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Introduction
Global Trends to 2030:
How can humanity cope with the speed of digital change?

At the turn of the century, the world was engrossed in the phenomenon of the dot.com boom, everyone concerned with the technological problem of Y2K as to whether this would cause all computers to stop operating. Twenty years further on, the impact of the introduction of the internet has become much more widespread as digitalisation has gone global within a generation.

In a vision of the digital world in 2030 published by the European Internet Foundation in 2014, the central paradigm was seen to be mass collaboration. But with the accelerating development, uptake, and especially convergence of digital technologies around the world, “a different concept emerges called ‘The Knowing Society’ in which real-time, real-world ability to continuously track, measure, interpret and react to virtually any external condition at any scale, at any time becomes the primary source of economic, social and political power.”

This was taken up in the Global Trends 2030 document released by ESPAS in late 2014 underlining the speed of technological change to which we are all confronted. This report predicted a technological revolution, based on new industrial production communication and digital processes transforming societies.

These two reports raise multiple questions about how humanity will cope successfully with the speed of technological change. This panel deals with three of the most important under the general titles of the economic, social and political dimensions (assuming that aspects of digital trade are covered in the economic session of the main agenda):

Economic Dimension

This encompasses the future of work and workplaces. In a recent ESPAS document, it is underlined that pervasive digital technology is opening up boundless new opportunities while blurring workplace boundaries and impacting human behaviours and expectations in ways which are still unknown. Although no single policy intervention can serve as a panacea, monitoring and understanding the current trends underway will help redesign or innovate policies. Central questions to address include:

  • How will these changes transform our well-being, and affect our social ‘glue’?
  • How can the right skills in education and training be learned for the new jobs to emerge?
  • How should the pension age be adjusted to take account of rising life expectancy?

Social Dimension

This encompasses the treatment of data and communication networks. The acceleration of use of algorithms with the availability of vast quantities of data is enabling private companies to provide a range of services to consumers previously considered out of range through the use of AI. With the potential of connectivity being ubiquitous, real concerns about the security of data arise not just for companies and governments with debates on cybersecurity but for individuals for their privacy of their personal data (witness the recent lapse for Facebook with Cambridge Analytica). Central questions to address include:

  • How can individuals be assured that their personal data will be secured and not used for unacceptable purposes?
  • How are such global giants – the FAANGS – to be regulated when the public reaction to their capacity to act is so slow to introduce relevant regulation?
  • How are the challenges of cybersecurity to be handled with the looming rise of China which has a radically different outlook to the West?

Political Dimension

This includes the major public debate raging on fake news, spurring the populist wave seen recently in referendums or elections in the West. Manipulations of popular votes are now coming to light, whether in the Brexit referendum or recent elections in the US or Europe, through online campaigns principally from Russian sources. The story of Cambridge Analytica is a sharp warning to all those writing electoral law that personal data can be militarised by unscrupulous individuals wishing to change the course of history. Central questions to address include:

  • How is democracy in the modern world to be safeguarded from the use of unacceptable techniques of online voter contact?
  • How can action be taken so that consumers can be reassured about the nature of news that they receive online?
  • How can the nature of globalised connectivity be better understood by an educated political class of representatives?

There was a stimulating discussion on this topic at the launch of the Ideas Network 2030 on September 22nd, 2018. A summary is given below.


Session summary

Global Trends to 2030:
How can humanity cope with the speed of digital change?

Chair – James Elles
Rapporteur – Ellen Ferguson

General trends noted:

The pace of technological development is like a tsunami. Business models are changing where Uber owns no cars, Airbnb no hotels and Alibaba has no inventory. A recent report indicates that 40% of businesses in Fortune 500 will disappear by 2024;

Although the economy isn’t everything, it is almost everything. And although digital won’t be everything, it will impact almost everything. Many predict that the global economy will double over the next few decades. China becoming the world’s largest economy while India will have pushed the US into third place. This growth isn’t due to technologies alone, but digital ecosystems that exist today will play a major part in it;

Top digital trends are AI (Artificial Intelligence), Digital things, Virtual reality, Cyber and 5G. These trends are underpinned by 3 core technologies that are enabling the processing of large amounts of distributed data in real time – Quantum computing ( faster processing ), sensors ( intelligent things ) and Networks ( 5G ). Blockchain has the potential to be the biggest technology development since the Internet;

There are two ways to see transformations in the eco-systems. The first one is through global networks and connectivity while the second one is digital transformation – the ‘silent revolution’. Looking at connectivity, Parag Khanna, in his recent book ‘Connectography’, tries to map the digital future of global civilisation. In the digital age, mega cities matter more than states; resilient supply chains will matter more than traditional markets; connectivity will be a more decisive source of power than military capabilities. In the digital chains, security of networks will matter more than border protection.

Specific trends in Digital Transformation noted:

Digital Transformation is deeper than connectivity. It is changing the environment of all our traditional activities. It is not only extending networks. It is creating new ecosystems, new expectations, new opportunities and new business models. Here are a few examples:

The first is the data-driven economy. Data, unlike other resources, is not hard to move. It becomes more useful the more it is used, and has more varieties than other resources. Data is not confined by geographies. If data becomes the new currency, then data credits can be exchanged for other resources – like goods and services;

Global borders may be less relevant as the commoditisation of data is not impacted by traditional physical boundaries like mountains or rivers. That means that a fundamental aspect of our global economy – national and physical borders – could change. You may be able to draw a line in the sand, but it’s hard to draw a line in the cloud. To derive the best of the new eco-systems created by digitalisation, standards are needed to regulate access, security and privacy. Common standards will create the boundaries of the new eco-system. They will define the size of digital markets;

The second is the automation of almost everything. As with data, automation is likely to become far more pervasive as machines exchange data with each other. This is not about just moving physical items. It includes intelligent automation, AI and machine learning. Predictions are that they will have an impact on over two thirds of jobs that exist today.

Automation will have a direct impact on skills. As we change the way we work, we will change the way we prepare to work and even how we define work. We may need to think differently about ther need for self-created learning. We may find that we need to know less, but need to be able to find out or access knowledge faster. It’s estimated that by 2025 nearly half the workforce will be freelance and part of the gig economy.

The third is changes that can happen in representative democracy especially at local level. It empowers new actors, creating a more complex and challenging eco-system, with new demands, new tools, new balance between the community and elected. There is a major social revolution which will shock the party system as the technological revolution introduces new kinds of participation. People wish to revisit what is delegated, to whom, at what price and for which added value.

Lastly concerns the way we measure and value growth. In a world in which borders have become less important, people have become more adaptable, and technology plays a stronger role in decision-making, those who evaluate economics based on GDP may need to think again. Our digital economy could be based on value to society rather than absolute growth of goods and services sold. Creativity, rather than capital, may determine those countries that are the new wealth creators, and investment yardsticks may be forced to extend to intangible assets like culture.

Issues on which to focus in the months ahead:

Speed is of the essence – Darwin said that the most adaptable of the species survives.

Here are 5 suggestions:

  • Infrastructure Investment urgently needed – Data, Power, building in Cyber security;
  • Skills: We have a growing number of people digitally unskilled in the labour market, needing retraining in digital skills. More STEM, but more linked creative/Stem, think Psychology and Maths;
  • Entrepreneurship and innovation nurtured;
  • Regulation/Legislation – vital to regulate access: in general, not too much, not too little;
  • Manufacturing and Intellectual Property (more in the UK, Innovation protected and licensed for use internationally).

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