The Forces Defining a Super Future

The Forces Defining a Super Future

Here’s a whirlwind tour of the incredible developments that have unfolded at an unbelievable velocity giving rise to new economic value propositions and setting off geopolitical forces of techno-nationalism to reshape human civilisation

 

In the blink of an eyelid, we are nearly a quarter of our way through this century that seems to have begun only a while ago. In this short span, the technological, scientific, social, environmental, and political changes that humanity has encountered have been breathtaking. Unprecedented global catastrophes like the Pandemic, climate change, and geopolitical tensions have often triggered these. Incredible technological advancements have unfolded the future at an unbelievable velocity giving rise to new economic value propositions and setting off political forces of techno-nationalism that are reshaping business, economics, our careers, and lives.

The Answers to Critical Challenges

Yet, despite all these remarkable events we still haven’t understood how photosynthesis happens; we haven’t fathomed the quantum world around us. How a leaf turns sunlight and water into food has vexed the most brilliant minds amongst us. Almost a year ago, futurist Michio Kaku, came out with his remarkable work, Quantum Supremacy. He unveiled a future where Quantum Computing would find answers to some of the most challenging problems of humankind such as a cure to cancer, or a limitless source of energy that helps us solve carbon emissions.

In the first week of May this year, scientists at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center reached what the university press described as a “major milestone” in the realm of fusion power plants. The breakthrough could “usher in an era of virtually limitless power production,” MIT News wrote. At the heart of this innovation was a new type of magnet created by the scientists. ​​Made from a high-temperature superconducting material, it had a magnetic field strength of 20 tesla, which is a world record. (Just to set the perspective, a common refrigerator magnet is only around 0.001 tesla, while the incredibly strong magnets used in MRI machines are 3 tesla!)

Technology That’s Paying Attention

Since November 2022, humanity has been astonished by the emergence of Generative Artificial Intelligence that has democratised AI. It has been writing codes, essays, poems, songs, painting pictures and now even making movies that have made Hollywood stop in the tracks and in some cases halt investments in new studios. Nevertheless, such jaw-dropping human-like capabilities is nothing compared to recent developments when Claude3, a GenAI tool shocked experts with its apparent signs of awareness and self-actualisation.

When engineers testing Claude 3 Opus asked the tool to pick out a target sentence hidden among a corpus of random documents – a task equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack for an AI. Not only did Opus find the so-called needle – it realised it was being tested. In fact, the model even expressed its suspicion that the sentence in question might have been “injected out of context” into documents only to test whether it was “paying attention”.

AI Super Intelligence in 2 Years

Commenting on AI’s ever-improving smarts, Musk said that if you think of an artificial general intelligence–an AI system that’s not specialised in one area of expertise – being compared to the smartest human, then he thinks that the moment where AIs and humans are as clever as each other will happen “probably next year, within two years.”

Are we on the threshold of a Super Future? Does the “Super Future” represent a vision of the future that is highly advanced, technologically driven, and focused on sustainable and ethical progress, with significant implications for work, society, and the overall human experience? What are the forces that define this Super Future? These would span across technology, geopolitics, the future of work, and climate change.

A Quantum Future

The advancements of AI, Quantum Computing, space technology, etc driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution promise to unlock economic value that can double the global GDP. McKinsey analysis for the third annual Quantum Technology Monitor reveals that “four sectors–chemicals, life sciences, finance, and mobility–are likely to see the earliest impact from quantum computing and could gain up to $2 trillion by 2035” (www.mckinsey.com).

In healthcare, quantum computing holds the promise of rapid drug development making possible new medicines within months of research by simulating complex chemical reactions and molecular interactions much more accurately and efficiently than classical computers.

The convergence of healthcare and the metaverse holds the promise of amazing possibilities. The purpose of the metaverse, according to digital theorist Douglas Rushkoff, is to quantise and monetise more aspects of life, potentially leading to a shift away from market-driven virtual simulations towards reconnecting with the real world and nature. In the healthcare sector, the metaverse is anticipated to revolutionise healthcare by transcending traditional physical limitations, with healthcare professionals showing more enthusiasm for its adoption compared to patients. The metaverse’s impact on healthcare is expected to be positive, with potential applications such as virtual interactive healthcare human digital twins and virtual hospital experiences

Quantum computers have the potential to break complex encryption algorithms, which could help banks and financial institutions better secure their sensitive data. Quantum computing could also enable the creation of more sophisticated financial models, leading to more accurate predictions and better investment decisions. These could be used to simulate complex chemical reactions, helping develop more efficient and cost-effective ways to produce and store energy. They could also aid in creating more accurate climate models to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Techno-Nationalism & Trade Blocs

Geopolitical tensions have been an unfortunate consequence of technological breakthroughs, as countries use techno nationalism to deny access to breakthroughs. Companies like Nvidia, Tesla, Apple, TikTok, Google, Huawei, ZTE, faced the brunt of such regulatory measures. The semiconductor war between China and the US has sharply divided the world. It is creating a new set of countries with technological supremacy, while others will struggle to catch up.

Semiconductor wars were just a glimpse of a world that witnessed dramatic shifts in global trade patterns. In 2023, Mexico became the United States’ largest goods trade partner. Vietnam’s trade with China and the United States has been surging. European economies’ energy imports shifted dramatically away from Russia, while imports of some products from China, such as electric vehicles, boomed(www.mckinsey.com).

Trade-offs are going to be an integral part of future global trade because reduced geopolitical distance leads to increased trade concentration, and vice versa. According to McKinsey, there will be two types of reconfigurations of global trade. In one, economies shift their trade to more geopolitically aligned partners. As a byproduct, average trade concentration increases by 13% and economic growth suffers. In the other, trade relationships diversify so that no economy is highly dependent on another, but as a consequence, the geopolitical distance of trade increases by 3%. The degree of trade-off varies significantly across individual economies.

Trade Route Conflicts

Control of trade routes has historically caused conflicts among countries. The new conflict zones are now South China a vital shipping route for global trade, with an estimated $5 trillion worth of goods passing through it every year. Any military confrontation in that region could potentially result in naval conflicts, blockades, and other interference to global trade and supply chain operations. In the first two months of 2024, Suez Canal trade dropped by 50% from a year earlier while trade through the Panama Canal fell by 32%, disrupting supply chains and distorting key macroeconomic indicators. The drought in Panama Canal brings to the fore the urgency with which the world needs to tackle climate change.

Climate Change – The Economic Value

Climate Change will usher in advancements in cleantech, sustainability, and a circular economy. Per the International Energy Agency, a transition to clean energy is a huge economic opportunity. India is well-positioned to emerge as a global leader in renewable battery technology and green hydrogen production. By 2030,such low-carbon solutions may generate a market of up to $80 billion here. However, support from the international community will be key in steering India along a low-emissions journey. To reach net zero emissions by 2070, the IEA estimates that $160 billion per year is needed, on average, across India’s energy economy between now and 2030. That will be three times today’s investment levels.

Skill Shift

The impact of these forces will set off a skill shift. As AI and technology will perform most of the tasks that humans have been doing so far, our workforces must develop skills around what AI or machines can’t do. The focus will therefore be on human skills like communication, critical thinking, complex problem solving and creativity. All these forces will create new challenges for leadership, for organisations to adapt to a world where customers will demand ethical behaviour, employees will seek new ways to express creativity, and productivity will have to be measured with a different yardstick.

Supply chains will need to be reconfigured to account for geopolitical realignments and conflicts. Technology will demand higher computing prowess, and storage will become a burning issue. Data privacy and tougher regulations will force organisations to adopt ethical AI as a cornerstone of their tech strategy. Companies will need to create new technologies to become energy efficient and innovate new processes that use fewer resources.

 

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