1. Fully Autonomous Cars, Trucks and Logistics – if the period between 2010 and 2019 woke artificial intelligence up from its second winter and provided low cost parallel hardware via gaming GPUs (and later dedicated ASICs), then the period from 2020 to 2029 will be the decade in which the fruit of this giant technological leap forward will be harvested. Here we are at the end of 2019 with Tesla ready with a Level 3 autonomous vehicle and Waymo seemingly close to Level 4 and we should be in no doubt that in the next ten years we will get as close to Level 5 as makes no difference. Yes, we still have regulations to navigate but with so much at stake and ample global competition, expect the authorities to be more accommodating than people imagine. Now, which scenarios turn out to be more viable from a business point of view remains to be seen. Everybody expects Robotaxis to be racing down their streets sometime soon but I suspect that this might be a slow burner outside of city geofences. Rather, it might be in the area of logistics where we see the most disruption, with convoys of electrically powered trucks operating 24×7 on the motorways of the world and small, modular vehicles completing the last mile. In the end, anything that can be made autonomous will be, including cars, and I expect this to be achieved by the end of the coming decade. There will still be a legacy of hardware to replace but once it is possible to move people and goods around with zero risk of injury or accident, it will be prohibitively expensive to insure human driven vehicles. Like the horse at the turn of the nineteenth century, by the end of 2029 the car and vehicle in its current form will have gone.
2. Banking as a Feature – it is truly astonishing how little innovation there has been in retail banking for the past twenty years. Rather like top mandarins in Whitehall in the postwar era, its seems like established retail banks and their leaderships have been managing “orderly decline”. To be fair, saddled with real estate assets and many unprofitable customers, it was never going to be easy to reinvent banking from within. But with a FinTech wave underway for nearly a decade now, this has to go down as a massive missed opportunity. In the end, as Apple and Google are already demonstrating, banking is well on its way to being a feature of an internet platform. Perhaps people will choose to bank with Tesla, or Apple, or Zalando but telling somebody young in ten years time that you are “Off to the bank” will be met with puzzlement.
3. Cashless Society backed by State-Managed Cryptocurrency – even in a country like Germany with its affinity for good old fashioned cash, the writing is on the wall. In the same way that machine intelligence and the software-first world will reduce banking to a mere feature of internet platforms and ecosystems, so digital cash will become the norm. Once the moat of traditional banking and finance is breached, the end state will come very quickly. Perhaps in the space of five years. What will be the trigger?
Well, with Facebook launching Libra in 2020 it can’t be long.
They won’t be the only tech platform to offer currency backed tokens but in the end it will be the state which will have to respond and which will assert itself. Scandinavia is already more or less cashless so it will be hard for holdouts like Germany to resist the passing of paper based lucre. I think we will ultimately see the European Central Bank launch a crypto-Euro sometime by the end of the coming decade – probably earlier than we expect because of the threat to the monetary system via external “currency tokens” and cryptocurrency.
4. Health Agents – as previously mentioned, the ageing of societies around the world will be one of the mega trends driving change in the next decade and beyond. How will societies respond to almost the entire Boomer generation finally reaching statutory retirement age? With financial yields having been driven into the ground (and even below) in the decade just closing, the financial chickens will be coming home to roost just at the moment of peak demand. One way to cope with the demands of an ageing society will be a massive transformation of how health services are delivered with homes effectively becoming extensions of the doctor’s surgery or the hospital wing. With smart watches already able to collect significant health data including performing an ECG, by 2029 there will be enough ways to collect, aggregate and most importantly interpret data that a trip to the GP will seem like an oddity. Instead, the first line of medicine will be a smart Health Agent which monitors and advises the patient on a 24×7 basis. Not only will this multiply the cost effectiveness of the health service but the patient outcomes will go through a step change due to superior data-driven diagnosis.
5. China – it is inevitable that as globalisation goes through its next wave, China will be restored to its historical position as the world’s largest economy on a nominal basis (on a PPP basis this happened already in 2016). This is likely to be just achievable by the end of 2029. Up to the mid 1900’s China was the world’s largest economy and after a long detour it will return to the top spot nominally. Why nominally? Because this will end the US “century” which arguably began in the aftermath of the First World War. The dollar then replaced the British Pound as the world’s reserve currency exactly as the Pound had replaced the Dutch Guilder in the nineteenth century; the ascendancy of China will usher in a Yuan led world. This is likely to take a crypto form and will change the flow of trade, the centre of gravity of global regulations and standards and will lead to a Sino-centric world. As the last few years in Europe and the US attest to, geopolitics is very difficult to call but I suspect that we will end up with a regionally networked world with China, the US and Europe forming three powerful blocks by 2029 but with China increasingly calling the shots financially, culturally and intellectually. To which block countries adhere – I think of the UK or India for example – I cannot say, but I think we are about to witness one of those once-in-a-century changings of the guard.
What trends do you see and what predictions are you prepared to take a punt on in the ten years ahead? By debating the future, we are creating the future, so please get in touch with me and share your views. Here’s to 2020 and the next decade. Let’s hope it’s a good one.