The world in 2004
Mobile: The iPhone (2007) and Samsung Galaxy (2009) had not been invented; today, vast ecosystems of products and services are designed around each. Tech Giants: Google announced its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2004; today it has morphed into $600 billion company Alphabet, with reach into a variety of sectors including transport and life sciences. Human Genome: The first quality assessment of the human genome published in 2003 cost over $2.7 billion. Today, a whole exome sequence can be generated for less than $1,000. Renewables: In 2004, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that the share of renewable energy for electricity would rise to 6% by 2030; we have blown past that prediction, hitting 23% in 2015. Health: The annual number of AIDS related deaths peaked in 2005 at two million. Between 2005 and 2016, AIDS-related deaths per year fell by 48%
Envisioning the world in 2030
Forecasting the world in 2030 brings to mind a quote often attributed to physicist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” However organizations and individuals such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Bill and Melinda Gates have risen to the challenge of envisioning the world in 2030. Common themes include increasing urbanization, growing displacement from conflict and climate change, near universal access to the internet, the end of the internal combustion engine and less resource-intensive food systems. In 2017, Japan released its ‘Society 5.0’ blueprint which envisions a ‘super smart society’ in which digital tools solve challenges such as the nation’s aging workforce and global pollution.
Technology distrupting industries : The exponential growth of digital technology could transform industries including manufacturing, agriculture, health, energy and mobility. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son envisions a future in which satellite networks span every inch of the Earth and a trillion connected devices continuously deliver data to the cloud to be analyzed by artificial intelligence. SoftBank’s $93 billion Vision Fund invests in companies that will benefit from this new paradigm as they disrupt industries, such as Plenty (indoor farming) and Nauto (autonomous vehicles).
Channeling digital for the Goals: To achieve the vision for 2030 set out in the Global Goals, it will be critical to channel digital technology to address the world’s most pressing needs and to mitigate the risk that it exacerbates inequality. Bill Gates envisions that technology can help Africa achieve food self sufficiency by 2030, but also warns against job loss due to automation. In considering solutions for less developed nations, we must address primary needs such as electricity, running water and basic banking services which are critical foundations for digital solutions. Building capacity to deploy and regulate digital technology will be vital. 2030Vision aims to foster dialog and collaboration to develop digital technologies which contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable world in 2030.
Risks and Challenges
E-waste: The world already has an electronic waste problem – 41.8 million tonnes were created in 2014, 7% from personal devices such as laptops and phones. We risk exacerbating this problem as sensors, chips, and other electronic components are deployed across more products and as higher incomes allow more people to access these technologies.
Haves and have-nots: Technology has ushered in a host of new products, services and business models, many of which target wealthier consumers such as drone delivery or car sharing. These cases have developed where market needs can be met profitably by the private sector. We need to consider how to enable profitable business cases for underserved populations where they do not yet exist, such as real-time monitoring of ecosystem health.
Economic and labor disruption: Much has been written about the impact that technology, particularly robotics and automation, has on labor markets. The Center for Business and Economic Research found that technological change was responsible for 85% of the 5.6 million manufacturing jobs lost in the US between 2000 and 2010. Technology could have particular consequences for countries which rely on sectors like apparel and employ large numbers of unskilled workers. For example, China-based Tianyuan Garments Company, the largest apparel supplier to Adidas, recently announced plans to produce t-shirts in the United States using automation to allow customization and faster speed to market. It is critical to provide training and resources to support those impacted and develop alternate quality employment opportunities.
Accountability: As digital technology companies advance, power may be concentrated in ways that current legal and regulatory frameworks are unable to address. Governments and regulators often struggle to understand the pace of change, let alone formulate relevant policies, prompting the question of what technology companies are accountable for and to whom. Such questions raise varying levels of concern in different regions across the world.
Security, privacy and control: With the rise of digital connectivity, cybersecurity concerns will increase. Hacking of critical infrastructure has already happened in Ukraine, and as vehicles evolve to become fully autonomous, we need to ensure they are secure. It will be important to consider the security, ownership and usage of the massive amount of personal data which is created and shared.
Over-reliance on technology: Progress towards the Global Goals will be accelerated by technology, but it is important to acknowledge that technology is not the silver bullet in all cases. While tools such as IoT can make farmers more productive and resilient, many regions in the world have surpluses of food and still face hunger due to political unrest and poor distribution.