2016 was an unprecedented year, with massive global political upheaval, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and centre stage being taken by issues such as ‘post-truth’, resurgent nationalism, and technological unemployment. These social, technological and political shifts have significant potential ramifications for all aspects of global finance, commerce and markets. Hence, with the world now more accustomed to such seismic agenda changing developments, the Fast Future Publishing team have turned our thoughts to the future and dipped into our recent book The Future of Business and our upcoming release The Future of AI in Business to suggest what might happen in the year ahead. Below we provide our 2017 year-end report, outlining 20 critical trends and scenarios we could see emerging, and highlight their potential impact on economic and financial markets.
Politics, Government and Regulation
- The Presidency as a Business Model – Following his inauguration in January 2017, President Donald Trump rides roughshod over accepted norms of presidential behaviour. After his first year in office, analysts suggest that he could easily exceed President Putin’s estimated net worth of US$200Bn by the end of his first term, and could ultimately become the world’s first trillionaire. In this rapidly changing reality, businesses must become very aware of the new commercial opportunities that are opening up as a result of the president’s strategy. Equally vital will be to see where opportunities may disappear – a key example being the US car industry which is being strongly discouraged from investing overseas.
- Who Needs a Constitution? – While opponents desperately seek a mandate for his impeachment, Trump’s team, his supporters and the major beneficiaries of his reign seek to extend the powers of the President. They also pursue the removal of limits on the duration of the US presidency and the number of times an individual can hold the office. This endemic uncertainty around the presidency could inspire volatility in financial and currency markets.
- Brexit Brouhaha – Despite invoking Article 50 in the spring, the UK government is blocked at every turn by a string of legal challenges that hamper progress. The ‘UK question’ hyperbole was increasingly used by both sides in several national debates – from garnering support by claiming to represent the political will of the UK electorate on the one side to scaremongering on the risk to the UK economy and the European project on the other. This could lead to a number of companies wanting to exit the UK. However some of the incentives created around the future of Britain could encourage investment in the country – particularly the tax haven strategy.
- May Day – Exasperated by the Brexit roadblocks and under pressure from many in her own party, Prime Minister Theresa May announces a general election for October 2017 to let the public decide if they want her Brexit plan. The result is a hung parliament, with UKIP the biggest single party and Nigel Farage leading the next coalition government. This dramatic political over-haul could lead to chaos in financial markets, initiate an exodus of foreign firms and talent, drive a reduction in corporate investment, and induce huge hesitancy in individual spending behaviour.
- Wildcard Wagers – The tumultuous events of 2016 sparked a rise in public event betting markets, with 2017 becoming the year of the wildcard wager. Betting shops saw an incredible rise in bets being placed on all manner of events from animals escaping zoos to the sudden collapse of buildings. A new breed of AI-based betting companies emerged which even allowed us to bet on the life expectancy of an individual. These companies draw on social media and ‘permissioned access’ to personal data to determine your life expectancy. Those that give permission for personal their data to be accessed by the betting companies can then share in the proceeds of the bets on their life. While the market might be created by relatively new players, existing betting companies might also see it as a lucrative new opportunity.
- Will They or Won’t They – While regulators were called upon to question the ethics of betting on life or death scenarios, advocates saw the potential for public engagement through such betting, and single interest political groups arose around the potential outcomes of specific events. Online political networks surrounding betting events were created by disparate groups; with individuals identifying as will-happen or won’t-happen. This saw sudden huge surges of political activity and engagement, which dropped off drastically after each such event. These new revenue generation opportunities might well be short lived if governments seek to control them. But there is an interesting new technological application; we might see AI being used here to dynamically create, operate and close these markets based around short term events.
Technology and Privacy
- Artificial Intelligence – Following the hype phase of 2016, real applications started to emerge in 2017 – such as intelligent assistants on our smart phones and medical decision support tools. Cash-strapped governments turned to AI for the automation of a range of functions from processing student loan applications to handling divorce adjudications. The impact of AI could see businesses deliver a dramatic reduction in operating costs and exponential revenue growth.
- Driving Ambition – In a bid to become a key centre of innovation and sector development in driverless vehicles, China and the UK led the way in allowing on road trials of driverless vehicles. Both governments accelerated the process of regulatory change to allow fully or semi-autonomous cars, trucks and buses onto roads across their nations in 2018. One of the most interesting early market impacts of this development could be the early arrival of very low cost upgrade kits that let us add autonomous features to our vehicles
- Self-Powering Nations – Faced with continued uncertainty over the price, availability and environmental impact of fossil fuels, 2017 saw a record number of nations powering themselves with renewable energy for at least part of the year. We could see a significant reduction in overall energy production and distribution costs. This could bring a benefit to the consumer whilst also reducing long term environmental impacts and clean-up costs.
- Leave me Alone – 2017 saw a dramatic increase in the availability and adoption of Blockchain technology-based personal privacy management applications. By year-end these are increasingly used by individuals to secure their own communications and information storage to avoid sharing data with massive corporations such as Facebook and Google. Brand new business opportunities could emerge for providers that can offer these cutting edge privacy protection services.
The Economy and Business
- Corporate Flight – Uncertainty over Brexit leads several major companies to announce that they are moving their headquarters, R&D functions and core operations to Dublin, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. The exodus is well underway by year end. If large high earning corporations leave en masse, there will be a dramatic impact on projections for long term GDP growth and potentially violent fluctuations in share prices.
- Wealth Haven Britain – Taxes are so 1990’s – to help cushion the expected economic impact of Brexit, the UK government tries to retain and attract foreign investment and wealth. The key pillars of the strategy are the introduction of the lowest corporation taxes in the G20, with massive increases in tax allowances for both R&D and establishment of local production facilities. In parallel, a range of personal taxation measures are introduced that make Britain look highly attractive when compared to the best of the offshore tax havens. Britain will face huge opposition from other countries if it chooses to undercut them with its tax regime. However, this could also see rapid acceleration of foreign investment and the arrival of private foreign wealth.
- Masters of the Universe – The major technology players such as Google, Baidu, IBM and Amazon continued to pull away from the pack with ever-more sophisticated technology applications. These range from super intelligent ‘brain in the cloud’ solutions to extract insight from the wealth of data being created by the Internet of Things, to smart assistants managing our daily lives and instantaneous translators covering over 50 languages. These new hyper-personalised services could accelerate revenue growth and boost share prices.14. Digital Dementia – In 2017, the corporate sector and many governments continued to adopt a somewhat cautious approach to the use of disruptive technologies such as blockchain and AI. Those who are pursuing expensive digital transformation projects began to see that their initiatives are eliminating the distinguishing human element and effectively commodifying everything they do – as digital differentiation is impossible to maintain. Stock markets began to write down the value of firms that appear to have got lost in this digital maze – whilst advocating those that appear to be using the technology to support talent rather than replace it.
- Parallel Worlds – A parallel universe of new economy businesses emerges here on Earth. Digital era mindset firms proliferate – trading with each other using Blockchain contract systems, transacting in digital currencies, deploying AI for core activities, and – in some cases – creating entirely digital Decentralised Autonomous Organisations with no physical employees. In the face of broader uncertainty over the future of mainstream businesses, we could see a significant amount of corporate investment and venture capital money flowing to such businesses.
- The New Professionals – A raft of AI client advisor applications are launched by the major legal, accounting and consulting firms – automating tasks previously performed by professionals and driving a reduction in headcount. This may induce a reduction in the pricing of services from these firms – but could simultaneously drive significant growth in revenue as they can offer these services to more clients in parallel without having to increase headcount.
Social and Leisure
- Technological Unemployment – The use of new smart technologies, coupled with increasing automation and the termination of ‘non-viable’ activities by large businesses, sees unemployment rising across a range of sectors in countries around the world. This could have a dual impact – both on the level of debt in society and average incomes.
- The Crumbling Middle – Stalling growth, technological unemployment, The Trump effect, Brexit uncertainty, and general cost cutting bites hardest in the educated middle classes in professional and managerial roles across the developed world. The impact is felt in areas as diverse as theatre attendance and private school enrolments through to the purchase of new cars and holidays.
- Virtual Immortality – Holographic versions of David Bowie and Prince go on tour. A student team were able to generate new stage performances for these and other artists using previously unreleased tracks and composite digital imagery. A crowdfunded campaign raised enough money from fans to finance a global tour for Bowie and Prince. Holograms of the stars toured the planet, occasionally doing duet gigs together. The use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality allows for viewers to purchase VIP and Platinum VIP passes that put them in the front row on even on stage for the performances. These brand new markets will create new pricing opportunities – could these holographic experienced be priced similar to an original stadium concert, or would they be more aligned with the cost of attending the cinema.
- Robo-Retail -The traditional shopping model was subverted as the Amazon Go concept store was rolled out across the US. Using smart phone technology, item tracking and mobile payment methods, shoppers simply pick up their desired items and leave – the purchases being automatically logged and their accounts debited. The stores saw roaring trade, with customers spending much higher amounts than they normally would, with Amazon’s more traditional competitors forced into a near permanent ‘black Friday’ mentality of continuous discounting. This could drive significant growth for the early adopters – but may see a significant decline in revenue for the slower moving competitors.
About Fast Future Publishing
At Fast Future Publishing we develop our books using an exponential publishing model, and we have completed the successful launch of our first two books – The Future of Business (top five per cent of all business books in its first year), and Technology vs. Humanity (Amazon bestseller within one week of launch).
We are a new breed of publisher founded by three futurists – Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, and April Koury. Our goal is to profile the latest thinking of established and emerging futurists, foresight researchers, and future thinkers from around the world, and to make those ideas accessible to the widest possible audience in the shortest possible time. Our FutureScapes book series is designed to address a range of critical agenda setting futures topics that we believe are relevant to individuals, governments, businesses, and civil society
Rohit Talwar, Founder and CEO
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, founder of Fast Future and an award-winning speaker noted for his provocative content. He advises global firms, industries and governments on how to survive, thrive, spot and manage emerging risks and develop innovative growth strategies in the decade ahead. His interests include the evolving role of technology in business and society, emerging markets, the future of education, sustainability, and embedding foresight in organisations.
Katharine Barnett, Concept Editor
Katharine works on creating, developing and editing a variety of content for Fast Future Publishing. She has a broad range of futurist interests including societal and behavioural norms, digital and information ethics, biomedical ethics, genomics and pharmacology, and the future economies of the developing world.