A trendwatcher and futurist reflects on (technological) developments. What are the technological developments with the greatest impact? This is what I and other trendwatchers and futurists see for the coming years. From blockchain to self-driving cars, from graphene to data storage, from renewable energy to quantum computing.
What is a trendwatcher?
What is a trend watcher? This is my definition of a trendwatcher: a trendwatcher examines trends and developments in the coming years, whether technological, social, cultural, political or environmental. A futurist or futurologist often has a longer time horizon, although the two terms are often used side by side.
Although most trend watchers in the Netherlands focus on technology, you can also make future predictions or scenarios on a variety of other themes and domains. Consider the environment, the justice system, health care, the education system and much more.
I myself am inspired by Kevin Kelly. I had the honor of meeting him at the STRP festival in Eindhoven in April 2017. By the way, I don’t call myself a trendwatcher (anymore). You can read more about the reason below.
The power of a trend watcher is that they can provide a different perspective. As humans view the future from the present. This is not surprising either, because that is the world in which you live in abundance. A world that already has enough problems, challenges and opportunities, whether business, personal or social.
What is the meaning of the term trendwatcher? And conversely, what is the significance of a trendwatcher? You can read about that in this article! But before you do, I share with you the key points in this overview:
- The meaning of the term trendwatcher: someone who thinks, writes and speaks about technological, social, societal, cultural, political and environmental developments.
- Good trend watchers do not just focus on individual developments, but are aware of characteristics of progress. Examples: recombination of technological developments, the importance of follow-on innovations and exponential growth.
- My vision is that technological developments around artificial intelligence and biotechnology will have the greatest impact on our future. Technological progress, in whatever form, is never exclusively positive.
- With each development, new hazards and risks also arise.
- The application of technology by companies, countries and us as users determines value. Knowledge of technological or scientific advances alone will not get you there. There are a variety of structural and cultural characteristics that affect translation into new products, services and processes.
These points appear later in this article, supported by theories and examples.
Structure of article
This article is structured as follows:
- Technology trends (9x), including trends 2021 and trends 2022;
- Megatrends (6x);
- Hazards, risks and dangers;
- Characteristics of technological progress (5x);
- Innovation (5 tips);
- What you can do yourself (3 tips);
- Speaker with more information if you would like to book me;
- Reading list with tips about books and more.
After reading this article, you will be prepared for the future!
What are technology trends?
As a trendwatcher and futurist, I think these are (currently) the most important technological developments in the coming years:
- Artificial intelligence
- Self-driving cars
- Virtual reality
Let me know in the comments if you miss a technology!
Update! In late 2021, I wrote update on the most interesting technological and scientific developments from that year:
- Brain implants;
- mRNA vaccines;
- Climate crisis;
I elaborated on these (and other) developments in this article: my WTF moments of 2021.
In 2022, these are some developments that I will be watching closely:
#1 Brain computer interfaces. With headbands or brain chips, we can read and analyze brain signals. Initially for patients with neurological disorders, but later also for healthy people to improve themselves?
By the way, I am working on an article on this topic, so keep an eye on my blog.
#2 Human augmentation. How are companies using technology to support their employees in their work? Think brain-computer interfaces to control machines and robots (see the previous trend), but also exoskeletons and the increasing use of artificial intelligence.
#3 The increasing tensions between the United States and China when it comes to artificial intelligence, biotechnology and (military) technology. Cultural, economic and political factors influence scientific research, technological developments and innovation. For example, the Chinese government played a role in the world’s first genetically modified children, Chinese babies Lulu and Nana. This emerged in Eben Kirksey’s book The Mutant Project. Watch my conversation with him here.
#4 The era of synthetic biology is dawning. Scientists and companies are increasingly able to make artificial genes, cells and proteins themselves. Expectations are high: from a better food supply to biodegradable clothing and chemical substitution. Yet the misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines (and the discussions surrounding genetically modified crops) shows that acceptance of such fascinating applications can falter.
#5 DAOs, decentralized autonomous organizations, which some believe have the potential to set up organizations and other collaborations in a better way. With more rights and benefits for employees and the community. Think of it like Uber, but with all the drivers as employees as well as shareholders. Or Facebook, where you are not only a user, but can also vote on the rules on the platform.
Only then a feeling creeps up on me: with the rise of the Internet or social media platforms, these kinds of hopeful stories were also prevalent. Shall we do better now? Or does it remain difficult for us as humans to break free from capitalism and its tendency to compete with each other?
What are megatrends besides technology?
Megatrends are developments that affect our economy, politics and society in a big way. One of those megatrends are technological developments, which you could read more about in the previous section. These are the other megatrends:
- Climate crisis
- Economic power
Ice caps melting. Earth’s biodiversity is declining rapidly. Plastic soup in the ocean. The climate crisis, in all its facets, is the most important megatrend. The consequences are both direct and indirect. Direct consequences are rising sea levels, floods and that areas become unlivable due to too much heat.
Indirect impacts include climate refugees. Residents of developing countries flee to Europe or the United States because it is almost impossible to live in their own countries. By 2050, for example, the World Bank expects 260 million people to have fled because of the climate crisis.
According to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, economic inequality between countries has fallen over the past 30 years, but inequality within countries has risen sharply. This means that a greater gap has opened up between the rich and poor inhabitants of a country.
One reason is technological. With the use of artificial intelligence and robotization, less and less labor and more and more capital is needed to manufacture products and services.
Growing nationalism and populism in recent years has also been influenced by growing inequality. Consider the election of Trump in the United States, Orban in Hungary, Bolsanoro in Brazil and the Brexit. Author Robert Sapolsky, in his book Behave, points out the risks of too much inequality in society: ‘Inequality creates less social capital, less mutual trust and less cooperation.’
The world population is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. By the year 2100, 10.9 billion people will be living on Earth, compared to the 7.7 billion living in 2020. PEW Research Centre’s forecast is that population growth will then level off, in part because fewer children are born per family.
As fewer babies are born, the population will grow older on average. In addition, scientists and companies are conducting research on old age as a disease. They are developing medications and therapies for longer life and anti-aging. Added up, this could lead to an even greater increase in the average age on Earth.
This has all kinds of implications, for example, for retirement provision or care for the elderly. Take the following statistic: currently there are three working people for every pensioner in the Netherlands. In 2035, the ratio is only 2 to 1.
The 21st century will be the century of Asia. One reason is demographics. China and India are the countries with the largest populations in 2020. It is expected to remain so in 2100, although India will have taken over China’s lead by then. Number three, by the way, will no longer be the United States, but Nigeria.
The large population size is also reflected in other factors: a larger labor force, a larger middle class and a larger domestic product than, say, Europe or the United States.
In Asia, China stands out the most, for a number of reasons:
- a leading position in certain research areas such as quantum computing, biotechnology and artificial intelligence;
- emergence of large and influential technology companies, such as Alibiba, Tencent and ByteDance (of TikTok);
- signs of expanding its political and military power. Examples were the unrest in Hong Kong and the growing tensions surrounding Taiwan.
Significance of the Century of Asia
What does Asia’s growing influence on the world mean? Some experts fear the Thucydides Trap, after the work of political scientist Graham Allison. He argues that a shift in the balance of power is often accompanied by wars. In other words: China is claiming its leadership role and the US is not allowing it.
But Asia’s growing influence is also interesting in many other areas. How does China plan to monetize its leadership position in artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing? How will India raise its international profile? Is it possible for the country to become a trendsetter in addressing the climate crisis (as in the book The Ministry for the Future)? What can we learn from Japan, with its aging population?
In short, more than in past decades, we must look not to the West (the United States), but to the East. Because Asia is increasingly determining our future.
In line with the megatrend demographics, the world’s population will increasingly live in cities. This is called urbanization. In 1800, only 2% of the world’s population still lived in cities. In 1950 it was 30% and in 2007 more than half of the world’s people lived in cities. According to PWC, over 60% of the population will live in cities by 2030.
This leads especially to megacities in regions where population growth is already significant, such as Asia and Africa. But this trend is also continuing in Europe. For example, the population of the city of London is growing twice as fast as the rest of the United Kingdom.
The challenge for governments is to keep cities accessible with its infrastructure and public transportation. In addition, cities must also remain livable with higher temperatures and rising sea levels.
The battle for truth is about information sharing and disinformation by governments, corporations and individuals. One of the driving forces of this trend are the algorithms on social media platforms. Based on your behavior as a user, you are presented with messages or updates to keep you around that platform for as long as possible.
One consequence is that conspiracy theories can spread more easily on the Internet. Several organizations and thought leaders warn of this, including Tristan Harris of the Center of Humane Technology. He has a prominent role in the documentary The Social Dilemma that highlights this issue.
Technology in the form of Deep Fakes makes this battle for truth even more difficult. In fact, this method allows you to create audio and video clips in which people say things you want them to say. In the Netherlands, a project by De Correspondent featuring a fake Mark Rutte got a lot of attention.
What are disadvantages, dangers and risks of technological advances?
People around me often call me a techno-utopian. In a way, it is justified. I believe in progression, and I tend to see mostly the benefits of new applications. But take privacy. With increasing technology in our lives, do we still have a life of our own?
In Eindhoven, I spoke about this with technodenker Kevin Kelly. His vision is that we are moving toward coveillance. That is a model in which we accept that companies and agencies are tracking us, but that we also know what they are measuring and doing with that data.
Technology makes us dependent. If I leave my smartphone at home, I feel like I’ve lost an arm or a leg. When I find myself wanting to check my smartphone every few minutes to see if I have any new messages, I realize how addictive technology can make us. Has the introduction of television and the automobile made our lives that much better?
Influencing the future
All these developments can make our lives easier and better. All the developments can also make our lives harder and worse. What choice me make, we decide. That is really not beyond our reach, but we can influence that ourselves. For example, by what you vote for, what products you buy and what initiatives you support.
In my opinion, technological developments cannot be stopped. It remains the consideration of humanity how we will apply it. For that, I think there needs to be more room to experiment and try. We need that to get the best out of this development.
What are characteristics of technological progress?
Characteristics of technological progress (5x)
Although technological progress sometimes seems to be random, some authors and thinkers have distilled a few lessons and characteristics.
- Moore’s Law;
- Mutual reinforcement;
- Follow-up innovations;
- Unexpected angle;
A singularity is an unusual thing, something where normal rules or laws are no longer valid or cannot be applied. Originally, this term was applied mainly in physics: a moment when space-time is so strongly curved that space and time actually cease to exist.
Technological singularity was first described by science fiction author Vernor Vinge in 1993. Starting in 2001, Ray Kurzweil drew attention to the concept in several articles and books.
The moment of technological singularity is when technology has more influence over the direction society is moving toward than humans. There are different views of whether and when this moment occurs, but usually the year 2045 is used.
Yuri van Geest, is the ambassador in the Netherlands of Singularity University. His definition is: ‘Singularity is an umbrella term for the most important emerging technologies. The convergence of these technologies is leading to fundamental changes in the world.’
2 Moore’s Law
The prediction builds on Moore’s Law, this theory represents the doubling of transistor capacity within a given time period and for the same budget. You can extend this law, according to Kurzweil and other supporters of singularity, to the speed at which science and technology evolve.
On the other hand, the exponential increase in computing power in Moore’s Law is questioned by some experts. They think computer chips will soon run into their physics limitations. On a more fundamental level, Finnish scientist Ilkka Tuomi criticizes Moore’s Law.
His conclusion is that the law strictly speaking does not exist. ‘Sociologically, Moore’s Law is fascinating. How do myths arise in modern society and how do those myths become widespread in scholarly articles, speeches and policy reports’.
3 Mutual reinforcement
For this reason, the exponential increase in computing power is perhaps less interesting than the amplifying effect that technologies have on each other. This is the second concept driving singularity. For example, in October 2017, I was at the World AI Summit in Amsterdam, philosophizing about combining artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Or take this example: the development of artificial intelligence is making sensor technology better and better. For example, sensors are becoming more accurate, more efficient and can measure more data points. This leads to generating more and better quality data, which leads to strengthening the development of artificial intelligence.
4 Follow-up innovations
As an example: the car. The invention of the wheel and that of the internal combustion engine already brought great changes, but the greatest social impact came when Henry Ford combined both discoveries and began producing cars on a large scale.
The same goes for Uber. This company uses the GPS in smartphones, smart algorithms and online payment options, among other things. It’s not that they invented one thing and went to market with it, but they combine various technologies to come up with an attractive mix for consumers.
Another feature is that technological developments are accelerating, because the rate and speed of research is increasing.
Another feature is that competitive innovations can come from an unexpected quarter. Take the idea that mail carriers would be made redundant by robots. It didn’t get that far, as the attack on the post came from a different angle. Electronic messaging in the form of email appeared to shake up the postal market.
What are tips and handles for dealing with these developments as an organization?
Innovation: 5 tips
What do you gain from this as a company or (semi) public organization? Based on my Master’s degree in innovation science and my conversations on the subject, I have compiled these five tips.
- Outside organization.
I have elaborated on the tips and handles below.
According to author Peter Hinssen, executives should focus about 70% of their time on the short term, 20% on the medium term of 2 to 3 years and 10% on strategy in 5 to 10 years. In reality, this is 93% of the time in the short term and 7% in the medium term.
A real danger if you are not aware of (technological) developments is that you miss opportunities or are suddenly threatened by another organization. Well-known examples in that light are Kodak and Nokia. Kodak noticed the transition to digital photography too late, while Nokia missed the rise of the smartphone.
This phenomenon is called corporate myopia, or business myopia. This is not a unique picture, as companies come and go. For example, the majority of companies in today’s Fortune 500 did not exist 50 years ago.
The innovators and discoverers are not the people who will carry a project to the end. You need to divide innovation into three phases: awareness, build-out and scale-up. At each stage, the project should actually be transferred to another project group with different people with different capabilities.
The biggest barrier to change and innovation is the culture in organizations. This is not surprising: everyone wants to innovate, but no one wants to change. Therefore, before you can start innovation projects as an organization, the most important work should actually be done. Innovativeness must be embedded in personnel policies, leadership and training.
In addition, as an organization and as a person, you need right learning ability in these times. You do that by learning from mistakes faster, exchanging that with colleagues, customers and competitors (!), and accepting and rightly celebrating mistakes. For this reason, I also enjoy being active in the Permanent Beta Foundation. As that name implies: you are constantly in betá and it is never finished or finished. You are always learning and improving.
When it comes to innovation and renewal, you have to keep your eyes open for additional or different opportunities. This is also called serendipity or luck. Well-known examples of serendipity is the discovery of penicillin, other uses of Viagra and the discovery of 3M’s post-it notes.
5 Outside organization
The current systems and structuring in an organization are set up for the current customers, products, services and procedures. This is why innovation thinkers such as Yuri van Geest and Drew Weilage advocate giving innovation projects a place outside the organization. Preferably autonomous, with enough room to experiment, to try to fail.
Another method is to involve experts from other disciplines. For example, the bioinformatics department at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam invites colleagues from other companies twice a year. It turned out that specialists from the ABN-AMRO bank found a particular group of genes that allowed them to predict whether or not a treatment for leukemia would succeed in patients.
A nice addition to the last tip is the maker movement. These are enthusiastic amateurs and professionals who make their own (technological) things, for example using 3D printers. Author Chris Anderson sees the maker movement as the new industrial revolution.
The best example is the Raven military drone. The price at the time was over 25,000 euros. A group of enthusiasts decided to make a similar drone for 1 percent of the price. Within a year, they had it together. Their quadcopter cost 220 euros.
The examples of Kodak and Nokia nearly killed the companies. It remains difficult to accurately predict the future. A well-known is example is the chairman of the board of computer company IBM. Thomas Watson predicted in 1943 that he expected his company to make at most 5 computers. That was the amount of computers that would be needed in the world.
A total of 5 computers will be needed in the world.Thomas Watson, IBM board chairman in 1943
The most common mistakes when it comes to predicting the future is to take the current status of a technology as the starting point for future projections (#1), to regard the environment and human behavior as unchanging (#2), and to disregard the follow-on innovations I wrote about earlier (#3).
Then you may find yourself passed by a previously unknown competitor. The reason is often that this competitor is not yet affected by the set of (unwritten) biases, assumptions and paradigms of the current market leaders. At first, the market leader does not take the new competitor very seriously either.
A Harvard study of one hundred and fifty global breakthrough innovations found that the leadership position passed to another company after the innovation. Remarkably, that new industry leader always conquers the market with a product that is inferior in the eyes of the incumbents.
What do you need as an individual to deal with this?
What can you do yourself?
What can you do yourself to be well prepared for the future? These are my tips:
- Focus on human skills;
- Books to read;
1 Human skills
According to Kevin Kelly, productivity is for robots. More than ever in the coming years, we are going to focus on the things we are good at as human beings. These are things like empathy and compassion. But also for boldness, guts, courage, inspiration and experimentation.
Robots and computers, in fact, are brilliant at doing tasks efficiently and flawlessly. Precisely what things should you NOT do flawlessly and efficiently, but ask to make mistakes and fool around? That is doing scientific research, innovation and business.
Productivity is for robotsKevin Kelly, author
If we as humans harness technology to its strengths and we focus on our strengths, we will come out better. New times, on the contrary, demand integrity and a sense of justice. These are things that we as humans can still do better than computers and software.
Like integrity and justice. The episode Nosedive of the Netflix series Black Mirror took the “rating economy” of Uber and Airbnb to the extreme. That episode made me think about the impact of this kind of transparency.
2 Tips for books
What are the best books if you want to think about the future yourself or if you have ambitions to become a trend watcher yourself.
- Book Life 3. 0 by Max Tegmark. This is the best book I have read on artificial intelligence. It covers both contemporary applications and scenarios for the future (even space colonization with superintelligence).
- Book Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismael, Michael Malone and Dutchman Yuri van Geest. The three authors are affiliated with Singularity University, an educational institution that focuses on exponential technology. This book is primarily about how to set up an organization to take advantage of those exponential technologies.
- Book Loonshots by Safi Bahcall. With historical examples and laws of physics, the author shows which structures and processes are best suited to innovation success. Smooth and nicely written.
On my book tips page you can read all my recommendations, including in a variety of other areas!
Thinking about this kind of thing, call it ethics, is precisely something we should do as human beings. In my view, that track can go hand in hand with experimenting and trying. Because by messing around, you only find out what something really means.
That is also the reason I have a chip in my hand. It is one thing to philosophize about the future of (intimate) technology, the symbiosis of man and machine. You can get an even better idea of it if you try it yourself. That is why I have an chip implant in my hands.
What is also needed are people who think and tell about these developments. As Kevin Kelly writes in his book The Inevitable, “Technological trends are like rain falling on a mountain. It is inevitable that water will flow downhill. But how the streams are going to form and mix with other streams into rivers, we don’t know.
Are you ready for the future?
In this section you will read more about me as a speaker.
Want to know more about this topic? Then contact me if you have any questions! Also if you would like to invite me to give a lecture or presentation at your company, at your conference, symposium or meeting.
See all recommendations on this page: references Peter Joosten.
Finally, a list of articles, podcasts and books.
These are the books I have read:
- Book The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
- Book Behave by Robert Sapolsky
- Book Technology vs Humanity by Gerd Leonhard
How are you preparing your organization for the future? Leave a comment!