A recent article in ICON magazine looks at what to expect as we think far into the future, potentially the end of this century, based primarily on an interview with me.
The full article is well worth a read. Below are some excerpts from my quotes in the piece.
“Yes, offices will exist because there is, in the end, no complete substitute for being in the same place,” Ross Dawson, author, futurist and strategy advisor admits to ICON. “There still remains this deep human desire to be physically next to someone. That ability to build trust and collaborate effectively together is not going to disappear.”
“Organisations will look exceptionally different … Of course, there are some [industries] where there are still physical tasks required.” But as we’ve seen in recent years, Dawson predicts that there will be a further boom of co-working spaces or the “third space” for those industries working from home. “We will certainly start seeing more of these spaces. Whether you’re an independent or part of an organisation, you can all come together where there are facilities and resources.”
“It is the nature of humans to build, to research and progress and try to make things better,” says Dawson. “It has defined what the human race is. There is certainly no question that there is far more to discover and invent [around] the world.”
“To this point, all plausible manual tasks will be able to be done by robots,” he continues. “One of the first implications [is] in terms of household tasks; we won’t need to do things like clean up, stack the dishwasher, clean things… the household burden will disappear.”
In July 2020, Elon Musk revealed to the media that Tesla cars would achieve “basic functionality for level five autonomy” by the end of the year. Elsewhere, food service Door Dash acquired futuristic-like robots for contactless delivery. According to Dawson, the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence will surpass our wildest imagination.
“What is the most relevant question, is not the question of what those capabilities are but how we use them and integrate them into society,” the futurist says. “The question remains as to what human roles will be available given the extraordinary roles of Artificial Intelligence. We will continue to develop technology, and these will be some of the most highly rewarded roles.”
But to Dawson’s earlier point, human nature is deeply engrained in connecting to roles that require their care, and socialising is still highly sought after to look after our mental health. “I think there is a fundamental role around human connection. For example, people go to a café to have a good quality cup of coffee, but they also go there for the human connection, the conversation or the interaction. In the future, rather than pushing a button, we may have something where people are rewarded for manning the machine and interacting.”
On school education
This year has highlighted the capabilities of online learning as much as it has highlighted how far we have to go in development. But can technology ever really replace the classroom experience children have today? “My belief is that we will have teachers forever but working very closely with technology,” says Dawson. “One of the most exciting applications of Artificial Intelligence today and where it goes in the future, is the ability to help us to learn faster and more enjoyably than ever before.”
Dawson makes the argument again, that technology can never replace human interaction as the fundamentals of learning come from motivation and inspiration. “Whilst machines can learn to do that to a certain degree, even the very fact that you know it’s a machine makes it less motivating and inspiring because it is people that inspire us and it is people that motivate us,” he says. “There will be schools, and there will be teachers in those schools to guide, to console, to inspire, to motivate and to complement the tools.”
Dawson points out, the question isn’t if paper alternatives will exist, it is what it will be capable of. “Paper as a medium will essentially die,” he says. “What we will have is things that look and feel exactly like paper today but are infused with technology. There will be far better mediums which will be more environmentally effective. If we choose all of the qualities of paper today – yes, there are advantages to newspaper size and format and foldability – we can have all of those things without it being paper and we can add technological capabilities to it.”
On social media
With the rapid change of the social media landscape, will we even use such applications in 80 years?
“Well it’s whether we use the word social media or not. Yes, essentially media will be participatory,” says Dawson. “Everyone has the ability to send out their thoughts, images and videos, whatever that may be. [It will] be accessible to anyone in the world and that will continue to happen.”
But will we want to risk our privacy? It is suggested that those who choose to have public audiences and private audiences will continue, but the capabilities of social media – or what Dawson dubs as “personal broadcast channels” – will come down to what advancements we’ve made on the brain. “We are making substantial progress with brain computer interfaces and so one of the things we will be able to share is our thoughts, literally, and we will be able to actually think and put that on a personal broadcast channel.”
Dawson says that over the last century, 75 million people have joined urban populations in developing countries each year. “Almost all of that urbanisation is in developing countries: China, India, Africa. So much of the urbanisation essentially already happened in developed countries,” he says.
Urbanisation has been on an upwards trajectory since before the 60s; people would move to cities for more job opportunities, chances to collaborate and to experience a more diverse culture. Dawson argues that environmental efficiency could be reason to more people moving to high density populations. With a rapid rise in the demand for housing and infrastructure, urban sprawl is nearly impossible to avoid.
The term ‘urban sprawl’ refers to the expansion of poorly planned, low-density, auto-dependent development, which spreads out over large amounts of land, putting long distances between homes, stores, and work and creating a high segregation between residential and commercial uses with harmful impacts on the people living in these, as defined by everythingconnects.org. “The counter factors are health and quality of living which is very significant and goes back to the economic element and the ability of the choices people have and how they live their lives,” Dawson says. “I think that it’s likely we will see more distribution – as in more people living not so much in the biggest cities but in ones that do have more significant critical mass of people and culture.”
The question remains as to whether these factors will see a reversal of urbanisation, a trend that has skyrocketed particularly in recent years. We put this question to the futurist. “There may be a slight reversal in the trend we’ve seen so far to urbanisation in developed countries, but not massive. There are still reasons why people want to be together in the same place and that will unravel somewhat as people are able to work more independently. We are able to design and build alternatives to major cities, but a lot of people will still choose to live within a few hours of major cities.”