My Perspective November 2020

Last Call

I anticipate that historians will divide time as pre-COVID and post-COVID, even if it might not change the Gregorian calendar like B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini).

The world was about to change anyway, but the pandemic will serve as a trigger point to accelerate transformations and alter how we think and act from this point forward. Here is my prediction on how 10 big concepts will alter everything:

1. The realization that we are not in control of nature. The coronavirus made us feel vulnerable and climate-change-induced natural catastrophes make us feel helpless. As a consequence, better stewardship of our environment will become not only a priority, but a mandate for governments, companies and consumers.

2. Climate change migration. Even in the best-case scenario, the planet will continue to warm, and sea levels will rise. This will trigger migration away from uninhabitable areas. Midwestern towns in the U.S. might rise in popularity again. On a global scale, however, the consequences will be a lot more traumatic.

3. From a linear economy to the circular economy. For the last 100 years, economic growth at all cost has been the mantra. The linear economy meant exploiting natural resources with no regard for the consequences. But the idea of endless growth is simply not sustainable. It will have to be replaced by a new model: The circular economy, where we do not just consume and discard, but re-use and regenerate everything we produce.

4. The end of oil. Oil was the dominant form of energy for the last seven decades with devastating consequences for the environment, including harmful CO2 emissions and plastic pollution. It will have to be replaced by renewable energy and compostable packaging. Oil-dependent companies will be disrupted and geopolitical power structures re-shuffled.

5. Unparalleled connectivity spurs global thinking. The low cost and high speed of data flow guarantees global connectivity. 5G will be a game changer, followed by the quantum internet that promises un-hackable connections at light speed, enabling rapid sharing of new ideas, know-how and technologies, and increase the impact of consumer behavior.

6. Regional execution will become more desirable. While the thinking will become more universal, agricultural production and manufacturing will shift closer to consumers. This trend is driven by sustainability, the ability to duplicate smaller installations in a grid-like manner, 3-D printing and by sentiments of local pride and preserving jobs at home.

7. The non-location-based, know-how economy. During the coronavirus, working from home became the norm for jobs that do not require a physical presence. This opens new options, like moving from congested city centers to the countryside away from central headquarters, but it also means that anybody in the world can compete for the same job.

8. Re-inventing how we learn. We were illprepared to cope with at-home schooling, and constant parental supervision is not feasible. The curriculum is not designed with online lectures and interactive student participation in mind. The right balance would be a first-rate online learning system combined with small localized coaching centers that are closer to home.

9. A new form of power structure will gain more influence. A few centuries ago the most influential power structures were city-states, replaced by nations, followed by multi-national corporations. I predict a new form of power structure will start to emerge. I define it as “a network,” a diversified grid of like-minded entities (i.e. consumers, machines, professionals, organizations, etc.) that form a symbiotic relationship in order to advance the goal of each and the whole at the same time.

10. Learning how to live with the machine. In my high school essay, I predicted that intelligent machines will replace human labor. At the time it felt utopian, but looking at the rate of innovation, we have to prepare for a new understanding of our role in the universe. Ethical questions like universal income or the ability to produce “designer babies” will have to be solved.

We are at the tipping point where the permission-less commercialization of innovation might no longer be tolerable. So far policy has been lagging behind technology, but as the influence of A.I. becomes more immersive on humans, governments might choose to impose limitations and rules.

Get ready for big changes. For illustration purposes: Self-driving cars eliminate the need to drive and the sharing economy makes owning a “personal” car optional. Voice recognition makes typing pointless and memorizing facts will be useless because we have instant access to answers; instead we will have to learn how to think, which is a very different skill set.

In summary: The Agricultural, Industrial and Information Revolutions will be followed by the Sustainability Revolution. It sounds logical and simple, but the reality will be complex and messy because of conflicting interests; old and new will clash, as in any epochal transfer of influence. 

MARC FREY: media entrepreneur