3 What does the future look like?

I have always believed that, as the world develops faster and faster, it is impossible to predict what the world would look like in five years, let alone fifty or a hundred.

At the end of 19th Century the predicted market for cars was seen as around two hundred because it was thought only the rich could afford to hire a chauffeur! Even when the Model T Ford was made available to the masses at the start of the 20th Century, it was assumed that the vehicle had to have a driver. Yet, at the start of this Century we find that Google’s self-drive car has already travelled over 2 million miles of public roads and that Tesla has a self-drive car hurtling around in space!

Only recently did I see that work is rapidly progressing on creation of pilotless aircraft and Uber are talking about air taxis as a realistic opportunity to bypass heavy traffic. Fedex is looking to control it’s whole network of cargo aircraft across the States from a single hub run by six pilots in the same way that attack drones in the Middle East are controlled from a hub in Nevada.

But the use of artificial intelligence is not just confined to driverless vehicles. With voice recognition, coupled with instant translate capability and rapid web searching, AI is replacing the call centre staff with a more accurate and less emotional alternative. As we get more and more used to products such as Siri, talking to an artificial voice stops being a frightening experience; particularly if it isn’t rude to you as a human might be.

The ability to process large amounts of data, to absorb masses of new research and to make connections has resulted in an AI accuracy diagnosis rate for lung cancer of 90% compared with the 50% accuracy of human doctors. AI has the capacity to provide a consistent result that is not determined by the individual knowledge of different humans.

Another area that has progressed rapidly in the last fifty years is that of retail. We have seen a move from local corner shops to supermarkets, hypermarkets, internet ordering, product scanning and personal check-outs. Now we are seeing the first of the staffless shops where one enters through a smart phone app, takes what one wants and gets billed, again through your smartphone.

Many people seem to regard these things as almost science fiction and things that will not really effect them. Are we really going to get into a driverless car, stop going to the corner shop for a chat and a pint of milk or rely on an artificial voice for customer contact?

Yet AI is already affecting large parts of our lives. How often do we seem to receive relevant advertisements; suggestions from sites like Netflix on possible films we might like; suggestions on additional purchases from sites like Amazon and so on. Do we really believe this is the work of some genius storeman or even a clever marketeer or is it the work of AI systems analysing masses of data about your preferences and the characteristics of what they are suggesting?

Another effect of dealing with AI is a product like Siri. My wife and I started using this as a novelty by recording supermarket shopping lists on the phone with Siri. Not only did it allow both of us to have a copy of the list as we independently go around the shop, we no longer leave the paper list on the kitchen table!

However, no sooner had Siri won us over on that simple task than we started to explore other posible ways of using it. Soon it was adding diary appointments, writing messages and emails, answering searches, dialing calls and Facetimes and so on. In other words, AI was now becoming an integral personal assistant and the home pod became the next must have. No longer do we search for CDs, we simply ask Siri to stream music from our provider suitable for the mood we are in.

Obviously there are many more examples that could be included of what is happening in the immediate future, but the most startling thing about all of them is the speed at which they are all appearing.

What this clearly tells us is that the advance of technology has reached such a point that it is moving much faster than at any time in our history and that it will only further accelerate.

Clearly, the geeks amongst us will regard this as all positive. However, there are many others that need to consider the wider ramifications of this massive change that is much more significant than the first Industrial Revolution. While we need to understand the technology changes that may literally be around the corner, we also need to understand the ramifications of such changes in order to plan for them.

For a start, in the first Industrial Revolution the creation of the big industrial mills simply recreated a different form of job rather than destroying jobs in favour of more accurate and efficient technology.

In this new world of automatic shops and AI call centres, jobs will be destroyed without new ones being created. This will have two major effects. Firstly, jobs in a country’s own industrial areas will be eliminated. Equally importantly, many jobs were relocated to developing countries because of cheap labour, and these will be eliminated as well, with possibly even worse consequences.

Secondly, the use of technology has already demonstrated the bad side of some uses that were clearly not anticipated when they were created. The most obvious of these is the smart telephone. The use of social media has already denigrated the concept of a friend. Despite research showing that people can only maintain about five real friendships, people attempt to maintain superficial contact often with hundreds of people on social media.

A corollary of this social media frenzy is the need to share every nuance of their life with the world however trivial or damaging. In some cases it can ruin careers and in some regimes it can even lead to arrest! Only recently it was pointed out that insurance companies might not pay out for burglary if the person has advertised that they are on holiday via social media.

But worse than this is the perceived need to be instantly available and in communication. This addiction, for this is clearly what it is, results in the destruction of real communication. How often do we see couples and groups of people glued to their smart phones in cafes and restaurants without any concern for the person they are with?

Increasingly it has become a pedestrian and driving hazard to avoid people that are looking down at a screen, rather than watching where they are going. With earphones at full volume, they often cannot even hear warning hoots.

Instant accessibility also means that people now make telephone calls in places where quiet respect was the order of the day in the past. Suddenly, in cafes and public transport, we are regaled with the trivia of other people’s conversations.

And how many people have been annoyed as smart phones are pulled out in theatres, concert halls and cinemas? It can only be a short time before road rage is replaced by phone rage!

All of these things have led to a different definition of private lives. Indeed, in some cases it seems to have eliminated privacy all together. Now people seem to think you are available 24 hours a day and get annoyed if you don’t answer the telephone or respond to a messageinstantly.

And don’t get me started on the ‘selfie’ fad. It is reckoned that the average teenager of today will take 25,500 selfies in their lifetime; that young females between 18 and 25 are reputed to spend 5 hours a week taking selfies and that you are more likely to be killed taking a selfie than by a shark attack. In 2015 for example there were 12 deaths from attempting to take selfies and only 8 deaths from shark attacks.

Of course, for the Millenials, this is a way of life that they have been born into rather than an evolution for their parents and grandparents. It provides the young with a much more powerful lever over parents than the old style appeal for new trainers based on the cry ‘all my friends have them! Invariably the young are far greater users of the additional functions of the mobile phone than the adults around them and this gives them perceived power as they strive to demonstrate adulthood.

However, it also opens them to grooming in a number of forms and opens them to things that would have come under parental control in the past. Which young person worries about movie classifications when they have instant access to much worse on their telephone!

Another strand that relates to entrepreneurship in 21st Century is the increase in the socially aware lobby. Sociologists probably have a reason why there is a move away from the selfish and shallow material society that thinks only of today.

Part of this may be driven by resentment by the ‘have-nots’ of those that have, but much is also fuelled by a concern about the kind of world that is being created for future generations. People are much more concerned about conservation issues than fifty years ago and are also much more polarised in their views.

What all of this means for those with influence in 21st Century is that they have to meet these challenges head on and develop solutions that not only solve real problems, but also address the fallout from those solutions. Unfortunately, the people who need to recognise the issues and find solutions are the very governments and civil servants who are the least well informed to do so and move much too slowly even when the problem is identified. Partly that is because of the impact of lobbying on governments and civil servants, of corruption in the worst cases or preservation of their own positions.

For the budding entrepreneur the future gives a wealth of opportunities. Clearly, some of the emerging technologies can be directed in a number of ways. While AI can provide invaluable and improved support to doctors, it can also reduce social interaction and create new addictions for gaming fans.

Replacing everyday tasks with smart phone apps may well reduce the need to go to the shops and other places, but may also have a detrimental effect on people’s physical activity.

Over reliance on social media and messaging might well increase loneliness, particularly in older generations. Given the fact that the written word only imparts seven percent of any message, misunderstandings will increasingly arise, and how many people have lost the opportunity of a position because of inappropriate postings or ones that conflict with their CV!

Evidence to date has shown that the profit chasers, the social media addicts and others have so far shown no interest in self-regulation. This is partly because people don’t recognise the problem when they are interacting with an inanimate object. But much of it has to do with lack of responsible government from people that don’t recognise what is going on until it has happened. Part of it is also due to a lack of education.

Far too often the control of devices is left to parents who don’t really know what their offspring are doing, and are enjoying the peace and quiet. Part of it is the result of an education system principally designed in the 19th Century and not fit for 21st Century.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution the world was much more insular and much more predictable. Today television stations have even dispensed with the long-range weather forecast!

So the 21st Century has a number of real challenges to face if it is to benefit from the increasingly rapid change being thrust upon it. Somehow, in order to continue and accelerate the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit in 21st Century, the right conditions need to becreated.

The public are usually resistant to change and no one more so that governments who love the status quo, particularly for their four or five year tenure. In the 21st Century doing nothing is not an option.

Governments need to set the right environment for entrepreneurship to succeed in the right way, education needs to change to encourage entrepreneurship and to develop the skills necessary for future entrepreneurship and parents need to be educated in the dangers as well as the advantages of this new global change.

This means that governments, educators and parents need to come to terms with the truth that they don’t know all of the answers, and that to pretend that they do risks alienating future generations. The myth that the present education system will lead to a job for life, or even that we can predict the likely job opportunities at the end of the 18 year cycle of education has to be destroyed once and for all.

If we look at the disruptive politics taking place around the world, we see that people, and particularly the young, are realising that those in positions of power are not tackling the issues facing them and they are prepared to vote in people that will do so, however they may do it.

Entrepreneurship needs a new set of paradigms if we are to get positive development from the 4th Industrial Revolution. True development towards the future requires a step change from ‘telling’ to ‘creating the environment for others to discover the truth’.

Deep down we know that we don’t know what the 21st Century will shape up like. We do know that following a predefined path cannot create individuals that can adapt to change and take advantage of that change.

What we have learnt from the past is that the King Canute approach of trying to turn the tide of technological progress is doomed to fail. We also know that we will see amazing inventions, coupled with a reduction in conventional jobs, with the potential for a widening of the gap between the few ‘haves’ at the top and the ‘have nots’. We will see young people increasingly disillusioned with the education system if it doesn’t change. We will see the bad side of technological advancement surface if left unchecked. We will see a continued reduction in social interaction and in physical activity in favour of online games and messaging. We will also discover other potential problems such as unrest in developing countries where work is removed by the developing countries in favour of AI and robots.

In short, we are likely to see much advancement coupled with a plethora of potential problems and both these aspects of the 4th Industrial Revolution need to be addressed.

So, I believe there are only two predictions regarding the future that can be made. Firstly, the future will be a period of unprecedented change and technological advancement; and this will create as many problems as solutions if left unchecked. Secondly, that the people who will lead this change will not be the most educated, but those with the characteristics to embrace the opportunities.

I cannot predict that governments, educators or parents will deliver the support necessary to ensure good entrepreneurship, although it lies in their duty to do so. Indeed, the changes created in those in positions of authority are infinitely more important to the global world than anything that can be found on a microchip. What a pity our lack of faith in such people stops us from making this a third prediction unless more disruptive politics takes place.