Interview Jonas Ridderstrale Zurück
 
Ray Hammond
1. As Europe's most experienced futurologist, what do you think about today's huge commercial potential of the internet and its impacts on tomorrow's global businesses?

The internet is going to merge with television, radio, cellular networks and wireless technologies to create one global super-medium (for which we do not yet have a name) in which a very large part of business will be conducted. Many businesses will be wholly virtual while many physical businesses (e.g. construction and aviation) will use the new enlarged, multi-media, multi-sensory, always on, always connected, everything to everything, everyone to everyone ”medium” to improve their business processes, their financial trading patterns, their logistics and their customer orientation.

2. How much Information Technology could affect business environment in the next, let's say, ten years and what other inventions do you stipulate will come into sight by then (now that we already have the multifunctional iPhone)?

The “mobile phone” is a misnomer – we do not yet have the language to describe what the device formerly known as the mobile phone is becoming. In the very near future real-time natural language interfaces will start to transform the device into an intelligence personal assistant. Within ten years ’software personalities’ which reside within the devices will become our personal assistants, organizing our electronic information, our digital money and our business and social lives.

3. Will constant evolution of sophisticated technology increase people's quality of life regarding their work? Could technology create more jobs or, on the contrary, could it erase many of them?

Technology neither creates nor destroys jobs, but it sometimes redistributes them. Whilst the internet may allow a company to offshore its call centre operations to India or China, the additional wealth generated in the home economy by such off shoring enables companies to expand and create entirely new forms of jobs within the home economy. In general, the aggressive adoption of new technology sometimes creates short-term pain within an economy as old-style jobs disappear but the benefits of adopting new technology usually bring such economic advantages so that almost everyone does better in the medium and long term

4. What is your greatest fear concerning technology progress and future businesses?

My greatest fear is that while 80 per cent of the world is developing rapidly through the dual forces of information technology and globalization, the one billion poorest people in the world (who live in 58 nation states, most, but not all, in sub-Saharan Africa) are allowed to languish in zero growth poverty economies. If special help (not just aid) is not extended to these people they will become the global terrorists of the middle 21st Century, wreaking their revenge for their poverty on the developed and developing world.

5. With regard to the present frightening global warming discussions, what do you think about climate change and the impact of technology on businesses related to the future of energy?

Climate change (don’t call it global warming because the extreme weather effects produced by the carbon emission are not always warm) is the greatest threat we face. As a result the future for businesses that are concerned with delivering renewable and sustainable forms of energy – wind power, solar power, geothermal power, wave power, tidal power, hydrogen power and, to a lesser extent, energy from biomass, have a really wonderful future. The technology exists today to deliver our energy needs from renewable resources. What is lacking is the political will to overcome the lobbying of the entrenched interests (e.g. the fossil fuel suppliers) and for governments to provide real incentives for both the producers of sustainable and renewable energy and for the consumers to switch to energy derived from such sources.

6. You say you study “current trends in human affairs in the hope of divining which may affect the future most powerfully”, using your writing as a lab. What are those current trends in business?


There are six key drivers of the future. These are:

• 1. World Population Growth And Changing Demographics
There are currently almost seven billion people on the planet. By 2050 there will be at least nine billion. How are we to feed these many people and, even more pressingly, how are we to find fresh water for them?
One factor that will have a major impact on food production methods to feed so many people is climate change, but the impact of this is hard to predict and will vary from region to region. Suffice to say that technological advances in food production methods will continue to have the potential to feed the Earth’s enormously expanded population even if, in some of the world’s poorest regions, poverty, corruption, bad politics and conflict (and, in some areas, severe climate change) will continue to cause widespread famine. Drinking water, on the other hand, is often forecast to be in very short supply in some parts of the world (fresh water accounts for only 3 per cent of all the water in the world).

• 2. Climate Change
Unless we act urgently and radically to reduce our carbon emissions extreme weather patterns will create millions of dispossessed people who will become global refugees. If storms worsen, sea levels rise, flooding increases, droughts lengthen and heat waves intensify, millions of humans will be killed, millions will be displaced and society will begin to break down. There will be refugees at all of our doors. We may even become refugees ourselves. Because there are so many variables in the science of climate change, and because human response to the problem is a matter of social and political will, it is impossible for any futurologist to predict how the climate itself will be behaving in the medium- and long-term future. However, it is possible to predict that climate change will still be one of the most pressing problems facing humankind in thirty years’ time and even further into the future (no matter how efficacious global political response to the issue is over the next twenty-five years) because there is a time delay built in to our atmosphere’s responses to heating. The heat and carbon currently being released into the atmosphere from our oceans was emitted into the 1970s. In 2030-2040 the heat entering our atmosphere from the oceans will be the heat we are producing today. Even if we magically stopped our carbon emissions and heat trapping activities today, the world will still continue to warm up for the next thirty to forty years.

• 3. The Looming Energy Crisis
Little in our world is as politically charged as energy generation and energy supply. Perhaps only national defence is regarded by governments as having more strategic importance. Just as individual humans must consume energy each day to survive, so must our modern high-tech societies. Politicians know that if there is a sustained failure in energy supply, or a long-term shortage of gasoline, citizens will take to the streets.
Nations go to war to secure their long-term supplies of energy and in 2007 alarm bells have started to sound in many countries because projections suggest that the world is going to demand much more energy between now and 2030. And in that time-frame global oil reserves will start to run out.
Estimates for future energy consumption vary widely, but at a minimum it is suggested that world energy consumption will increase by 50 per cent by 2030 and the maximum projected increase is put at 100 per cent. These nice round figures indicate just how ‘approximate’ some of the future projections are but they also illustrate a grave problem; in an era in which we have to cut our carbon emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 (and at the very least 60 per cent by 2050), how are we going to find sufficient energy of the right kind to meet our enlarged needs?
Consumer education, political thinking and cultural attitudes play a large part in shaping how we consume energy and how much energy we consume. The United States has a population equal to only 5 per cent of the global total but the nation consumes 25 per cent of the world’s energy. Europe has a far lower consumption of energy but the standard of living is just as high as in the USA
In the light of the need for urgent action on climate change, a looming shortage of oil and predictions that suggest that the world will consume up to double the amount of energy by 2030, governments around the world are rising to the challenge in various ways and with varying degrees of commitment.
I think it likely, almost certain, that energy from renewable and sustainable sources will be well on the way to providing the world with the majority of its ever expanding energy needs by the 2020s; after all, the energy is all around us in the wind, the waves, the rocks and the sun. Enough energy falls on the Earth’s surface from the sun in a single hour to meet the world’s current energy needs for a year.

• 4. Globalization
The term ‘globalization’ has many meanings and evokes many different emotions. At one extreme the word is used to mean ‘global economic exploitation of the poor by the rich’ and, at the other, ‘a global movement to reduce poverty and promote peace’.
World income has itself doubled since 1980 because of globalization, and almost half-a-billion people have been lifted out of poverty since 1990. According to current trends, adds the World Bank, the number of people living on less than the equivalent of $1 a day, will halve from today's 1 billion to 500 million by 2030. This will take place as a result of growth in Southeast Asia, whose share of the poor will halve from 60 per cent to 30 per cent, while Africa's share of the world’s poor will rise from 30 per cent to 55 per cent. This represents a continental inequality which carries significant dangers to world stability.

• 5. Accelerating, Exponential Technology Development
There will be more technological change in the next twenty-five years than occurred throughout the whole of the last century. And that was the century that produced aeroplanes, cars, plastics, nuclear power, television, the computer and the internet.
The reason I forecast such extreme change ahead is that the speed of technology development is itself accelerating. The key to understanding why this is occurring lies in realising that technology development is itself an extension of human evolution
I regard the phenomenon of accelerating technological development as the ‘joker in the pack’ when it comes to considering future trends. During the next quarter century it is possible that presently unforeseeable ‘wild card’ technologies will be developed that will solve the world’s demand for clean energy and, perhaps, even provide some degree of control over the world’s climate. It might even solve the drinking water shortage.

• 6. The ‘Prevent-Extend’ Model in Medicine (Disease Prevention and Longevity)
Because humans often lack a language for the technological future I have invented a portmanteau phrase – “prevent-extend’’ – to describe a new form of medicine that will emerge over the next twenty-five years. Instead of attempting to provide cures for existing disease and ailments, the next medical revolution will produce a new discipline in the rich world that will focus on personalized medicine that will prevent illness and increase human longevity very dramatically. Over the next few years the ‘master map’ of the human gene pool will be completed to a large extent and, as computer power rapidly increases, it will become possible to sequence the genomic map of each individual patient (at least, of those patients lucky enough to be living in the developed world).
In addition to such a powerful approach to diagnostics, gene therapy will harness the power of gene identification to produce new drugs and treatments many times more effective than present therapies. Stem cell research is another exciting new development that promises to revolutionize medicine. A stem cell is basic embryonic human cell which has the ability to grow into almost any kind of cell. A number of stem cell therapies already exist, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used to treat leukaemia. In the future, medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat a wider variety of diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and muscle damage, amongst a number of other impairments and conditions. In the near future stem cell medicine even promises to grow new bone and tissue for human use that is based on the patient’s own DNA. There is good reason to believe that stem cells may allow us to repair and regrow damaged organs and, eventually, to grow ‘replacement organs’ which would be at no risk of rejection from our immune systems. Replacement human bladders have already been grown and transplanted into humans using stem cell techniques. Recently heart tissue was grown from stem cells suggesting that within five years whole replacement hearts could be grown and scientists have recently succeeded in producing pancreatic cells from stem cells that produce insulin, holding out the hope that diabetes might one day be curable by the growth of a new pancreas. By 2030 such organ regeneration will be routine and almost all other organs will also be grown from stem cells. We will have our ‘backup’ parts.

7. What are the most intriguing ideas you tried or you are trying, at the present moment, in your “lab.” that you would like to share with today's business owners all around the world?

As above.

8. What do you think about virtual business development for the next 5 years?

Business is going to make extensive use of ‘virtual worlds’ such as Second Life, MySpace and Face Book. IBM is already holding meetings with clients in Second Life and this method of virtual meeting appears to be far more satisfactory that real-life videoconferencing. I am certain that within a few years we will all be living several lives at once, both in business and in our personal lives; we will have our real world lives but we will also be supporting parallel world personalities within virtual worlds. It is our future.
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