The next 30 years

Last Call

marc lastcallAs Hilton Head Monthly celebrates its 30th anniversary, it seems appropriate to contemplate what the next three decades have in store.

It’s hard to believe that 30 years ago, the following things did not dominate our daily lives: cellphones, emails, portable personal computers that connect via Wi-Fi nearly everywhere, high-definition TV with hundreds of channels, and the Internet that ushered in the connectivity revolution.

The communication revolution was a major shift with enormous impact on how we live and work comparable to the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

It is unlikely that we will witness another comparable quantum shift. What we do know is that change continues to accelerate. This is due to the convergence of science, technology, communication and capital. In other words, scientific and technical discoveries can be verified quicker because of the enormous and cheap computing power that is available. Knowledge can be communicated instantly among researchers, and it finds its way into our daily lives quicker because capital is plentiful and willing to take risks.

When talking about change, it is worth noting what has not changed. My biased list includes: the political system, greed, multinational corporations taking advantage of consumers, the school system, social justice and well-being for all. As an example: The average male full-time worker is not making any more money nowadays than 30 years ago. Women’s pay has increased by 30 percent, but the gender gap is still large. The income difference between top earners and the middle class has widened, and it likely will continue to do so.

Some of the future megatrends that will shape the next 30 years include:

  • A.I., as in artificial intelligence and robotics. Combine them and you have a recipe for fewer people having to work to produce the goods we need (or we think we need). This sounds like progress but it will create enormous social challenges. In simple words, if you can’t find a job, how are you going to make a living?
  • Sustainability. It’s not just climate change. Sustainability covers a broader spectrum, including energy and food. It is sad to say that we have no broad policy in place on a local or global level. We continue to live and behave like this will be a problem for a future generation to solve. We are not only shortsighted but also not demonstrating social consciousness toward our kids and grandkids.
  • The loss of privacy has arrived surprisingly fast and without much revolt against it. However, its full implications are not clear yet. As an example, how much information manipulation by governments or private entities are we willing to endure, assuming that we even know that it is happening?
  • Medical advancements will guarantee that we will get older; living to 100 will soon be viewed as normal. But larger topics like gene manipulation and the quest for the perfect baby are going to be much more controversial.
  • There will be more of us. To put in local perspective, I foresee that the combined population of Bluffton and Hilton Head will double from 70,000 to 140,000 full-time residents. (Time to rethink the bridge that connects us).

The list could be expanded, but what it shows is that there will be no lack of innovations in the next 30 years. The big question on my mind is if progress can be channeled into something positive that makes the earth more sustainable and improves the living conditions for a broader number of people. Technology will advance to the point that it will challenge everything we currently know and believe in; I’m not equally confident in our ability to deal with it.

Let’s ask a simple question: Are we living happier lives than our parents or grandparents? I don’t think we can say that with certainty. Being more comfortable does not automatically makes us happier. As a society, we have not progressed much over the past 30 years. It will take a lot to deal with the enormous existential, moral and legal challenges that we are facing now and in the future.

The camp of big thinkers is divided between doomsday predictors and those who believe that we are moving toward a much better world. For my part, I remain cautiously optimistic. After all, hope is a necessary ingredient to any type of positive outcome worth fighting for, but we need to take the future more serious if we want to control its outcome.