If you look at the history of the world, you will note that scientific, philosophical, artistic and cultural evolutions have often occurred at the same time — they have fed off each other. In the 200 of the Renaissance, you will see that artists, philosophers and scientists flourished in a new era of enquiry. Some of the greatest developments — astronomy, the printing press, world exploration, dramatic writing, paintings, sculptures — came out during these years of “re-birth”. When one gazes into the future, it is important to take a multidimensional view of it, to define it well.
Daniel Franklin gets it right in terms of bringing individuals from different walks of life together to define the year 2050 in terms of technology in his book Megatech: Technology in 2050. The book is structured in three parts — technology in 2050, impact of 2050s technology on different industries and on society and culture. In Part 1, Tom Standage’s view that throughout history, new innovations have always provoked a fear of unemployment is so true given the mass hysteria in India on the IT industry’s supposed end-game owing to automation and the “rise of the machines”. Ann Winbald urges us to look at waves of computing technology over the last three decades to understand how to prepare for the next set of technology waves. In reality, new technologies create new skills and the Indian IT industry is moving towards a digital-led services era with rapid re-skilling of its workforce and will do well to look for the next two waves of computing technology to stay prepared for them.
In Part 2, the book takes an interesting turn to explore how technology will impact our lives through key sectors such as personal technology, healthcare and energy. Leo Mirani predicts the end of smartphones with the twin waves of virtual and augmented reality that will enable us to be present in places thousands of miles away, touch and feel remote objects with haptics and design our own products in no time with 3D printing. Today we are already seeing AI starting to play a role in assisting doctors in diagnosis and treatment. By 2050, that will be a norm, states Gianricco Farugia. This can revolutionise healthcare in countries like India where the demand for doctors far outstrips supply for its vast population — AI-driven diagnosis and therapy could be the answer. Anne Schukat’s promise of the rise of the renewables outstripping demand for traditional fossil fuels is already being seeded in energy-dependent countries like India investing in solar and wind power and in electric cars to reduce fuel imports. This could be a game changer in geo politics as well.
In Part 3, Kenneth Cuckier gives us a glimpse of the data-driven world and spends considerable time on how education will be data-driven and online. The WEF in their essay on preparing for the fourth industrial revolution outline the fact that during the first three, educational systems to re-skill employees took decades to form but there is no such luxury now. Cuckier’s view of online data-driven, customised education experience for each individual has already arrived with technology learning platforms playing a huge role in closing skills gaps and re-skilling the tech workforce at scale. This ties into what Lynda Gratton argues on how education needs to change in 2050. Her view that waves of technological advances will obliterate job categories and will make certain skills irrelevant, is spot on. Her solution to replace the traditional front loaded education system plus incremental skills development in classrooms with continuous learning online that a professional can leverage right through her career; is just the right form of learning that should be encouraged rather than taking a short-term view of skills development.
While Franklin brings together an eclectic set of futurists, the book could have been better served if he had defined a framework that each writer could use define their view of the future.
As a reader, one comes away with several ideas and visions but tying it all together into a unified whole is challenging. We would probably need for 2050 to become the present so that we can look at the previous 33 years to connect the dots. Having said that, the book is an interesting read as we are living on the cusp of many technology edge-cases of today becoming the normal use-cases of tomorrow.