Systematically thinking about the future

The last 10 Years Forecast Research by the IFTF, has analyzed how we are shifting from a global economic and social system based on essentially two economies, to a future model made of seven different economies intersecting and interacting with each other. The research maps a complex ecosystem of five emerging economies, adding up to the two basic economies we have based our lives on, the corporate and consumer economies. These seven economies are: corporate, consumer, collaborative, creative, civil, criminal and crypto. So we are facing a future with a set of seven economies creating tensions and conflicts, as well as potential growth and sustainability issues. The 2015 research by the IFTF outlines how these new economies are disrupting the way we live and work, heading towards a future of a super-crowded planet, where we will need to find new models and ways to sustain our lives and preserve our planet’s resources.

We can take elements from the seven economies and intersect them to create a number of potential scenarios for our future. As usual we can’t predict the future, but if we have a closer look to those scenarios and understand the tensions and conflicts of interest that are emerging from this environment, I certainly cannot avoid a good dose of worrying, while maintaining my typical optimism on mankind.

Throughout our history, the need for change has been always driven by resources, existing resources or newly discovered resources. Civilizations migrated, existed and disappeared because of resources. Territory and land ultimately mean resources. Technology is always about using better our resources or finding new ones. Entire civilizations migrated, survived or died because of resources. From day 1 in our history to present time, mankind, animals and plants and every living organism have based their existence on resources, be them air, water, food, fire, fuel or energy. Pollution too has to do with our resources, it burns down usable air, water, land and even space!

If we look at any of our urgent futures, we find resources, water, air, and more … and how their availability is diminishing rapidly.

The real tension here is that we are growing, as human kind. The current trend is that we are more and more every day and unless something quite bad happens, we will find ourselves in 2025 with a planet of about 8 billion people, who will have to share the same existing and diminishing resources. Resources. This is the driver of the most significant efforts in technology in the last decades. Alternative energy, alternative foods, alternative water sources, recycling, less consuming and less polluting devices, cars and planes, more efficient working platforms. All of this to preserve existing resources and find alternative ones, even down to the efficient use of our time.

Technology and the Internet are helping us to re-engineer every process, down to the molecular level of living organisms and things. While we are engineering less polluting vehicles and tools, we are also learning how plants communicate and understanding how they can be better sensors of how our atmosphere is. We have produces new types of food (Soylent Inc), and even meat coming from vegetable ingredients (Impossible Foods Inc).

In all of these attempts, while we have mapped our genome, we are also still trying to engineer our happiness and reconstructing the building blocks of our values, like trust, friendship, family and work. As we look at our future through the eye of technology, we can see visions of a very “cold”, rationalized and regulated world. You can read and see this in any book, fiction or movie about the future. Cold, sterile, hospital-like hyper clean environments.

What is really unclear in all of this, and in our sterile future, is how mankind will fit in it, how we will adapt and evolve and most of all how our feelings and way of feeling them, will evolve. It seems like human kind is going back to an old model, where individuals are “one-man companies” with a range of services and goods, real and virtual, linked around them. Services received and given, products sold, bought or “fabbed”.

This all, along with an overall collapse of legitimized Institutions as we know them. Seen from one perspective, this can be described as the failure of corporative and globalized systems to provide wealth and well being to each individual. Hey guys, from now on … make your own stuff, because we can’t keep scaling the current system. Educate yourself, because we can’t sustain the current edu-system. Grow your own food, because we don’t know for how long we will able to guarantee food!

I am sure you have noticed how centralized institutions are already falling in favor of networked corporations handling services. Soon we will see communities handling their own services too, leveraging networking platforms and the Internet, to provide themselves for the basic services, Institutions may fail to provide. Actually this is already happening too (neighbour.ly).

With so many drastic changes and the disruptions we are facing, what it really comes down to, is how people will react and adapt to these changes. It seems that after the billions of years nature has evolved, mankind will likely adapt only in a situation of constraint or collapse. In other words we don’t change unless we are forced to.

After the years of building up, will we be able to deconstruct our fundamentals and rebuild the values to base our future on? I believe this is the big question I always ask myself, when thinking about the future.

In this environment and projected into the future, the first idea that comes to my mind, is “land”. Weird? Not really. While deconstructing, we are going back to basics. Our roots are mapped and even reverse-engineered, our “terroir is re-made”. In our future, land will gain value as we will use every inch of it, in new ways.

Our need of space and territory, is so present, that it extends even to create new virtual dimensions for it to grow. As space and resources on our planet are less and less, we are virtualizing on new virtual land part of our existence. Look carefully, most of it is already there …