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In a world rattled by countless turmoils, anticipating what the future holds is an undertaking as complex as it is daring. In this exclusive interview with Smartbrief, Futurist consultant Edie Weiner and her firm The Future Hunters take us on a journey through the major change currents shaping the world for years to come. Here is part 1 of that interview.
As a result of COVID-19, where do you see things going in general over the next few years?
I believe we’ll see trends progress along three distinct pathways: Epidemiological, Preparatory/Remedial and Opportunistic.
The first, Epidemiological, will include what is happening on the scientific scene. This includes things such as the spread of the disease, resurgences, advances in vaccines/prevention and cures. This pathway will also include the political scene domestically and internationally as the science progresses, shaping and reshaping the geopolitical landscape.
Authoritarian figures will seize more control and be met with more public protests, on all political fronts. There will be heightened nationalism and international cooperation, as these won’t be seen as mutually exclusive in a time such as this. All of these responses will be specific to this crisis, and for many could be existential, much like climate change, which will remain the number one existential issue of the century.
The first pathway forward is Epidemiological – so what is the second pathway?
The second pathway is Preparatory/Remedial, and this is what will be done everywhere because of what we have learned from this crisis. People will question their healthcare systems and international healthcare authorities, demanding more transparency. Data gathered from the COVID-19 crisis will support the need for better medical delivery and supplemental income because of the widescale socio-economic population disparities. There will be angry arguments over how we pay for these changes when economies are strained.
Liability issues will increase, arising from decisions made during the crisis about workers’ rights, individual and corporate freedoms, broken contractual obligations, customer safety, denial of service, wrongful death and so on. Domestic and international lawsuits will mushroom regarding travel, trade, intellectual property and accountability. Everywhere we will see more regulations, screening and safety precautions to avoid additional lawsuits and gain the confidence of consumers, employees and users of public services. Ultimately, technology will enable HVAC systems to clean indoor air, nanoparticles to be embedded in surfaces that enable them to be self-cleaning, and sensors everywhere that determine whether environments have been cleaned and people are keeping safe distances.
Supply chains will become one of the most important issues of the coming decade. How efficient should they be, with little or no redundancy in the event of a catastrophe? How self-sufficient should they be globally, regionally, locally? Who is friend and who is foe, and how do we look beyond that when we’re all in something together? How do certain supplies, whether oil or medical gear, get priced and distributed when the free market goes off the rails?
All of these aspects of preparation and remedy will dominate attention, some of them may actually be improved in order to prepare for any future crisis, and some will stagnate and not be resolved. For example, many more parts of the world will build more self-sufficiency into their supply chains, but many will not adequately address the issues of widescale unemployment and poverty, especially among migrant, refugee and marginalized populations. And that will continue to make even the most privileged populations vulnerable to future contagions.
You said the third pathway is Opportunistic. What do you mean by that?
The Opportunistic pathway is the one that has me most excited. This is all about re-imagination and experimentation. It was already taking place in all disciplines and across all businesses, including in every area of product and service design and delivery. Even before this crisis happened, we saw physicists, artists, marketers, architects, and so many more reshaping what we were thinking and doing here on earth and even in outer space. From esports to fintech, from particle theory to virtual reality, from leasing to languages — in which people have begun to remove gender-specific terms and emojis were replacing words — the ground was being prepared to jump over renovation and skip to innovation. In supply chains, new materials, AI, and synthetic biology will come together to reduce the need for products from natural sources, whether they be protein or fossil fuels. 3D printing will alter the built environment. Universities will have to reinvent in order to become multidisciplinary, less expensive and technologically enabled. Marketers will have to start all over in defining and understanding life cycles that extend to age 100 with an online life that lingers even after we die. We were already becoming a whole new kind of civilization, and this crisis just gave that transformation a lot more energy.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Edie Weiner when she discusses private capitalism and her optimism for the global future in the coming decade.
Edie Weiner is President and CEO of the leading futurist consulting group, The Future Hunters. She is acknowledged as one of the most influential practitioners of social, technological, political, and economic intelligence-gathering. She has guest lectured at many prestigious institutions, including Wharton, Harvard, The U.S. Army War College, the Naval War College and the World Economic Forum in Davos. She is the co-author of FutureThink, a global bestseller.
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