Last weekend I attended a crypto and blockchain summit. (I co-host the Crypto News Podcast with fellow author, Paul Teague and felt it was about time I educated myself a bit more about the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.) One of the speakers was Ray Hammond, a futurist who has been writing about the future for more than thirty years.
I don’t really consider myself a techie person, but the future fascinates me. How will technology develop in the next ten, twenty or fifty years? Will we destroy our world and escape to space, or will we innovate fast enough to save it? What will our lives be like next century? Or the century after that?
Ray stated that the life he’s living now is the life he predicted thirty years ago. (If you don’t believe him, you can read the books he published in the 1980s.) So, what did he have to say about what the next few decades hold?
What Are the Drivers Affecting Our Future?
Change (positive or negative) doesn’t happen without a catalyst or driver. Ray mentioned six drivers that he believes will shape our future:
- Population explosion – the world population is predicted to increase from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion by 2050. How can we continue to sustain the needs of these people: food, water, energy?
- Climate change – there are still some climate sceptics, but the majority of the scientific community believes that climate change is real and one of the greatest challenges we face.
- Energy transition – a move from fossil fuels to renewable technologies is a challenge but also a massive opportunity.
- Globalisation – while the world has been gradually getting more interconnected for decades, are we reaching a tipping point.
- Multiple revolutions in medical sciences – from gene therapy to using stem cell research to grow replacement organs, medical technology is innovating at an incredible pace.
- Accelerating, exponential technology development.
The Downfall of the Nation-State
In the first half of the last century, we saw the downfall of the historic empires and the dominance of the nation-state. But in the last few years, these nation-states have begun to crumble at the edges.
With global companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook arguably more powerful than any government, we are rapidly moving to a truly global economy, but without the global laws to regulate this.
Many of the challenges we are dealing with in the world are borderless and beyond the ability of individual nation-states to solve. Ray Hammond believes we’re rapidly moving to a future where we need a new League of Nations: a global structure to manage world affairs. A single law-making body, bank and army.
You may see this as a utopian view. Or the thought of a single government in control of our lives may fit more into your vision of a dystopian future…
But this is not a work of fiction – it’s our lives. And if Ray is right (as he was thirty years ago), then in the next fifteen to twenty-five years we will either see a form of enhanced international cooperation that manages world affairs, or further breakdown between societies and, ultimately, war.
And, if you’re in the mood for doom and gloom, Ray wasn’t the only presenter at the conference to hint that a world economic crash in the near future was a strong possibility.
Robots, AI and Kidnapping Cars
I’m a child of the 80s. I remember the day we got our first home computer and my father setting it up on our dining table. It was one step up from the computers we had at primary school, which we mainly used to play Pac-Man during lunch breaks.
In my lifetime, technology has advanced at a phenomenal rate, and according to Hammond this is set to increase: “In the next six to ten years, we will see more development in information technology than since the 1980s”. Wow. That’s pretty mind-boggling.
Many people embrace these technological advances, but others are afraid of the impact of such a rapid growth in technology. Technology isn’t inherently “good or “bad”. Like money, it can be used for good or ill, depending on the intention behind it. Technology can help us solve many of the world’s problems, and it will inevitably create new ones.
Technology will not make us better people, but it can make our world a better place.
Artificial intelligent (AI), robots and security top the fearmonger’s list of worrying things about technology. And while Ray believes that robots will displace rather than replace jobs (we humans are good at finding work for ourselves), he does think we have some way to go in addressing the security risks of the Internet of Things (or, as he put it, the Internet of Everything). Electric, driverless cars could revolutionise our approach to transport, but without hacker-proof security, you could find yourself being kidnapped (or carnapped?) on your way to the office.
As for AI, we’re not there yet. “AI today is no more intelligent than a rodent,” says Ray. Of course, one could argue that this is already a fairly advanced stage of AI, particularly given the level of technological progress he believes will happen over the coming decades. But despite this, Ray believes it will be many decades before AI approaches anything like the same intelligence levels as humans.
What About Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain?
So, what about money? Are crypto currencies just a fad, or are they the money of the future? And how much of a threat are they to governments and the pounds and dollars we use to buy our bread and milk?
Well, a big threat, if you go by the reaction of many governments who are taking steps to ban or shut down cryptocurrency transactions in their countries. (Needless to say, behind the scenes, many of these governments are also looking at the development of their own digital currencies.)
Ray took a cautious approach to his predictions of the future of crypto. He stated that in 20 years, crypto or digital currencies will be more used than fiat currency (i.e. pounds, dollars, euros). But there was a “but”. The future of crypto depends on governments, and more specifically, how strongly they act against it.
This is an interesting contrast to many pro-crypto views around the survivability of crypto in our global world despites governments interventions to shut it down. Who will be proven right? We have no way of knowing for sure, but the next few years may give us a strong indication of what the future holds for cryptocurrencies.
When it comes to the blockchain technology that supports Bitcoin and other systems, Ray is more positive. Whether or not crypto booms in the next two decades, in the future, he believes government systems will all be based on the blockchain. Your passport, driving licence, council tax, utility bills: all on the blockchain.
So, if (like me a year ago), you’ve heard the term “blockchain” but aren’t really sure what it’s all about, now is the time to start educating yourself. You don’t need to understand the technical detail of how these systems work, but you do need to know how they could impact your life. Because if there’s one thing that’s certain about the future, it’s that our world and our lives will change significantly over the next thirty years.
Let’s make it a change for the better.
If you want to find out more about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, check out the introductory ‘bootcamp’ episodes of the Crypto News Podcast where we attempt(!) to make crypto simple. Part 2 of my look into the future considers how we create the language of the future and why it’s so important.