“Children born in 2020s have every chance to live to be 120 years”
Futurologist Alexander Chulok about our life in the coming decade
“In the 2020s, we will see the battle of traditional heavy and unwieldy business models with new and active, based on the economy of shared consumption, environmentally friendly technologies, and the use of new materials," futurologist Alexander Chulok predicts. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, he spoke about how our lives are going to change in the next decade at home and at work.
“Two-thirds of Russian respondents do not mind to have a controlled robot assistant at home or at work”
Mr Chulok, let's get straight to the point: what awaits us in the 2020s?
In a nutshell, we are very likely to witness a new technological revolution that will penetrate deeper and deeper into our lives. Science developed the fundamental issues related to information, energy, bio-, nanotechnology in the second half of the 20th century. Businesses tried to master these technologies and test in an experimental mode in the 2000s and 2010s. In reality, in practice, they will unfold in the 2020-2030s.
According to most of the existing world forecasts: the Japanese forecast of Delphi, which has been regularly updated for more than 50 years, the forecasts by DARPA (a research organization in the United States, including actively working for the military), 'Forecast of Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation Until 2030' (one of the top 5 global forecasts, according to OECD's estimates in 2018), by 2030 we will see how radically the traditional business model change, the production methods transform (scientific-technical paradigm), how society is developed and, hopefully, how the lives of the population improves.
How exactly will people and society change?
In almost all areas of our life, the technologies of predictive, personalized medicine will appear. That is, everything is moving towards tracking a person, starting from his or her birth. The digital medical card is being introduced already not experimentally, but everywhere. And we are moving towards preventing the disease when it is diagnosed at the initial stages.
This is facilitated by the rapid development of various diagnostic systems, including non-invasive (without penetration under the skin), numerous tests, from genetic to human microbiota tests. And we are gradually moving away from this Soviet principle — “come when you die”. We see how medicine is moving to the point to treat diseases individually, adjusting to a particular person. World forecasts say that children born in the 2020s have all the chances to live to be 120 years (at least Japan in the framework of the concept of Society 5.0 sets such goal).
Of course, this figure will differ in different countries, but we see that there is a trend to improve the quality of life of the population, which is also inexorably aging: according to the UN, by 2050, the number of people who are over 80 years old will increase almost 3 times — they will be 426 million.
In almost all areas of our life, the technologies of predictive, personalized medicine will appear. That is, everything is moving towards tracking a person, starting from his or her birth
Medicine also tends to put each individual person at the centre of care, rather than looking at large groups, such as the elderly or workers in a particular field, because people have different genetic predispositions to diseases, susceptibility to drugs, and so on. This trend is positive.
An ethically ambiguous trend related to the use of big data and artificial intelligence technologies for their processing is added to this. For example, in China, for several years, artificial intelligence makes a diagnosis together with a doctor. It must be said that according to the latest data they have a match almost 100%. There are such initiatives in Russia. Botkin.AI medical information analysis platform detects cancer using a number of photos. The use of AI will certainly be a strong innovation of this decade. The question is whether people are willing to trust the diagnosis made by a machine.
Last year, at the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, we conducted a survey, which asked approximately 7,500 respondents about the relation to robotics, to artificial intelligence. The results turned out to be very interesting. About two-thirds of Russian respondents do not mind to have a controlled robot assistant at home or at work. About ten per cent are ready to entrust their children to a robot nurse or a robot doctor, although there already exists the robot surgeon Da Vinci, which does including cancer operations in Russia. In general, the population is not yet ready to trust robots completely. There will be a lot of interesting and controversial ethical issues. But I think that the availability of medicine will increase. I see this as a good trend.
Two strong limitations will remain. First, it is the willingness of our people to follow the recipes and prescriptions, either from a robot and from a human. A simple example: a doctor prescribes to drink antibiotics for 7 days, and in Russia they usually drink a little, they get better, and they stop. Abroad, it is nonsense: if there is a prescription, they follow it. Second, the inviolability of private data and privacy turn out to be in question, because a huge amount of personal data gets into storage, in cloud services.
Of course, in such situation, the risk of hacking and using this information for unethical, criminal purposes increases — from discrimination at work, when the employer knows that a person is predisposed to some diseases, and ending with biotechnological terrorism, when either viruses or mutations are produced, aimed at creating a threat to some groups of people. For example, a few years ago, there appeared the technology such as CRISPR/Cas9, with its help two girls were made intrauterine intervention for genetic correction in China.
The cost of even a very promising technology is reduced to almost zero. If you look back, you can trace it. How much did the first cars, the first computers, the first TVs cost, and how much do they cost now? This is inevitable for any new technology
“It used to be available in secret military organizations for billions, now it will be a chemistry class at school”
What can we expect in the new decade in the field of technology and production?
The cost of even a very promising technology is reduced to almost zero. If you look back, you can trace it. How much did the first cars, the first computers, the first TVs cost, and how much do they cost now? This is inevitable for any new technology. The specificity of the modern period is that this time lag of product obsolescence is reduced. Previously, it was necessary to wait 15 years until the mass people's car Volkswagen was released in Germany. Or the story with TVs — in many homes they are already 2-3, even in a car and in the subway. If you tell our grandmothers about it, they will not understand why we need them so much. If before we had to wait decades to get a new technology at an affordable price, today it takes just a few years, sometimes months.
The same CRISPR/Cas9 technology makes it possible to make genetic modifications, and the laboratory for it costs less than a million dollars. In fact, as soon as this laboratory appears in schools, as a chemical class, various sad stories can happen. It's one thing to mix sulfuric acid with water, and it is another to do something at the genetic level. For example, you can genetically modify insects that will carry deadly toxins only to people of a certain race. And this is not even the most advanced technology. Just earlier it was available in the relevant secret military organizations for billions of dollars, and after a while it will be, relatively speaking, as a class of chemistry or physics at school. And if, as it seems easiest, everything is forbidden, new technologies are abandoned, the country will fall back into the stone age.
Russia, by the way, is well integrated into some of the world's leading trends, in particular, in WorldSkills our young people are actively competing for first places with the Chinese. This is a skill contest for the next decades. Here the fight will be more intense than at the Olympics because these skills determine the country's competitiveness in the future.
“For young people, social success is not that you have an apartment but that you have visited 15 countries in a year”
Mr Chulok, you have also mentioned business models that will become very popular in the 2020s...
I'll take a roundabout approach to the subject. Many of the basic technologies of the last century became the basis the such business giants such as General Motors or Hilton hotel chain or Walmart. In the twentieth century, technologies and business models were based on the effect of scale (the more I produce, the lower the average variable costs), on certain, relatively stable consumer habits. For example, how did large supermarkets come into being in America? Americans are a very mobile nation, they even have homes on wheels. When they arrived in a new city, they went to the same supermarket, and on the same shelf there laid the same loaf they used to buy. It's convenient.
And today, the sharing economy, the economy of shared consumption, is going by leaps and bounds. You do not buy a product, but rent it, use it together with someone. A striking example is car sharing. According to the most conservative estimates, the global volume of the sharing economy will amount to 335 billion dollars by 2025. In Russia alone, its volumes exceeded half a trillion rubles last year.
Why? In fact, there was a tectonic shift in society, comparable to the invention and beginning of the use of the steam engine. Everything that people used to save for generations, now you can get quickly enough. And the very markers of social success (as in Soviet times — dacha, apartment, car) are now turned over because the modern generation wants more mobility, freedom, inspiration, bright impressions. They are willing to pay for it. In other words, for young people, social success is not that you have an apartment but that you have visited 15 countries in a year. The same is true with cars, today young people quite calmly change to carsharing or use a taxi, which is very cheap.
In fact, there was a tectonic shift in society, comparable to the invention and beginning of the use of the steam engine. Everything that people used to save for generations, now you can get quickly enough. And the very markers of social success (in Soviet times — dacha, apartment, car) are now turned over because the modern generation wants more mobility, freedom, inspiration, bright impressions. They are willing to pay for it
Abroad, coliving is spreading — when people start living together. In fact, these are dormitories, but very high-class. In the West, people start co-living not because of difficult situation, not because they do not own an apartment, but because people are just interested in living with those who have the same profession, for example. Houses for co-living have all amenities, but for everyone who lives there, it turns out to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than renting a separate house. There are already whole such settlements. Many in the real estate industry pay attention to the trend of the economy of joint consumption.
This decade will become a battleground of the old business models with new ones. Look how quickly, for example, Airbnb has overtaken hotel chains, although it would seem to be just a programme that helps to rent an apartment.
The same micro-mobility markets began to grow and expand. Earlier, people used to ride scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, now electric scooters — cheap, manageable, convenient. The estimates of the market of micro-mobility — almost 50 billion dollars by 2025. Of course, there are problems: infrastructure, charging, security. There are always some working issues, but I mean that this decade we will see a battle of traditional heavy clumsy business models with such new and active ones that will be based on the economy of shared consumption, on environmentally friendly technologies related to solar energy, wind energy, and the use of new materials. In the automotive industry, we can see the emergence of biodiesel, electric cars are rapidly gaining markets. Norway plans to ban or even has already banned the entry of cars with internal combustion engines, that is, only electric cars can enter the country.