Future shock: Idealog chats with a futurist

Roger James Hamilton, futurist, educator and entrepreneur was in the country recently for the Fast Forward your Business event, held in Auckland.

Idealog was lucky enough to get a few moments of his time, so we kept is short and hit him with the biggest questions we could think of.

What are the big trends that are going to shape the world in the next 5 years?

The biggest trends in the next five years are the shifts in society driven by technology. In the last twenty years, 3 billion people connected in entirely new ways as a result of the internet and mobile phones. That is accelerating, and there are another 3 billion connecting in the next 5 years, which is four times the growth we have seen.

The upcoming launch of 5G mobile, virtual reality and robotics (including driverless cars) will also see 50 billion devices connected alongside 6 billion humans in the next 5 years, by 2021.

What about the next ten?

The biggest impact of this exponential growth over the next five ten years is that over 50% of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by computers, robots and automation. We are already seeing a separation between the growth in productivity and the loss in jobs, and it is a global risk that comes with smarter artificial intelligence.

Alongside a drop in potential earnings from job loss comes a drop in the costs of living, as technology is bringing down the cost of green energy with solar, the cost of manufacturing and delivery with 3D printing, and the cost of marketing with instant, global connectivity. The consequence of this - whether more positive or negative – will play out in the next 10 years.

Image: Futurist and social entrepreneur, Roger James Hamilton

Which platforms are going to have the biggest effect on the future of business?

The three biggest platforms that are emerging in 2016 and will have the greatest impact on our future are virtual reality and augmented reality (with the simultaneous launch of VR goggles and software from all the major tech companies this year), the internet of things (which will see sensors, GPS and video connecting everything live from drones to driverless cars, ships and trucks to everyday objects from our phones, fridges, locks and keys), and 3D printing networks (which are already developing the capability to ‘print’ everything from cars and houses to bones, organs and body parts).

What are the biggest threats facing us in regards to this emerging technology?

The recent defeat of human “Go” champions by artificial intelligence has reignited the fear of smarter-than-human robots being a threat to humanity. Long before that becomes a reality, though, we will have greater threats to overcome. These will include the challenge of having an education system that is training children for jobs that will no longer exist in the future, rising unemployment and loss of jobs where adults fail to upgrade their own ability to survive in these fast changing times, and digital currencies in a global market that will undermine government’s ability to manage their internal cash flows, leading to national bankruptcies.

How will robotics change modern life? How will it affect business?

Robots are already taking on an increasing amount of manual labour, and within five years the majority of process-driven tasks will be able to be automated for business owners (there has already been a major transformation in this area in the last five years, as companies become increasingly productive and profitable while employing less people).

That means business will be much more about harnessing technology than harnessing labour to add value. This will ultimately mean that the skills we learn at school – like calculating, memorizing, recall and following direction (all things computers and robots can do far better than humans) – will become redundant skills, and leadership skills (such as creativity, discovery, self-expression and collaboration) will become far more critical in business.

What about AI?

Where robots can replace manual tasks, artificial intelligence can replace analytical tasks. As AI increases in sophistication, tasks held by teachers, doctors and lawyers will be carried out more effectively by AI than humans. This means a restructuring of tertiary education will also be needed. This is already the case in countries like the United States where we have record levels of university graduates who cannot get a job, while also saddled with student debt.

What trends have shaped entrepreneurship in the last five years? How is entrepreneurship going to change in the coming years?

The combination of falling opportunity in the job market, with greater ease in starting a business, is leading to a high growth in global entrepreneurship. The number of entrepreneurs worldwide has grown from just over 300 million in 2010, to over 600 million today, with a forecast of over 1 billion entrepreneurs by 2020.

The highest percentage of entrepreneurs is in the emerging continents of Africa, Asia and South America. They will be better equipped to surf the coming future waves than the developed countries that need to manage the legacy structures they have inherited from the Industrial age.

How does a futurist such as yourself form his views? How can entrepreneurs use this kind of thinking?

Futurists don’t work in isolation, but get connected to forward-thinking groups around the world that are constantly thinking about and discussing the direction the world is taking. The speed of change today means every business owner needs to be constantly looking at what comes next. I am connected to a wide variety of future-focused organizations such as Singularity University, Abundance 360, the SXSW Accelerator Program and my own Entrepreneurs Institute.

What’s the big insight you had that excites you most? Where is the big potential?

For me, the most exciting shift that is taking place is the enormous shift in wealth and influence that is taking place as we move from the Industrial age’s economies of scale to the Information age’s economies of speed. This favours those who are most nimble and versatile.

That isn’t just a big advantage for startup entrepreneurs over large corporations, but also a big advantage for small countries over large. City states like Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong now rank amongst the most competitive in the world, ahead of far larger countries. New Zealand falls in this category, where a lot of technological innovation is now taking place that is reaching a national and then international level far faster than is possible in larger countries in the West.

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