Critical Shifts Driving the Reinvention

By Rohit Talwar
What fundamental shifts might characterize the emerging future?
Drivers of the Revolution and Riders of the Storm

Through the pages of this book, two things have hopefully become abundantly clear. Firstly, the old order of everything either has been challenged, is in the process of upheaval, or will be disrupted in the next few years. Secondly, our notions of a linear, controllable, and defensible progression to the future are being overturned. The future is being reinvented, and we are simultaneously playing the parallel roles of initiators, catalysts, investors, beneficiaries, and victims of the changes that will play out.

We are at such an early stage in the change process that it is impossible to know the likely outcomes of all this change. Nor can we pinpoint with absolute accuracy the key themes and shifts that will have the biggest influence in the reimagining of life, society, and business. However, it is clear that there are strong candidates that are likely to have more of a bearing than others. Whilst these are not all unfolding at the same pace, the instantaneous nature of the Internet and a 24/7 news cycle can make it seem that way. Here we identify twenty-one key shifts we see taking place that will be major drivers, or significant enablers, of the future reinvented.

Life and Society

1.  Harassment and Assault: From why me to #metoo – The #metoo change movement will gather momentum, and victims of sexual abuse and harassment around the world will continue to find the courage and support to challenge the offenders.The abuser’s fall from grace will be massive and visible—encompassing the church, the military, the professions, sports, media, entertainment, politics, and business. Successive waves of public apologies, enforced resignations, and early retirements will lead to fundamental changes of policy, practice, and protection in all these sectors and drive a shift in the balance of power towards the victims.

2.  Spirituality: From possession to purpose – As society becomes more technologically dependent and pressurized, people are increasingly looking for a sense of purpose that goes beyond material achievements and possessions into the realms of spiritual fulfilment. From religion to meditation and yoga, we are pursuing alternative routes to enlightenment. There is also a growing sense that the source—of the power and guiding inspiration we seek—may lie within us rather than outside.

3.  Privacy: From birthright to asset – In many nations, the right to privacy has, in the past, been seen as a birthright. Government policy and technology have changed that. Governments have gradually assumed the right to know more about us, and the major online players and personal technology providers have amassed vast stores of information on our lives.

Most of us have scant knowledge of what’s being collected or how it’s being used. We have effectively traded our privacy for the right to access certain services and information. Ironically, smart personal technology may gradually give us back control over that information and curtail the extent of the surveillance capitalism we are subjected to. We may increasingly be able to decide the tradeoffs we make with our personal information and when we’ll chose to trade that asset in return for things that we value.

4.  Mental Health: From my little secret to our collective responsibility – There are rising levels of pre-clinical and clinical mental health issues across society in both developed and developing nations. Stress levels are also expected to rise as the pace of technological unemployment increases. Organizations will be judged on their capacity to address and minimize workplace stress.

5.  Relationships: From monogamous to multivariant – The conventional model of a monogamous relationship with a lifetime partner is being challenged in multiple ways. The most obvious example is that of people pursuing polyamory and open relationships in a transparent manner. Alongside these models, we see multi-functional relationship models where one person might fulfill their romantic, child raising, emotional, and intellectual needs through separate partners of possibly different genders.

6.  Parenting and Home Making: From bed maker to bread winner – Women are consistently outperforming men at every level of the education system globally. Gradually, barriers to opportunity and glass ceilings are being dismantled and pay gaps eroded. The pace is expected to quicken—changing workplace cultures and driving a reversal of parenting and home maker roles within the family.

7.  Sex: From constrained to conscious – As people seek more meaning and purpose from life overall, a major shift in attitudes is taking place around sex. Clearly, many are still focused on consumption, influenced by pornography, and adopting a balance sheet accounting approach – demanding reciprocity for every act. There is though, a growing interest in a more conscious approach that sees sex as part of the process of deepening connection. The coming together of spirituality and the pursuit of a more enlightened approach to sex are part of what lies behind the increasing popularity of connection based practices such as tantra and orgasmic meditation.

8.  Augmentation: From human to post-human – A range of chemical, genetic, electronic, and bio-mechanical augmentations are starting to allow us to change the very nature of being human. To keep up with technology and the pace of modern life, we will be opting for enhancements, from extending life expectancy and changing our genomic make-up, to enhancing physical strength and augmenting our cognitive powers.

9.  Education Systems: From control to nurture – Education systems around the world are widely seen to be glaringly out of date and unfit for purpose. Technology is expected to play an increasing role, with some reports suggesting that it could take over 75% of what teachers do. The opportunity here is to reinvest that time in nurturing focused tasks rather than student control. Teaching roles will gradually shift to helping pupils learn skills—such as collaboration, problem solving, scenario thinking, and accelerated learning techniques—that will be applicable whatever their future might hold. The Internet is also driving interest in home schooling as the best content becomes available for free.

10. Work: From defining purpose to pastime of choice – Across the planet, people are beginning to understand that technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics could mean that we may need a lot less people to work in paid jobs in the future. Concepts such as universal basic incomes and services may become a reality in this next decade to help people fund a reasonable lifestyle.

Those that do choose to work may do so simply for social connection and the physical or intellectual challenge, rather than as a means to earn money. Phrases like “long-term unemployed” and “burden on society” may start to disappear from society’s vocabulary as the realization grows that we might just be seeing the beginnings of the end of work.

Politics and Economics

11. Politics: From the center to the edges – We can expect to see a continued shift towards, and growing calls for, devolution of power to a more local level. From Brexit to separatist movements in Catalonia and beyond, pressure will rise to escape the distant hand of central control. Not all will succeed in securing independence, or in making a success of it, but the pressure will mount.

12. The US Presidency: From sovereign standards to situational solutions – President Trump has challenged all traditional notions of how he should conduct his role and what constitutes acceptable Presidential behavior. From his use of Twitter and deliberate misrepresentation of facts through to his direct attacks on individuals—Mr. Trump has effectively widened the Presidential playing field.

13. Transparency: From nothing to say to nowhere to hide– Governments, institutions, and individuals will find it increasingly difficult to keep anything secret. For at least the next decade, hacker collectives, and those who support them, will have the resources to access critical data and make it public. Whistle blowers and investigative journalists will keep the spotlight on abuses of power, and the Internet will provide channels to put the content in front of the public.

14. Money: From controlled to chaotic – The rise of digital currencies such as Bitcoin have challenged the notion that only central banks could issue globally tradeable forms of money. The decade ahead is likely to see a proliferation of cryptocurrencies, and governments and financial exchanges authorizing their use in trading. At the same time, governmental desire to know what people are doing with their money will clash head on with the anonymity that goes with a Bitcoin transaction. The outcome will be a growing level of complexity and confusion over the potential to transition to a single global currency.

15. Financial Control: From institutions to networks – There is continual erosion of the financial sectors’ monopoly on the processing of transactions and the management of our funds. New FinTech ventures are allowing us to bypass the traditional players to transfer funds between us and raise money from each other directly. The advent of Bitcoin as a currency and blockchain as a mutually assured distributed transaction ledger allow for counter-parties to settle directly with each other without ever going through the traditional middlemen.

16. Tax: From gaming the system to a fairer game – Governments around the world will increasingly seek to grow their tax revenues, close loopholes, and simplify the systems. They will also look to make those systems smarter and more powerful through the use of AI. They also want to be seen to be creating a fairer and more balanced system. At the same time, the risks of technological unemployment could reduce income taxes and sales taxes and increase the pressure to collect more from larger firms and higher earners.

17. Brexit: From bravado to fluidity – The hardened negotiating stance being taken early on by both the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) will continue to soften and reshape. Tough talk will be replaced by the pragmatism of finding a solution that doesn’t create total havoc for the UK, but which still discourages other EU members from trying to leave. The challenge for the UK will be to leave the EU in name, whilst establishing policies and mechanisms that allow individuals and businesses to behave as though they are still members.


18. Intelligence: From human to artificial – The pace of development in AI is likely to continue at breathtaking speed. Inevitably there will be a growing tendency to replace humans with their more consistent, reliable, and faster machine counterparts.

19. Business Mindset: From linear to exponential – The exponential growth in performance of many technologies is driving firms to pursue similar improvement rates across their business in sectors as diverse as construction and car manufacturing.

20. Knowledge: From expert curated to discovery led – Technology is eroding the expertise base of traditional advice giver roles from lawyers and consultants, to accountants and clinicians. Increasingly, AI tools will help us seek, sort, and analyze far greater volumes of data than any human can, whilst ensuring that we are drawing on the most up-to-date information. Rather than paying experts to provide a lot of information and opinion to justify their fees, the new tools will increasingly enable us to find the point information and decision options most relevant to our current situation.

21. Employment: From castles to cottages – Whilst the number of organizations with a turnover of US$100 million may grow, the number of people collectively employed by larger national and global businesses is likely to fall as a percentage of the total workforce. Hence, a multi-fold increase is required in the number of small to medium businesses to fill the short- to medium-term employment gap. Clearly, as discussed above, the longer term picture is harder to determine. To support the growth of small and micro start-ups, the amount of support provided to entrepreneurs will need to increase at least exponentially if they are to take up the slack.


This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.


Image: by TPHeinz

AI and the Legal Sector: Gift Bearing Friend or Havoc-Wreaking Foe?

By Steve Wells and Rohit Talwar
How might law firms harness the transformational potential of technological change to drive exponential business growth?

We are at the start of a Fourth Industrial Revolution—a wave of transformation fueled by powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). This could drive a bigger wave of growth in the legal sector than any other change in history. Previous transformations gave us steam-based mechanization, electrification and mass production, and then electronics, information technology, and automation. This new era of smart machines is fueled by exponential improvement and convergence of multiple scientific and technological fields.

So, what is AI? Artificial intelligence is a computer science discipline that seeks to create intelligent machines that can replicate critical human mental faculties. Key applications include speech recognition, language translation, visual perception, learning, reasoning, inference, strategy formation, planning, decision-making, and intuition. The truly transformational impacts arise when AI is combined with accelerating science and technology developments in other fields, including neuroscience, large-scale databases, super-computing hardware, network communications, cloud computing, hyperconnectivity, blockchain distributed ledger systems, the Internet of things, 3D and 4D printing, and digital currencies.

These technologies will transform old industries and accelerate the creation of new ones. All this will generate massive opportunities for law firms, particularly in the corporate sector. However, some lawyers see AI and the technologies it enables as an existential threat to a US$650 billion global industry. They worry about automating their own knowledge, expertise, and advice-based roles. They are particularly concerned about the resultant risks of eliminating differentiation, commoditizing premium revenue streams, losing out to technology providers, depersonalization, and the loss of professional jobs.

While these risks are real, a growing number can smell opportunity, realizing that these technologies will transform the US$75 trillion global economy. By 2025, in a global economy of around US$120 trillion, over half of it will arise from newborn sectors and those that don’t even exist today—such as synthetic energy, autonomous vehicles, self-replicating machines, and adaptive, self-repairing materials. In most cases, we haven’t started to assess the legal implications—and that means opportunity.

What happens when each industry in every country has its “Uber moment”? Ambitious upstarts are, or soon will be, challenging long-established norms and unspoken rules of engagement in every industry. This creates massive opportunities for law firms, whether by representing the innovators, their adversaries, or the regulators.

The changes are happening fast. The legal requirements are real and there is massive potential to build relevant service offerings, acquire new customers, and increase current rates of revenue and profitability growth. In addition, there’s the opportunity to harness the technologies internally to deliver improvements in areas such as professional productivity, responding to client queries, proposal development, research efficiency, and completing multi-jurisdictional submissions.

There are four typical reasons for developing new practice offerings in these emergent areas. Firstly, clients ask the firm to help explore the implications of a new field it is venturing into. Indeed, many law firms now have big practices in internet law, biotech, and cloud computing because clients led them there.

A second approach is where individuals see opportunity and pursue it. A good example is US law firm Perkins Coie, where Dax Hansen, a partner in IT, payments, and international transactions, saw the opportunities arising out of digital currencies such as Bitcoin and their underlying core technology—the blockchain. Hansen launched the first legal industry blockchain practice in May 2013. The firm’s blockchain practice now has over 40 lawyers focused on the legal impacts from digital currencies to capital markets and a range of distributed applications.

A third approach is becoming increasingly popular with small to medium-sized firms, where partners and relatively junior staff are seconded to spend a few days to several weeks truly immersing themselves in a client’s business. This is typically done where the core technology is extremely complex, and the legal ramifications are myriad. For example, there is growing interest in the notion of cryogenically freezing someone on death (or while still alive) with the hope that one day, technology will emerge to restore the physical body, memory, and consciousness of the frozen individual.

Cryogenics has the potential to become a trillion-dollar industry within a decade, and facilities are emerging worldwide. Servicing this sector’s legal needs requires a very deep understanding of cryogenics, the costs and risks involved, the customer commitments being made, the status of the science that might deliver a regeneration solution, and the current status of the sector in law.

The fourth approach is where firms acknowledge the changes taking place and decide to immerse themselves in the opportunity in the hope of building profitable legal offerings for the emerging sectors. Such firms make a conscious commitment to put professional staff at all levels through a deep immersion in the technological enablers of tomorrow’s world. They run workshops and study tours to immerse their leaders and partners across the practice in a deep exploration of the technologies shaping the future and the ways in which they could transform current industries and enable new sectors. The aim is to be at the forefront in advising both the emerging sectors and those impacted by them. For example, in smart healthcare this means that firms advise the technology solution developers, hospitals, regulators, and patient groups.

The goal here is to help partners and business development professionals understand the emerging science and technology in sufficient depth to be able to start meaningful conversations with current and potential customers. Other key steps in the immersion process include joining and participating actively in the formation of industry associations, hosting events for meet-up groups in the relevant sector, attending conferences, and devoting time to reading about the client industry, and writing thought leadership articles on the legal ramifications.

For example, it is almost certain that legal considerations will not be top of mind for the 17-year-old developer of an AI facial recognition app that shows the dating history and associated comments and ratings for everyone you meet in a club. Such an app could prove very popular but fall foul of laws in a number of ways that the developer had never considered. Indeed, as we scan across AI and related technologies and the trillion-dollar sectors they are helping to spawn, the range of legal issues and resulting opportunities are almost overwhelming. For example:

  • The emergence of autonomous self-driving vehicles opens up the potential for self-owning assets including buildings and public infrastructure. What issues does this raise around legal liability in the event of failure to perform or when accidents occur?
  • If an AI-based system makes a poor decision that leads to a car crash, the death of a patient, or an aircraft being delayed, who will be held liable: the owners of the application, the developer of the underlying AI tool, the provider of the data set from which the system was trained, those guiding the training, or the provider of the technology platform on which the system runs?
  • If AI is increasingly used for scientific discovery and the system infringes a patent, who will be held liable?
  • Where AI is being used to run hugely complex and interconnected transaction platforms with the trading taking place in digital currencies and via blockchains (i.e. the source of the funds and information about the counterparties is unknown), how can the risk of fraud and money laundering be addressed?
  • What procedures will be required for rollback, recovery, contract review, and dispute arbitration for fully automated AI and blockchain-based financial transaction systems?
  • How should we account for the jurisdictional and taxation implications of firms that are using AI systems to move their financial assets around the world on a continuous basis in real time to attract the best second-by-second interest rates?
  • How should we write the contracts for goods and services when AI tools are being used to define and combine the elements of the offering and set the pricing in real time based on the user’s profile and requirements?
  • Precog systems are emerging that can predict an individual’s propensity to crime. What governance frameworks might be required for such AI-enabled “pre-crime” units?

We have focused quite deliberately on the potential of AI and emerging technologies to create exponential business growth opportunities in the marketplace. There are also immense opportunities to drive exponential improvements within the firm, in the products and services it provides, and in the ways it delivers its offerings. We have identified seven distinct areas of opportunity:

  • Automation of legal tasks and processes;
  • Decision support and outcome prediction;
  • Creation of new product and service offerings;
  • Development of tools and applications for in-house legal teams;
  • Process design and matter management;
  • Practice management; and,
  • Fully automated online services.

In all of these areas, live AI applications are already in use or under development across the legal sector. In the next five years, we will see an explosion of legal opportunities arising from the transformation of existing sectors and the emergence of new ones. Artificial intelligence and related technologies will enable and accelerate the birth of new markets, commercial concepts, business models, and delivery mechanisms—spawning ideas we would struggle to get our heads around today.

Growth-motivated law firms of all sizes are “giving themselves permission” to invest the time and energy to embrace this new world thinking that could deliver exponential growth. The big question for everyone to ask is: What will it take for our firm to believe it can be a winner in the exponential future of legal?


  • What would the new quality standards for law firms be in the exponential future of legal and AI?
  • How should law firms divide their innovation time and resources between developing new externally-focused practicing offerings and improving internal processes?
  • What are the biggest changes we might see in the legal profession as a result of the introduction of AI?

This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.



Image: by geralt

Disrespectful Tech – Ten Ways Artificial Intelligence Could Transform Your Finances and Your Life

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Maria Romero
Would you trust a robot with your money?
The Potential Impact of AI on Personal Banking

After President Trump and Brexit, artificial intelligence (AI) is perhaps the hottest topic of debate around the world. There are many ways in which this most disrespectful technology could change how we might save, spend, and invest in the future. To help understand its life-changing potential, here are ten ways we have identified for how AI might impact and enhance our experience of personal banking:

  1. Enhanced Security and Fraud ProtectionBy monitoring every transaction as it happens and comparing it to historical patterns, AI could identify fraud in progress, such as the customer’s personal bank account being drained. Equally it can detect warning signs; the customer’s financial advisor being unavailable, changing their spending habits, and buying one-way flights to the Bahamas, for example.
  2. Go Compare on SteroidsArtificial intelligence could take the concept of price comparison websites to new heights. Collating different legally accessible savings and loan options from across all providers around the world, an AI finance supermarket tool could instantly identify financial products that meet the client’s requirements precisely, highlighting pertinent small print, and exposing hidden costs. Through an ongoing subscription, this continuous comparison tool could make recommendations to the customer or be authorized to switch financial products automatically as better options emerge.
  3. Spending Comparison and BudgetingAI would allow us to compare the spending of individuals, households, and businesses. Various views could be available, for example how much do we spend on electricity, food, stationery, or transport relative to people with similar incomes, households of the same size, or comparable businesses to ours.
  4. Aggregated PurchasingA bank could aggregate customer purchase information on an opt-in basis and use it to secure higher discounts from providers based on the total spending power of its customer base. Deals could be offered by vendors, with customers’ personal AI assistants deciding whether to buy based on learned needs and interests—only consulting with us when the AI doesn’t know enough to make a choice.
  5. Dynamic Fund ManagementThe AI systems could look at estimated future spending based on past behavior and move bank customers’ spare cash into whichever savings or investment products offered the best return based on the level of risk the client was prepared to take. Options might range from a stable interest-bearing account to highly volatile digital currency funds.
  6. Digital Currency TradingWith growing investor interest in digital currencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ether, banks could trade the funds clients allocate to this asset class—buying and selling on a dynamic basis as currency values fluctuate or tracking the choices of the best cryptotraders.
  7. Financial EqualityWhile individuals with limited funds may not be able to pay for a human financial advisor, AI may become the great financial equalizer. Constantly declining technology prices would enable literally everyone to access the best AI investment advice at almost no cost.
  8. Dynamic PricingBased on past behavior data, AI could predict what price each individual would consider fair. Prices would be public, but each individual would only see those customized just for them.
  9. The “Jiminy Cricket” of Personal BudgetingSmart systems would nudge us to make the best decisions for our financial situation. For example, for most 20-somethings, instead of spending a month’s salary on Friday night, it would encourage more modest entertainment options and invest the rest to help achieve our holiday or retirement goals. The AI might go a stage further and add a small auto-saving amount to each purchase—automatically squirreling the funds away at each purchase.
  10. My Digital Banking TwinOur personal AI clones or “digital twins” would be authorized to buy, save, sell, or trade on our account. Credit card purchases, bank transactions, bill payments, completing student loan or mortgage applications, and even impulse buys could all be delegated to our digital twin. These transactions would be conducted under the watchful eye of the bank’s own AI Big Brother to make sure a digital twin doesn’t go rogue, get hacked, or collude with another to defraud their human counterparts.
Personal Finance Reshaped

The applications of AI are nigh on limitless and we can expect to see them proliferate in the marketplace over the next few years. Some may thrive, others may be absorbed by larger institutions, the majority will end up as a failure statistic like most technology start-ups of the past, but the ideas will live on in a constantly transforming personal finance landscape. The fun part is trying to pick the winners and convincing our own providers to up their game and bring a little AI spice into our financial lives.


  • Where would you most like to see AI being used in the management of your finances?
  • Which are the financial situations where you’d still require a human touch?
  • What are the biggest benefits and risks that you can foresee from greater use of AI in managing your finances?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.


Image: by GDJ

Future Snapshots – A 25-Year Outlook

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Karolina Dolatowska, Helena Calle, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, Wendy Schultz, Guy Yeomans, Peter Stevens, and Kaat Exterbille
How might key aspects of our world evolve in the next 25 years and what could this mean for humanity?
How Might Our World Change in the Next 25 Years?

The notion of what constitutes a very human future might evolve quite dramatically over the next 25 years. Over that period, many different fields of science and technology will progress at an exponential rate or faster and combine to create currently unimaginable possibilities. At the same time, we will see these developments have a dramatic impact on and be influenced by the complex interactions of societal norms and behaviors, economic thinking, geo-politics, and notions of business, work, and employment. Here we explore some snapshot scenarios of how these factors might all play out and interact over the next 25 years.

The Stuff of Life

Artificial Living—Unless there’s a dramatic slowdown or reversal in technological progress, it is reasonable to suggest that artificial intelligence (AI) will permeate our lives and our world. The technology will be in use across every aspect of society from healthcare and education to entertainment and financial services. Smart systems could manage our social lives, help us select the ideal partners for dating, marriage, and reproduction, monitor our health in liaison with our doctors, and personalize our education so content is delivered in the way we learn best.

The technology will likely be making legal decisions in court, determining our benefit payments, fact checking politicians, and powering the transport sector. For some, AI will be seen to be uplifting humanity and creating powerful new possibilities to enhance life and the way it is lived. For others, the concern will be that technology has stripped us of identity, purpose, agency, and privacy.

Aging—Science and technology advances associated with human longevity mean that people are expected to be living longer and healthier lives than ever before. Experts believe that organs will be regenerated in vitro and implanted with 100% success rates, similar to plugging new devices into 20th-century computers. Unlimited stem cells could be used to grow or repair any type of organ, in vitro or in situ. Transplant rejection should no longer be an issue, and with the exception of the brain, literally all of our organs should be replaceable by new synthetic, grown or printed ones.

Intelligent nano-robots could help with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases at any age, including pre-birth surgery. They will be able to read from and write into our biology. They should also be able to detect and destroy neoplasms, thus holding out the prospect of defeating cancer forever. Similar to nano-robots, the expectation is that bio-computers will be inoculated into the human body to perform complex tasks, for instance sensing and monitoring the status of organs or repairing tissues and organs in real time.

Artificial Wombs—Within the next 25 years it may be possible to prevent preterm mortality in infants by use of artificial wombs that provide all the conditions required to safely achieve full development and birth of a fetus. This technology would at first be used to save at-risk pregnancies but may over time become a reproductive technology available to consumers interested in having a baby without pregnancy.

Countering Antibiotic Failure—Many pathogens are gaining immunity to the antibiotic medicines available today. Without antibiotics, common illness and medical procedures, even pregnancy and childbirth, could become life endangering events. In the next 25 years, is it possible that we will experience “the end of antibiotics” as suggested by the World Health Organization in 2016? Fortunately, the microbial threat is being met with advanced drug development, allowing medical researchers to explore new approaches to fight superbugs. New strategies on the horizon range from genetic modification of germs and implantable semiconductors through to the discovery of new antibacterial agents in soil.

Transhumanism—Over the next 25 years, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) and bio-medicine could fundamentally improve the human condition and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. As a result, the notion of the “transhuman” could emerge. For example, the augmentation of human beings’ cognitive and intellectual abilities through technological implants, such as memory storage, is a process that is well underway already. These enhancements mean humans could achieve heightened senses and biological capabilities that are so far the prerogative of other species (e.g. speed, resistance, adaptation to extreme conditions, etc.). Conversely, future cyborgs and soft robots could be built out of biological components. For some this is simply the next stage in our evolution and the ultimate way to preserve humanity. For others there are a variety of concerns around the moral and religious implications of such developments. There are also questions of who might be able to afford such augmentations and the further polarization of society.

Sustaining Humanity

Water—As climate change continues to alter rainfall patterns worldwide, water may become an increasingly scarce resource. Regions with the financial capital may be able to invest in the latest microfiltration technologies, thus allowing constant recycling of waste water into drinkable water. Desalination plants may be the solution in arid regions along coastlines. Hopefully, as technology improves, and costs fall, the issues associated with desalination, namely high energy usage and residual salt, could be resolved to such a degree that coastal regions all over the world would be able to afford desalination. Access to plentiful clean water could have dramatic impacts on health, migration patterns, agriculture, and even interstate conflicts.

Agricultural Disruption and a Food Revolution—Within the next 25 years every aspect of the food ecosystem we know could change. The food chain will undergo a major transformation led by AI. Fruits and vegetables might be grown in buildings controlled by AI rather than on farms, meat could be cloned, and we might see widespread consumption of 3D printed food. Food innovation will see the rise of vertical farming and lab grown meat. Hydroponic plants, fruits, and vegetables might change agriculture as we know it, and help revolutionize the food industry. Population growth and city expansions are having major consequences, driving a lack of growing space and food in many parts of the world. The growing global population will force us to find creative solutions. Having AI-controlled hydroponic vertical farms on the sides of buildings might be one of the solutions.

Artificial Meat—In-vitro cloned meat could be another future solution to our food supply problems. While lab grown meat may still face many challenges, such as flavor control, it also has many advantages such as less waste, less risk of viruses, reduced space requirements, lower emissions, and reduced environmental impacts, among others. These benefits seem to outweigh the disadvantages and drawback of traditionally reared livestock. The idea of artificial meat might disturb us, nonetheless this solution seems to be finding its way into our diets.

Technology in Service of Humanity

Smarter Money—By combining the power of AI and blockchain, the concept of money could evolve into electronic tokens with far more types of assets tradeable within the one “currency.” For example, we might earn tokens from our employment, as rewards from retailers and airlines, and as micro-credits for completing workplace training, school learning tasks, or community service actions. Instead of simply liking a track from a musician, we could now make a micro-payment to them with a fraction of a token. State or community funded tokens could also be given to acknowledge the value of the tasks undertaken by family members performing home care tasks that have traditionally gone unrewarded such as caring for children, the elderly, and the ill. This evolution from cash and cryptocurrencies toward a universal means of exchange could mean the end of cash and foreign exchange markets. Broadening the means of paying for goods and services could allow people to realize the full value of their various dormant assets, such as airline loyalty points, and help address social exclusion.

Art, Sciences, and Humanities—The challenges facing humanity are revealing themselves as increasingly global and highly interconnected. The next few decades should give us the tools to start mastering this complexity in terms of a deeper understanding, but also in terms of policy and action with more predictability of impacts. This will result from a combination of an exponentially increasing volume of data from various sources of evidence (smart grids, mobility data, sensor data, socio-economic data) along with the rise of AI, dynamic modeling, and new visualization, analysis, and synthesis techniques (like narrative). It will also rely on a new alliance between science and society.

Hyperconnectivity—The prevailing connectivity scenario that underpins most government, business, and technology sector thinking for the next 25 years is that the internet and its distributed successors will continue to expand as global connectors, enabled by advances in underlying technologies (e.g. blockchain, transmission protocols, photonic networks, quantum and organic computing, etc.) and by the need to support more and more sophisticated application scenarios bridging the physical and virtual worlds instantaneously. The complexity and significance of the internet should increase dramatically as we move to the new era of nano sensors and devices, and of virtual spaces and 3D social networks exchanging zillions of bytes of data every day.

Media Evolution—Social media and its successors will continue the process of replacing traditional editorial media as the dominant news and information platform over the next 25 years. The evidence is already accumulating: people like to curate their own lives through social media. As new cohorts of youth enter the digital arena, they become ever-more expert in creating their own user-generated content—dramatizing and exploiting it through social media. Scarcity of attention means less time for editorial media and fewer resources allocated to it. The means of delivery will also expand to include personalized content in multiple media and potentially event direct uploads to our brains. For many, this evolution is seen as a process of democratizing creation and access and breaks the control of those who would seek to dictate what news and content we consume. Others will remain concerned over fake news, bias, and the potential for reader manipulation.

Business, Work, and Talent

New Production Models—In 20-30 years the world’s economy may change significantly, driven by the advent of new technological and societal innovations and the industries they enable. Advanced robotics, AI, automation, and smart manufacturing could bring most of today’s production back to a local sustainable dimension. Continued evolution of 3D and 4D printers should make possible the self-production of many consumer items like clothes or furniture. Ultimately, only large artifacts (e.g. aircraft) may still be produced in centralized plants.

Cradle-to-Grave Work and Play—In 20-30 years, healthcare advances should enable people to work throughout their extended lifespan and change jobs according to varying personal needs and aspirations. The idea of the steady, permanent job is predicted to become a relic of the 20th century. Under such a scenario, perhaps only a minority of the population will still experience linear/sequential life cycles (i.e. study – job – family – retirement). We could see a situation where health and wellbeing have improved to such an extent that citizens could do what they like, irrespective of their age. Technology is expected to continue transforming the very nature of work and the dynamics of organizations and labor markets. For instance, part-time work, teleworking, virtual meetings etc. may become common practices at all levels long before 2050.

Learning—The future education and learning landscape will be characterized by an increased “blurring of boundaries” between the different levels and directions of education, between schools, higher education, and industry. This evolving education ecosystem should provide greater flexibility in designing educational pathways tailored to individual needs and combining several education modalities into a lifelong and stimulating learning experience. Technology is increasingly supporting new forms of learning, for instance using virtual spaces and enhanced classrooms for experimentation and full immersion in learning settings not achievable otherwise. Over time these will likely include ever-more powerful simulations, intelligent conversational agents, and brain-to-machine or even brain-to-brain interfaces.

The Global Agenda

Global Governance—The current outlook for many observers and analysts is dominated by the hard and soft tensions that surround us, ranging from long-standing military conflicts and terrorism through to trade wars and sanctions. However, many shifts are possible in a 25-year time frame. Societies could be characterized by continuous interplay between individual and collective interests—potentially leading to tensions between two opposing models: 1) a society where only a few decide for all, either as elected representatives, or because new forms of oligarchic power emerge to exert societal manipulation; and 2) a society with neither classes nor hierarchies, characterized by participatory leadership and new forms of “chaordic” organization, where all have the possibility to co-decide on most if not all issues that matter to them.

Asia Rising—Looking at the development of the Asian market, we can expect that within 25 years world economic and industrial leadership will have passed to China and India. The growth of China and other Asian economies will continue to outstrip more developed nations and see Asian nations establish themselves as the driving force of the world economy rather than the USA and European countries.

Global People and Power—In the coming 20-30 years, our increasingly hyperconnected and immersive lives should enable people to be more empowered than ever to share knowledge, become aware of their environment, and take informed and responsible decisions. Such developments will allow us all to become active players in the global scene. New platforms for social networking could allow citizens to self-organize into communities that emerge as new powers able to exert influence and address shared problems in a more structured, responsible, and concurrent manner.

Societal Infrastructures

City Powerhouses—A number of cities will grow into megacities, which have the potential to be highly vascularized by eco-friendly and energy-sustainable transportation modes and filled with new dwellings and buildings made from innovative construction materials. If current trends continue, then all elements of the city will be connected to a higher supra-network, the future internet, on which a whole new service-economy would thrive—the so-called “internet of everyone.” In this vision, cities throughout Europe would compete among each other as places to be, developing their own forms of participatory citizenship to drive a continuous co-creation of the cityscape and its multi-cultural social fabric.

Autonomous City Centers—Following increasingly widely invoked policy moves to ban petrol and diesel fueled vehicles from city centers in the coming years, the same could happen with manually driven cars. We are entering an era that will be marked by exponential innovation changing ideas of asset ownership, delivering radical leaps forward in AI, providing increasingly efficient electric propulsion units for vehicles, and enabling the emergence of genuinely smart city infrastructures. These relatively smooth transitions should lead to other changes in cities, including the removal of redundant traffic signals and the remodeling of some street intersections. The clear benefits for humanity here would include cleaner, more livable, safer cities.

Autonomous Commuter Trains—Overground and subway/metro commuter services are now fully automated in many cities. At busier stations and at peak travel times, train staff supervise the safety of passengers at the station, but the trains themselves are fully autonomous with AI systems driving the train and monitoring passengers. As yet, long distance express trains retain on-board crews, although much like civilian aircraft, the drivers’ roles are to supervise the systems and provide on-board customer service. The move to autonomous trains might allow for a more predictable service that wouldn’t be affected by issues such as staff illness or recruitment issues. Others might be concerned that this is another development that will see net job loss.

Autonomous Cargo Aircraft—While most passengers are skeptical about an autonomous plane ride to their destination in the sun, cargo has no such qualms. While regulations allow the operation of autonomous aircraft for cargo purposes, they are still operated between specialist cargo hub airports, separate from passenger traffic. There would of course be serious implications for those who lose their jobs. One view is that the move to autonomous cargo might help free up trained pilots to service the expected growth of passenger demand for air transport and the associated shortage of flight crew. Clearly many would also be concerned about the environmental impacts of an overall growth in aviation.

The First 3D Printed Moon Base—Following a series of missions in the coming years to create an autonomous 3D accommodation manufacturing facility on the Moon’s surface, the facility should be ready within 25 years. The Moon base would support greater and more extensive autonomous and human exploration of the Moon’s surface and serve as a base for onward missions to deep space. There are an increasing number of people raising concerns over the Earth’s capacity to sustain a growing population and over the potentially irrevocable environmental damage that results from human activity. Some see the establishment of settlements on other planets as a way of reducing the pressures here on Earth and providing alternative habitats for humanity. Some might see these as only accessible by the ultra-wealthy.

Scenarios as a Tool of Dialogue and Exploration

Stepping ahead 25 years allows us to break the shackles of current assumptions and constraining beliefs to explore new possibilities and stimulate constructive dialogue. In many cases those scenarios posit a better future for most of humanity. However, there are a number from the use of AI to transhumanism which will polarize views, and in many cases, it is hard to see a coming together on one global perspective. Indeed, there are relatively few issues today where we could claim global support for a particular desired future.


  • Which scenarios offer the most positive outlook for humanity from your perspective?
  • How can citizens best engage in shaping the future when so many of the developments and shaping factors seem to lie out of our control?
  • What new global mechanisms might be required to steer a future path that protects the interests of people and the planet?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.


Image: by Free-Photos

Educating the City of the Future: A Lifewide Learning Experience

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, April Koury, Alexandra Whittington, and Maria Romero
How might smart cities strategies impact the future of education for citizens?

Cities worldwide are competing to build highly interconnected “smart city” environments. The aim is for people, government, civil society, the education sector, and business to operate in symbiosis with powerful exponentially improving technologies. These include big data, the Internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, 3D/4D printing, and renewable energy.

Smart cities hold the promise of a high quality of life by design. At the same time, the smart city mindset emphasizes and relies on the potentially contentious pervasive surveillance and data capture of all residents. However, to make informed choices, citizens need sufficient digital literacy to understand what is being done and the implications of being under near-total surveillance. So, if the pursuit of “smart” becomes a key driver in the evolving future of cities as communities and economic centers, how might this affect education and adult learning? Here we explore the potential impact of smart city planning on education and human development.

Learn Anywhere, Anytime

One of the first priorities is to ensure that all of the key players truly understand the new technologies and what they enable. For example, a critical and constant infrastructure planning challenge is how big to build a school, hospital, or other public service building for the future? The lead time from design, planning, and construction through to occupancy can be significant.

So firstly, AI could help in the planning phase by analyzing demographics and local economic trends. The analysis could also factor in key infrastructure construction project data, outcomes for similar projects around the world, and the implications for service delivery. Secondly, emerging construction techniques such as modular construction, 3D printing, self-healing materials, embedded sensors, and new data storage technologies could help build flexibility into new buildings. In both cases, the planners, architects, engineers, and construction partners involved need to ensure they are abreast of the true capabilities of these new technology tools.

From an instructional delivery perspective, AI could augment reality around the smart city with educational experiences which inspire learning. Personal AI would be able to create tailored learning opportunities anytime, anyplace. However, to get the most from portable education technology, physical spaces need to be interactive and flexible. Smart cities could achieve this with a blanket of sensors embedded in the infrastructure that could provide accurate information about public space usage.

Multi-surface, experiential, and outdoors learning would be encouraged in a smart city. With real-time data, local governments and citizens could decide how to use the resources available more efficiently. So, for example, schooling and classrooms could be decoupled from fixed buildings, with the learning experiences tasking place at a range of different geographical locations within the same neighborhood. This might reduce the amount of physical space required for a school, as a proportion of the pupils would always be out on location.

When Student Engagement is Civic Engagement

An AI backbone supporting smart city life should allow for deep personalization and contextualization of learning. For example, an engineering student could utilize smart technologies to learn about mega skyscraper construction within the context of the smart city in which she lives. The AI could take into account the details of the locality of the project, build in relevant local and cultural considerations, and even incorporate information about the methodologies and experience of the various partners on the project. This type of student engagement would raise local involvement and potentially increase civic engagement—a win-win.

Smart cities should be inherently sustainable because of intricate provisioning and monitoring of public resources, such as roadways and energy. With a built-in focus on guarding the commons, students in a smart city would ideally and naturally obtain a sense of the value of balance and responsibility for the public good. Through strategies involving rewards (and possibly punishments), smart cities could enforce policies that support the smooth flow of traffic, avoid waste, and maximize energy use, among other benefits.

The ability to create behavioral change will be both a risk and a benefit to education in a smart city context, treading the fine line between surveillance and privacy. When it comes to young children in particular, there may be special considerations for buildings that record one’s every move, prompt activities that might violate free will, and use facial recognition monitoring. Schools will be key settings in which to define the socially accepted boundaries of observational technology.

Teaching Smarter

Even when technology has the power to make the everyday activities within smart cities more predictable, there will be no such thing as a “normal day,” especially regarding education. While AI might teach the more technical lessons, teachers could gravitate towards a life coach role that inspires those in their charge. One-on-one conversations would create closer relationships between mentors and mentees. Credits may be awarded for developing socialization skills through interactions with diverse audiences online and in the local community—becoming another data point that smart cities could track. Rather than grades, or perhaps as a supplement to grades, students might be assessed by their community credits and socialization scores.

Businesses could be involved in the training and education of the future workforce and could also play a part in developing new curricula. Artificial intelligence would be the enabling technology for schools to provide an education curriculum that evolves with the expected future needs of the business world. The World Economic Forum predicts that two thirds of today’s primary school children will work in job types that don’t yet exist, implying that a world comprised of smart cities needs to create learning experiences fit for the future of work rather than the past or present.


A well-thought-out smart city vision, enabled by a robust and well-executed plan, could provide the foundation stones for the next stage of social development. This implies a world where science and technology are genuinely harnessed in service of creating a very human future. Clearly the role of education in molding well-educated, conscientious citizens is central to the realization of this vision of the future.


  • How might the private and public sector integrate their efforts and resources in order to create a very human community?
  • How can we prepare future generations of individuals and businesses for the level of data capture and potential invasions of privacy required in the cities of the future?
  • How can we ensure that a new technology-enabled education system will unleash humans’ potential talents?

This article is excerpted from The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business. You can order the book here.


Image: By thedigitalartist

Rethinking Work and Jobs in the Exponential Era

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington
Will any of the jobs that exist today still be around in 20 years? Is automation destined to rewrite all our futures?

Across society, we are beginning to acknowledge that smart technologies could transform every aspect of business, work, government, and our daily lives. We are already used to seeing faceless robots undertaking repetitive manufacturing tasks, and smart applications determining our credit ratings, autopiloting planes, and delivering an array of functionality to our mobile devices. But this is just the start; the next waves of development will see the coming together  of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, and cloud services. The combinatorial effect of these exponential technologies is really what creates the opportunity for machines to interact with humans through the provision of services rather than simply delivering us data, analysis, and decision support.

If we look further into the future, the workplace of tomorrow is going to be very different from today. Imagine a workplace with humans, augmented humans, robots, holograms, and display-based AI manifestations all working in the same space. As a human, do you trust your robot colleague? What happens when the robot is smarter than you? How will we respond when the AI application working 24/7/365 complains that we are simply not learning or working fast enough to keep up with it? As a Human Resources Manager, how do you manage and monitor such a work force? What happens when the smart robot wants to take a vacation or brings a harassment case against its human colleague?

The Future of Work

It seems that whatever the country, whatever the economic context, the critical question is becoming ever more pertinent: What is the future of work in an era of exponential technology development? Artificial intelligence is arguably the big game changer and becoming more commonplace. We already see narrow AI in use in internet searches, customer targeting applications, and in predictive analytics. But AI has much greater capability that will emerge into every aspect of our lives in the future. Increasingly devices will learn more about us, provide an ever-increasing range of support, and take on more of our tasks. We are automating a lot more activity in literally every sector, and that is set to continue at an accelerating rate.

The goal for some—regarded as unappealing and potentially dangerous by others—is for AI to replicate human intelligence. That does create questions of the balance in society between human and machine. What are the ethical and control questions that need to be answered to ensure we harness the potential of AI in service of society and not just the technology corporations?

Future of Business

At Fast Future, in our recent book The Future of Business, we identified thirty different trillion-dollar industry sectors of the future which we grouped into clusters. We expect these clusters and the under- lying industries to be impacted radically by exponential technology developments:

  • Information and communications;
  • Production and construction systems;
  • Citizen services and domestic infrastructure;
  • New societal infrastructure and services;
  • Transformation of existing sectors such accounting, legal, and financial services;
  • Energy and environment.

So, we can clearly see the significant disruptive potential that technology offers to emerging sectors and the new players within them. The McKinsey Global Institute made a forecast of which technologies will drive the economy of the future. They predict that mobile internet, the automation of work knowledge, the Internet of things (where many factory, office, and household devices and appliances are connected to the internet), and cloud computing will all form part of a transformative information technology (IT) backdrop and be the most significant creators of new economic value. They also singled out advanced robotics and autonomous vehicles as playing a significant part in future economic growth.

Future Skills and Management Challenges

Given the importance of the issue, it is not surprising that there have been several research projects exploring what this scale of technological change could mean for the future of work. Pew Research (2014) posed the question, “Will networked, auto- mated, AI and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?” Their key findings were:

  • 48% of respondents said that robots and digital agents will displace significant numbers of blue-collar and white-collar workers;
  • Society would see increases in income inequality, significant numbers of unemployable people, and breakdowns in the social order;
  • Conversely, 52% said technology will not displace more jobs than it creates. Lost jobs would be offset by human ingenuity creating new occupations, and industries; and,
  • This group also pointed out that current social structures (e.g. education) are not adequately preparing people for the skills needed in the future job market.

A 2013 study on the Future of Employment by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of the Oxford Martin School explored the probability of computerization for 702 occupations and asked, “Which jobs are most vulnerable?”7 The study found that 47% of workers in the US had jobs at high risk of potential automation. The most at-risk groups were transport and logistics (taxi and delivery drivers), sales and services (cashiers, counter and rental clerks, telemarketers, and accountants), and office support (receptionists and security guards). The equivalent at risk workers were 35% of the workforce in the UK and 49% in Japan.

A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report looked at the automation of the global economy.8 The findings were based on a study that explored 54 countries representing 95% of global GDP and more than 2,000 work activities. The study found that the proportion of jobs that can be fully automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology is less than 5%, although for middle-skill categories this could rise to 20%. It also said that based on current technologies, 60% of all jobs have at least 30% of their activities that are technically automatable. The research found that, ultimately, automation technologies could affect 49% of the world economy; 1.1 billion employees and US$12.7 trillion in wages. China, India, Japan, and the US account for more than half of these totals. The report concluded that it would be more than two decades before automation reaches 50% of all of today’s work activities.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 study into The Future of Jobs saw an increasingly dynamic jobs landscape.9 It estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will work in job types that don’t yet exist, and that 3.5 times as many jobs could be lost to disruptive labor market changes in the period 2015–2020 than are created. While the study saw job losses in routine white-collar office functions, it saw gains in computing, mathematics, architecture, and engineering related fields. The report identified several job categories and functions that are expected to become critically important by 2020:

  • Data analysts – leveraging big data and AI;
  • Specialized sales representatives – commercializing and articulating new propositions; and,
  • Senior managers and leaders – to steer companies through the upcoming change and disruption.

In addition, the report concluded that, “By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today. Social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control.”

Our own view is that we could well see 80% or more of current jobs disappearing in the next 20 years. Some will become obsolete, others will be fully or partially automated and, in many cases, tasks will  be redesigned to eliminate the need for human input and decision making. The big question here is whether these jobs will be replaced by the combination of entrepreneurship, increased investment in education, adult training, human endeavor, and the rise of the six sector clusters described above. While we don’t know the answer, we don’t have to wait—there is a lot we can do today to prepare for possible disruption.

For example, at the individual level, there are new skills we need to think about acquiring now to equip us for the world of work in the future. We all like to work in a world that is calm, stable, and predictable but the reality is very different. That world is changing ever faster, so we need to become proficient at developing and working with a new set of survival skills for the 21st century which include foresight, curiosity, sense making, accelerated learning, a tolerance of uncertainty, scenario thinking, coping with complexity, and collaborative working.

So What for HR?

We are heading into a world of wicked problems that will require not “Ordinary Management,” but “Extraordinary  Leadership.” The leadership and management style required when working in uncertain situations can be challenging. For Ordinary Management we apply accepted best practice approaches; it’s the domain of trend extrapolation, tame problems, and technical challenges. But in the increasingly disruption filled world we are heading into, we require Extraordinary Leadership because our challenges are difficult or impossible to solve due to unpredictable trend paths, incomplete and contradictory information, and changing requirements that are often difficult to define or agree upon. We need the ability to navigate a rapidly changing reality, make decisions with imperfect information, and to tune our intuition to “sense and respond” when surrounded by an array of relatively weak signals of what might happen next.

A critical requirement here is to determine the organizational capacity to work in new ways including envisioning the future and making sense of complexity—it seems to us that HR could play a big role in developing these core capabilities.

We are in a rapidly changing world, one that is increasingly technology driven, one that will host more generations in parallel—with their divergent work/life wants and needs—than we have seen before. One that is highly likely to see a revolutionary change in jobs as we know them today, one that will see the birth of new jobs, and the demise of others. One that could ultimately see not working as the new normal.


  • How is HR helping to create a generationally and technologically diverse culture?
  • What role is HR playing in driving culture changes that help align the organization with the constantly evolving interplay between customer strategies, their resulting requirements, and our own business propositions and capabilities?
  • How is HR using technology to streamline and automate activities such as performance management, learning and development, resource planning, and sourcing and thus free up time for these more strategic tasks by?
  • Is there an opportunity for the Human Resources function to transition to one of Resource Management—adopting a more business–wide strategic role—to meet the organization’s business objectives?

This article is excerpted from Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity. You can order the book here.


Image: by geralt

Dancing with Disruption – 20 Jobs that Could Be Transformed by AI

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Maria Romero, and Alexandra Whittington
Will intelligent machines take, make, or reboot your job – how might AI transform occupations and professions across society?

The robots are coming – “Lock up your knowledge and protect your job at all costs!” The apocalyptic warnings are starting to flow of how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics combined with other disruptive technologies could eliminate the need for humans in the workplace. Equally skeptical voices are rubbishing the idea that anything drastic will happen, citing previous industrial revolutions as proof that new jobs will emerge to fill any gaps created by the automation of existing ones. In practice, no one really knows how quickly AI might eliminate jobs, or what the employment needs will be of the future businesses and industries that have not yet been born.

What we do know is that AI is one of the key exponentially improving technologies shaping both the workplace of the future and the roles that will be available for humans and machines. Some forecasts suggest that by 2030, 50% or more of all jobs could be replaced by robotic or AI workers. Elon Musk—the real world “Tony Stark” and technology entrepreneur behind Tesla, Hyperloop, and many other disruptive new ventures—believes that robots will outperform humans in every field of activity far faster than we can imagine. Others such as the OECD predict that for every new job created, three or more will disappear through automation.

However, the future is not a statistic. Whilst the cataclysmic “replaced by robots” warnings may well be overstated in the short term, the pace of change will inevitably quicken—a number of job roles are already being transformed by AI technologies in the workplace. Indeed, some jobs could be eliminated entirely while other new work roles will be created. Whether eliminated or transformed, one reasonable take-away remains: AI is recalibrating the division of labor between humans and technology.

To help put the potential changes in an everyday context, here are 20 currently human job roles that could be transformed or eliminated completely by the use AI and robotics over the period from 2020 to 2030:

Public Services

1. Doctors/Surgeons – Fully autonomous and remote controlled robotic surgeons will diagnose, treat and operate on patients in areas where there are no human medics available. Humans might monitor or control these robo-docs via video from central hub hospital facilities in bigger towns and cities. New service propositions might emerge such as autonomous vehicle-based mobile doctors’ surgeries which visit the patient to enable remote diagnosis and conversation while the doctor remains in their office.

2. Policing – Robots could perform tasks like crowd control, and police drones could track and intercept criminals escaping from crime scenes. Autonomous police cars could undertake ultra-high-speed chases and then use either robots or drones to detain the occupants without risking human officers’ lives.

3. Teachers – A combination of technology advances, changing societal expectations, evolving business needs, and new educational insights mean we can anticipate deep transformations of the overall educational system and curriculum. As a result, teachers could find their roles being redefined on a regular basis. So, while AI might be in charge of imparting most of the technical skills and information required by learners, educators would focus on developing human-to-human social skills. Life-long learning journeys would also require more insightful and sensitive mentoring capabilities. The teacher could become the nurturer, coach, facilitator, community builder, and therapist.


4. Journalists – AI tools are already being used to gather, sort, analyze, interpret, and write the resulting articles and reports for online news sites and investment banks. This will extend to drone-based robo-journos sent in to capture and report on the most dangerous situations around the world and to cover a far wider range of situations at far lower cost than dispatching humans to every news scene.

5. Investment Analysts, Fund Managers, and Traders – Investment bots will have the capacity to analyze ever larger volumes of current and historic trading data, news, company updates, and market sector information in a fraction of a second to make investment decisions.

6. Accountants – AI would enable real-time analysis of every transaction as it happens, thus reducing the potential for error and fraud and enabling the maintenance a continuously updated set of transaction accounts without human intervention. The ability to track and analyze every commercial and social interaction would create new opportunities for suitably skilled and reputable accountants who can leverage their trustworthiness and experience to become high-level business and financial advisors. The emphasis would be more on improving business results rather than collating and auditing them. In this role, the keys to a successful career would include understanding the evolving dynamics of a mixed business environment comprising machines and humans, the ability to spot and interpret complex emerging patterns, communication skills, and creativity.

7. Lawyers – A range of search, analysis, and contract drafting tasks are already being automated. The use of AI across sectors might challenge existing regulations and lead to a whole raft of new legal precedent work requiring expert input. However, the elimination of the potential for human error would decrease the number of legal disputes—as might be expected from the advent of self-driving cars reducing the number of human drivers. Robolawyers are already overturning parking tickets in the UK and US. Additionally, smart policing devices and an expanding blanket of sensors will feed into AI judges where there would be little to no room for debate. Moral and ethical issues related to technology advances may become the next legal growth arena.

8. Life Coaches and Therapists – Automation forecasts today are already causing anxiety and stress among perfectly healthy professionals. When mass layoffs start, society could see mental health issues rise to crisis level. Addressing these issues in a timely manner, promoting coping mechanisms, and highlighting the importance of mental well-being for society would be fundamental priorities for life coaches and therapists. A growing number might choose to become coaches and therapists with the disappearance of their former roles as lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, retailers, and taxi drivers.

9. Drivers and Mechanics – From taxis to buses, trucks and rescue services, humans seem likely to be eased out gradually from these roles as regulations allow autonomous/driverless vehicles onto the roads. These new “autonomous people moving units” can be designed around their primary purpose: moving people around on business, on leisure, and on holiday. They hold out the promise of being inherently safer, more fuel efficient, and more productive—freeing up drivers’ time. They could also become self-diagnosing and connect with other vehicles to form self-insurance pools. The use of shape shifting 4D-printing techniques could also result in self-repairing vehicles.

Retail, Travel, and Construction

10. Sales Representatives – AI could become the personal shopper of the future, learning our desires and requirements and—over time—making purchases with less and less need to check in with us. Retail algorithms may offer recommendations, drawing on vast databases of consumer preferences and our own shopping history and social media profiles. Shopping could become a task that no longer requires humans to allocate their precious time to do it. For those that still want a say in the process, it would be intertwined with other activities and may only take seconds to complete. For example, films and TV shows would offer the ability to click on an item being worn by an actor to order it. Self-driving devices and drones would then be able to deliver the purchase anytime and anywhere.

11. Concierges – As the traditional concierge figure is increasingly replaced by AI and robots, experiences where every luxurious desire is catered for would become more affordable. AI would take care of everything from suggesting plans and making reservations, to adding room amenities and scheduling rides. New forms of high-end AI could charge a steep premium, and serve as a vehicle for the conspicuous consumption crowd to flaunt their wealth.

12. Travel Agents – From holidays to business travel, AI could increasingly take on the end-to-end booking process. The applications would collate individual, family, and group/event travel preferences, search for options, design highly personalized itineraries, make reservations, and complete the payment on our behalf. Travel agents may need to become application specialists, signposting the best apps for their clients. Other immersive technologies including augmented and virtual reality could provide opportunities for agents to offer a taster experience, allowing travelers to feel the bed linen, smell the hotel room toiletry fragrances, and taste the food from a hotel on the other side of the world as part of their client service.

13. Construction Workers – Robotic excavators could undertake trenching work for new construction projects while increasingly sophisticated 3D printing coupled with drones and robotic workers could replace many construction jobs. These might include demolition, bricklaying, plastering, plumbing, cabling, and carpentry. Provision could be made in the 3D-printed construction process for the different properties and materials required—including external weather proofing, preparing internal surfaces for bespoke decoration and finishing which may be completed by robots, and installation of utilities. These construction technologies would be underpinned by AI providing the scope for autonomous construction with minimum human supervision. New materials used in the construction could include self-healing properties and further reduce the reliance on human labor for repair and maintenance through- out the building’s life.

Changing Organizational Roles

14. Entrepreneurs and Leaders – Instead of looking for human partners and employees, entrepreneurs might increasingly scout for the combination of AI systems that would match their personality profile and range of business needs better. One-person businesses could be more common as artificial general intelligence materializes—enabling the growth of fully automated decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) which have literally no employees.

15. Managers – A vast swathe of management roles could disappear as the workforce they supervise, and most of their own tasks, are automated. Reports, meetings, performance appraisals, and team briefings become a thing of history when you have no staff and no work to do. For those that still have roles, the priority will shift from managing the present to creating the future, designing how work gets done with an in-depth appreciation of the limitations and advantages of AI and human workers alike. However, the pursuit of maximum efficiency would not be enough in a constantly changing world: The requirement to solve new challenges and realize new potential opportunities will require uniquely human capabilities for some time to come, so truly unleashing human potential would become the new source of competitive advantage.

16. Research and Development – From pharmaceuticals to new materials and electronic devices, AI software is increasingly being used to conduct more and more of the R&D value chain. The use of AI helps compress the iterative innovation process of trial-and-error experimentation. This involves doing more trials faster and comparing real-time data with historic and predictive consumer profiles to better target the solutions. Tailoring products and services using AI might lead organically to the creation of new and better offerings.

17. HR Managers – Employee diversity might take on a new dimension when many business environments include a mix of AI, physical robots, holograms, “standard issue” humans, and those with artificial augmentations of their brains and bodies. Different types of AI would have different jobs to fulfill alongside and—increasingly—in supervision of humans. Recognizing and nurturing the value of humanity in the workplace, helping people retain their worth and dignity, and resolving human-machine disputes could become priority tasks for HR managers to address.

18. Marketing Researchers and Strategists – The data shared by consumers would be automatically analyzed by AI in real time. This feedback loop would create dynamic marketing campaigns able to optimize themselves based on each response. Offers would be tailored to the individual according to both their personal preferences and the time of day when they are most likely to make a purchase.

19. Customer Service Representatives – Chatbots are already making sales calls, helping customers make choices, and solving callers’ problems across a wide range of industries. No mood swings, standardized quality, 24/7 availability, and extensive and constant up-to-date knowledge are just a few of the benefits that AI promises to bring to customer service. However, there might still be delicate and complex issues that would be handled better with a human touch.

20. Personal Assistants – Future generations of Siri, Cortana, and Alexa should be able to undertake personal shopping, screen incoming calls, and determine which news to show us. They could also save our time by sorting and responding to email backlogs and look after our well-being—for example sharing our health and allergy information with a restaurant prior to our visit.

In addition to this top twenty, there are numerous other ways we might anticipate jobs could evolve in the future. Opportunities might arise in areas such as personal trainers, care of the elderly, and the performing arts. We might also see a requirement to help older workers learn about the new and disruptive technologies, and possibly more demand for teachers/classroom facilitators if greater emphasis is placed on developing life skills in smaller-sized, face-to-face classes. The industries of the future will also generate a significant volume of mainly graduate or master’s degree-level opportunities in everything from alternative energy and synthetic materials, to human augmentation and driverless vehicles. As the world becomes increasingly tech-enabled, people might conversely crave live and unaugmented experiences—which could drive a growth in opportunities in bars, restaurants, entertainment experiences, and live performers of all kinds.

Ultimately, today’s business leaders acknowledge that the robots are coming; it is just that we don’t know where they may have their biggest impacts. Productivity is expected to rise, but what will it mean for actual employee performance, satisfaction, and engagement? How will customer service be different in the AI-powered workforce of the future? What is the role of education and job training in a world with constant fluctuations in business models? To stay ahead of the game, mental exercises like constructing scenarios can provide insights that challenge the expected future and open doors to exciting new images of progress. Visions of the future are empowering tools at a time when drastic changes are afoot, and uncertainty is high. They can help us prepare organizations and individuals for a range of possibilities, and rehearsing the future also helps reduce the shock factor when the more radical developments do play out.

So, will robots take, make, or reboot the future of work? Stay tuned to find out.


  • What are the key factors that should be considered when choosing a future professional career?
  • For those seeking to make it to the top, what might be the right balance between job-specific technical competencies and more broad-based people skills?
  • How might we react if AI was able to predict or enforce our ideal career paths, forcing us to fulfill our destiny?

This article is excerpted from Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity. You can order the book here.

Image: by geralt

Humans and Work in the Digital Era – The Next 20 Years

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and Alexandra Whittington
Transformative technological changes are reshaping our organizations; what could this mean for the future of work?
Decentralizing Technologies and the Future of Organization Design

We are often asked “what is the future of organizations?” Over the next 15-20 years, organizational structure and the nature of work as we know it seem likely to undergo drastic changes. Technology is already decentralizing, and automating business and external boundaries are becoming more fluid as we integrate into wider collaborative ecosystems. As a result, the scope and focus of organizations will evolve on a continuous basis. In the face of such shifts, this chapter intends to shed some light on the possibilities of what organizations of the future might look like and how we will work.

There is already incredible variation in the structure of workplaces and in how work gets done. We expect and hope for such diversity to be amplified in the next 20 years rather than reduced into a single scenario of the “future of work.” Of course, we expect technology, and in particular artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, to penetrate every sector and have a major influence on the shape of things to come.

How might these emerging and disruptive technologies impact our notions of everyday work? If current exponential rates of technological progress continue, in 20 years we could have computing capabilities anywhere from 500 to 10,000 times more powerful than we have today. This could be replicated across every domain of information technology, encompassing fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, drones, big data stores, quantum computing, hyperconnectivity, cloud computing, sensor devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D/4D printing, and augmented and virtual reality.

A combination of these exponential technologies, new business thinking, evolving societal expectations, and economic shifts could result in an ever-broadening spectrum of organizational models. At one end will be those fully automated decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) with no employees—many already exist—such as Teambrella the insurance company in the Netherlands. At the other extreme will be those firms that pride themselves on doing their work the way it has always been done. From handcrafted furniture artisans to super secretive personal law firms serving ultra-wealthy individuals, and the millions of new jobs that will hopefully emerge in the creative arts, their work will we be done much as it is today and as it was 20 years ago.

In the middle of the spectrum, we’ll see a lot of entities using technology in three key ways: i) to automate away human roles; ii) to augment specialist roles to free up humans from the robotic parts of their work; and iii) to do information manipulation at a scale and speed which humans could never do. A lot of organizations will realize that to keep their firm differentiated will require the creative spark of humans and the personal touch. While a robot could serve me and manage my account and AI could conduct the entire bidding, contract, and delivery process for a $50 million building project, some clients may simply prefer dealing with humans.

Personal Technology, Collaboration, and Communication

As the boundary between technology and the human body starts to blur, what might the impacts be on the way we interact with our environment? Some hope that we will see exponential advances on the already impressive current progress in brain computer interfaces and wireless brain-to-brain communication. Almost certainly, voice and gesture will have eliminated the bulk of interactions with everything from our refrigerator and vacuum cleaner to whatever replaces the computer and smartphone in 20 years’ time.

Our devices could become way smarter, monitoring everything from our breathing, oxygen intake, and heart rate through to walking speed, voice patterns, and fluid consumption. They will use the data to determine or anticipate our moods, needs, and desires, and act accordingly to manage the world around us. Simply think of a colleague we want to talk to and our AI will be able to determine who it is and connect us as a result of comparing current and historic data on our brainwaves and bodily functions.

If we get to thought transfer, all sorts of new opportunities emerge. Instant chat really does become instant, emails get replaced by thought exchange, and lies might become a thing of the past. There are also challenges. How will we manage the constant flow of information bombarding us all the time? Imagine all your emails being opened in front of you to be read the moment they arrive, all the time. How will we hide our personal thoughts, how will we prioritize the information coming in, how will we keep conversations private? We might need AI implants in our brain to manage all of this on our behalf and act as a privacy guardian and brain concierge serving up what we need when we need it.

Future Workplace and Project Communications

Projects are becoming the lifeblood of organizations, but our methods of team communication still leave a lot to be desired. If we look ahead 20 years, will we still be discussing projects in never-ending email threads? In a smart tech-enabled scenario, projects would be managed very differently. Manager AIs would draw on past project records to determine how to structure and coordinate similar new work tasks. Most routine work would be automated in the type of workplace environments we’ve imagined here and so the work the humans do will increasingly be project-focused.

The email scourge is generally driven by poor communication, misunderstood requirements, competing priorities on our time, and unrealistic deadlines. Smart project management systems could help eliminate these issues. Brain-to-brain communication will also help, and the biggest contributors to the death of email will be far better training in communication, collaboration, project working, dispute resolution, problem solving, scenario thinking, and accelerated learning.

Slack, Facebook Workplace, Microsoft Teams and G Suite, and other such work communication tools will evolve and become far more ubiquitous in the next decade—covering ever-larger parts of the work we do. As humans get replaced by machines for a lot of traditional activity they are likely to shift their focus to more creative tasks. In response, newer group productivity tools will also start to emerge that have far more seamless connectivity between constantly changing business applications, workflow management, and the communications requirements of the team. The less human involvement in the flow of routine activity, the more the technology will enable smooth interconnection between systems and an accelerated flow of routine work.

Social Media and Networks

As millennials enter the workplace and drive adoption of social media tools, how might this impact our ways of working? Our social media tools are becoming increasingly vital for work tasks from conference calling and team coordination to customer communications and complaint handling. The importance of this functionality is likely to grow and then disappear into the background as the social part of social media simply becomes part of how we work—with AI doing more of the social connection on our behalf. As part of the work environments mentioned above, we’ll see ever-greater integration of existing and customizable social media tools.

As the technology gets smarter, for individuals, the boundaries will disappear between email, text, voice, work social media, private social media, and direct brain drops—everything will become a curated flow of information managed by a personal AI. In this world, the distinction between LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Slack, and every other platform will evaporate—they all just become inputs to your inbox. We are currently obsessed by these brands, but 95-99% of tech ventures fail eventually, so we can expect casualties even among the current masters of the digital universe. The brands may die but the functionality and multimedia user experience will live on.

To take a radical leap into the future, automated sharing and resource allocation—from staplers to massive display screens—could introduce a new social ecosystem that enhances new behaviors and skills around collaboration, sense-making, curiosity, scenario thinking, and work. The organization could also provide support to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem in terms of employment, training, start-up support, and start-up pitching. There could be incubator facilities for internal and external ventures alike. Some of the larger organizations of the future might see it as part of their civic remit to provide multi-purpose facilities for yet to be determined internal uses and to support “grand challenge” societal redesign projects—for example, experiments in housing courtrooms, doctors’ surgeries, social centers, and libraries in the evenings, at weekends, and during holidays.

The End of Email?

Will we finally wean ourselves off email addiction? A lot of the developments described here will chip away at the current role of the email. However, its total demise will be a long time coming. Security requirements, personal comfort, inertia, and a lack of trust in the new technology platforms in some quarters will ensure that email lives on for at least another 5-10 years—even if the way in which it presents to us changes dramatically over that time frame.

The Possible Shapes of the Next Future

The next logical question is, what comes after email, Slack, and Facebook? We think there are a combination of evolutionary and unexpected developments in how we work which could become significant in the next five to ten years. At the core is the notion that as technology frees us from the routine, there will be a growing focus on value creation through collaboration and co-creation with internal external partners, which could see a shift toward more “walk and talk” meetings and less fixed appointments.

Technology and AI will undoubtedly sit at the heart of the next wave of work design, with a growing reliance on life automation tools—multi-app personal AI assistants managing our workday. These will be coupled with the digital twins performing the bulk of our routine tasks. Our AIs are increasingly likely to be performing tasks such as document review and triaging all our inboxes to extract salient information and send auto-responses. As we do our work and take on new tasks, we can expect to see growing use of context-sensitive, in-task, and on-demand personalized training. Such continuous monitoring of the work people do should allow us to spot productivity problems and poor approaches to tasks. The systems will evaluate how we are doing the job and then draw on vast global databases of information on others doing similar tasks from systems like Office 365 to provide instant written, verbal, and video guidance on how to do each task more efficiently and effectively to improve our performance.

In the background, we could see growing use of context-aware AI voice assistants responding to requests and proactively listening to conversations. Such tools would bring relevant information into view on demand or on an anticipatory basis, mute participants automatically, record and transcribe the discussion, and summarize the outcomes. As these tools will have a better and constantly updated understanding of what each of us knows, they could highlight and research new terms and concepts that are mentioned in the discussion and share the findings with us discretely—perhaps overlaying the information on our contact lens displays.

The rise of new sectors and the new possibilities enabled by technology could see exponential growth in terms of the number of roles focused on humans and AI working together to extract and act on insights from vast data arrays. The greater the reliance we place on technology, the faster core work will get done, which could potentially create pressure and tension points wherever humans interact with the machines and decisions are required to enable the flow of work to continue. Our capacity to keep pace with the speed of business is already being challenged and this is likely to be exacerbated as AI enters the scene. Making our work lives more sustainable will require a radical rethinking of priorities and a cultural commitment to make our workplaces more human. Whatever happens, we are likely to see a growing need for regular disconnection and retreat in oases of calm and reflection within the workplace.

Preparing for Multiple Possible Futures of Work

No one can accurately predict where the future of work will take us in the next few decades, but the developments taking place today and the ideas emerging from research labs creating the next waves of technology give us some pointers around what our systems might do. The technology may allow us to operate seamlessly around the globe, provide genuinely consistent levels of service 24/7/365, and become far better at predicting issues and solving problems. One thing is certain: we will be learning constantly, and smart systems will be a key resource. In parallel we need to be focusing our efforts on enhancing human capabilities to help us perform in whatever jobs and roles we might be undertaking. From raising digital literacy to enhancing our communication and collaboration skills, continuous learning will be the essential lifeforce for individuals and organizations alike.


  • What are the value-added parts of work we can see human workers focusing on in the future?
  • What major changes to the structure of businesses are you already noticing and what other changes would you expect to see in the future?
  • How is your organization addressing the requirement for enhanced future workplace communications and collaboration?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.


Image: by PatoLenin

The Future of Multimodal Transport in a Self-Driving World

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, and Helena Calle
What are the scenarios for multimodal transportation in a self-driving future?
Planning Transport for a World of Unknowns

City transport planners around the world are faced with an incredibly complex task of determining the transport infrastructure for the next 20-50 years. The complexity derives from the need to determine the transport and supporting infrastructure required for modes of transport that don’t all exist, carrying people who may not yet have been born, working in jobs and industries that may not yet have been created, with huge uncertainty on the resulting mobility implications. Now, the likelihood is that mass transportation—especially into city centers—at peak times will be required for at least the next two decades. However, planners are challenged by the fact that mobility patterns could change quite quickly. So, for example, economic growth could drive job creation and a demand for more transport into key work locations. However, a rapid rise in the pace of automation could see many jobs eliminated with a dramatic impact on transport demand.

One big excitement factor is autonomous vehicles which could potentially offer a more personalized service. For example, could autonomous vehicles pick travelers up from their homes and be loaded onto trains at the station? When the train reaches the city center terminal, the “train” would break into component vehicle parts and take each traveler to their end destination, thereby providing a “first mile/last mile” solution. While such developments may be a decade or more from fruition, planners need to be thinking of these possibilities now to avoid the need for costly infrastructure rework projects in the future.

Another interesting development we’ve been looking at is Flying Taxis. Following successful trials of single person passenger drones in 2017, commercial services are due to be launched in China and the UAE in the next few years. The technology is slated to continue to improve and, around the world, by 2023 more than 20 countries might have licensed the use of both single and multiple occupant passenger drones. From a planner’s perspective, again it is hard to determine the possible requirements for such services which may not even be part of current government strategy or have regulatory approval.

Trends Driving Multimodal Transport Thinking

One of the forces that is clearly important to transport is the autonomous driving trend that permits robotic devices and artificial intelligence to complete the supply chain. The future thrust toward self-driving cars is a key one to watch. A number of powerful separate trends are combining here to challenge our thinking about the different possible future multimodal scenarios we must prepare for. These include the automation of transportation, changing commuting behaviors, the evolution of delivery/supply chains, the application of AI to transport planning, the growth of home working, automation of jobs, and changing patterns of disposable income. There are also questions here about what might be the new opportunities and risks resulting from multimodal transport for global companies, and what might be the resulting innovative future growth strategies in multimodal transport? The big risk here is that we under- or over-provide and invest either too little or too much in transport infrastructure relative to likely demand. Predicting the exact volumes and transport mix is a difficult challenge under current economic and technological uncertainty.

The Use of Mobility Scenarios

Our approach to de-risking the planning process is to envision a range of possible future scenarios to help identify alternative strategy approaches. For example, one scenario we envisioned is Data Drives the Future. In this 2030 scenario, Transport for London (TfL) runs Greater London’s multimodal transport network using a fully integrated AI-based Travel and Transport Management System (TTMS). Vast amounts of data are processed using human expertise, AI-based transport infrastructure planning and traffic management algorithms, and predictive analysis—drawing on sensors in roads, pavements, and public transport access points.

What does this future look like? In this scenario, traffic and pedestrian flows have grown exponentially smoother, transport’s environmental impacts have declined dramatically, and London is ranked first globally on mobility. A single control center automatically manages and matches services to demand—combining autonomous buses and surface and subway trains, and road and rail signaling. Live predictive analytics allows greater use of road and track space. Autonomous boats ply their trade on the Thames from Putney in the west to Woolwich Royal Arsenal in the east. An automated fail-safe mode restricts public access to capacity-sensitive areas like underground stations and riverboat piers.

Manual drive cars of all fuel types would still exist, but only autonomous electrically powered vehicles are permitted in the city center. A constant flow of data between autonomous vehicles (their current location, destination, and purpose of the journey) and the central system would be used to re-route traffic around congested areas. The system also gives priority to public transport and emergency services. The system’s associated app provides pedestrians’ personal digital assistants with navigational information.

This is all made possible by embedded road sensors monitoring surface and sub-surface conditions. Traffic types and flows are constantly monitored against the TTMS’ comprehensive historic road status database—proactively undertaking maintenance. This reduces requirements for lengthier and more extensive subsequent repairs, minimizing traffic disruption by accurately re-routing transport resources during repairs, maintenance, and emergency situations, and predicting the implications.

These scenarios combine a range of driving forces on traveler behavior and demand and allow for the creation of alternative storylines about how the future could play out. There is also a strong element of visioning—articulating what we’d like to see happen in each scenario. This type of approach lets planners and policy-makers prepare for a range of possibilities and bring flexibility into the definitions of tangible goals and visions under different prevailing circumstances. In each case, the goal is still to serve humanity as best we can but the resources available and strategies we adopt might vary dramatically from scenario to scenario. These scenarios then become the basis of communication with leaders—enabling them to make better informed and more robust decisions.

The Impacts of Multimodal Transport on Individuals and Society

The personal example of multimodal transport that individuals might notice most easily is that of changes in how consumer goods are obtained and the resulting impact on personal time and expenditure. In future, the use of multimodal delivery services could see drones as one of the modes of “last mile” transport, as Amazon and Domino’s and others have experimented with.

A drone could deliver a pizza directly from the kitchen, or packages from a centralized drone port, where the goods have already been delivered by truck, train, or airplane. Another strategy would be the increased use of shared autonomous vehicles (such as Uber) for both consumer and goods transport. Passengers and goods might travel together to the same destinations, allowing for passengers to have the option to ride free and act as de facto delivery persons.

In terms of public transport, might train stations that are less crowded outside peak travel times host pop-up digital shopping malls? Autonomous and shared transport implies greater convenience and ease, so perhaps people will have more time on their hands to browse and shop during commutes. Conversely, train stations may become places where people can pick up consumer goods en route to their homes or jobs. This could transform their commute into a profitable or time-saving activity, or at least eat away at some of their personal transportation costs by becoming part of the supply chain.

Challenges Posed by Multimodal Transport for Governments

Clearly there is a major challenge around planning for the desired capacity, funding the infrastructure, building it, and coordinating schedules across the participants in the ecosystem. In terms of self-driving transport (trains, buses, cars, and taxis), one question government and local planners should be asking is “Will parking soon be obsolete?” In 10-15 years, the idea of a stationary vehicle may be an anachronism. In future smart cities, self-driving vehicles should be enabled by data to orchestrate smooth mobility with almost no stopping required, other than to let passengers on and off. Self-driving cars are but one current in a larger wave of change sweeping us toward this vision; another is the erosion of car ownership.

The rise of endeavors like Uber, Lyft, and Ola Car have popularized mass ride sharing, and it is imaginable that in a smart city environment, such programs could become the norm. The environmental and economic benefits, like cleaner air, and less traffic, might encourage creation of more pedestrian areas and green spaces—improving public health. Most of all, the ability to creatively reclaim spaces that are now devoted to parked cars could enhance the quality of life in cities, a key consideration in terms of the legacy for future generations. Policies that engender these changes in transportation can be win-wins for elected officials. Another challenge that multimodal transport poses for governments is how to implement a more commercial approach to offer a more attractive service for customers. A fluent dialogue between the governments and multimodal transport companies is essential to face the challenge of providing an appealing transport service.

Conclusion—Planning as Scenario Visioning

The rise of autonomous vehicles seems inevitable; what we can’t yet determine is what proportion of the total vehicle fleet will be self-driving, or what demand might look like. Equally we have little certainty about the future shape of the workforce and hence what the patterns of traveler demand might be. Given the scale of the uncertainties, planners must look to the use of a hybrid scenario thinking/visioning approach to articulate different possible driver combinations and outline the resulting multimodal transport strategies that they might pursue under each scenario. The key here is to put the citizen at the heart of the process and to be clear what the benefits and downsides are for the population in each case.


  • Can transport business models expand to include the provision of a “one stop shop” door to door service, maybe by running fleets of autonomous vehicles that can utilize rail infrastructure as well as roads?
  • What futuristic uses can rail companies put their infrastructure to? For example, could track routes become autonomous drone highways?
  • How can train companies work with bus companies, hire car providers, and hotels to integrate traveler information and travel needs? What AI-led data sources can enhance the planning and provision of integrated travel services?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.


Image: by teefarm

The Future Evolution of Artificial Intelligence

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, Helena Calle, and April Koury
What are the core stages in the future development of artificial intelligence and how might its application evolve over the next 20 years?
Beyond Hysteria

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to get us” and it’s just a small step from a self-driving car to AIs taking over our world and the “end of days” dystopias that Hollywood has popularized in a number of recent films. Or so some would have us believe. The reality is far less dramatic, and AI will need to go through a number of stages of development before it reaches the most extreme scenarios—if ever. In our recent book Beyond Genuine Stupidity—Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, we explore the possibilities and challenges presented by this game-changing technology. In this chapter we draw on key concepts from the book to demystify the fundamentals of AI, provide insights into seven possible stages through which it might develop, and highlight the types of applications we might see in the next 15-20 years.

What is Artificial Intelligence and Why Now?

At the core of the concept of AI is the idea of developing intelligent machines—e.g. computer algorithms that work and react like humans. Applications include performing speech recognition, natural language processing and translation, visual perception, learning, reasoning, inference, strategizing, planning, intuition, and decision-making. People have been working on these concepts since the 1940s and AI has experienced many false dawns, or “winters” as the AI community likes to describe them.

This time round, the feeling is that AI is here to stay and that it could become central to every aspect of human existence from detecting and treating heart failure through to running companies, economies, and legal systems. There are five main factors that have made AI the hot topic on the agenda for companies, investors, politicians, and citizens alike. Firstly, we are seeing the development of far more efficient and smarter machine learning and neural network tools—the core algorithms through which AI systems develop their intelligence. In parallel, computer hardware processing power and transaction speeds have accelerated, and cloud computing allows us to share and combine data and processing power across the globe. At the same time companies such as Google and Amazon have amassed vast amounts of data that require AI to process it—giving rise to the fifth factor—money. The scale of the opportunity presented by AI has seen billions of dollars being invested by these new technology companies, corporates in other sectors, venture funded start-ups, and governments—so the game is well and truly on.

Core Fields of Artificial Intelligence

There are a number of different fields which fall under the broad umbrella of AI; the main ones are described below. The most common are rule-based or “expert” systems which can apply a vast number of rules on a consistent basis. These have been around for over 30 years with common applications including the processing of loans and mortgage applications and basic medical diagnosis. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the next stage on, with machines performing complete processes that in the past required a combination of rule-based decision-making and an element of human judgement. These are common in tasks such as handling calls to service centers, processing an insurance claim, or checking the calculations in an architectural design.

Tasks considered closer to true human intelligence include voice recognition, interpretation of human conversations conducted in “natural” languages, and speech generation. Similarly, considerable progress has been made with computer vision—enabling the ever-more accurate recognition of images—with applications as diverse as spotting misshapen pies on a production line through to facial recognition for airport security purposes. Other increasingly deployed AI applications include tools that can undertake sophisticated planning, scheduling, and optimization of tasks—encompassing everything from manufacturing to air crew rostering.

The hottest field of AI at present is machine learning—the notion of using statistical techniques to help systems learn from data. This is taken a stage further by the area gaining most attention at present because of its potential—namely the use of neural networks and deep learning algorithms to develop systems with learning capabilities closer to those of the human brain. These tools are being used across a range of applications, with the most common being chatbots to perform increasingly sophisticated customer interaction tasks by combining machine learning, natural language processing, and speech generation. Finally, robotics is being put to widespread use in everything from warehouse management and surgery to cooking burgers in restaurants. Robots typically combine a number of the other AI fields to provide smart mechanoids.

Seven Stages in the Future Evolution of Artificial Intelligence

With literally hundreds of thousands of developers and data scientists across the planet now working on AI, the pace of development is accelerating, with increasingly eye-catching breakthroughs being announced on a daily basis. This has also led to a lot of confusion about what we can do with AI today and what might be possible at some point in the future. To provide some clarity on the possible development path, we outline the seven distinct stages in the evolution of AI’s capabilities that we could envisage over time.

Stage 1—Rule-Based Systems—These now surround us in everything from business software (RPA) and domestic appliances through to aircraft autopilots. They are the most common manifestations of AI in the world today.

Stage 2—Context Awareness and Retention—These algorithms build up a body of information about the specific domain they are being applied in. They are trained on the knowledge and experience of the best humans, and their knowledge base can be updated as new situations and queries arise. The most common manifestations include chatbots—often used in frontline customer enquiry handling—and the “roboadvisors” that are helping with everything from suggesting the right oil for your motorbike through to providing investment advice.

Stage 3—Domain Specific Expertise—These systems can develop expertise in a specific domain that extends beyond the capability of humans because of the sheer volume of information they can access to make each decision. We have seen their use in applications such as cancer diagnosis. Perhaps the most commonly cited example is Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo. The system was given a set of learning rules and the objective of winning and then it taught itself how to play Go with human support to nudge it back on course when it made poor decisions. Go reportedly has more moves than there are atoms in the universe—so you cannot teach it in the same way as you might with a chess playing program. In March 2016, AlphaGo defeated the 18-time world Go champion Lee Sedol by four games to one.

The following year, AlphaGo Zero was created, and given no guidance or human support at all. Equipped only with its learning rules, AlphaGo Zero watched thousands of Go games and developed its own game-playing strategies. After three days, it took on AlphaGo and won by 100 games to nil. Such applications are an example of what is possible when machines can acquire human-scale intelligence. However, at present they are limited to one domain. So, currently AlphaGo Zero would forget what it knows about playing Go if you started to teach it how to spot fraudulent transactions in an accounting audit.

Stage 4—Reasoning Machines—These algorithms have a “theory of mind”—some ability to attribute mental states to themselves and others, for example they have an understanding of the notions of beliefs, intentions, knowledge, and how their own logic works. Hence, they have the capacity to reason, negotiate, and interact with humans and other machines. Such algorithms are currently at the development stage, but we can expect to see them in commercial applications in the next few years.

Stage 5—Self-Aware Systems / Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)—This is the goal of many working in the AI field—creating systems with human-like intelligence. No such applications are in evidence today, however, some say we could see them in as little as five years, while others believe we may never truly achieve this level of machine intelligence. There are many examples of AGI in the popular media ranging from HAL the ship computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey, to the “Synths” in the television series Humans. For decades now, writers and directors have tried to convey a world where the machines can function at a similar level to humans. Some argue that while the machines may display human-like intelligence, this will still just be their algorithms at play and that they will not actually be intelligent in the way humans would understand the term.

Stage 6—Artificial Superintelligence (ASI)—This is the notion of developing AI algorithms that are capable of outperforming the smartest of humans in every domain. Clearly, it is hard to articulate what the capabilities might be of something that exceeds human intelligence, but we could imagine ASI solving current world problems such as hunger and dangerous climate change. Such systems might also invent new fields of science, redesign economic systems, and evolve wholly new models of governance. Again, expert views vary as to when and whether such a capability might ever be possible, but few think we will see it in the next decade. Films like Her and Ex Machina provide interesting depictions of the possibilities in a world where our technology might outsmart us.

Stage 7—Singularity and Transcendence—This is the notion that the exponential development path enabled by ASI could lead to a massive expansion in human capability. We might one day be sufficiently augmented and enhanced such that humans could connect our brains to each other and to a future successor of the current internet. This “hive mind” would allow us to share ideas, solve problems collectively, and even give others access to our dreams as observers or participants. Taking things a stage further, we might also transcend the limits of the human body and connect to other forms of intelligence on the planet—animals, plants, weather systems, and the natural environment. Some proponents such as Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, suggest that we could see the Singularity happen by 2045 as a result of exponential rates of progress across a range of science and technology disciplines. Others argue fervently that it is simply impossible and that we will never be able to capture and digitize human consciousness.

Envisioning a Smarter World

To help bring to life how these developments might impact our world and what a smarter future might look like, below we have outlined a possible development timeline for AI over the next 20 years or so:

Now to 2020

  • Instantaneous real-time translation
  • Intelligence built into the machines, sensors, and objects that surround us
  • Self-editing software
  • Fully automated decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO)—smart corporations with no employees
  • Artificial intelligence adopted by most firms either deliberately or unknowingly through the applications they rent or purchase
  • Personal device based intelligent agents manage our lives and guard our data (e.g. Siri+++++)
  • Swarm robotics—groups of robots combining and self-managing themselves to complete a task such as an environmental clean-up, bridge repair, or building construction.


  • Between 70% and 90% of all initial customer interactions are likely to be conducted or managed by AI
  • Product development in a range of sectors from fashion items and consumer goods to manufacturing equipment could increasingly be undertaken and tested by AI
  • Individuals will be able to define and design the personalized products and services they require in sectors ranging from travel through to banking, savings, and insurance
  • The technology is likely to be deployed across all government agencies and legal systems—with only the most complex cases requiring a human judge and full court proceedings
  • Autonomous vehicles will start appearing in many cities across the world
  • Our intelligent assistants could now be managing large parts of our lives from travel planning through to compiling the information we need prior to a meeting.


  • Globally approved, smart crypto tokens may be accepted alongside fiat currencies as we edge toward a single global medium of exchange
  • Artificial intelligence is likely to have penetrated every commercial sector
  • The evolution of AI could see the emergence of a wide range of fully automated DAO businesses including banks, travel agents, and insurance companies
  • Scientific breakthroughs could enable us to develop artificial animal and ecosystem intelligence
  • The emergence of self-aware and self-replicating software systems and robots
  • There is a reasonable possibility of achieving Artificial General Intelligence
  • There is a small chance of creating Artificial Superintelligence
  • The Singularity remains an unlikely possibility in this time frame.
Conclusion—Preparing for a Smarter World

The pace of AI development seems likely to continue and we can expect to see regular breakthroughs that blow our collective minds. However, we shouldn’t assume a smooth progression through the seven stages of AI outlined above. Moving from reasoning systems to AGI isn’t equivalent to the exponential progression we have become accustomed to in computer power, memory storage, and internet connection speeds. To reach those final three stages of AI, massive breakthroughs are required in areas such as neuroscience, understanding consciousness, neural networks, and deep learning algorithms.

What is clear is that, over the next 15-20 years, our world is likely to experience several fundamental transformations as this “Fourth Industrial Revolution” powered by smart machines touches every nation, life, and sector on the planet. The critical priority and challenge is ensuring that these advances don’t progress unchecked and render humans irrelevant. We have to establish governance frameworks and a public voice that are strong enough to guide the development of AI in service of humanity not in place of it.


  • How do you view the potential of AI in society?
  • How might the fabric of our world change if we achieve AGI or ASI?
  • Should the Singularity be realized, what might it be like to share our thoughts and dreams?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.


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