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What does the future hold? Four future megatrends and some possibly surprising responses


Why bother with the future? Well hopefully we will all have one. It is the future where we will be spending the rest of our lives. Our dreams, plans, hopes and fears, may be shaped by our histories and present concerns, but they will all play out and be realised in our futures.

So what does the future hold? It may not be possible to predict the future, but it is possible to identify current trends and possible tendencies. What follows is a preview of four megatrends, large transformative global forces that are considered to shape the future, and some possibly surprising responses.

Crickets and chips anyone? - Global use of material resources is set to double by 2030. It is estimated that rising demand and the effects of climate change will increase pressures on agro-ecosystems and jeopardise food security. This could lead to crickets, grasshoppers and meal worms being placed on the menu. For an estimated 2 billion people, insects already form a part of their diets. As a sustainable form of protein, entomophagy may well become a global practice and offers one option for helping to ensuring food security for generations to come.

A new good life - For the first time, it is estimated that a majority of the world’s population could be deemed middle class. The growth of a global middle-class population has significant environmental implications. To date, as the middle class expands, the carbon foot- print per person also increases. Efforts will be made to ensure sustainable consumption, but it is also anticipated that societies and individuals will begin to re-evaluate what counts as success and the good life. At a national level efforts are being made to consider measures of progress that go beyond GDP. A number of proto-practices are revisiting and revising what it means to live the good life so that the future of consumer society may well be characterized by widespread DIY production within a sharing economy.

Megacities - By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. By 2030 it is estimated that there will be 41 megacities - cities with a population of at least 10 million people. What will be the future of mobility in these megacities? One proposal that can already be witnessed in operation at Heathrow Airport is the deployment of urban ultra pods. Ultra pods are small and on demand driverless electric vehicles that run on special-purpose guideways and can carry up to 4 people. With a design that accommodates wheelchairs, prams and bicycles, ultra pods offer one possibility for ensuring mobility for all in the megacities of the future.

A new industrial revolution - Developments in genetics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, robotics and additive manufacturing (3D printing) will create a new generation of machines with the ability to think, sense, move, learn and act autonomously. The potential of a new wave of technology to replace human labour raises a number of questions and concerns, not least a potentially significant rise in unemployment. However, there is also the potential for widespread automation to herald a world without work where people are liberated from labour and with the provision of a citizen’s income, free to enjoy the good life.

Of course claims to know the future are to be treated with some caution. But, following Dennis Gabor, a Nobel Prize winner, although it may not be possible to predict the future, futures can be invented. By anticipating what possibilities the future may hold, what we want and not just necessity, can become the mother of such inventions.

Dr Stuart Connor is a Reader in Social Welfare at the University of Wolverhampton. Stuart’s current research, as part of the Dial 481 project, works with individuals, groups and institutions to inform and support future debates, policies and practices. Stuart’s latest report ‘Global Megatrends and the Black Country’ provides a review of some of the latest data, trends and thinking on global megatrends.

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