Forces that Shape our Future
What is the future of connectivity, and how will it transform the world? Stella Medlicott, Erik Ekudden and Magnus Frodigh discuss the implications.
Discussion: Exploring the Forces of Change
We live in a VUCA world—Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous—so it is increasingly important to make sense of where we are, where do we want to be and what could shape our future. What are the challenges and opportunities ahead?
Attempts to look into the future can result in long lists of trends that are hard to make sense of. We chose to synthesize the ones we believe are the most important. Working with these trends shows us the lay of the land, highlighting the challenges we need to tackle, as well as the opportunities that lie ahead. We are constantly monitoring the environment, looking for the trends and signals of change that create insights and foresight.
Join us in exploring those forces of change with Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations, Stella Medlicott; CTO and Head of GF Technology, Erik Ekudden; and Head of Ericsson Research, Magnus Frodigh. They will cover the most important sociopolitical, geopolitical and technological forces of change that we have identified.
Among the socio- and geopolitical forces covered you will find the climate crisis, an area that we no longer see as ‘a challenge’ but rather ‘the challenge’. We will also cover in detail the possible post-pandemic futures, particularly through the lens of an article by the Institute for the Future that features four post-pandemic scenarios.
Finally, we explore socio-economic volatility and the key role that telecommunications play and will continue to play. As we know from multiple studies, mobile broadband has a direct impact on GDP growth and increase on labor productivity.
On the technology side, we look at the increased need for global scale and global standards. We are going into a new decade, beyond the smartphone. We will see lots of new device types, first driven by XR (AR, VR glasses). We will live in a world we call a Cyber Physical continuum: everything around us will be digitally twinned, where physical and digital worlds are in synch through limitless connectivity. In addition, we discuss how resilience and the need to preserve privacy will be key factors too.
We invite you to join us in this dialogue on how we relate to the trends we see shaping our world. Let’s make a new future together. It is possible.
After the Pandemic:
What Happens Next?
By Marina Gorbis and Leah Zaidi, Institute for the Future
In 2020, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) developed a set of four scenarios to explore post-pandemic possibilities over the coming decade. This article has adapted two of the scenarios to consider a greater global perspective and emerging ICT trends. The intent is to help you envision a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future.
The intent is to help you envision a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future. To learn more about the original scenarios and their implications, please visit Institute for the Future.
The only certain thing about the future is that it will be different. New technologies will change what is possible. Social movements will change what is acceptable. Scientific discoveries and evolving norms may even change what we now consider facts.
While it is impossible to eliminate change or uncertainty, we can use strategic foresight to gain clarity around what could happen. Strategic foresight is a set of tools, processes, and mindsets that can help you become future-ready by challenging assumptions about current approaches, developing a shared long-term perspective, identifying long-term threats and opportunities, and preparing for unforeseen possibilities. In short, strategic foresight helps individuals and organizations make better decisions under uncertain circumstances.
Alternative Future Scenarios
As the Covid-19 virus spread through the world’s population, it created instabilities and systemic breakdowns that challenged families, businesses, and governments. The pandemic exposed deeper underlying issues affecting our collective futures, but it also opened pathways for transformation. We now understand that getting back to normal won’t be enough going forward, and we have an opportunity to reimagine how we want the world to look in the coming years.
To understand how the next decade might unfold, we used an established method known as alternative future scenarios to anticipate possible changes well in advance. Alternative future scenarios look at how historical patterns, established trends, and emerging signals (evidence of change) could combine to influence the future. While scenarios are often radical visions, highlighting the extremes can help us prepare for more likely futures.
IFTF developed four post-pandemic alternative scenarios around the larger themes of Growth, Constraint, Collapse, and Transformation. These scenarios point to many possible directions of change in societies, businesses, and the planet.
Here, we will focus on the Growth (sometimes called Continuation) and Transformation scenarios. The Growth scenario presents the immediate implications for Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and the second explores what is possible when we focus on the opportunities that lie ahead.
Growth: Big Tech Stimulus
Stimulus without structural change
As the world continues to struggle with endemic COVID-19, the economy fluctuates. Governments are focused on bailing out banks and propping up the stock market at the expense of the rest of the economy, which is driven deeper into debt. As a result, certain sectors fare better than others, and systemic inequalities reverberate globally. The Great Resignation and the Great Adaptation don’t completely offset the race towards automation. Essential workers are not immune: retailers, teachers, and even hospital workers find themselves displaced in the emerging digital world and the new technologies it brings.
While some old industries (especially the airline industry) continue to operate with government subsidies, big tech companies gain momentum. By innovating their offerings in a health-vigilant society and working with governments to resuscitate the public health infrastructure, they evolve into public-private monopolies deemed too essential to break up. These companies race to build the emerging metaverse—the next phase of the internet. They succeed because they are well-positioned to capture new revenue streams.
After a decade of public unrest and stimulus to the top, none of the recovery models — U, V, W, Z, or L-shaped—actually describe the decade. A savings glut at the top and growing debt at the bottom slowly depress long-term demand, and growth curves seem to echo the up-and-down waves of the early years of the pandemic.
Dennis Wong H H, VP 5G Enterprise & Cloud, Singtel, demonstrates how connectivity is transforming the businesses of Singapore.
Implications for Communication, Connectivity, and Mobility
Health becomes high-tech as we rely more on telemedicine and in-home services, with COVID-19 lingering as an endemic disease. The spaces we inhabit become “smarter” as homes, workplaces, and public spaces become more connected. As the global warming target remains on track for 2 °C, Big Tech tries to monetize opportunities that arise from conditions that keep us indoors, like extreme and erratic weather and the continued spread of disease. However, they struggle to maintain their supply chains and fulfill the consumer demands they have created. We spend more of our lives in VR and AR spaces and rely on our headsets and screens to connect and communicate.
Virtual care becomes gig-medicine. Widespread mental illness dominates the public health landscape. Telemedicine and remote healthcare rely increasingly on connected products to help diagnose and direct individuals. Lags and latency sometimes make the difference between life and death.
Mechanization and automation replace many jobs in agriculture, meatpacking, and food packaging. IoT, sensors, and real-time data analysis are critical in production and managing supply chains.
Work & jobs
Work continues to be the primary measure of worthiness, with changes in where, when, and how we work. An accelerated shift towards automation increases reliance on 5G, IoT, and network connectivity.
Hybrid digital/in-person learning environments focus on generating certificates for skills verification. Access to technology and high-speed internet becomes a key determinant of success, both for educators and students.
Lax global protections and oversight on health data allow increased data surveillance by big data companies to protect public health. Businesses and governments place greater emphasis on increasing data security.
Immersive social experiences increasingly displace television and other passive forms of entertainment. The rush to build the metaverse comes with challenges, however. Chip shortages and extreme and erratic weather events disrupt manufacturing and supply chains.
Technology plays a crucial role in mitigating the emerging challenges of climate change. Predictive analytics, digital twins, and simulations help us better respond to disasters and uncover how to replenish ecosystems suffering from biodiversity loss. These advances are offset by energy shortages and greater demands on grids.
Transformation: Social Solidarity
Universal basic wellbeing
In the aftermath of the global pandemic, a rising tide of social cohesion emerges across communities large and small. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no such thing as personal health; public health is the only real form of health. With high global unemployment, public opinion shifts toward supporting a universal basic income (UBI) in more countries. Massive protests worldwide are bending public opinion toward fundamental institutional change. Having learned from our pandemic reality, we realize the urgent need to mitigate climate change.
These are the initial conditions for a sweeping transformation. The sharing economy of the 2020s corrects the flawed assumption from the 2000s that grassroots collaboration on its own is sufficient to avoid undesired outcomes. Civic infrastructures of institutions, laws, regulations, and cultural norms are essential to sustaining society. By mid-decade, a nascent civic literacy seeks to balance local governance and community ownership with state, national, and even global oversight of everything from money flows, asset ownership, and social equality to disaster response.
The result by 2030 is the first glimpse of a Global New Deal. At the core of this new deal is a framework that reaches well beyond a UBI to advocate for universal basic assets — every human's right to the core resources essential to wellbeing.
Implications for Communication, Connectivity, and Mobility
A universal basic wellbeing paradigm makes us rethink the basic infrastructure of society. With this shift, we rethink and rebuild our critical systems, from healthcare to education to the economy. New technologies are developed with inclusion, accessibility, and sustainability in mind. Infrastructure companies adopt these values to help society progress towards a brighter future.
Public health is reborn as a framework for assuring that health is integrated into every policy in every sector. New tech infrastructure and platforms are built to allow global coordination and cooperation, focusing on data protection and security.
The agricultural sector builds regional heterogeneity into food production, willingly accepting the trade-offs between economies of scale and a more regenerative food economy. AI has become a powerful tool for optimizing food production and minimizing global waste.
Work & jobs
With UBI security, workers shift their focus to civic, creative, and care work as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) supplants neoclassical economics. More individuals become content creators, looking for new ways to contribute through the digital world. Many of us volunteer our skills and expertise to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges like climate change mitigation.
Civic activists reinvent public education as experiential learning about history, race, institutions, laws, and governance. Simulations play a greater role in learning and building empathy, as VR, AR, and gaming worlds usher in an era of immersive experiences.
Digital applications, protocols, and governance structures prioritize privacy while data trusts and data unions encourage civic-minded data contributions. This shift creates new opportunities for Web3 and 5G.
Gaming worlds with real-time rendering technology are more popular than ever. Entertainment increasingly changes from passive experiences like television to active experiences like VR quests. Collective experiences give us new ways to connect and be creative, supported by IoT and 5G technology.
Our concepts of wellbeing extend to other lifeforms. Digital twins of the Earth, synthetic biology, and other emerging technologies allow us to mitigate climate change, regenerate ecosystems, and offset biodiversity loss.
Constraint and Collapse
In addition to the Growth and Transformation scenarios described above, IFTF also produced Constraint and Collapse scenarios for a post-pandemic future. The Constraint scenario looked at a future with many restrictions, in which “germ pod” clusters of the immune, the at-risk, and the untested develop their own sets of norms and behaviors. In the Collapse scenario, we experience a state of “ungoverning” in which our systems break down. Anti-government forces divide society, pushing us towards greater civil unrest. Elements of both these futures exist here in the present.
Mobilizing Towards a Better Future
Alternative future scenarios serve to warn, inspire, and reveal that what we do in the present-day matters. Transformation is possible if we take actions towards it now. Technology will play an essential role in the future. We urge organizations to join us as we put accessibility, digital inclusion, and planetary sustainability at the forefront of our considerations.
As COVID-19 and the circumstances it creates continue to evolve, the future of connectivity, communication, and mobility will evolve alongside it. Consumer and organizational demands will shift according to emerging needs. As Ericsson’s Connectivity and Climate Change report notes, “digitalization is not a silver bullet, and it should never be seen as the goal in itself. It is a tool—among many other tools—that could help us reach our real goal: A sustainable future for all.”
Though we can’t predict precisely what 2030 and the years beyond might look like, we can explore the possibilities that might emerge. To stay ahead of disruption and capture the opportunities, we should keep asking: what could happen next?
About the authors
Marina Gorbis is Executive Director of Institute for the Future (IFTF) a 53-year-old non-profit research and consulting organization based in Silicon Valley. Leah Zaidi is a Research Director at IFTF.
Anja Ernest, Exploration Lead at Polestar, discusses the way technology will affect the future of automotive.
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