Put yourself back in 1993. Could you have predicted the success of the web, tablets and smartphones, privatized space travel, the rise of terrorism, or the myriad of small changes that impact how you live today? To do that going forward and to predict our world in 2033, you need the voices of the smartest minds on the planet to spot trends in their areas of discipline and give us insight into where we are heading. Interviewed, and quoted directly for this piece are just such a group of visionaries, leaders, and big thinkers like:
- Ray Kurzweil on Technology
- Robert Kaplan on Global Conflict
- Khan Academy on Education
- Virgin Galactic on Space Travel
- Oliver Bussmann on The Global Workforce
- John Allen on Religion
- Dr. Gene Robinson on Global Climate, and
- Bonus insights from an aspiring leader
Whether you just read your favorite author, research your area of interest, download the supplemental deck, or view them all together, you will see that these visionaries agree on two things: there will be change – sometime dramatic change – in our future, and there is . . . hope.
On Technology: Ray Kurzweil
“20 years from now, biotechnology – reprogramming biology as an information process – will be in a mature phase. We will routinely turn off genes that promote disease and aging such as the fat insulin receptor gene that tells the fat cells to hold onto excess fat. We will be able to add genes that protect us from diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Major killers such as these will be under control. We will be growing new organs from stem cells that are created from our own skin cells. We will be able to rejuvenate our organs in place by gradually replacing aging cells that contain genetic errors and short telomeres with cells containing our own DNA but without errors and with extended telomeres. Overall we will be adding more than a year every year to your own remaining life expectancy, which will represent a turning point in life extension.
We will be online all the time in virtual / augmented reality. We won’t be looking at devices such as tablets and phones. Rather, computer displays will be fully integrated with real reality. Three-dimensional pop ups in your visual field of view will give background information about the people you see, even a tip that someone just smiled at you while you weren’t looking. The virtual display can fully replace your real field of view putting you into a totally convincing fully immersive virtual environment. In these virtual environments, you can be a different person with a different body for each occasion. Your interactions with the realistic virtual projections of other people will also be completely convincing.
Search engines won’t wait for you to ask for information. They will know you like a friend and will be aware of your concerns and interests at a detailed level. So it will pop up periodically and offer something like “You’ve expressed concern about Vitamin B12 getting into your cells, here’s new research from four seconds ago that provides a new approach to doing that.” You’ll be able to talk things over with your computer, clarifying your needs and requests just like you’re talking with a human assistant.
Artificially intelligent entities will be operating at human levels meaning they will have the same ability to get the joke, to be funny, to be sexy, to be romantic. However, the primary application of this technology will be to improve our own ability to do these things.”
Raymond “Ray” Kurzweil is an American author, inventor, futurist, and director of engineering at Google. For additional insights, go to www.kurzweilai.net
On Global Conflict: Robert D. Kaplan
“In 2033, global conflict will be widespread and chaotic, but not necessarily more violent. Rather than the post-Ottoman state system in the Middle East with hard borders and suffocating central control, there will be a series of weak states and sectarian and ethnic regions in tense relationships with each other. For example, Mosul in Iraq will have more in common with Damascus in Syria than with Baghdad, even as Aleppo in Syria has more in common with Baghdad in Iraq than with Damascus itself. There will be an independent and decentralized Kurdistan, a more feisty ethnic Azeri region in northwestern Iran, even as Jordan and the West Bank meld together.
In China there will be an ethnic-Han island in the center and Pacific coast living in reasonable harmony with virtually independent Inner Mongolia, Muslim-Turkic Uighurstan, and Tibet. Chinese Yunnan will be the capital of Southeast Asia. Africa will have a green revolution, while at the same time Nigeria pulverizes into several pieces.
In short, the next few decades will see the erosion of central authority in the former colonial world, which will be somewhat violent at first, before settling down into a reasonable harmony. Geography will be more crucial than ever, even as technology makes the earth smaller and more claustrophobic.”
Robert David Kaplan is an American journalist, (currently a National Correspondent for The Atlantic magazine), chief geopolitical analyst at Stratfor, and author “The Revenge of Geography.” For additional insights, go to www.RobertDKaplan.com.
On Education: Khan Academy
“Global Access: In twenty years, almost everyone on the planet will have access to the world’s best educational materials. Almost every subject will be available for free online. A child in Mongolia would be able to learn anything from Algebra to String Theory to Greek History.
Personalized learning: Students won’t be forced to learn in a “one-size-fits-all” model with everyone the same age learning the same thing at once. Rather, technology will allow the system to adjust to every student’s needs. A 35-year old would easily be able to brush up on Trigonometry. A 4th grader would be able to learn Algebra. Everyone will be able to focus on their own needs.
Interactive classrooms: Teachers will spend less time lecturing, and much more time mentoring. Classrooms will be highly engaging environments with almost all time spent on valuable human interactions (e.g., mentorship, peer tutoring) and more hands-on, cross-disciplinary, project-based learning.
Competency-based credentials: Students will be able to prove what they know, not by seat-time, but with competency-based credentials. An out-of-work 40 year old would not need to go back to school and pile up thousands of dollars of debt before employers took him seriously. Instead, he would be able to take an accounting course online for free, prove what he knows, and get a job.”
Shantanu Sinha is President and COO of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. For additional insights, go to www.khanacademy.org.
On Space Travel: Virgin Galactic
“Over the next 20 years, I believe thousands, and perhaps even millions, of private individuals will travel to space. Since the dawn of the space age, just over 500 men and women have been to outer space. With only a few recent exceptions, these men and women have all been government employees, handpicked by space agencies such as NASA and trained to an enormousdegree. Their missions are worthwhile and worthy of our gratitude and admiration, but it is critical to realize that for the overwhelming majority of us, government space programs are not our ticket to space. The challenge of sending individuals to space is being taken up by private companies, which have both tools and motives those government agencies may not have. Recently, several entrepreneurs have started new businesses expressly designed to tackle this problem.
Such future space travel won’t be enjoyed only by adventurers. As we progress through the 21st century, spaceflight may become nearly as common for travelers as taking a plane trip became for millions across the world during the 20th. The technology that permits flights into space will also allow passengers to fly to far-flung places on Earth in record time. By traveling out of the Earth’s atmosphere for a small amount of time, a non-stop trip from New York to Sydney might take two to three hours instead of the 20-hour, multi-leg trip required today. Furthermore, I believe air travel will be more environmentally friendly. Airlines ferrying passengers on regional routes will run small, short-hop planes on battery cells.
Now is a fascinating time for the commercial space industry. It is inspiring to see business leaders from different sectors applying their best ideas and practices to the unique challenges of spaceflight. The next 20 years hold exciting, unexplored territory for the people of the world.”
George Whitesides is President and CEO of Virgin Galactic with plans to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites. For additional insights, go to www.VirginGalactic.com.
On The Global Workforce: Oliver Bussmann
“Over the past 20 years we have gone from the early stages of Internet to a fully connected world. By 2033, a “born-mobile” workforce will be constantly connected to both work and home life, using devices that are wearable – or even implantable. Collaboration with others around the world will be as natural as speaking, and physical workspaces will be strictly optional.
Leadership structures will become increasingly flat, as roles shift based on each individual’s strengths and capabilities. Many decisions will become automated, using increasingly sophisticated analytical tools, allowing people to focus on creative endeavors that are uniquely human.”
Oliver Bussmann is the CIO for SAP AG, the German multinational software corporation that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations. For additional insights, follow Oliver on Twitter @SAPCIO or on LinkedIn
On Religion And The Papacy: John Allen
“First, it will be increasingly led from the global south, where two-thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics on the planet live today, and where three-quarters will be found by mid-century. Places such as Mumbai, Manila and Abuja will be to the 21st century what Paris, Leuven and Milan were to the 16th century – the primary centers of new intellectual imagination, pastoral leadership, and political momentum. As that transition unfolds, Catholicism on the global stage will become increasingly a church of the poor and a church committed to the agenda of the developing world, meaning economic justice, multilateralism, and opposition to war.
Second, Catholicism in the West will be increasingly ‘evangelical,’ meaning committed to defense of its traditional identity in an ever more secular milieu. Once upon a time, Catholicism was the culture-shaping majority in the West. Today it’s an embattled subculture, and like other subcultures, it’s learning to practice a “politics of identity” as an antidote to assimilation. In Europe and North America, in other words, Catholicism will not soften its role in the culture wars, but rather dial it up.”
John L. Allen, Jr. is an American journalist, author of several books, a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and vaticanologist of CNN and NPR. For additional insights, go to his Wikipedia page.
On Global Warming: Gene Robinson
“Twenty years ago, alarmists were already predicting calamitous effects in the near future from a warming planet due mainly to petroleum and coal combustion. The 1990 best-seller Dead Heat painted a nightmarish picture of our world in 2020-2030 when the temperature would average six or seven degrees greater. The first IPCC reports of 1990 and 1995 supported such scary scenarios, giving them an aura of scientific respectability. What actually happened is that the mean global temperature since 1993 increased about 0.2 degree C through 2012 with most of that occurring in the record year of 1998, at the peak of a thirty-year warming trend. Since then, the global temperature has plateaued with no clear trend up or down. Because the flattening is at the high point of a warming trend, each year has to be among the warmest recorded years, as the media tirelessly trumpets. What a convenient way to mask the fact that although CO2 has continued to increase, temperature has not, in spite of the computer models.
What, then, can we project for global warming in 2033? Instead of the abrupt warming that alarmists always say is about to start, my rather cloudy crystal ball says global temperature is more likely to continue showing no clear trend or to be at the beginning of a cooling trend. Alarmists will continue to blame every severe weather event on climate change and to oppose all energy projects except solar and wind. All studies supporting the alarmist view will continue to be publicized in the liberal media while all studies reaching conclusions in opposition will be ignored. Liberal politicians will still support schemes to tax carbon by trying to scare people of what will happen without them, even as the skepticism of ordinary people continues to increase. Grants will still be doled out to scientists whose previous results supported the politically correct view while proposals from skeptics go unfunded. In short, just as little has changed with regard to the politicizing of the global warming theory in the last twenty years, little is likely to change in the next twenty.”
Dr. Gene D. Robinson is Professor Emeritus at James Madison University in Virginia and author of Global Warming: Alarmists, Skeptics & Deniers – A Geoscientist Looks at the Science of Climate Change, available at Amazon and most book stores. He is also the publisher at Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC.
Bonus Thoughts From A Future Leader
“In the next two decades I believe my childhood desire to be Inspector Gadget will finally be realized. As it is now, our smartphones are practically glued to our hands. They are almost an extension of our bodies. People are calling for the next step in technology to be ‘wearables,’ including devices such as web-enabled watches and eyeglasses. But is it really that far of a stretch to imagine that we’d skip the annoyance of having to “put on” our technology and instead just “plug in?”
By 2033 I believe that technological devices will be directly implanted into our bodies. We are already on the cusp of this with cochlear implants and pacemakers, and it isn’t a stretch to see where this could go next. In our future society, the boundaries between machine and human, ability and disability, will be blurred. Go Go Gadget…”
Paul G. Brown is a Ph.D. Candidate at Boston College. For additional insights, go to paulgordonbrown.wordpress.com
For an additional view of these quotes, view the supplemental deck on Slideshare. To read more about what Todd thinks today, follow me on Twitter at @toddmwilms or connect on LinkedIn. Maybe we can make it to 2033 together.