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FUTURE SHOCK

To quote from Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, published in the 1970s: ‘Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.’

Are global systems so complex and changing so fast that it outpaces any ability to analyse and understand it?

The Who singer, Roger Daltrey, recently said that the band won’t put out any unreleased music because the internet means that it would be an exercise in losing money.

Daltrey has attacked the internet’s effect on the music industry, calling it ‘The biggest robbery in history’.

The music industry has changed since The Who released classics like ‘Tommy’ and ‘Who’s next’ in the late sixties, and is an example how technology has changed a creative industry.

In 1998, Kodak had 170 000 employees and sold 85 per cent of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, its business model disappeared and it went into Chapter 11.

What happened to Kodak and music, will happen to many industries in the next decade – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that three years later you would never take pictures on photo film again?

Yet, digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10 000 pixels.

So, as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became superior and becomes main stream in only a few short years. It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, Health, driverless and electric cars, Education, 3D printing, Agriculture, Printing, Publishing, Media and Jobs. Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution – welcome to Exponential Age.

In the 4th Industrial Revolution, software will disrupt many traditional industries during the next 5-10 years.

Uber is just a software tool; it doesn’t own any cars, and yet it is now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although it don’t own any properties.

Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better at understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world – 10 years earlier than expected.

In the US, young lawyers already struggle to find jobs. With the help of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far, for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90 per cent accuracy compared with 70 per cent accuracy when done by humans. So, if you study law, think hard. There could be far fewer lawyers in the future – only specialists will remain.

Watson already helps nurses in diagnosing cancer; four times more accurately than human nurses (less caring of course). Facebook now has pattern recognition software that can recognise faces better than humans. By 2030, computers could become more intelligent than humans – a fact that Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, has said could pose a threat to our very existence.

Autonomous cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will be available for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You may not want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your cell phone; it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids may never get a driver’s licence and may never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95 per cent less cars for commuting. We can transform former parking space into parks. More than 1 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100 000km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.

Most traditional car companies might become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will take a revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.

Insurance companies will face a challenge, because without accidents, the insurance will become vastly cheaper. Their car insurance business model will dwindle.

Estate agencies will change – because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in more beautiful and safer neighbourhoods.

Electric cars will become main stream by 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electricity. Electricity should become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can only now see the impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar could drop so much that many coal companies may be out of business by 2025.

With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic metre. We don’t have scarce water in most areas; we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if anyone can have as much clean water needed, for nearly no cost.

3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from R300 000 to R7000 within a decade. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies have started 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large volume of spare parts it used to have in the past.

At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You will then be able to 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they have already 3D printed a complete six-storey office building. By 2027, 10 per cent of everything that is being manufactured will be 3D printed.

Business opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to go into, ask yourself, ‘in the future, do you think we will have that?’ and if the answer is yes, how can you make that happen sooner? If it doesn’t work with your phone, forget the idea. And any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed in to failure in the 21st century.

Work: 70-80 per cent of jobs could disappear in the next 20 years. There will be plenty of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.

Agriculture: There will be a R5000 agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in third world countries could then become managers of their field instead of working all day on their fields. Aeroponics (vertical farming) will need much less water.

Right now, 30 per cent of all agricultural surfaces are used for cows. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore. There are several start-ups that will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labelled as ‘alternative protein source’ (because most people, including me, still reject the idea of eating insects).

There is an app called ‘moodies’ which can already tell in which mood you are. By 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where it’s being displayed when they are telling the truth and when not. The world would be a better place!

Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by three months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years, now it’s 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than one year increase per year. So, we all might live for a long, long time, probably way more than 100.

Education: The cheapest smart phones are already at less than R200 in Africa and Asia. By 2020, 70 per cent of all humans will own a Smartphone. That means everyone has the same access to world-class education. This will lead to democratisation of education.

Virtual Reality: We assume that virtual reality is a benign influence upon our lives and is not likely to cause any problems. But, this is a form of technology which is developing all the time and as a result, can throw up problems which had not been previously considered. There are physical problems which are due to poor ergonomics and then there are psychological issues. There are also moral and ethical concerns about this technology.

Physical effects of virtual reality
One of the main problems with virtual reality is motion sickness. It is not unknown for people to suffer from nausea after spending a period of time in a virtual environment which is due to the effects the shift in perception has on balance. Our balance is affected by changes in the inner ear which results in feelings of nausea often experienced by people when travelling on a ship or some other form of transport.

Some people are affected by this after spending only 30 minutes in a virtual environment whereas others can go several hours before they notice any ill effects.

Another name for this sensation is ‘cybersickness’.

So, what are the other dangers in this digital future: First and foremost are viruses; malware.

Security experts expect that smart phones will become the number one target for cyber criminals within five years, including biometric systems. Imagine the chaos if a virus attacks an automated car?

Other inhibiting factors could be legislation, the loss of privacy, unemployment, the decline of human interaction, cybercrime, an overdependence on technology and technology related illnesses.

Welcome to the exponential age!

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