Tech and Politics Collide

Forecast 2030: Tech & Politics Collide

I’m an optimist – despite the horrible politics of the last few years – Trump to Brexit to Orban in Hungry and Putin in Russia – I’m hopeful that the next decade will be a great one!

As the saying goes, optimists and pessimists die the same, it is how they live that is different! So, let’s be optimistic!

And, given that this new year – 2020 – is soooo uncertain – with Brexit and a potential Trump re-election(?), trade wars with China or real wars in the Middle East and a climate that burns, it is oddly easier to step beyond forecasting this single year and look at the trends that will carry us through the decade.

I’m a ‘Got the T Shirt – Scaleup Coach’ – and as a result I have the privilege to see new technologies and growth businesses first hand.

I live and work in Europe – that is the UK but also Spain and across the EU. That allows me to see issues differently.

So, here are my guesses – yes, they are guesses – for what the next decade will bring. I don’t promise that any will be true, but I believe we all have to begin with an idea of what the future might be like so that if you are planning an investment, looking to grow a business, deciding where to live or educate your children, you can make better decisions.

I’m only human, so my biases will be on full view here – but I hope you can see through those and take something useful from my thoughts. Lastly, remember that we, as a species, over estimate what we can achieve in the short term and massively underestimate what we can do over a decade!

In the next 10 years new €bn businesses will breakthrough, last year’s ‘tech’ companies will fade from glory and the world will change. Let’s change it for the better and let’s begin that change by asking how things might work out:

Peak Popularism Will Pass

Politics has dominated the last few years and newspaper circulations have recovered from near death. However, popularism will pass. Yes, it may persist for a few more years, but it will pass. The EU is already stronger, more unified and more assertive as a result of Brexit and Trump. This trend will continue as popularism in its various forms fails to deliver the hoped for economic miracle and people / voters begin to look for something new.

“…there is at least the hope that some of the false promises of the past will come to be exposed for what they are, and that the tide may well turn in unexpected ways. The end of populism? No, but it may be passing its zenith.” (Source: The Independent)

Free Market – no longer a ‘thing’

The effect of political popularism has been to end any debate about whether markets are or should be ‘free’. Politics in the 2020s will continue to be interventionalist – and even the world’s greatest capitalist – Warren Buffett – says that governments’ job is to modify markets (source: FT).

The ideas and years of Thatcherism and Reganomics are consigned to history. The 2020s will be a decade in which politics will intervene in markets and that is why disruptive or emerging new technology and politics will collide. How well these two sides work together will determine how far and how widely many of these predictions are accurate.

Two Economies

To understand how technology and digital disruption will impact our world in the next decade and to see the new ways of living, working and that our economies function, it is helpful to think of the economy in two parts, the replacement economy and the emergent economy.

The replacement economy

For instance, movie streaming is replacing traditional forms of enjoying screen entertainment. Instead of turning on a terrestrially connected TV, we might choose our Netflix subscription and stream to any number of digital devices.

Essentially, Netflix threatens to replace large parts of the BBC, TVE, ZDF, ABC or other traditional broadcasters.

Spotify and Apple Music have largely replaced the sales of CDs.

The emergent economy

For instance, blockchain technology enables us to do things that we were never able to do before. Equally, space travel enables us to go places we were never previously able to go (that we could widely afford), this is the emergent economy.

Whereas Uber enables us to replace our previous journeys with a ‘better’ alternative and hence is part of the replacement economy.

The Ongoing Destruction of Newspapers and Recorded Music

When I started work in information publishing in the early 1990s, one of my first roles was to bring to market a CD-ROM version of a directory of published music. Hence, the information publishing business was one of the first sectors to be disrupted by digitalisation.

The experience was a harsh one as we discovered that our costs went up rapidly (we were now publishing hard backed books and publishing CD-ROMs) but our sales barely grew.

This was the early warning sign that digitalisation does not grow total markets – but rather, it shrinks them!

The publishing business was one of the earliest and hardest hit as was the music industry.

  • US print newspaper ad revenue fell 75% between 2000 and 2015 (source: baekdal)
  • Recorded music sales fell 71% between 1999 and 2014 (source: redef)

But visions of the newspaper industry ‘ending’ are overdone. There is always a bounce after a sector has been digitally disrupted. However, it is notable that the highest circulation newspapers are now free.

For books and book stores, it’s a different story. For instance, the number of independent booksellers fell 55%  (source: Guardian) falling from 1,894 to a low of 867 in 2016, since which it has lifted slightly to 883 shops in 2018.

And US Bookshop book sales fell only 28% between 2009 and 2014 (source: marketwatch).

Somethings will disappear by 2030

When we see that recorded / physical purchase of music (vinyl, CD etc) in 2018 in the US represents just 10% of the market (source: RIAA) whilst streaming represents 75% of music revenue, it is quite imaginable that physical purchase of music will die out in the 2030s. After all, Spotfiy’s paying subscriber base reached 113m in 2019 – up from just 18m in 2015 (source: statista).

Cars, for instance, no longer have CD players but stream music via smart phones and hence the means of playing physically recorded music is disappearing too.

Bar a few specialist collector CDs / vinyl and resale of old collectors’ items, the music sales market will be 99% streaming and digital downloads by the end of the decade.

DVDs can’t be far behind the CD either. It is reported that DVD sales fell 86% since 2006 (source: CNBC)

Somethings will still be with us in 2030

Book sales, on the other hand, through US bookshops showed a 6% increase in 2016 after falling around 7% per year from 2009 to 2014 (source: marketwatch). The habit of reading ebooks is still small (26% in Germany in 2019, source: statista) having grown very slowing from 21% in 2013. The printed book will still be with us in 2030 as, no doubt, will Ikea’s iconic Billy bookshelf.

Who’s next For Tech Disruption – 7 big ones!

There are seven big sectors that are in the eye of the digital and tech storm – so to speak! These are historically huge sectors, many with heavy weight technology investments (think of new car development or pharmaceutical drug development) and therefore, they will respond in different and more complex ways than the ‘simple’ newspaper, CD or DVD to disruption.

There is, however, one thing that will connect all of these sectors in the 2020s – and that is politics. Hence, an organisation’s success will be down to an ability to combine great technology that customers want and that politicians are willing / able to support and understand.

Treating politicians as if they were customers in the winner strategy for the 2020s.

Equally, companies operating in these sectors will be driven into compliance issues and therefore the need to push down on error will happen faster than say the advertising / music or publishing sectors were before them. The result is that innovation will slow earlier in a new startup’s life cycle and full sector disruption will take place in a greater number of waves. Take Transport for example:

Transport

You could argue that transport disruption began with low cost airlines using the internet to fill seats at incredibly low prices – disrupting travel agents. Ryanair launched its website in 2000 (source: Wikipedia).

Last year, 2019, the huge holiday and travel company Thomas Cook filed for bankruptcy – although other package holiday operators are still functioning with changed business models.

Airlines went bust in the 2010s – some of them modern ‘low cost’ airlines – like Air Berlin (2017), others like old flag carrier Alitalia are in special administration still awaiting a buyer (source: Wikipedia).

Equally, online reviews and reputation (stars) are critical to hospitality success and Trip Advisor, one the first sites to offer visitor reviews, has been in business since 2000 (source: Wikipedia).

From 2009, of course, we have the disruptive impact of Airbnb and now its shift from selling space to selling experience.  There is a growing cohort of European cities determined to control Airbnb (source: NewEurope) – and appealing to the EU for help.

But tech is now impacting the car industry too as the shift to electric gathers pace and the drop of diesel car sales accelerates. In 2018 there were over 3m electrical or hybrid vehicles in circulation, an increase of over 1.2m from 2017 (source: statista).

The increase in battery storage power – as a result of the lithium battery – enabled smart phones to develop – now means that electric cars have greater range and heavy investment in battery production will take place in the US, EU and China now and in the early 2020s.

Recent investment means that by 2023 Europe will have increased its battery production to 198 gigawatt-hours which will pass the expected level of US battery production of 130 gigawatt-hours. Putting Europe at the front of electric car battery production.

These new batteries will power the emerging European electrical car industry and will help European drivers meet the city centre restrictions on fossil fuel cars. However, significantly, the EU is also seeking to establish its own battery research and development and has opened a $3bn fund to allow this (source: FT).

Vehicles in the 2020s are increasingly automated but will take time to be fully autonomous. Automation can take place without new legislation or insurance, but autonomous vehicles require the agreement of local or national governments – an agreement that can be withdraw at various points depending on performance. Tesla already faces new challenges follow semi-autonomous driving fatalities (source: BBC).

Think only of Uber’s loss of the right to operate in London as the London Major withdrew their operating licence and you begin to see how politics will play the key role in facilitating or denying the expansion of these new technologies.

Energy

It is impossible to consider energy without looking at the impact of climate change and the legislation that will follow.

Energy is likely to be governed by global rules by default as climate change drives the political agenda. However, who will drive those global rules? It is unlikely to be Trump’s USA and therefore, US involvement in the 2020s will depend on the next two White House elections.

However, the EU is already setting ambitious targets for reductions in co2 emissions. Sometimes this is at the level of the trading block, sometimes national governments and other times at city level.

Other countries, such as the UK, are beginning to record weeks without electricity generated from coal (source: The Guardian) and generating almost half of its electricity from zero-carbon methods (source: edie)

This shift away from fossil fuels will continue and in the 2020s both India and China – already struggling with smog and city air pollutants will adopt similar measures.

However, perhaps the two biggest potential disruptive ideas in the energy market in the 2020s are

  • Free electricity
  • The rebirth of nuclear

You might want to watch this short The Economist video about the effect of free electricity and how it would unleash potential yet make ‘thinking’ governments more important and the market economics of limited supply need to be replaced by rules and regulations.

I’m not ready to predict ‘free’ electricity in the 2020s, but ‘nearly free’ is a distinct possibility that would liberate many people from poverty and hence, is a likely goal for progressive politicians.

Equally, the rebirth of nuclear as a source of power is – possibly – the only way to replace our dependence on fossil fuels in a short space of time. Have a read of this WSJ article to find out more.

Education

Education is a sector that is old-world in almost every respect – no technology is required to run a classroom (beyond electricity (free from 2025???) and paper and pencils); it is extremely labour intensive and that labour (teachers) is highly qualified and expensive to educate. Lastly, students learn better when they are together – hence, physical proximity is still important.

But it is changing. And demand for education is growing at the same time.

Whether virtual learning environments will extend beyond tech / software subjects is hard to predict. I suspect that there will be limited appetite but that won’t stop home schooling and a more decentralised way of learning where ‘influencer teachers’ join a classroom to teach a favourite subject. For instance, just imagine David Attenborough (well, a virtual representation of him at least) turning up in your classroom when you were learning biology? Think you might have learnt a bit more? Me? Certainly!

In the 2020s education demand will grow for the over 70s as learning new stuff features at the top of local government’s anti-loneliness and anti-dementia policy. Learning new stuff gets you smart and keeps you smart – it will be essential for both ends of the age scale.

It may be that the ‘new stuff’ needs to lead directly to employment activity too – as that is where much of the ‘real world’ learning will take place.

In fact, we will see education move beyond the classroom and into a ‘doing’ or apprentice type context – just don’t be surprised if your apprentice is 50 years older than the teacher and that after lunch, they swap roles.

Lastly, the half-life of a practical subject – like law or medicine – has been decreasing rapidly – such that every 5 or so years, experienced practitioners will need to go for substantial re-fresh. This maybe where virtual learning has the greatest success, as it enables updates whilst taking the least amount of time and therefore allows the student to continue to earn a living.

Health

Health has always been a high-tech sector – but it is undergoing unprecedented change as investment is made into bio-tech. Some highly successful tech investors (eg. Andreessen Horowitz) are convinced that bio-tech is like software in the 1990s – developed, but tiny in comparison to its potential and therefore, this is the sector most likely to receive trillions of investment dollars and hence, most like to change out of all recognition. So, rather than give too many predictions, let me share some thoughts

  • Drug development will increasingly be driven by existing patient needs and responses to medication and treatments, which in turn, will allow far greater customisation of medical care
  • Drug and medical issues are increasingly complex because patients are using multiple medication for a range of issues which impact on how a recovery or surgical procedure is adapted. This in turn further drives the personalisation of medical care.
  • We will increasingly be invited to capture medical data – not just so that we can screen for issues, but so that we can customise prevention (ie. eat the right food) as well as personalise any medical intervention
  • But people are moving less and less as our mobile devices do the walking and robots do the cleaning and the shopping for us and hence, tech will drive our fitness programmes and ‘human movement management’ will become a thing!

Eating and Food

The way we eat is changing – how this will evolve will be driven by some of these issues:

  • The cost of ‘last mile’ delivery cannot be reduced for hot or recently cooked food as it needs to leave the kitchen and be moved direct to the customer within the smallest possible time frame. Unlike parcels, which the post person can deliver on a daily route, food deliver requires endless back and forth travel. This is why Deliveroo and Just Eats are losing money fast and face an uncertain future.
  • One solution for food delivery, therefore, is a restaurant at the end of every street. A micro level solution. Perhaps a kitchen shared by 10 or 20 or 50 apartments, which can turn out all kinds of food. So, restaurants become neighbourhood focused not flavour or style of cooking focused. These multi-culinary kitchens will use robots to turn out small volume meals efficiently
  • Some argue that cooking food will be the equivalent to making your own clothes within a few years – ie. only the hobbyists will do it. I don’t fully believe this. Food preparation and sharing is a hugely social activity – I’m not sure tailoring clothes was ever a skill shared by all the family in the same way as cooking and eating together.
  • However, among single mega-city urban dwellers, the cost of space may be so high that removing a kitchen and using technology to re-layout your 30m2 studio apartment each day for sleep, work or eating / entertainment – may mean that food is brought to your door cooked rather than as groceries.
  • The amount of plastics used in food preparation will be significant and again, may drive the use of local shared kitchens as a way to reduce it.
  • Zero-kilometre food will drive the demand for urban (vertical) farms with the shortest possible distribution possible — preferable by foot or peddle power or electric robot?
  • Lastly, the shift from meat to vegetarian or vegan will continue with new meat substitutes driving interest and desire too. This shift is driven by three factors – health, politics and climate.

Fintech

The digitisation of the finance industry is so significant that it already has its own name – Fintech!

That must also mean that it isn’t exactly new! However, we may not have seen the full disruption of finance in the past decade – so here’s what might happen by 2030:

  • London is currently the home of Fintech – but it is quite possible it will lose that status based on where Britain is headed with the need for Fintech companies to secure a new licence inside the EU in order to trade with a substantial part of their market. In 2019, UK took 32% of European VC Fintech investment, Sweden 24%, Germany 19%. This money was concentrated on the capitals and tech capitals, London, Stockholm and Berlin. However, other cities will also emerge; Frankfurt, Milan, Luxembourg, Bern, Madrid, Paris are all potential locations for the ‘Google of Fintech’.
  • Fintech is a disruptive business model that shreds traditional banking costs and moves to an ‘almost free’ business model. The effect on the traditional banking scene will be that ‘old’ banks will close branches faster to avoid bankruptcy (which Gartner believes 80% will be unable to avoid) unless political legislation requires them to keep branches open in return for renewing banking licences. Any such legislation will apply to new Fintech banks too, of course. Won’t it?!?
  • Then we have the currency issue – or what we now need to describe as ‘the issue of exchanging state backed currencies’ – which is now close to free – and the cryptocurrency alternatives which have no state backing nor ‘in God we trust’ message of confidence (yes, that’s what appears on a US Dollar note) or ‘…I promise to pay the bearer…’ (printed on a British Sterling note). Into this complex mix we have the Libra from Facebook – a potential compromise which allows national parliaments to control cryptocurrency under legal oversight. The Libra might just take off.
  • However, cryptocurrency is a boon to crime, extortion, money laundering and black markets. Until these activities wan (they won’t) cryptocurrencies will remain alive and well and slowly move mainstream.
  • Perhaps the biggest impact of the ‘low running cost’ model of Fintech is that it offers banking to the previously ‘unbanked’ people in emerging economies; whether simple digital payment transfers or more complex loan arrangements, by 2030. This allows this group of people to become new consumers which will drive new eCommerce businesses in those countries.
  • Lastly, Fintech is where all the new technologies (untested in markets and unregulated…) come together in an (un)holy mess. Fintech leans heavily on Artificial Intelligence (from spotting potential fraud and cyber-attacks to (structurally biased?) loan decisions), blockchain technology (as in the platform for the cryptocurrency but also a super-efficient method of recording and transfer of whole and partial assets) and the increasingly porous nature of national boundaries in terms of law and oversight. Anything could happen!

Property

My final ‘big sector’ to be disrupted in the 2020s is property. I don’t just mean the buying and selling (or listing services which began back at the turn of the century) but also construction, design, maintenance and improvement.

In the next decade we’ll see more of

  • 3D printed homes – A Valencia, Spain company is ‘printing’ new home (source: ABC). This will transform the cost – and speed – of building new homes.
  • Or, containers being stacked and turned into homes in dense mega cities like Barcelona (source: The Guardian)

Mega cities – see below – will demand one solution, rural emerging economies another, but the unstoppable price hike in homes over the past 30 years will demand new solutions – some of which can be delivered through technology.

Equally, the drive to solve the housing and homeless crisis across the world will lead to new policies and new technologies emerging in the property sector.

These technologies can then filter out and transform the sector. In particular, the laborious effort of measuring up a room, a property, a site, will quickly come to an end and surveyors will be freed to spend their time on more value adding work.

In the commercial sector, the decline of the high street will meet the growth of co-working space – as people – freelancers and mini corporate teams – look for easy to access hubs from which to work.

Expect fitness centres to appear alongside to offset all those hours spent sitting in front of screens.

And lastly, retail will decline as ‘near city’ warehousing demand grows as delivery companies (Amazon for instance) target the ‘same day delivery’ option for 80% of the urban population.

Arise the (mega) city state

In the 2020s, City to other City connections, not region to region or country to country, will be more significant.

Think of flights — they fly city to city — not country to country. Unless you live on an island…

Adidas, for instance, have adopted a six-city strategy – if they can succeed in these mega cities – they will succeed worldwide – because these cities have more in common with each other, than their respective hinterlands.

And which cities are they? Two in North America – New York and Los Angeles. Two in Europe – Paris and London. And two in Asia – Tokyo and Shanghai. (Source: ISPO).

Large, but non-mega cities – like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield in England’s north, will lose ground unless they unify their transport systems and effectively, in economic and tech terms, become one mega-city. This is not a binary choice but a matter of degree – essentially, the greater the unification, the stronger pull the ‘mega-city’ will exert on talent, investment and research.

Countries with a number of mega cities are likely to do better than countries with just one major city.

Compare, say, the UK – where the economic value is hugely centralised in London at the expense of other cities – will fare worse than a country such as Spain where Madrid competes with Barcelona and cities such as Valencia stand apart.

Equally, Germany offers city growth in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich against France’s heavy dependence on Paris.

Some countries will experience extreme concentration of wealth (UK, France), others, will see a far better distribution (Spain, Poland, Germany).

Homes

There will be two ways to afford a home for young people. Firstly, live with less space (and use technology to reconfigure your home every few hours between sleep, work and play) and secondly, buy in tall apartment blocks.

Some cities and cultures – particularly the UK and southern US / Australian environments – are poorly adapted for living at height and these endless extended suburban cities are unlikely to attract the smartest and the brightest.

Which leads us to immigration:

Immigration

Ever improving digital communication will mean that you do not need to sit in the same room in order to work alongside each other.

This technology will cut across boundaries as technology enables language skills to be available to any smart user and management of cultural differences will be built into our communication (source: a16z).

Hence, our mental barriers to immigration will decline – we will no longer be able to see ourselves as part of a tribe threatened by ‘other’ people.

But the migration of work can be managed digitally – so, your team can join from Mogadishu or Chennai – they don’t have to make the physical journey.

This breaking down of barriers also means we will need new ways of building our tribe – perhaps our support of a football team will be the glue that joins us – just look at how twitter brings a global audience of people together for an English football game – to understand how that might work.

However, physical migration will be necessary to support ageing populations in the developed world as birth rates decline further with small space living and the loss of traditional ways of life, physical immigration will be essential to both maintain economies and deliver basic services.

In the mega cities – this will be seamless – the resistance will come from the rural areas which are still dominated by social conservationism.

Single countries will increasingly feel like two different countries – urban liberal and conservative rural – and politics and national identifies will break and re-form to allow them to co-exist peacefully. However, the 2020s will represent that journey apart and then possibly back together again.

Work and Digital Nomads

Actually, skills-based immigration policy will be a total nonsense in the 2020s! Utterly and totally!

The smartest brains will be like the fruit pickers of old – seasonal workers and project based. Nomadic, moving from city to city or if beyond single and settled with a family, their skills will sell and they will connect with people across mega-cities globally digitally.

Digital nomads will go where the broadband is powered, the weather is great and the food amazing and the flights are cheap! Look out Spain! They will be led by the desire for experience rather than tradition and rootedness.

And digital nomads along with consultants, advisors and mentors, freelance marketers and so on and so forth, will mean that organisations change from one with hard boundaries – where you are either ‘in’ or ‘outside’ the company, to organisations with porous membranes will allow the attraction of great projects to draw the best skills into the organisation for as long as suits.

Similarly, national – or city – boundaries will become porous membranes as working people move back and forth or scale the ‘walls’ by connecting digitally.

Forecasts that there will be 1 billion freelancers / digital nomads by 2020 now look over done especially given the semi-demise of WeWork. However, the growth trend will continue in the next decade from a high starting position:

  • Last year the number of freelancers in the US passed 60m (source: statista) out of a workforce of 165m. Perhaps of third of those freelancers are selling digital services (20m).
  • And if by 2030 more than half of the US working population will be freelance – which will be over 90m – with perhaps 45m digital freelancers or over 25% of the workforce.
  • The UK reports, in 2020, 5m self-employed people, but perhaps only 2m of those could be described as digital nomads, as many are hairdressers etc… delivering services physically and therefore tied to a single geographic location
  • Data from the world bank shows there is a global workforce of around 3.5bn people in 2020 – can we expect 10% – or 350m – to be digital nomads / freelancers by 2030? These feels like an eminently reasonable expectation.

What about small cities?

Small cities with specialisms in research and in the geographical shadow of mega cities will also perform well. Good examples are Cambridge England, which is close enough to London to access capital and talent as well as being a centre of research. Equally, Cambridge MA is close enough to Boston for the same benefits.

Small cities like Chester (near Liverpool and Manchester) will only benefit by their location in the shadow of such mega-cities. Their’s is a cross-your-fingers-and-hope strategy combined with rigorous focus on improving transport connections to the nearby (potential) mega-city.

Let’s now look at three emerging economy sectors:

Blockchain

Blockchain is a controversial technology partly mired by its link with cryptocurrencies which are (and will remain) a mystery for most people (see the piece on Fintech above).

However, the technology is being applied behind the scenes to facilitated ownership and transfer of assets in new ways which will both increase the value of those assets but also create new economic possibilities.

Company ownership is often described as ‘singular cell’ – blockchain offers the technology that can transform this. However, the modern company structure is underpinned by company law and that would require a full update to enable a multi-cell structure of ownership and governance.

Perhaps Blockchain will be of more value in enabling, say, indigenous people of Amazon rainforest to stake and hold a claim of land ownership. Blockchain may also help sell things like coffee direct to buyers bringing far greater revenue to the coffee farmers (currently, there are up to 7 middle (wo)men between a poor coffee farmer and my morning café).

Blockchain statutory ID – secure and incorruptible, is a technology that can be used to ensure people who have the right to vote get to vote – and only once – that your driver’s licence is always with you and up to date, when, for instance, you go to hire a car in another country. And, equally, it should mean the end of passport queues too.

Lastly, something needs to manage (install updates, recognise ownership) of all my IoT devices – smart fridges, smart doors, smart lights etc… and blockchain may be the technology to unify these seamlessly and, most important of all, securely.

Artificial Intelligence – finding the truth!

Artificial Intelligence will replace humans! Such were the rubbish and typical scare headlines of UK gutter press – Sept 18th 2019 (Source: Daily Express – you can google it you really want, but I’m not promoting links to this newspaper 😉)

Instead, Artificial Intelligence will become even more super powerful at finding stuff!

I wonder then, can it find truth? Well, perhaps not, because truth and untruth are fluid concepts whereas stuff – like cars, software developers, flights, homes, shoes – that’s stuff and can be found (sorry software developers – I mean, find your skills – not you as people).

In addition, Artificial Intelligence can find pathways too – so, the route to winning a chess game or a game of GO is to find the pathway most likely to bring you to a successful outcome – recalculated each time it is your turn. As it happens, computers are brilliant and discovering these sorts of pathways.

Computers will also detect cancer earlier and bring exceptional levels of diagnostics to our medical examinations – which will in turn, increase the demand for more examinations and more data and faster updates / responses to that data – which is going to place new demand on medical staff as once you have a diagnosis and there are two or three options, you’re going to want to talk this through with a human.

So, don’t expect AI to replace jobs — displace jobs, yes – but oddly, the areas where AI has the greatest impact in the 2020s– medical services – will also stimulate new demand and existing jobs will move or be displaced to meet that new demand.

Can AI be used to find a path through streets? In other words, will AI be able to drive our cars? No and maybe!

  • AI can only deal with predicable environments – such as a chess board or a GO board – or perhaps a lung x-ray – where the parameters of that environment are predetermined and the environment is characterised by huge complexity rather than uncertainty. This suggests AI can help ‘automate’ our cars — but drivers will need to sit at the wheel for some time yet to make the uncertainty judgement of whether that is a reflection of light or a child…
  • Will governments be persuaded to allow drivers to *not* sit at the wheel? In some rare cases yes, but in the majority of the car buying markets (USA big cities, Europe and developed Asia) the answer will be no! That means that companies developing car driving AI will start building cookie-cutter neighbourhoods and tech-planned cities – and these concepts cities will start to run driver free cars. But will people want to move to and live in those cities? Maybe…

Drones

Rather than seeing millions of drones delivering Amazon parcels –drones for surveillance, for disrupting flights, for policing and military purposes – will be the drone stories of the 2020s.

Forecasts for 2027 suggest that US home deliveries by drone will reach a market value of just $29bn against a total home delivery market value of $400bn (source: marketwatch). Rather than this representing just 1/16th of the whole market, it is more likely that drone delivery will be well advanced but only in a few cities or towns. Which towns and cities adopt drone delivery will be determined by local politics and, perhaps, whether issues of congestion and terrain make drones more attractive.

Home delivery by drone will follow a similar path to autonomous vehicles – where local towns and cities allow it, it will be possible. But will you and I want to live in those cities?

Drones will of course have a special value in certain industries – building or industrial plant surveillance and maintenance as well as wildlife filming and movie making, all of which will reduce cost and, in the case of filming, increase supply. A YouTube for wildlife videos, anyone?

Or perhaps a drone will become the new ‘must have’ for social media influencers? Will Facebook servers be able to cope?

Everything *can be* measured

The 2020s will be characterised by the feeling that everything is and can be measured – our heart rates, our blood sugar levels, our sleep patterns, our urine will be sampled on a daily basis and our food calories too.

However, this might only appeal to a niche audience. Many people will just say, what the heck! – who wants an ‘optimised’ life if I’m not allowed a beer once in a while (or perhaps more often).

The failure of Smart Watches to reach beyond a niche is a good warning that we don’t want tech to manage everything – sometimes, we just don’t want to know – especially if it is good for us!

The Splinternet 2.0

Last decade featured battles over US tech giants seeking and then losing influence in China (eg. Google) just as China has built its own tech giants and now seeks to open up markets beyond China.

And these spats and issues will continue until 2030.

However, there is a new player in the 2020s version of the Splinternet and that is the Hispanic world.

After English, Spanish is the most common second language on the planet.

Not only does it have huge impact on North America – through central America, Mexico and Spanish speakers in the USA, but is also operates across South America bar Brazil and a couple of small exceptions.

The Hispanic world is, unlike the Anglo-Saxon world, still culturally focused on the mother country – Spain! Most people in Southern American can trace lineage and cultural connections back to Spain – for instance, the tradition of celebrating the arrival of the three kings on the 6th of January is largely a Spanish and Mexican tradition.

This matters because it cements Spain’s position as the gateway to BOTH the EU and also the Americas (and beyond into Spanish speaking USA itself).

Once the UK removes itself from the EU, it will no longer be the go-to destination for US tech companies moving abroad – Spain will take the place of the UK. Yes, Ireland will play a part, but it is too small to host the breath of tech and engineering skills that will be needed.

As such, the Hispanic internet will see strong investment and the hub will be Spanish cities in the 2020s.

The 2020s will end the binary division between USA and China as Spanish becomes the third part of the digital world.

What could stop this three-language vision of the internet happening in the 2020s? Well, Spanish politics for a start – but 10 years is long enough for Spain to get its act together and, when an idea’s time has come, nothing can stop it, not even all the armies in the world (adapted from Victor Hugo).

The battle ground of the 2020s

The technology to do many things we might be able to imagine will exist by the end of the 2020s. Whether the technology is allowed to be deployed or how it operates will depend less on the tech world and more on the political world and of course, customer response.

The business models, privacy and ethical frameworks will need to be designed, built and adapted to allow new technologies to emerge and establish themselves.

Therefore, the pre-eminent political power in the 2020s will lie with those that legislate over the largest markets.

The experience of the EU’s GDPR (data and privacy rules) are that the European highest standards, quickly become global standards. Tax law changes will also effect how tech companies deploy globally and on this issue, the US Presidential policy will impact the decisions of US tech companies.

However, this bigger issue is that the EU is likely to have as high or higher technological standards and greater interest in social and political frameworks for the emerging technologies than the USA, and hence this block will be the dominant political body for the next decade.

The political power – European Parliament

The EU parliament has already set global standards for data use and privacy. It is significant that the exit of Britain in 2020 doesn’t stop anti-EU politicians threatening to sue the British government for data breaches using EU inspired law (source: The Independent).

Equally, any tech company with a goal to operate globally, will find that its servers hold data on people who either are living in the EU or non-EU citizens who have passed through the EU and therefore, they must comply or face potential fines.

The EU – and EU parliament, is therefore setting the highest data and privacy standards and any digital company that is more than a local agency, will need to meet those standards.

Equally, European cities are those with both the greatest need to remove the car from their centres (as medieval layouts are not suited to heavy traffic) and the politics (at local and EU level) to ban diesel and petrol cars is powerful, thus spurring the adoption of electric vehicles, driving this innovation.

Expect therefore the changes in new drug testing and adoption to be first tested in law at the EU level. And the legal framework for non-driver autonomous vehicles will have to be set at EU level and so on and so forth.

Equally, the digital tax on tech giants will come from coordinated action across the EU and no doubt through the EU parliament too.

Hence, even if Silicon Valley can invent new tech, its commercial success will require compliance with EU law. This will happen regardless of who sits in the White House or what kind of promises a Brexit Prime Minister makes in Britain.

It is also possible that the next holder of the keys to the White House will exert some pressure too – but depending on the nature of those incumbents it might simply be restricted to adjustments to the tax code to force US tech companies to onshore profits and IP (source: FT)

In the meantime, smart news organisations will be taking half their international bureau budgets and using them to expand their reporting teams in Brussels in the 2020s.

Summary – the 2020s

Above all else, this is the decade where technology and politics meet – or collide. Expect squeals and yelps from West Coast libertarians, but most people will recognise the value and need of a more grown up approach to technology.

We’ve had the dark social media adverts influencing our politics. We’ve seen our health systems brought to its knees (temporarily) by cyberattacks and we’ve experienced the drama and emotionally numbing effect of VAR technology in that European export success, football.

Our planet faces a number of potentially existential threats – eg. climate change – that will drive technology development in transport, consumption and energy. But this time, the politics will be driving the change, not just the market or consumer.

Success in the 2020s will depend on the ability to combine both great technology and user experience with effective engagement with the politics and political issues of the day.

No wo(man) is an Island! We really are in this together!

I hope this has been helpful, interesting and stimulating!

And above all, have an amazing year and an incredible decade.