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Computer-powered 150-year-olds and private governments: Experts’ take on the world in 50 years

Tech is transforming the world - what will it be like in half a century? Four experts offer their predictions for the next 50 years | 28 APRIL 2021

We could tell you that change is happening slowly at the moment. But we’d be lying. Things are moving so fast that it makes us scratch our head at what that means for the world in 50 years’ time. What will it be like? What will be the state of technology in 50 years? Fortunately, we know the odd expert, so we asked four of them to share their predictions for the next 50 years.

“AI, Mixed Reality, IoT and other emerging technologies will be at the forefront of this technological metamorphosis”

Thamer Alharbi, President of Microsoft Arabia

"Nearly 52 years ago, July 20th 1969 to be exact, Neil Amstrong said the now famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Fast forward 5 decades and we have Mars Rover exploring the red planet that no human has ventured before.

What does the next 5 decades hold for humanity in terms of technological progress and innovation? Microsoft has been at the forefront of helping the world in this age of absolute digital transformation, empowering every person on this planet to achieve more. But how much more can we achieve in terms of taking emerging and innovative technologies of today to be not only mainstream in the immediate future but advance them by leaps and bounds in the decades to come? Only time will tell.

 

What I am certain of, is that AI, Mixed Reality, IoT and other emerging technologies will be at the forefront of this technological metamorphosis. Perhaps in 50 years, Hyperloop, with land speeds of 1200 km/hr today, would have gone mainstream, become obsolete and be replaced by even faster means of transport thereby making long distance travel time as good as going to the store across the street. Perhaps we will be able to colonize Mars using intelligent machines, bots and AI and making it conducive for human living conditions before the first human lands on Mars. Perhaps we will then have intelligent nanobots working as AI antibodies to destroy dangerous viruses.

Whatever the future holds in the next 50 years, one thing I’m certain of, is that we have to progress with innovation in a very responsible and sustainable manner, protecting our plant and new worlds we will potentially venture into, in their original state of purity and harmony. Carbon emissions should be down to zero by then and renewable energy sources should be driving the human world."

“I think we’ll see the emergence of private governments”

Ott Vatter, Managing Director of ePróspera and former Managing Director for the Government of Estonia’s e-residency programme

“I genuinely believe that countries will start competing for the best citizens - and that it’s going to be a fierce fight. Today some people already choose to live in environments with better salaries, better education or better welfare. But this will significantly increase in the next 50 years.

The borders of countries will, in a way, cease to exist. They’ll still exist on paper, but you’ll be able to digitally choose to be a resident of a country where you have the best conditions, no matter where you physically live. I think that will be the biggest change: countries and physical borders will lose their importance - and the best environment wins!

We’ll start to see the emergence of private governments, private cities or private initiatives which can move much faster and provide much better services. After all, who’s to say that certain nationalities of people don’t get the same opportunities that others have? We’ll see private initiatives offering solutions to inequalities caused by badly-run governments.

 

 

We’re seeing this trend already, with Estonia’s e-residency programme, which tries to attract digital residents. Or the private city in the Caribbean called Prospera I work with, which is in Latin America - an area that is hugely corrupt and where people don’t have the opportunities you get in Europe, for example - and is trying to offer potential residents the world’s most innovative environment for entrepreneurship.

I think the first shift in residents will be virtual, but it will also become physical. In the later part of their life, some people might want to move somewhere with better access to medical services, that they can access more cheaply or for free. Who knows, maybe eventually, it might lead to a merger of national borders. Probably not in 50 years. But in 100 years we may start to see that.”

“We’ll have revolutionised what a human being is”

Jason Roos, Chief Information Officer at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

“In 50 years’ time, I think the division between the biological and the digital will be completely merged. Your devices will be part of you, almost like having an artificial eye or ear. Like a Google Glass-style contact lens with a heads-up display of information or a device implanted into your ear that you can ask questions and use for phone calls. That level of integration will be everywhere.

I think we’ll see electrodes being put into the brain and we’ll not only be able to use our mind to interact with a device, but to upload information. For example, if you want to become fluent in a foreign language, what’s to prevent just using that interface to upload it - so it’s like installing a new programme? Computing power and digital integration with the brain will expand the limits of the human mind.

Our lives will be longer as well. I don’t think it’ll be unheard of to have people living to 120, 150 years old in the next 50 years. A term that’s being thrown around right now is considering ageing as a disease in itself. And if we treat the underlying causes of ageing, we might be able to treat heart disease, dementia, cancer and other age-related diseases.

What’s more important, though, is that your life-span won’t just be longer, but so will your health-span. Even at 120 or 150, people will be physically active. They’ll be able to go for walks. We may be able to keep people alive longer than they even want. It depends on how interesting life is, I guess!

In 50 years’ time, I think we’ll have revolutionised what a human being is. In the last 50 years we’ve advanced more than in all of history combined. Just imagine where we’ll be if we do that all over again!”

“Shops will have to totally reinvent themselves”

Marie Sermadiras, Global Chief Digital Officer at L'Oréal, Active Cosmetics Division

“It’s difficult for us to predict the future when we had no idea what the world would be like 12 months ago. I remember a meeting last year where we were saying that people would never wear masks!

But I think we’ll see more and more AI tools within beauty, which enable you to try out new looks. There are already AI tools that let you try on lipsticks. If we go one step ahead, AI will let you see yourself with a certain hair colour or maybe a new haircut. Right now there are people working on how you might look after procedures. You mightn’t dare to try botox or fillers, but AI will let you see how you would look.

Everything that is happening now with Covid is a gigantic catalyst for trends that were already here. Shops will have to totally reinvent themselves. People will always want proximity retail - that “I need something very quick and I need it now”. But other than that, shops can’t remain what they used to be. They’ll have to offer something that people can’t get from buying products online, because in the future, delivery will take 24 hours, max.

Shops will need to become an experience in themselves. If you’re taking the time to go into a shop you need to be entertained. Look at China. I remember visiting a Nike shop in Shanghai - that shop isn’t about the clothes. It’s about having a place where you can run and they’ll monitor how quick you are. It’s about having a place where you can play basketball and they’ll measure how many shots you take. It’s only about the experience and entertainment - it’s not at all about the product. I believe that the world, moving forward, will be all about entertainment and services like this, and not about traditional retail.”