Do you look forward to the future? Or are you afraid of it? While some highlight the risks that come with change, others focus on shaping and improving the future. For futurist Sven Gábor Jánszky, the answer is simple. As head of 2b AHEAD ThinkTank, he’s a professional optimist. In the following interview, he reveals which technology will have the greatest impact on our world by 2030, why workers will soon have the upper hand and why technology makes us more human.
Sven Gábor Jánszky is the chairman of 2b AHEAD ThinkTank, Europe’s largest institute for futures research. Every year under his leadership, 300 European CEOs and heads of innovation develop future scenarios and strategy recommendations for the coming ten years. Prior to this, he headed the politics and news department of MDR Sputnik, a German public radio station aimed at young audiences. He also advised MDR’s director on future strategy. Mr Jánszky holds a degree in journalism and has authored several trend books. He serves as a strategy coach for companies, helping them develop and achieve positive visions for the future.
The biggest changes in the next ten years will be driven by artificial intelligence. We must become aware of the fact that the intelligence available in our world is increasing. It may even surpass the human level. Probably not by 2030, but it will further down the road. And that brings with it a host of benefits. All of a sudden, we’ll be able to solve problems that have eluded our limited human intelligence up until now: global hunger, access to drinking water, energy supply and so forth. From a technological standpoint, we’ve never been closer. Artificial intelligence will enable us to solve these exact problems.
There are two different schools of thought in futures research. The one side believes that human intelligence and artificial intelligence will be adversarial. That human intelligence will remain at the same level while artificial intelligence will keep improving, and we’ll end up in a world where humans are at war with machines. If this were to happen, humans would probably retreat to reservations where they could remain human, leaving the rest of the world to the more intelligent machines. I believe this scenario is highly improbable; the second one is much more likely. Namely that humans will incorporate these technologies into their bodies. The history of human evolution is one of adaptation, of optimising the body. We live as long as we do because we invented medicine. We stay younger longer than we used to because we exercise and eat healthier. Humans have a deep-seated need to optimise their bodies. That’s why a war between man and machine is so unlikely. Instead, we expect the human species to “upgrade”.
Baby boomers will be retiring in droves until 2030. As a result, there will be some 6.5 million fewer people in the German labour market as early as 2025. The smaller generations following them cannot compensate for this gap. And that means full employment. Anyone who is halfway decently trained will have a job. And three million jobs will probably be vacant. What we currently call a “skilled-labour shortage” will increase many times over in the next ten years. Full employment is great for workers because headhunters will be calling every two weeks with attractive offers. And people will respond in different ways. Some will choose to stay at their current job, while others know that switching employers carries little risk as it’s only a matter of time before the headhunter calls again. This will give rise to so-called “project-based workers”, people whose employment histories have 15 or more different employers.
There are two directions blockchain technology can take. The first relates to currency. We’ll probably see so-called “stable coins”, stable currencies possibly pegged one-to-one with today’s currencies. We’ll see numerous competing currencies, all of them digital, that will change how we pay for things and how we tax the value of currencies. But there’s another implication that’s far more important. We futurists expect that, by 2030, each industry will be dominated by at least one blockchain of its own. These can be seen as operating systems used by all industry players, allowing them to work much more effectively and cheaply than today. The big question then is who will have control over these blockchains. If an industry has only one blockchain and I’m the one controlling it—that’s an incredible amount of power. It’s highly probable that an industry with five major players will also have five blockchains. That means blockchain will become the operating system of individual industries, and each industry will have its own.
Futurists like myself don’t believe that technology makes us less human. Quite the opposite. Our lives will actually become more human. The question, though, is how we define humanity. Do we mean all of our human mistakes, which can cause unspeakable suffering around the globe? Or do we mean our desire to constantly improve, to optimise ourselves, the world, maybe even nature? If humanity means that everything should stay as it is, then our argument will hit a snag, as technology gives us the opportunity to correct human errors. But if I understand humanity to mean that it’s my duty to make things better, to create a better life for my children—then I’ll use technology. And technology will enable me to do more in the next ten years than ever before. The question of becoming more or less human doesn’t hinge on the technology—but on us alone.
Published on Mar 7, 2019.