The Future That is on Its Way to You!

We should be preparing for a set of major macro trends, Bernard Marr has written, after a discussion with Scott Smith of Changeist. Some of the trends already pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, but have been accelerated by it, and both men warn that these trends are ones we should not ignore.

Decoupled economies

According to Marr and Smith, the ‘decoupling’ of economies has been happening for around a decade. The result is a turn to nationalism in some of the world’s biggest economies, such as the USA, the UK, Brazil, Russia and India. As they say, ‘globalization is in the rearview mirror’ now, and we can expect a ‘multipolar world’ where three or four large regions with their own “distinct economies, security networks, cultures, and laws.”

Social change

Education, transportation, energy, food, and healthcare are in the midst of massive changes, much of it spurred on by the recognition that climate change is not a hoax. We are seeing a swell in the numbers of vegans and vegetarians due to livestock production accounting for 14.5% of greenhouse gases. There is also a transition to cleaner transport, and in the energy sector there is a move to meet the emissions reduction targets agreed to as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Covid-19 has also produced a transition to more working from home, and we are still grappling with this sudden change in our work life.

A new social contract?

The traditional social contract between citizens and government is no longer working for a significant number of individuals. Marr writes, “Societies have become divided between the haves and have nots, and any differences, whether religion, race, or sexual orientation, create chasms rather than common ground in the echo chamber of social media.” Automation threatens some workers, while the idea of a universal basic income has become a much hotter topic, as will debates about the nature of the future social contract between people, businesses and governments.

An AI reset

Currently we are seeing what is called an ‘AI reset’. The technology presents challenges that need to be carefully considered now, such as the regulatory obstacles and cost of development. On the other hand AI is accelerating and Smith believes another big wave is on the way.

Who are you?

Our personal identity would seem to be solid, yet thanks to digital technology it is varied and complex. Marr writes, “Today we have the ability to represent ourselves as a “stack” of identities that account for various affiliations, situations, values, and more.” Virtual and augmented reality has added to this ‘stacking’. As Marr says, “Given the tools at our disposal, smartphones, social media, and technology, we are free to create a digital narrative about who we are that might not match our physical world persona.”

Finally, we are facing life in a “blend of the physical, biological, and digital worlds.” The ‘new normal’ will be a combination of the physical and digital, and “Every organization must now consider how they provide products and services equally as well and complementary, whether interacting online or in the physical world.”

Some will welcome these trends, while others will be less enthusiastic. Whatever your view, it’s not difficult to see that regardless of opinion, this is our direction of travel.

Fintech and the startup movement

According to Alex Lazarow the startup movement is growing like daisies. Indeed, there has never been a better time to launch an entrepreneurial, technology-led project anywhere. Why is that?

To start with, the cost of cloud computing has dropped significantly and this enables startup growth with fewer barriers to entry. As Lazarow comments, anyone can now rent Google’s enormous computing power by the hour, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain your own server. Telecoms costs are also heading downward and when combined with collaboration software, it is easier now for teams to enjoy frictionless remote work.

Global markets are also looking more attractive for startups thanks to the five billion mobile phone users worldwide and the two billion people with online identities on social media all ready to be the consumers that “ over 480 innovation hubs globally and over 1.3 million venture backed companies” are looking for.

Furthermore, according to the 2020 edition of Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report there is exciting news about the future potential for innovation ecosystems globally.

Highlights of the Startup report

  1. The incidence of ‘unicorns’ (companies valued at over a billion) has increased. They used to only be found in Silicon Valley, but there are now 400 of them spread around the world and fintech is the core component of their success.
  2. The report ranks the tech hubs around the world, and shows that the challengers to Silicon Valley are muscling up at pace, with New York, London and Tel Aviv amongst the big contenders, including the Asia Pacific region. Indeed, Asia Pacific accounts for 30% of the leading ecosystems.
  3. Covid-19 has presented a challenge, especially in the tougher, less resource-rich ecosystems around the world. Venture Capital investment has dropped by 20% globally, plus over 72% of startups saw their revenues drop. The knock-on effect of this is the loss of employees in 60% of startups.

The way forward for fintech startups

Future success will require resilience, and Lazarow suggests it also requires a new playbook, something he explores in his recently published book : Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs – from Delhi to Detroit – Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley (HBR Press).

As he points out, it is vital that startups get it right this time round, especially as entrepreneurship is “the largest force of job growth globally.” In a positive way, this is a good time to rethink how to be an entrepreneur, rather than follow the old routes, because it’s a good time to act for success and join the startup movement.

Can AI reduce the world’s food waste?

Here is a shocking statement: “We waste 1.6 billion tons of food every year while 25 million starve and another billion are malnourished.” It should make us all pause to consider.

However, as John Koetsier writes, there is a Berlin startup with a possible AI solution to the complex problem of food waste.

It is a complicated situation because of the vast numbers of farmers involved in the global supply chain. As Koetsier says, “Tens of millions of farms feed millions of grocery stores and restaurants, which in turn supply almost eight billion people their daily food.” Add to that the transport companies, wholesalers, distributors, processors, and delivery companies and you have a massive web that needs to communicate effectively, and it has to do its best to preserve perishable products. And that is what startup company SPRK.global, is trying to fix.

The company was among eight winners of the Extreme Tech Challenge. Some 2,400 entrants sought to deliver solutions to global challenges and SPRK got the judge’s approval. Its goal is to “use AI to understand the flow of food and reduce waste.” Its theory is that this should stop over-production of food and reduce hunger at the same time.

SPRK’s CEOAlexander Piutti told Koetsier: ““Half of the food that gets produced gets wasted sooner or later. Once you move into understanding patterns — why there are food waste cases — you understand these patterns and see they come in a regular fashion … we can move from reactive to proactive, to anticipating, to predicting with a certain probability.”

Food waste is also an environmental problem. Overproduction uses resources like fuel, water, fertilizer and it increases greenhouse gas emissions, because when you waste food it goes to landfill and it emits more CO2.

How can AI fix food waste?

First it has to understand the supply chains and food economics. Oversupply is likely to be given to NGOs and food banks rather than competitors, and SPRK has to take account of this in the rules for its AI system. “Once we have these rules, we can inject them into the technology,” Piutti says. “The technology takes over … and matching between oversupply and demand … becomes more intelligent over time.”

It is starting with the foodbanks, which are typically low-tech. SPRK is building software for food banks that they can use to manage their own operations as well as collaborate with others, sharing being the key aim here. Piutti also says the software will give food banks better ways to access food at lower prices.

He said of the food banks: “They purchase food in a very normal fashion, they don’t get discounts. If we can connect the dots conceptually and say like, well, what if we distributed this food oversupply to the folks in need … they become a volume partner.” He says AI software can manage all this and save NGOs around 50% of the money they spend and reduce food waste at the same time.

As for SPRK, its CEO said, “Our vision is a world without food waste where everyone — including future generations — have enough to eat and thrive.” It’s an admirable goal!

Technology will drive this decade

This year the global pandemic has forced most of the world to rely more on technology. With more people working from home — something that is almost certain to become the new normal for those who can perform their job remotely –plus the need for more apps to assist with work and in monitoring public health, there has surely never been a bigger opportunity for the tech sector.

Bernard Marr in Forbes has identified 25 ways in which technology will define this decade, including an area I am particularly interested in, which is Artificial Intelligence. This he believes, and I agree, will be a driving force behind many of the other tech solutions.

AI will be central to the development of the Internet of Things, which is the ever-growing number of “smart” devices and objects that are connected to the Internet. We will also see a boom in ‘wearables’ that will go way beyond the current fitness trackers. There will be an industry dedicated to “wearable technology designed to improve human performance and help us live healthier, safer, more efficient lives.”

Big Data refers is another feature of the next ten years. It refers to the massive amount of data created worldwide and we’ll see advance augmented analytics emerge to deal with it, supported by AI.

Blockchain is another important tool that could revolutionise many parts of business, particularly as it facilitates trusted transactions, as Marr says.

For those of you who are of a sci-fi frame of mind, there will be “digitally extended realities. These will include virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, all aimed at enhancing the virtual experience.

The concept of “digital twins” is also pretty futuristic. Marr explains: “A digital twin is a digital copy of an actual physical object, product, process, or ecosystem. This innovative technology allows us to try out alterations and adjustments that would be too expensive or risky to try out on the real physical object.” The potential applications are numerous, from the arts to science and more.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that there will be more Alexas and Siris, with chatbots being our first point of customer service for many brands, and facial recognition will grow, although the regulations about its use do need to be ironed out.

Many of us are also waiting for the quantum computers to be unleashed, and that could happen before 2030.

You can read about all the other opportunities at Marr’s Forbes article (linked above), or in his book, Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies That Are Driving The 4th Industrial Revolution.

Prepare yourself for what’s coming!