My Predictions for the 2020s
A look into the crystal ball for the coming decade
As one decade comes to an end another one begins. The 2010s were interesting and terrifying in equal measure.
We went from the Occupy Wall Street movement a the start of the decade to a reality TV star occupying the White House by the end of it.
Almost no one would have imagined that back in 2010!
The problem with predictions is that the future is uncertain. No matter how much you think you can see how things are going to unfold, they often turn out very differently.
Still, that doesn’t mean there is no point in making predictions. It’s fun to look ahead and see what might happen in the next decade.
We are on the precipice of fundamental changes in human society. Automation is looming and could render millions of workers irrelevant.
Established industries such as the car and food industry could be overturned by disruptions in their respective markets.
Politics could become more polarised and lurch towards authoritarianism or there could be a turn back to more progressive politics.
The coming decade is fraught with danger, excitement and opportunity. The next ten years will be an interesting time to be alive. Here are ten things I think will likely happen over the next decade.
Populism will be usurped
The first prediction is a speculative one. The previous decade has shown that predicting what may happen in politics in the long-term is difficult.
Hardly anyone saw the election of Trump or Brexit coming way back in 2010. The possibility of either happening back then was inconceivable, but here we are.
The easy prediction for the coming decade would be to say that politics will become more polarised. Divisions will become entrenched and populism will reign. It’s not hard to think this way considering what we’ve seen in the past decade.
However, I’m not so sure.
Yes, this polarisation may continue for the next few years, but I sense towards the middle of the decade there will be a turnaround.
The promises made by politicians in America, Australia and Britain will struggle to be fulfilled and voters will respond in kind by voting them out and opting for more progressive parties.
This has already happened in Portugal and Spain and with the climate, poised to become a bigger issue in the coming decade, the slide towards populism will switch to saving the planet.
Parties espousing environmental and green policies will win more votes at the expense of the parties who are traditionally sceptical of climate change.
Of course, populists could capitalise on climate policies, most notably by adopting anti-immigration platforms, but any parties in power that adopt this mantra will fail because of their past association with inaction.
This will be particularly true in Australia, where the recent bushfires will result in an electoral drubbing for Scott Morrison, should he and his Liberal Party remain in power.
An economic crisis, environmental disaster or any other Black Swan event could tip the balance one way or the other. As a result, this prediction is likely to be wide off the mark come 2030.
However, given what I know at the moment, I see populism receding into the margins as the realities of the failures of the past decade hit home.
The United Kingdom will be no more
Brexit has severely damaged and polarised British politics. The vote to leave in 2016 was unexpected and has changed the political landscape in the UK.
It has been referred to as ‘the will of the people’ but as I explained in a previous post that is a misleading term. The UK is made up of four countries and Gibraltar, which is located at the bottom of the Iberian peninsula, confusing the vote.
Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain, while England and Wales voted to leave. Overall the result was 52% in favour of leaving and 48% in favour of remaining.
As the process has gone on, it’s become clear that the UK is going to deviate further away from the EU, which goes against what voters in some parts of the UK want.
In the recent general election, the Scottish Nationalist Party won 48 of the 59 seats in Scotland. While for the first time in Northern Ireland, the Unionist parties did not win a majority of the 18 seats.
All of this points to the breakup of the UK in the coming years. The Brexit vote has revealed the faultlines running through British politics that had previously been papered over.
The Scottish people are being taken out of the EU against their will. An independence referendum was held in 2014 which returned a vote against independence. Since then, the political landscape has changed significantly and the support for a new one will only continue as the decade progresses.
The clamour will become so loud that whoever is in charge will eventually cave in and agree to it. Once they do, the Scottish people will vote to leave the UK after 300 years.
This would represent the breakup of the UK, but a vote on a United Ireland is likely to take place first. Brexit complicates the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement. The border between North and South is a contentious and symbolic issue, one which could return a majority for uniting with Ireland to prevent the return of a hard border.
With Brexit set to keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market, thus separating them from the UK economically, the wheels for a United Ireland are already in motion.
Many supporters of Brexit hailed the vote as the beginning of the end for the EU. Today the EU looks the stronger of the two entities. In the coming decade, it is the UK that will splinter, leaving England and Wales increasingly isolated on a continental and global level.
Automation will start to take place
This coming decade will see the beginnings of the fourth industrial revolution. We are moving toward an economy where more and more of the work is automated.
The developments in AI over the coming decade will mean a large portion of the workforce lose their jobs. This may start slowly at first, but it will be in full swing by the end of the decade.
This means there are large swathes of people who are at risk from automation. As the year's progress, we will be living in more and more of a skills economy.
Those workers who are unskilled and work in jobs such as data entry will struggle in the workforce once automation takes their jobs.
Any job that requires the bare minimum of skill and training will be turned over to algorithms who do not to sleep, do not to eat and drink, and most importantly of all for bosses, do not need to be paid nor do they complain.
The era of post-work is zooming into view. The rate of automation is debatable. It's hard to say how many industries, and specifically, which ones will be affected.
If self-driving becomes widespread in the 2020s, it’s possible taxi drivers could become obsolete. With fleets of Robo-taxis ferrying us from place to place.
Driving could be fully automated. Why allow humans to rive when an algorithm can perform the task, not make mistakes and not get tired at the wheel?
This future could be a long way off, or it could be with us in a few years. What’s certain though, is that the world of post-work is approaching fast, and it will have huge implications for those left behind.
An irrelevant class will emerge
As automation takes away jobs, it will give those people who become disenfranchised something else. Time, and lots of it.
The post-work world will be dominated by an irrelevant class who will struggle to find new jobs in the workplace. While automation will take away jobs, new ones will be created.
Virtual world designers and robot technicians will likely be some of the new jobs that are created in the future, but those will be done by specialists. How will the insurance agent and the taxi driver fare in this new reality?
Even doctors will face difficulties as AI provides more accurate diagnoses than humans. The swathe of people will be wide-ranging.
The irrelevant class will have all the time in the world, but no idea what to do with it. With a lack of transferrable skills, they will not just become unemployed, they will be unemployable.
Keeping them content will be one of the key political challenges of the decade. Universal basic income will be introduced to replace the income that has been taken away by automation.
Virtual reality could offer an escape. Why spend your time in the real world, when you can do whatever you want in the virtual one? It’s possible the irrelevant class will revert to gaming as a way of providing themselves with entertainment and fulfilment.
Another possibility is that they will turn to blogging and vlogging as a means of earning an income. The online world could offer more relevance than the real world in the coming years.
The irrelevant class will emerge out of the disruption that AI outperforming humans in various industries. The questions and problems this presents, a class that cannot improve its standard of living through economic means, will be a severe challenge in the coming decade.
Tesla becomes the top dog in the car industry
The past decade has seen the slow rise of Tesla, the electric vehicles company headed by Elon Musk. The next decade will see them rise to the top of the automobile industry.
Climate change is set to be another major issue in the 2020s which I will discuss later, and one solution to that problem is to remove gas-guzzling vehicles from the road.
That trend will only continue as the years go on. Tesla has a huge advantage in the market as the market leader in electric vehicles. None of the other major manufacturers come close in terms of electric car sales.
Not to mention the transition that will have to be made from building cars with internal combustion engines to ones with electric engines. Tesla has the advantage as they have the infrastructure in place, a loyal consumer base and a headstart on the self-driving revolution too.
The other leaders such as General Motors, Volkswagen and Mercedes are playing catchup and they may not catch up at all.
I fully expect Tesla to become a dominant player in the automobile industry, if not the dominant player, by the time we reach 2030.
Personalised healthcare becomes mainstream
Artificial intelligence will become more and more advanced in the coming decade as I have already discussed and that will have huge implications for healthcare.
While it's unlikely Doctors will be forced out of the workplace, the rise of personalised healthcare is inevitable.
Currently, we monitor the health of our car more than we do our own. The dashboards tell us how fast we are driving, how much fuel we have left or how empty our battery is. Computers monitor and control the running of our vehicles more and more.
Yet, when it comes to our own bodies, we are largely ignorant of what is happening. This will change in the 2020s.
Devices such as the Fitbit are a sign of what is to come. More sophisticated versions of the Fitbit will become widespread during the decade.
These devices will tell us more about our health than we ever could have imagined. They will inform us if our blood pressure is too high, whether we are at risk of a heart attack and much more.
Like our cars, these devices will monitor our health constantly. They will know more about your body than you do.
A better understanding of the human genome, plus data from the Fitbit like devices will allow healthcare to be tailored to the individual. General diagnoses will make way for specific ones personal to you.
By the end of the decade, healthcare, as we know it, could very different.
Climate change causes havoc
The start of this decade has seen climate change take centre stage. The climate strikes, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have placed the climate at the top of the agenda.
That will only continue in the coming decade as climate change becomes more and more evident.
The 2020s will see more and more events like this as the effects of pumping millions of tonnes of CO2 becomes apparent.
Extreme weather events will become normal. Bushfire seasons will be more intense, start earlier and last longer. this is already underway in Australia.
Global temperature records will continue to be broken, sea levels will rise as the ice caps melt causing havoc for people living in low-lying areas.
As the crisis progresses, it’s likely that the worsening global climate will result in mass migration as people look to flee the carnage. This could result in political turmoil and result in a humanitarian crisis.
Elections in the 2020s are likely to be dominated by the climate. The parties that offer the most credible changes are the ones likely to win election.
Efforts to keep warming below 1.5C will struggle, as the world tentatively switches to renewable energies. Warming on this scale is almost certainly locked in. It’s now a question of high the temperature increase will be rather than can we keep it below 1.5C
I believe our worsening climate will become the defining topic of the decade and unless drastic action is taken, the headlines will be negative rather than positive.
Either Facebook, Amazon is broken up
I believe one of these tech giants will be broken up, but it was hard to choose which one. There’s a case for either of them being broken up.
Amazon is a behemoth of a company and has its fingers in multiple pies. From shopping to retail to computing, there is barely any industry that Amazon is not involved in.
This presents a clear case for anti-trust to be invoked. If Amazon becomes too powerful and monopolises more industries the case for breaking it up will become overwhelming.
If they continue down their current path and consumers turn against up, it’s likely they’ll be the ones that face the music.
Facebook is a tricky one to call. The furore over the privacy issues and misleading political ads on the site in the US elections and Brexit referendum were a PR disaster for the company.
Trust in the site has been diminished and regulators could look to rein in Facebook over these two issues. A lot of people forget that Facebook owns Whatsapp and Instagram.
While I believe Facebook itself will decline over the coming decade, WhatsApp and Instagram will remain strong. Instagram will become the main social media site, while WhatsApp will continue to be the messaging app of choice.
However, regulators could look to break up Facebook to free up competition in the social media, though it’s unlikely. The introduction of Libra will be crucial to Facebook.
If it gets approval, it will give Facebook a huge say on the global stage, but it will also make them a bigger target for regulators. Libra could disrupt the financial system or it could be a damp squib.
Many of the founding members of the Libra Association, such as Paypal, Visa and Mastercard have dropped before the currency is even launched. Things don’t look good and Libra could fail before it even starts.
If I had to pick one company to be broken up it would be Amazon. However, it may not be broken up in the sense that everyone thinks. Given the pressure from regulators, CEO Jeff Bezos may choose to spin-off parts of the company, such as Amazon Web Services which represents a big chunk of the company’s income, before regulators get their hands on the company.
Either way, I expect the pressure to break-up Amazon to mount as the decade rolls on and the companies influence begins to increase.
Synthetic meat will become mainstream
One of the greatest challenges the planet faces in the coming years is how to feed a growing population.
The global population is predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050 and more people mean more mouths to feed. The problem is that land is finite and with the only alternative to cut down forests to clear land for more farms, things will only become worse as demand increases.
The solution could be to forgo farming and develop synthetic foods and meat which do not have the destructive impact on the climate that farming does.
This trend has already begun with the proliferation of plant-based foods advocated by companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
However, these companies use soy and other products which need to be grown, synthetic meat will come from stem cells which can be grown in a lab.
Food will be made in the lab through a combination of stem cells, bacteria, electricity and air. The need for large scale industrial farming will be reduced. Why farm animals only to kill them, when we can grow a healthier and tastier equivalent in a lab?
Climate change and a growing population necessitate the need to move away from traditional farming practices. They are unsustainable. The current farming model is too intensive and requires too much land. With land a finite resource, an alternative solution needs to be found.
With veganism growing popularity around the world, there is a demand for a change in eating habits. This is set against the increasing demand for meat in developing countries.
The reduction in cost to produce synthetic meat is essential if we are to meet the demand for food around the globe. Current farming practices are unsustainable and damaging to the planet.
The rise of synthetic meat is more of a necessity than a disruption of the status quo. As the world reels from the impact of climate change, the race to make synthetic meat affordable will go full steam ahead with burgers grown in labs commonplace on our supermarket shelves by the end of the decade.
The Boomers will no longer be a decisive political bloc
One of the most influential and underrated changes in the coming decade will be the decline influence of Baby Boomers on politics.
The term Baby boomers refer to the demographic that was born between 1946 and 1964. The name comes from a noticeable increase in the birth rate during those years.
As a result, the Baby boomers represent a large portion of the population in a lot of countries, especially the UK and the United States. The way they vote is crucial in determining the results in elections.
However, as they grow older and their numbers begin to shrink, society could begin to change in fundamental ways.
The boomers tend to side with conservative policies more than progressive ones. Once their influence wanes, there could be a fundamental shift in the political landscape as the younger generation tends to lean more to the left on most issues.
Each generation is more progressive than the one before and this could pose a problem for conservative parties. A generational shift in electorates across the globe pose a threat to their ability to win elections.
With an electorate that is more liberal in the future, the political landscape could change with parties to the left more likely to win elections.
Of course, the adage about people becoming more conservative as they age could prevent this from becoming reality. However, but there is no doubt that the decline of the boomers represents a step into the unknown for the political landscape, which could fundamentally alter the direction of the outlook of the politics across the globe.