Change drives opportunity … What are the world’s 50 most significant opportunities, emerging from the 10 megatrends, shaping our future?

February 15, 2023

Change drives opportunity.

Megatrends are the most powerful forces shaking up and rapidly redefining our world. From socio-demographic tsunamis (45% increase in global over 60s by 2030) and economic shifts (Asia’s $10 trillion new middle class) to scientific breakthroughs (quantum computing even more profoundly than AI) and new demands (9 billion people, 35% more food, 50% more energy).

They capture people’s imagination, themes of change that rise above the fads and fashions of today, to understand the superhighways to our future, and how we can be part of it.

The real story, is about how these megatrends drive and catalyse new opportunities, new spaces to think differently, to ways to create a better world. Where are the best opportunities for growth, for innovation? Which of the powerful drivers, including a cadre of incredible technologies, will be most significant?

And what do we start today, in order to create a better tomorrow.

Dubai’s Future Foundation is a phenomenal source of foresight about global change. Yes, it matters to the UAE as it looks far beyond sand and oil, to transform itself into a thought-leading hub of the future. But it is equally important wherever you are in the world. Increasingly, with digitally-enabled reach, everyone can shape the future.

While the 10 megatrends capture the headlines, they are driven by uncertainties and assumptions, which are important too (see later). From these emerge the “50 global opportunities” which are clustered into 5 themes:

  • Health Reimagined:  Redefine mental and physical health, support longer lives, drawing on both science, technology and nature towards better health and new ways to personalise access for individuals and communities everywhere.
  • Collaboration Advanced: Enhance problem-solving, innovation and trust by redesigning collaborative structures and processes between humans – including across generations as well as between machines and between humans and machines.
  • Nature Restored: Minimise environmental risks, harness nature’s capacity to restore itself or have a positive impact on crucial environmental ecosystems and habitats, creating a more stable, healthier planet for all.
  • Societies Empowered: Empower societies by offering solutions to humanity’s most complex and universal needs, optimising systems they rely on, safeguarding risks that could make societies more fragile in the face of crises and extending individual and collective potential for growth and development.
  • Transformational: The power to radically change ways of life by replacing the models that countries, communities and individuals live by. These new models enable individuals and communities to innovate and improve and aid the transformation of humanity to new digital and non-digital realities.

Driving these opportunities are a range of uncertainties and assumptions. In a world of dramatic change, we increasingly see quantum shifts in thinking and capability. But it also requires a reflection on purpose, and what we really mean by growth, prosperity and wellbeing.

  • Growth … considering not just our outputs, but our impacts too, or net-positive growth.
  • Prosperity … safe and secure, wealth but also more personalised, and society’s overall gains.
  • Wellbeing … beyond physical and mental health, to embrace progress for ourselves and each other.

Some of the key uncertainties include

  • Collaboration .. from multilateral to multipolar, as more effective governance models would build trust and enable data flows – for example in global health data- sharing.
  • Values … from universal to unique, as education improves understanding and tolerance, and societies become more diverse and innovative to share benefits.
  • Technology … from multiplier to master, as intelligent connected systems can improve access to services and quality of life, opening up new ways to realise human potential.
  • Nature … from renewal to degradation, as new materials and engineering techniques can reduce waste and offer new solutions for food, water and energy.
  • Systems … from fragile to resilient, as AI’s problem-solving capacity may enable systems to continuously adapt to contextual changes to achieve greater resilience.

These then drive the 10 megatrends,  the pathways to new opportunities:

  • Materials revolution: Researchers are studying nature to find inspiration for synthetic biological materials with novel physical properties that can be made in a laboratory. Over the next few decades, technological advances in materials science could result in wide-ranging applications to enhance sustainability, durability and efficiency. Supply chains may be re-engineered as individuals become producers in a regenerative or self- sufficient economy.
  • Devaluation of data: Ubiquitous real-time data is increasingly challenging the viability of business models based on asymmetric information. As more data becomes open, competition shifts from the question of who has the best data to that of who can best analyse the data that is available to everyone. New kinds of data – such as open-source DNA of many living organisms, brain mapping and microbiome analysis – can provide platforms for innovation in areas such as disease prevention and treatment.
  • Increasing technological and biological vulnerabilities: The more data becomes open, and the more interconnected and intelligent systems become, the more vulnerable a range of critical infrastructure and services will be – from finance to supply chains to potentially hackable DNA-based personalised medicine. Complexity could grow faster than the capacity to mitigate risks of system failure and cyberattacks. Quantum-proofing the internet will require new solutions and may be very complex.
  • Pushing the boundaries on energy: New solutions for electricity generation and storage, some not involving batteries or heat, are set to enable new models of energy distribution when combined with smart grids and superconductors. Examples include facilitating peer-to-peer electricity sharing across buildings and bringing cheap and consistent power to remote communities without the need for generators, allowing them to develop rapidly. Fusion could make energy limitless and bring immense benefits worldwide.
  • Management of ecosystems: Environmental impacts are seen less in terms of specific processes and more in terms of ecosystems. Ecosystem services are valued more highly with a greater understanding of their role in innovation and climate change mitigation and the connections between the biological world, humans and the digital world. More accurately assessing the value to humanity of the natural habitats of different countries could drive the emergence of new models to invest in ecosystem services. Community- and building-level ecosystems can become regenerative micro-economies that need to be served differently by governments and utilities.
  • Borderless world: Health, education and other services increasingly cross borders, pointing to a digital future with minimal transfer of physical goods. There is a growing need to clarify jurisdictions for cross-border transactions and set up international dispute resolution mechanisms that can resolve issues for everyone, wherever they are in the world.
  • Digital Realities, living in immersive virtual and digital spaces:  Digital platforms evolve into digital realities beyond digital twins. Brain– computer interfaces could lead to a new symbiosis between the human and virtual worlds, allowing people to touch, smell, feel, see and hear surroundings in which they are not physically present. This would enable many aspects of life to be replicated in virtual spaces, including work and legal systems. It would also raise policy questions, such as how physical- world legalities and ethics apply in virtual spaces.
  • Living with autonomous robots: Humans may come to trust robots more than other humans because they act predictably, ensure confidentiality and make better decisions. But robots also pose ethical questions. How
    far should they be granted rights? When should they be made available, and for whom? A sharing economy could involve robots that create opportunities to aid greater growth, prosperity and even well-being.
  • Repurposing human purpose: Advanced artificial intelligence can open new ways to realise human potential and reconfigure our purpose in the future. Intelligent, connected systems are enabling more personalised access to goods and services within people’s homes. Mental health conditions may be remedied by brain–computer interfaces and real-time testing and monitoring. People will seek income in different ways in future, with the economy set to revolve more around creative problem- solving – for example, there is potential for people to initiate inventions and solutions and own part of the intellectual property. Throughout history, technological shifts have led to new kinds of occupations emerging, suggesting that fears about job displacement can be alleviated if we know how to mentor people to operate in a more efficient world.
  • Advanced health and nutrition: Biofoundries that harness biological processes to produce sustainable products, including novel agritech and foods, have the potential to improve individual and collective outcomes while reducing environmental stresses. Personalised metabolic and genetic nutritional profiles can enable huge advances in addressing a range of physical and mental conditions, boosting longevity, productivity and well-being. Food and nutrition may become more regenerative, health diagnoses instantaneous and treatment more available either in people’s homes or through nutrition and robots for therapy. More accessible gene editing and gene therapy can, with appropriate regulations, bring many benefits.

From that emerges the 50 opportunities, or you could see them as possibilities to explore in your own organisation … 50 “what ifs” …

Health Reimagined. What if…

1. we improved our natural internal armour?
2. we all held on to our stem cells?
3. we could reprogramme proteins?
4. the world’s most disadvantaged had access to real-time diagnostics?
5. cities went silent?
6. we could protect our future selves from past trauma?
7. technology-free zones were part of urban planning?
8. we spent more time awake?
9. an we protect ourselves from the possibility of electromagnetic harm or disruption?
10. if geriatrics was the new paediatrics?

Collaboration Advanced. What if…

11. machines could brainstorm ideas?
12. the future of work was to challenge the machine?
13. we had a new model for public goods?
14. differing opinions could connect and improve business and society?
15. generational diversity was a must in the board room?
16. space traffic was internationally regulated?
17. comprehensive data was a public good?
18. we adopted Space Development Goals?
19. we built a digital climate catalogue?
20. knowledge was effortlessly shared?
21. no one was left behind in the transition to digital realities?

Nature Restored. What if…

22. we returned the planet to its natural state?
23. the next wave of car technology innovation was in the wheels?
24. we had a responsive centennial plan for the planet?
25. the atmosphere was given the ability to self-heal?
26. we could recool the planet by saving the ice caps?
27. we achieved zero emissions?
28. we could absorb greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter on demand anywhere
in the world?
29. agriculture cut its dependence on water?

Societies Empowered. What if…

30. decentralised autonomous organisations became a force for positive change?
31. the people of the world voted for action on global challenges?
32. paid social national service was standard?
33. social policies were designed and monitored at a community level and in real time?
34. hybrid intelligence reduced groupthink?
35. we had a convention of rights for digital realities?
36. we secured our digital identities using quantum encryption?
37. we designed a liveability index for digital realities?
38. we tokenised our most sensitive data?
39. this is the end of secondary education as we know it?

Transformational. What if…

40. solar farms were moved to space?
41. digital realities rewrote liability laws in the real world?
42. accounting reinvented itself?
43. deliveries went underground?
44. we could make new materials in seconds?
45. the Fortune Global 500 was purely virtual?
46. future potential was reported alongside GDP?
47. we could X-ray the whole planet?
48. energy was stored in space?
49. businesses considered the future beyond ESG?
50. teleportation was a reality?

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