Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, researcher and principal scientist at CSIRO, is in the business of ‘strategic foresight’ – in other words, he’s a modern-day fortune teller.
At CSIRO, they’re looking to the future to identify megatrends that have the potential to change life as we know it, and he shared some of his insights with the audience at CeBIT 2016.
CSIRO are currently working on a report titled ‘Our Future World’, which identifies the following 7 megatrends soon to have global impact:
- More from less: As the population increases, and incomes rise, this creates a huge pressure on food, mineral, water and energy production. In terms of food supply and demand, the world needs to produce 70% more food to feed this growing population, resulting in a loss of 12 million hectares of land every year. But there are enough resources, Hajkowicz said – if we use them smartly. Improvements in battery storage will also eventually mean it becomes more cost effective to power our homes and businesses using batteries and disconnecting from the grid completely.
- Planetary pushback: Already the data is showing us that climate temperature is rising, and CSIRO predicts that Australia will be 1.5ºC warmer by 2050. But there may be an even bigger concern: antimicrobial drug resistance. Excessive use of antibiotics is creating bacteria that cannot in fact be killed by antibiotics any longer. This presents a huge challenge – the CSIRO predicts that mortality rates caused by antimicrobial resistance will outstrip those of cancer by 2050.
- The silk highway: The relates to the shift of the world’s economies from west to east, as China becomes the largest economy, overtaking the US. This may be to Australia’a advantage, as huge new markets are created on our doorstep – but also massive new competition. Already Singapore is competing with us in the financial services, and China in manufacturing. We’ll also see the transitioning of China’s economy, as they move from manufacturing to services as more of the population moves into the middle class. This sends a clear message to Australia that China may no longer want us to supply commodities (such as iron, copper etc.) but services. If we hope to compete on a world stage, our economy has to move away from one heavily based on commodities to one that provides ideas, knowledge and innovation.
- Forever young: This megatrend relates to Australia’s aging population. And this is a global issue: predictions say 40% of Japan’s population will be over the age of 60 by 2050. This means rising healthcare bills; already healthcare spend accounts for 25% of taxpayers’ money, and this is predicted to increase to 40% by 2050. Currently there are no solutions – this is an area desperately in need of innovation. We’ll also have to look at ways to lighten the cost burden in other areas of healthcare, such as reducing chronic illnesses through changes in diet and lifestyle.
- Digital immersion of the economy: There are now 20 billion connected devices, and this is predicted to rise to 200 billion by 2020. This relates to the internet of things – as everything becomes plugged into everything else, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Advances in computing power will also happen via connectivity, rather than the devices themselves getting more powerful. There will also be developments in quantum computing that will greatly increase overall computing power.
- Porous boundaries: As more automatic work is done by robots and computers, the workforce moves into new roles. The types of skills that become more valued are those related to complexity, creativity, social interaction, fuzziness – those less easilt done by machines. This will lead to more digital enablement, as people become better at using the technology and use it in more complex ways to make themselves more employable.
- Great expectations: This is about the human experience factor – as we become more immersed and overwhelmed by digital world, the value of real world experience increases.
As history has shown, we ignore these forewarnings at our peril. There is plenty of opportunity to be had – if we choose to act early.