent of women and different ways of doing business. The first part of this is the decline of men, as men seem to be harmed more by environmental degradation than women. Based on research that is only just starting to emerge, two to four times more boys than girls are afflicted by attention-deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders in America. Sperm counts are dropping in many parts of the world, and testosterone levels are lower. Testicular cancer is higher in many places. And the birth rate of boys in many countries, including America and Japan, is far lower than statistical variance should allow. We don’t really know why this is happening, but researchers are theorizing that males are more vulnerable to new chemicals, such as synthetic hormones, that are making their way into the biosphere.

Meanwhile, girls have better roles models now than ever before in our society, up to, but not quite including president of the United States. More businesses are being started by women than men, and the businesses started by women are more likely to survive, so that over time, more and more businesses will be headed by women. But the clincher is that almost 60 per cent of college and university students are women, and the ratio is even higher in most graduate fields. As a result, a steadily rising share of tomorrow’s leaders will be women, which will lead to a cultural shift. Without being too glib, I think it’s safe to say that women have a different way of thinking and acting in the world than men, and this power shift to women is going to change the way our society behaves.

Read Part Two.

Richard Worzel is a plenary speaker at BC HRMA’s 49th Annual Conference, April 14-15, 2011. He will be presenting Dark Clouds & Silver Linings: Human Resources Management in BC’s Future. For more information on this and other sessions, please refer to bchrma.org/conf2011.

Leading forecaster and futurist Richard Worzel challenges organizations to examine the future and plan for the dizzying changes to come. A chartered financial analyst, he is also a best-selling author and frequent media commentator on business and economic trends. www.futuresearch.com/futureblog/

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