Today is a very important date. Why? October 21st 2015 is the day Marty McFly and The Doc arrived in the ‘future’ in Back To The Future. Today you’re bound to get an email flying into your inbox about it, and here’s mine!
Did they get it right? Well, it’s true that we do have hover boards, Nike have released some pretty cool boots to celebrate 30 years of BTTF, we don’t quite have a flying car but we do have a space station, robots on Mars and space probes sending us back imagery of the far and distant parts of our galaxy. We can communicate virtually anywhere at anytime with anyone in the world at the pop of a button on smartphones. We are creating bionic people, robots will soon take over many services that humans perform, artificial intelligence is making a difference to our lives and futures. We can perform intricate medical procedures like face-transplants and genetics have advanced cancer treatment at the speed of light in the last decade.
So what’s coming in the next 30 years? There has never been a better time to start an enterprise that makes a difference. There are so many global challenges facing humanity, we desperately need entrepreneurial people to start thinking about business as a way to solve our problems. Here are just a few industries that I think are ripe for disruption in the next few years and a couple of key trends:-
The Provision of Care for the Elderly – Social Health
Our population is ageing and thanks to the advances of technology we’re living longer. One hundred years old is the new sixty. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re living happier lives. As families fragment, the old patterns of caring for elderly parents at home has changed. People want to stay in their own homes, and are – sometimes with good reason – frightened of the care home process. There’s been a lot of negative publicity.
So what are the opportunities? Care homes that integrate the young and the old – finding a way to create meaningful work for young people? Leveraging technology such as robotics and sensors in the home to link people at risk directly to the GP surgery or emergency care where an alarm sounds when an older person on their own with diabetes forgets an insulin injection? Or a more compassionate approach to creating engaged care in homes that is affordable and supporting by local communities?
How we grow what we eat – Environmental Food Space
It’s no secret that there has been a huge trend in growing your own food. From people wanting to gather in small collectives like The Transition Movement aiming for self-sustainable communities and small towns, to micro-urban gardens popping up all over trendy Shoreditch in London. But is that a realistic solution to feeding 7-8 billion people? Probably not, although it helps.
We have a couple of big choices coming our way if we want to continue to eat meat. Continue with intensive farming of meat which uses up vast tracts of land, degrades soil and produces huge amounts of methane as a bi-product – not to mention the welfare issues – or find another way to produce meat. Synthetic biology will soon allow meat to be produced in petri dishes in laboratories. Will it suit the high gastronomy tastes of Marco Pierre White? Maybe not. But if the growing middle classes of the developing world want a meat based diet, there may be no other sustainable way to provide it.
Technology is now allowing us to grow vegetables ever more vertically. Expect to see buildings in central urban conglomerations given over to the production of vertical vegetables to avoid the costs and carbon pollution of global food transportation or to have a fresh food wall in your office space.
The Obsolescence of the Human Race – Human Connection vs Robotics & AI
Technology is making us redundant. There’s no doubt that we are slowly replacing ourselves with the exponential technology we are able to leverage these days. Robotics in manufacturing industries such as motoring has all but replaced people. Google already has people-free cars driving around the planet and acquired eight robotics companies in late 2013 including Boston Dynamics, while Amazon has moved into drones, and no doubt soon Uber will replace their hard-worked drivers with automatic cars that just turn up at your door whenever you want them. Elon Musk is already working towards this space.
What if robots replace home carers? We can’t find enough people to work in home car because companies can’t seem to work out the financial equation – they don’t pay enough and carers are hugely pressurised. Soon we will have robots that can bath and wash people, cook and clean. Will that help the epidemic of loneliness – possibly not, but there’s no doubt that robots and voice recognition will continue to replace people unless at some point in time governments take really big decisions to limit the social impact AI and robotics will have on the human race.
What opportunities does that open for new enterprise? As technology takes over, we’re are inevitably going to become more disconnected from each other. Stress, loneliness and mental health issues are growing at an exponential rate. How are we going to keep the human connection going – after all, Brene Brown said ‘connection is why we’re here’. So the flip side to technology is going to be compassion, connection and spiritual and emotional enhancement. Are you thinking about that space?
Urban Cages – Humanity Vs Nature
Here’s a final thought. A futurist I worked with last year looked at a couple of macro trends in climate change and resource depletion and came up with a scenario where one day humans will be locked into megacities and only allowed out onto the earth/countryside by special permit in order to protect what little is left of our soil, water and oxygen-producing fauna. Can you image such a world? One that is regulated and protected – from us!!! Our disconnection from nature would then be complete. I don’t think we’ll let that happen so the opportunity to create more initiatives that keep people connected to nature will continue to be a challenge. Biomimicry is one of the best models for business to keep us focused on innovating using the intelligence of nature as our inspiration.
So, lots to think about. But for tonight, I’m putting my feet up and watching Marty McFly and The Doc once more go Back To The Future!.