Europe in 2020. Towards a new golden century, a silver century, and back to the middle ages
Future Essay. Open Letter to Thomas Friedman, Jeremy Rifkin & Richard Florida
by Marcel Bullinga, Futurecheck
-So, what is life like in 2020? What inventions will be the telephone, TV & car of 2020?
-Here is how Europe can prepare for the future
-With multiple chances for business & government innovation
Dear Mr. Friedman, Rifkin and Florida,
Yes indeed, you are right. The world is getting flatter and we need technology, creativity and talented people to survive. We have to deal with wealth worldwide, not poverty anymore. Europe possesses a very strong and very positive legacy. It can and will survive 2020, but it is necessity, not choice, that will drive us. We lose low and high end jobs, disappearing into the technology and into other countries. We lose our educational strength. Europe is too rich and too lazy. Europe needs a dream, a focus. Please permit me -- an independent European futurist, a native of the old continent, and proud of it -- to outline European survival in 2020.
So, what's life like in 2020?
We will witness an acceleration in change and an overall sense of insecurity. Due to globalisation, 2020 is flat, with less trade, knowledge and entry barriers. 2020 is filled with nomadic people in a constant flow of short and semi-permanent stays all over the world, creating a constant brain and workplace circulation. Due to digitalization, 2020 is virtual with intelligent houses, cars and streets. Basically, it is one giant video camera. We will gain and lose privacy. 2020 is transparent and, as a result, hyper competitive. Every one knows your achievements and your failures, and only highest quality will survive. Government and law enforcement will turn digital and invisible: less bureaucratic, more powerful. In this world it is difficult to lie or to hide. The mix of bits, atoms and genes will cause a production and services revolution, such as: printing products at a distance; personal selfservice dashboards for customers & citizens; and low cost, high quality virtual mobility tools. These inventions will have the same effect around 2020 as telephone, TV, and automobile had in the 20th century...
All of this may lead us into a new Golden Century -- which we will need to tackle the enormous energy and congestion problems of 2020. In some ways, 2020 resembles the Middle Ages. Back then the city provided safety, stimulated trade, and made children grow up very fast. The world will be crowded with old people with a lesser drive for innovation. It will make traditional social security unaffordable, but it will also create a wealthy grey market: Silver Century.
2020 is about customer power, self control and self service. It is about personalized services around global commodity products, about making technology invisible. It is about simplicity of choice, about identity and lifestyle -- the only real cliff hangers in the fast world of 2020. Such a world needs flat & flexible organisations, and creative people with a drive for success.
The trend of globalisation, no matter how powerful it is, can be reversed. The following emerging counter trends might do the job. Unmanageable congestion problems. Global energy wars. A failure to stop low talent immigrants, thus creating major safety and social security problems. A failure to attract top talent immigrants, thus creating a fallback in research and innovation.
Any European dream worth the name must recognize these trends and counter trends and must have answers to them. What we need the most, is energy, passion and enthusiasm. The energy derived from a shared goal, a goal that every normal citizen understands and embraces. We need the European equivalent of a moon landing. In fact, we need multiple moon landings in 2020. Here they are. We need to be energy independent and self sufficient. We need global, individual portability of pensions, education possibilities and health care. We need to implement smart law enforcement. We need to develop low cost high quality virtual mobility tools. We need to take advantage of the Silver Century. We need to lead the production and services revolution. To maintain our wealth, we need to make our organisation flexible & creative. To maintain our civilization, we need a straight back and a secular society.
A dream is not about dreaming. It is about taking action! If in the next 15 years we land on all these moons, we will survive. So, let's start innovating now!
As an independent European futurist and regular public speaker, I have the privilege of presenting the future and sharing my ideas with many different audiences. Four of these audiences, at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, made me think about Europe's future, and write this article.
For Philips Research and a Technical University in Holland, I presented the future of nanotechnology. It was a distinguished audience of wise professors, whom I seated in the left corner, and ambitious young students, whom I seated in the right corner. Place of action: Eindhoven, The Netherlands. I showed images of technology and even more images of creativity and communication, images of people. There in Eindhoven I witnessed a flow of energy, of pioneering spirit, but afterwards, I became worried. If I were asked to repeat this presentation in 2020, would the right corner still be filled with youngsters? Qualified youngsters? Or would it be empty, meaning I would have to hold my presentation in Bangalore, India?
Then I helped the united top of Dutch civil servants to think about government in 2015. Most people in the audience were convinced of their ability to cope with 2015, whatever the situation might be. That may well be the case for each one of them individually -- all smart people in fortunate situations -- but I left puzzled with the question: will "the" government be able to cope with 2015? Will government be able to reduce governmental chaos, implement truly digital government services and taxes, keep society secular, and ready for the rat race for global talent as well? The question remained unanswered, and that was my second worry.
Then I addressed the Dutch Top 100 of police chiefs, and a bunch of mayors and public prosecutors. Interactively, we shared ideas about the future of safety. What safety scenario's are most likely in 2020? Again, I shared images of technology, but above all images of renewed authority. Decent citizens have so much to gain from embedding hi-tech into the safety business process, and these police chiefs were absolutely willing to do so. The police winners of 2020 will be the upcoming creative leaders that are capable of combining all of these challenges. I remember vividly one critical remark. A police chief told me his concern. That technology might well boost crime solving rates but it would destroy civil rights at the same time. I am convinced this is not true. Using a proper mix, crime solving can rise to a stunning 50% with no loss of civil rights whatsoever. Due to the essential characteristic of smart law enforcement: only the criminals, not decent citizens, are confronted, bothered and checked in a smart world. My main worry: will police officers have enough backbone to regain the authority in the street they lost in the 20th century?
Last but not least, I dwelled in the beautiful, ancient city of Rome. There I had a Question and Answer session with the top 50 managers of a multinational company. We talked about the probable and their desirable future. We brainstormed about the smart deployment of technology based on the user point of view. We talked about making technology invisible. We talked about identity and lifestyle, about simplicity of choice, the only real cliff hangers in the virtual and fast world of 2020. We talked about technology making illnesses disappear, therefore eliminating the need for certain medical devices and functions. We talked about marketing solutions and nearness instead of products. Basically, without saying so, we talked about turning threats into chances. I had no worries after this inspiring meeting!
Europe has serious problems. Hell no, let me rephrase that: Europe faces interesting challenges. Stay positive! The old European economies go down on several international listings. Europe is too rich, too lazy and lacks a dream, a focus. And I am not quite sure if Europe values its liberties and its civilisation enough to fight for it, now that it is being challenged. Europe needs a wake up call.
Thousand experts on five continents told the CIA that the keyword for 2020 is insecurity. Old economic roles have changed, old habits have died, old certainties have disappeared. It is necessity, not choice, that will drive us. We have not seen anything yet, because change itself will be accelerating. We might well return to the Middle Ages. Back then, the city provided safety, stimulated trade, and made children grow up very fast. It was also the age of cruelty and intolerance. With the keyword being "insecure", our response keywords must be: "flexible" & "creative" to maintain our wealth, and "straight back" & "indifference" to maintain our civilization.
But hey, let's count our blessings as well! Europe has a very powerful, very positive legacy of civilization to be proud of. Equal rights for women and gays, 50 years of peace, a secular society with a strict separation of religion and government, freedom of press, a powerful knowledge base, low on corruption, high on culture & wealth, still going strong on patents and nanopatents. European citizens are all millionaires compared to the poor people who lived in the Middle Ages. And maybe Europe's biggest achievement nowadays is our humour and self ridicule. I am proud of these assets, and they are going to help us tackle the challenges. Every problem described here is a chance for innovation and spiritual growth.
Are you fit to tackle 2020?
Do you think you are fit to tackle the challenges? Fit for survival in 2020? Suppose it is January 1st 2020. You've got mail! (or something alike). It says you are fired, together with all other European employees. Freelance work and entrepreneurship is the rule, steady employment the exception. Furthermore, the mail says government budget is cut by half. A flat tax is introduced. Half of it is going to be spent on tools for entrepreneurs to create wealth, like education, research and innovation. The other half is going to be spent on basics like health care and safety. Social security has disappeared. Government is no longer redistributing wealth, only stimulating the creation of wealth.
So, ask yourself. Would your skills be enough to compete in a knowledge economy where maybe all jobs need higher education? Where much work will be footloose? In 2020, all jobs and all organisations will be decomposed and split into various virtual and physical parts. Maybe your entire profession will be obsolete. So the question is, will you be re-hired? Or will you yourself do the hiring?
(Maybe I should not be asking you. Maybe your children should read this piece and answer these questions, because they will be the future and experience it as self evident and natural.)
The answer, of course, depends on the eventual situation in 2020. So, what is life like in Europe in 2020? The following trends will reshape Europe in 2020. Thanks to globalisation, 2020 will be flat, with less trade barriers, country barriers and knowledge barriers, but more identity barriers. Thanks to demographics and immigration, it will be crowded with culturally mixed people who have much less in common than now and who are generally rather old, with a lesser drive for innovation. Thanks to technology (the mix of nano, digital and bio), 2020 will be virtual or smart. An all-video, all-virtual world in which everybody and everything is online without even realizing it, filled with intelligent machines, buildings and cars. Intelligent machines will be lighter, smaller and will use less energy in a more efficient way. They will sense their environment, sense themselves, able to make decisions and to be repaired at a distance. In fact, every machine will be a mobile phone, talking to their owner but mainly to other machines. Our cars will be connected to other cars and drive themselves, aware of the road and your destination, thereby reducing congestion. It will increase overall security. Uninsured driving? Driving in a stolen car? Exceeding the current speed limit? Impossible.
The combined effects of the virtual and the flat world will change the very nature of every business model, every production process, every service. It will lead to a transparent, hyper competitive world and an invisible, less bureaucratic and yet more powerful government.
You ask me if it will be a happy world? Well, that depends on you. On what we do and don't. These trends pose both the problem and the solution. They contain tremendous opportunities for realizing the very concrete dream of a creative, secular and wealthy Europe in 2020. They may lead us to excellence, but missing out on them may well bring us down. Cope or perish! This story is not a story of ideology; it is a story of necessity. There is enough room for growth for all continents and for cooperation between them. A dream is only worth dreaming if you have a path and a toolbox and a plan of action. Here is how to seize the opportunities.
So, what's life in 2020? One big video camera, adult children, your home and the street as living creatures
In 2020, we will always be online without realizing it. And not only we will always be online -- so will our machines, cars and homes. Your coffee machine and the walls in your home will talk to you, and most of the time those machines will talk to each other. We will even have self-cleaning and self-repairing bridges, cars, tables, homes, walls and windows. Our surroundings, our homes, our streets will be like living creatures, sensitive to us and even responding to our behaviour. You will not be able to tell the difference between the virtual and the physical world anymore. Physical will be virtual and virtual will be physical. The internet grid will merge into the power grid, the transport grid, the grid of shareable machines, the grid of rules, the grid of taxes, the semantic grid.
When you think 2020, think video. Video-dating, video-chatting, video-making-your-homework, video-working-together, in short, video-life. You will be watching movies, chatting and phoning with other people all over the world on the walls of your house. You will work together virtually, you will enjoy sports together virtually, you will date virtually. You can keep in touch with your (grand)parents by taking them into your house virtually. Daily eye to eye contact combined with automated medical checks, using the giant video walls. Like in the Middle Ages, but without the lack of privacy that was so common in those days. Life will be very intense with lots of partly pleasurable and partly unavoidable sensory and information stimulations. The silent printed images that surround us now, will come to noisy life in 2020. In the streets we will be overflowed with personalized video walls. It will not be possible to escape the huge and noisy video advertisements. Two possible scenario's: either we get used to it, or it leads to government regulation.
In 2020 the world is one big video screen, one big video camera, one big mobile phone. In this transparent world, it is difficult to hide. The mobile will be the most important lifestyle instrument and small camera's will be all over the place. We will be filmed while drinking, walking down the street, having sex, fighting, doing our jobs, without prior notice or permission. We will lose our geographical privacy since our GPS-location is always available. We will have the (non)privacy of the celebrities of today. VIP-spotting will turn into neighbour-spotting. Private communication can and will turn up on internet for public display without the user's permission, and it will undermine public trust. These new facts of life may well lead to an increasingly exhibitionist culture in which porn images are street images, in which sex is not private but (semi) public, fun to share or to watch. Even at present, teen boys and girls use video chat sites to masturbate life, anonymous or even face visible, for any virtual visitor passing by. Fun! Share! This situation is, literally, unique in the history of mankind. What will it do to us? I don't know...
Due to the incredible amount of easy means of communication, children will be exposed to adult content in all thinkable ways at a very early age. They will get used to kicks, they will need more kicks and even more extreme kicks. Just staring out of the car on the way to the holiday destination, or feeling bored, like children in the old fashioned days did, without a screen providing distraction and entertainment, will be unthinkable. Thrill Fun Chill! The ever present mobile phone will give children not only more personal entertainment, but also more personal privacy and personal reachability then they ever had in history (or wanted to have). This will make parent's at-home supervision obsolete. It will pose the biggest threat and the biggest challenge to modern upbringing.
In this fast video world, in this zap & cut & paste culture, children will be adult very early. Adults in a speedy nano-second video culture of psychological multi tasking. They will grow up earlier than ever before. A bit like the early maturing in the Middle Ages. Puberty will be shorter than now and start earlier. Children will be street wise, drink alcohol and have sex at a much earlier age than now. It will be quite normal for youngsters to work and travel all around the world -- if not physically, then at least virtually. They will be extremely critical consumers, which will force businesses and governments to stick to ultimate high quality standards. Their horizon will be broader. It will make our children more socially adaptable and cause concentration problems at the same time. They will probably not be able to tell the difference between private and public anymore, between school yard and pub. Virtually, it's all the same!
In 2020, it will be easy to get to know new people worldwide and to innovate worldwide and it will be easy to spread hate worldwide. Back in 1994, I was one of the first Dutch Internet pioneers with his own website. My first two thoughts back then: Wow, this means freedom!; and Wow, everything will be Web! Theoretically, I knew the Web would ease the spread of both compassion and hate, but I never imagined religious hate and intolerance would mount so easily to such furious heights. Even in our daily life, we tend to be more brutal, more demanding, less polite, less polite. It will probably be more and more difficult to find government leaders willing to take the heat from citizens acting like mad, brutal dogs. We may see global multimedia multinationals with no morals whatsoever, providing depravated bread & games, like in the ancient Roman Empire, but now for a global audience and with a global moral impact.
All in all, 2020 is the living "experience economy". With less physical and more virtual shops. Consuming will be theater, and theater will be consumed day and night. This fast world with fast emotions and fast hypes and extreme kicks and too many choices will drive us mad and will create a powerful need for counter trends like silence, quietness and slowness, and businesses that organise warmth, simplicity & choices. Two scenario's are possible here. 1, Our notion of embarrassment itself will change, our notion of what is private and what is public. Or 2, We will turn to government and technology for protection against these grave privacy intrusions. We will badly need technology tools to give us back control over our pictures, our documents and our life. We will want technology to enable "personal selfservice dashboards" and "permission instruments", like pictures and camera's and screens that only display if we give permission..
Personal Dashboard 2020. Please give us back control over our life
In 2020, there will be so many companies and governments wanting to communicate with us, that it is impossible to keep overview. There will be so many criminals spamming us, trying to steal our identity and invading our video and locational privacy, that we will feel like loosing the battle. In 2020, more than ever before in history, we need control. Control over our personal data, our subscriptions, our financial transactions, our privacy. Control over our communications with the rest of the world. We need a tool to manage all our transactions and personal files and to protect us against identity theft and spam at the same time. A tool that integrates all information, flowing into and out of our mobile phone, our laptop, our home, and gives us the power of selective availability and selective communication. This tool will help us to make choices and create simplicity. We need this virtual driver seat because it is an essential tool for survival in a virtual and transparent future. And we must be in the driver's seat. Not the government. Not the bank. Not a global company. But we. We will be in charge and we can be in charge, for the first time in history.
Call this tool Personal Dashboard, a self-service Information Communication and Privacy Control Centre. The next big thing after the website, and a likely bestseller to 8 billion citizens worldwide. Consider it to be your personal manager. With a few clicks, you subscribe and unsubscribe to the newspaper, you order your passport and a pizza, you obtain a residence permit, pay the rent. You allow or block ads. You allow companies and governments and friends to get access to you and to deal with you -- or not. You grant permission to companies and governments to use your personal data -- or not. In this Personal Dashboard, you will have a current account with your government. Government will act truly as one government, not as many. The motto is: 1 government, 1 face, 1 interface, 1 citizen card -- and your unique dashboard is that interface.
The problem is, no one is building Dashboard yet. Sure, there are some attempts, but they are weak. I urge everyone who cares about customer control, to build Dashboard. 8 billion people will buy Dashboard, and Dashboard Company will be the new Google and the new Microsoft of 2020. Stop thinking paper. Stop thinking websites. Start thinking customer power. Start creating Dashboard.
Interested in more detail? Read Personal Dashboard 2020. Please give us back control over our life. Open Letter to Bill Gates and Larry Page
The mix of bits, atoms and genes. A new Golden Century in 2020
Three major technologies will shape this smart, virtual world. By 2020, digital technology, nanotechnology and biotechnology will have matured and converged into one another, with a full blown impact on society and business. Bits, atoms and genes will blend. The very difference between nature and technology will blur, technology will be organic and nature will be technology. We will have an internet for humans, an internet for things and even an internet for atoms. Technology will change all production processes. We will be able to manage factories at a distance and to "print" products on the spot and remotely. Not only will we "print" the parts of a coffee machine, as is applicable at present, but we will "print" the complete coffee machine, including chips, sensors and (nano)batteries. We will even "print" buildings on the spot. We will detect and prevent cancer cells from growing malicious. We will have targeted drugs delivery in the human body, making lots of medicines and medical ads useless. We will have clean water, improved fuel cells, improved and much cheaper solar cells and better, longer lasting batteries. We will have flexible paper that acts like a video screen, is strong like metal, and holds miniaturized batteries as well. A battery and an intelligent paper like screen will look the same, will in effect be the same. We will have early Tsunami detection. We will use self aware, self cleaning and even self healing materials, covering intelligent bridges, buildings and factories that are self aware and maintenance poor. And later, let's say in 2040, maybe we will even grow tables on command and print meat at a distance.
All production processes and services will be virtual. The costs of communication and production tools will continue to go down, performance and quality will continue to go up. This will enable newcomers to quickly enter markets that have always been difficult to enter. Business models and government rules will be converted into software, hardware will be less important than the embedded software, because it is software that will make the real difference to the customer. All software will be web, and the web will be in our homes and our cars and our company systems. We will have real-time trusted services, real-time trusted information, real-time trusted communication, and "selfservice dashboards". All of this will make the world a more trusted place, a place of realtime "checked trust".
The mobile will act as a "trust machine". It will be our most important lifestyle instrument. It will probably be decomposed with its core elements scattered all over and inside our body. It will function as communication control center, passport, lie detector (does this taxi driver has a valid license?), bank account, money machine, real time translator, and mechanical nose, checking out air and water quality.
In 2020, it will be easy to get services and products from all over the world and it will be easy to boycott businesses and countries. It will be easy to start new business by tapping into a standardized production, payment, services and logistics infrastructure world wide.
We will see a shift in marketing. Permission marketing will be key in personal, one to one communication between company and customer. There, customer will have the (information) power. Customer will be king, not accepting any unwanted spam, determining the value of the company. Marketing will always follow service. On the streets and in public, marketeers will try to gain back the terrain lost, by addressing passengers in an aggressive way. Two possible scenario's: either we get used to it, or it leads to government regulation.
"Golden Century" is the name for the prosperous Dutch society in the 17th Century. I think all of these technology trends will lead us into a New Golden Century worldwide. It will level the now uneven, "spiky" spread of creativity and factories, making the country side much more attractive. It will also cause unpredictable changes in supply chains and in the countries that supply raw materials. Technology will ruin millions of existing jobs, but it will create millions of new jobs as well. In order to respond to all these sudden changes in demand for skills and raw materials, we need flexibility in systems. Organisational flexibility, labour flexibility, ICT-systems flexibility, flexibility in functions and flexibility in rules. We need flexible and flat organisations where decisions are made fast, at the lowest level possible.
Never before in history, did we have the chance to combine economic growth with sustainability. And it is technology that does the trick! Technology provides Europe with an outrageous opportunity to excel in 2020. And believe me, we will need this excellence to survive in a globalised, more Asian world, to protect our wealth as a region.
Unfortunately, my neighbours have never heard of nanofood or 3D-printing. They don't care either. But they may have read Michael Chreighton's doom-seller Prey and heard Prince Charles' doom-warnings about "grey goo", so one day they may stop buying nano-enhanced products, like car glass protection fluid or nanofood. We must prevent the development of nano to be staggered the same way genetically modified products was staggered. It is all a matter of image building.
The future is not about technology as such; it is about technology empowered products and services. It is about making technology invisible to the user. The deployment of invisible technology based on the user point of view is essential for the survival of companies and countries. The future is not about products either. All products will become global and intelligent (adaptable, self aware, self leaning) commodities of high and equal quality. The future will be much more about personalized services around those global product commodities. The future will be about simplicity of choice, about identity and lifestyle -- the only real cliff hangers in the fast world of 2020. So we better start organising warmth, simplicity & choices for our customers and clients.
In 2020, global energy needs will have boomed sky high (bad news), due to the decrease of poverty worldwide, especially in China and India (good news). Probably there will still be enough oil and gas and even coal, but the problem is, it is produced in the wrong places: in villain states. We are too dependent of oil providing countries that hate Western civilization, are corrupt, or just powerful & opportunistic. Therefore, we must develop energy independence: self sufficient and sustainable energy sources that are created or won physically nearby. Think bio fuels, fuel cells, nano enhanced solar energy, and inherent safe nuclear reactors (uranium comes from civilised countries like Canada). Maybe we should use oil for transport only.
Another part of the solution is in creating a distributed energy grid -- energy that is generated locally in our homes, cars, boats, and even by our very human movements, with the capability to give back surplus energy to the electricity grid. This energy grid will be transparent; we will know in advance if we use too much energy or if it is too costly. Power consumption will be personalized; we will be able to turn off and on the heating in each room at a distance, thus reducing wastage. Hybrid cars use the energy generated on the move, that is wasted in a regular car. Since we need silence and quietness in 2020, we need to develop silent cars and silent plains.
Flat world as an opportunity for excellence
The world is getting flatter. The name of the game is globalisation -- the never ending, ever continuing flow of people, finances, products and services all over the world -- and it is getting steamed up now. Globalisation is very closely connected with and speeded up by the virtual world. First countries became globalised, next it was companies that globalised, now it is individuals that globalise -- and their cultures and crimes along with them, I may add. We will have less national pride and more tribal pride. Our cultures will be mixed, our identities scattered, and we will have less in common.
In a flat world, many barriers will have been erased and blurred. Institutional barriers, trade barriers, knowledge barriers, national borders. Borders between people, borders between straight and gay, borders between man and woman. Borders between organizations, suppliers and customers. Borders between school and company. New, virtual borders of identity and control will be created instead. Every day's financial and legal transactions will be used to control the rights and duties of the ever increasing flow of immigrants and natives, citizens and business people. Physical government control will mostly be implemented at city-level, not at national level as it is now. Local cities and global companies, not countries, will safeguard us. No one enters without permission! Again, back to the Middle Ages...
Global digital standards will provide us with absolutely minimal transaction costs -- that is, the money, time and transport you need to invest to find, compare, acquire and pay for goods and services. Millions of administrative and routine jobs will be gone forever, never to return. They are all converted into software, into knowledge systems. Only complexity and high quality will survive. In 2020, only highest quality will survive: quality of services, quality of products, quality of labourers, quality of organizations, quality of governments, quality of rules. A flat world needs flat people, flat governments and flat organizations, so to speak.
Young and starting entrepreneurs will like the flat and virtual future. They will be able to tap into a global digital infrastructure and a global logistics system that will provide them with market prospects that previously only big companies had. There will be fewer barriers to start a company and to create new products and services, with production and communication tools being cheaper than ever before in history.
In 2020, globalisation will have absorbed millions of low- and high end jobs in Europe and the US. The BRIC-countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China -- will have swept away the old distinctions between Third and First world. Developmental aid? No way, Sir! That is an old and long forgotten 20th century concept. In 2020, fair trade will have dealt with poverty in large parts of the world. Europe will not have to deal with poverty in the rest of the world but with wealth instead -- and that is much more difficult... Poor immigrant cities like Paris and Amsterdam might receive developmental aid from Beijing and Bangalore -- although I hope Europe would be proud enough to refuse...
The world in 2020 is transparent. You will be doing business sitting in your designer swim suit in the middle of the market square, visible to everybody. Doing business in 2020 is like a striptease. Everyone will see what you do, how you do it, what your supply chain is. Your professional, personal and business achievements will be rated by strangers, governments, customers and outsiders. Everyone will be able to see in a blink of an eye if your products and services are in the global Top 5 or in the global Flop 5.
The flat, the virtual, and the transparent together are big boosters of customer power and customer self service. And boosters to a hyper competitive world in all branches and all countries and therefore, necessarily, boosters to a hyper innovative world. Which closes the circle. In 2020, only companies and governments that provide the highest customer satisfaction and uppermost supreme quality of service will survive. The old mechanisms of technological and geographical customer lock-in simply will not work any more.
As customers, we will probably be winners. Transparent supply chains and standardized digital infrastructure will make products and services efficient, cheap and of high quality.
As investors, we will most certainly always win. Our money will buy the best of everything all over the world.
As labourers, only the highly educated, the highly adaptable and the highly creative will win. It is the shift from lifetime employment to lifetime employability. The sad and troubling news is that the rest might well lose. Even grounded labour that needs face to face contact, like a waiter in a restaurant, can be replaced, if not partly by technology, then by cheaper legal or illegal immigrants.
As citizens, we will be multiple identity players, not quite sure about our loyalty. Will we be loyal to our global employer, that gives us work? To the nation we were born in? Or to the city we live in right now?
If you are a futurebuilder and an innovator, either in business or in government, then you should take all these trends into account if you want to be successful.
Interested in more detail? Read the Checklist Successful Innovation In 1 Day
Flat government, invisible government
A flat world implies that countries are forced to level their taxes and regulations. We may well have a flat tax and only a minimum of labour, environmental and safety rules everywhere. Higher competition between countries will lead to a global level playing field with less social security, more "self"-security and "self"-responsibility. Of course, taxing will not be progressive; that in itself is a punishment for success. I even doubt if our incomes will be taxed at all. In a nomadic world of part time and semi permanent immigration, we will not quite know where exactly we earn our income, is it? We will probably tax the things that do not move or flow, like our houses and our land. On the other hand, in a streaming and flat world, we need global individual pension, education and health care portability. A tremendous opportunity for the innovation of social security: less government involvement and more citizens self organisation. Like save for your own unemployment and pension, and choose your own funds to provide for the savings. The same goes for traditional government involvement in safety and education. Collective self defense, home schooling, that sort of thing. I guess we will witness a fundamental shift towards individual and market solutions. Not beacuse government involvement as such is bad -- not at all -- but because it is inefficient.
In 2020, we will no longer be confronted with dumb questions such as Who are you? Where are you? What is your income? Do you have a ticket? Are you allowed in ere? Obviously, the answers to these questions are already known, somewhere in the network, and therefore it will be quite difficult to lie or to hide in 2020. Lie about our income, lie about our whereabouts, lie about our possessions. Thanks to digital technology, government will be truly paperless and will employ much less civil servants. This loss of jobs in government combined with law enforcement embedded in software will create a rather invisible, yet more powerful government. Let me explain how.
Law enforcement will be real-time and more strict than ever. Intelligence will be embedded in all physical things that surround us. Buildings, doors and elevators will allow or deny access according to the embedded government rules. Digital identities and checks will be integrated into every financial and government transaction we make. It will increasingly enable us to maintain our safety ourselves as well. Point your mobile to the taxi driver and check if he / she has a valid, up-to-date taxi driver's license. Or drives without insurance. Or has tampered with the taxi meter. Point your mobile to that wonderful blue lake and check if it is safe to swim. Point your mobile to that factory chimney (if factories with chimneys still exist) and see if its radiation levels are within safety range. Naturally you do not have to check the elevator; it just does not work if the embedded government license has expired. Checked trust, smart law enforcement.
A target for Police and Justice in 2020 could be: a crime solving percentage of 50% (and not 20% as it is now) in democratic countries, while keeping civil rights, without decent citizens having to give up their privacy. Key words for 2020 are: self control, self protection, self safety. The citizen will act as his own police officer, the mobile telephone will be used as passport and lie detector. Smart, semi automatic law enforcement means citizen friendly enforcement. It ensures that citizens can protect themselves better. Only offenders of the law and criminals, not decent citizens, are confronted, bothered and checked. Non-fraudulent persons can remain anonymous; fraudulent persons and people violating the rules, are exposed in real-time. Smart enforcement means less criminal justice and more civil law. It also means that a sizeable portion of police work disappears. For a smart device can no longer function if it is stolen, so why steal it then? Police officers shall have more effective time on the streets for their monopoly: using physical violence. They will spend considerable less time at their desk.
Thanks to smart law enforcement, the world will be a much safer place in 2020, and the citizens will have more power. Smart innovation by the police and justice departments means: integrating smart enforcement in every day safety processes and restoring the authority of the police officers in the streets. Police heroes start innovating now!
Interested in more detail? Read Smart Law Enforcement 2020
Urban life, nomadic living, old people: Silver Century
In 2020, we will have many old people in the old world. Many of these senior citizens will be wealthy and healthy enough to afford travel and luxury services. They will pay high prices for high quality travel, entertainment and health care. Later in their life, they will need a personal care industry, backed by "senior technology". A Silver Century will start. After 2025 even with lesser people, since EU population will start to shrink then. Maybe reducing all congestion and space problems...
Aging will probably also make the old social security unaffordable. That is not per se a bad thing, since we had too much financial security for too long for too many people mistakenly called weak or care-needing. We created a whole bunch of government dependent people. Besides, social security was not so social for entrepreneurs and freelancers -- the people that create wealth and jobs in the first place. Maybe the whole idea of someone being eligible for government support simply because he or she lives in a geographical area, is outdated. Or not? If people have to earn their own social security, not benefiting from the funds others have paid for, it means that social security and pension funds must be made flexible and portable. New non-governmental, yet collective instruments have to be invented that offer more individual security than government can offer nowadays. A great focus for government innovation!
The vast number of senior citizens may also reduce the spirit of innovation. Senior citizens have a lesser need for change. Therefore, we need bright young people who are willing to learn, willing to contribute, willing to be successful. Unfortunately, Europe has a problem with its youngsters. Too few of them, too little interest in beta studies, too little interest in excellence, loosing basic capabilities in grammar and math. Natives and newbies have to learn again that is essential to strive for excellence and to be polite. We have to visit schools and grab the 10 year olds, we have to create Youngsters Invention Teams like MIT does in the US.
2020 will be filled with nomadic people, in a global flow of short and semi-permanent stays all over the world, creating a constant brain and workplace circulation. In 2020, life globally will be even more urban than it is at present, making the country side much more attractive for footloose professionals and for small factories. Settlement patterns will differ considerably: probably more people living in different areas at different times of their life. New patterns will emerge. Part time parenting, gay parenting, shared parenting will become more common. We may well earn our money where wages are highest, and spend it where cost of living is low and quality of living high. Out of choice or out of necessity. Switching between the sun an the cold in spring and fall. Working during the week on one spot and relaxing in the weekend on another spot. Not permanent but semi-permanent immigration, part time so to speak, more fluid, less definitive.
I call this nomadic living. This continuous drifting will reduce the traditional social glue in villages and neighborhoods. We may see shared citizenship, double citizenship, but also lack of any citizenship and any loyalty. Nomadic living will enable the quick and global spread of diseases, and it will also contribute to congestion. Europe's most wealthy regions, the metropolitan urban area's, will have severe congestion problems. Maybe so grave that it will drive the economy to a halt. Congestion will also increase the attraction of public transport (at least, that is moving!).
In the same way, booming energy needs may well act as a counter trend to globalisation. Too many physical products moving around, too many cars and trucks, too many tourists, too little energy, too little space for all. Globalisation may well strand in Europe long before 2020, due to the physical impossibility to move anything or anybody around any longer, except under the ground. This would turn Europe into a non-global, much more regional economy -- maybe even into a cultural museum.
To avoid this scenario, it is imperative that we start to communicate and produce virtually: working, playing and gaming together in a high quality virtual world, print products on the spot and produce at a distance. The only fundamental, sustainable way to tackle congestion is to take away the need for physical mobility. For moving around like crazy. Less moving around will save Europe! The new high quality communication and production possibilities of the virtual world will offer us the chance to greatly reduce our excessive physical mobility -- of people and goods alike. More virtual shops, less physical shops. Problems are a focus for innovation, providing golden opportunities for new markets.
The climate change provides us with lots of opportunities for innovation as well. A lower sealevel, rising land, water problems, a more sunny Northern Europe. Sun tourism, Danish wine, water management and virtual logistics to be exported to delta areas worldwide.
Again, there are powerful counter trends that may well stop globalisation. How many people will be able to buy a house in 2020? In the beginning of the twenty first century, lots of people became rich. Not because of an increase in labour productivity, no, by shere luck: rising house prices. These extreme housing prices have turned our houses into objects of profit in a sort of perverted pyramid game, that prevents our youngsters from buying a house. We have created wealth without labour, so I ask myself, how long can this go on? How long can any pyramid game go on? Consuming with borrowed money that we never really earned?
We need an Economic Union, top talent immigrants and a secular society
The European welfare state has brought us many good things, but it also has its negative side effects. It made too many of us lazy, weak and government dependent. It has made too much fuzz about rights and too little about duties -- newbies and natives alike. All in all, it now is a barrier to innovation and wealth, instead of a stimulus. What are the negative side effects? For high quality social security to work, a country needs a demographic stable population, no immigration, and fraud resistance. I've got news: we have none of these. We created a huge collective sector with an uncontrolled drive for growth, forgetting that entrepreneurs pay for the salaries, also the extremely high salaries of the happy-collective-sector-few. Social security grew into some basic right, and we allowed people not to work if they do not wish to work. Profiting without contributing. Somehow, granting social security is much easier than stopping it. Besides, social security is not so social for entrepreneurs, the people that create wealth and jobs in the first place. We allowed senior citizens in the collective sector to stop working at 55 and we allowed employers to not hiring people over the age of 40. Government frequently changes the terms of social security, making itself a untrustworthy partner for collective arrangements. There is a continuous struggle between competing government organizations. Too many competing bosses, not enough real bosses.
The European Union started out so rightly creating a single internal market, and then it grew into a monster. It celebrated a common culture that did not exist, added new bureaucratic layers instead of providing a simple structure for co-operation, and spent the majority of funding on protective and outdated farming instead of knowledge building, research and education. In short, it became a mad cash redistribution machine.
Too many youngsters leave high school without even the most basic grade. We put too much attention and money into potentially criminal youngsters in bad neighborhoods and too little into youngsters willing to develop their talent. We allow youngsters to terrorize their neighbourhood. Decent citizens have become afraid to defend themselves and police has become afraid to use violence. Thus, the rights of criminals are better protected than the rights of victims. Somehow, we accepted all of this and took it for granted.
Immigration can be a valuable resource for innovative people with a drive for success. But it comes in flavors: low talent immigration, illegal immigration and high talent immigration. Immigration should be adding wealth to the hosting country, like knowledge, money or entrepreneurship, but in too many cases, it did not. Instead, it diminished wealth, safety and social glue. Somehow we discouraged top talent immigrants and encouraged low talent immigrants with incompatible cultures. Now we are stuck with communities inside Europe that very aggressively defend and promote their religion and lifestyle. We are stuck with immigrants only schools that qualify as terror school. A hundred nationalities and languages in one square mile is absolute fun in a thriving business valley with a common goal and a common language. In that context, it breeds the best out of people. But it is no fun at all when none of these people speak the language of the country they live in and do not even share the most basic values. Who on earth created this absurd situation, and is the guy fired yet?
Around 2020, the majority of inhabitants of a number of big European cities will be non-western immigrants; many of them Muslim. A reversed colonization you might say. If Europeans are a minority in their own country, where does that leave European identity and European values? According to an Arab think tank based in London(!), the Arab Muslim world lacks freedom, inventions, knowledge, and the open culture necessary for trade and innovation. Muslim immigrants bring that culture into Europe. According to a national survey, Dutch citizens biggest fear is for fundamentalist islam and for social security being diminished by immigrants that give too little and take too much. If the current problems among non-western immigrants will persist (high crime rate, low education level, high unemployment rate, religious intolerance of gays, jews and women) then we are in for big trouble. It would mean a return to the Middle Ages, but this time in the darkest sense of the word: its cruelty, its lack of freedom and innovation. That would undermine the open culture necessary for the existence of a creative class. If the head scarves and Burka's would outnumber the open minded and entrepreneurial immigrants, equality of gays, jews and women will vanish. And where the gays flee, the creative class flees. And if the creative class flees, Europe's inner source for innovation and wealth will vanish.
I know a talented programmer, very intelligent, globally oriented, and Dutch. A guy really "fit for flatness", so to speak. I told him about the problems Europe faces. "So what?", he said. "If Europe sucks, then I move out!" Is this attitude maybe part of the problem? Do we still remember what we stand for? Are we willing to fight to keep our freedom and secular society or will we all flee?
Maybe I am all wrong and it will not be all that trying. Many immigrants did and do contribute to European wealth, and they are probably sick and tired of hearing about problematic immigrants all the time. The question is: will the good guys outweigh the bad ones in 2020? One of my best friends was born in Iraq. He has a muslim background. He is open minded, friendly, and we always have a big laugh when we are together. He is young, ambitious, intelligent and globally oriented. He is also an entrepreneur pur sang and wow, did he as an immigrant contribute to Dutch wealth and Dutch social glue! Much the same, basically, as in India, where muslims are modern, creative and open minded, contributing to wealth and hope instead of fear and doom. It should be possible to repeat that same pattern in Europe -- best long before 2020. So, the question here: is my best friend exception or is he rule? The answer will determine Europe's future.
So, what happens when we can no longer pay for bad decisions? What happens if there is not enough money anymore to keep up excessive spending and tolerance of fraud? We will go back to basics, I guess. Not because of ideology, but out of economic necessity. In 2020, the European Union may well have returned to its roots: an Economic Union. A system for basic economic co-operation, a mechanism for global standardisation, implementing global technological and trade standards. An Economic Union with flat taxes and flat rules in its member countries, where English is the official trading language. An Economic Union in which immigration is a sure sign of success & wealth, not of cultural incompatibility and exploitation.
We have the choice between two scenarios. The doom scenario and the success scenario. For success, Europe must turn its legacy of secular civilization into our unique selling point. We should stick to the separation of religion and public domain in order to remain our wealth and freedom. We must welcome top talent immigrants from all over the world heading for success and excellence, and make severe demands to the rest. Since physical borders do not work properly, we can use the virtual government and financial borders to grant or deny access to social security and legal, financial life. We must stop tolerating fundamentalism and start being tough. Basically, we need a straight back. We need less "mutual understanding" and more "mutual indifference". If you don't like another person's lifestyle, learn to be indifferent, learn to ignore, learn to smile. Laugh about yourself!
Citizen's values in Europe in 2020
The dream of a creative, secular and wealthy Europe in 2020 will only work if it is based on the shared dreams and values of millions of Europeans. That dream is very, very basic. So basic in fact that we have failed to communicate those basic values to the new and the native Europeans. It is time to spread the word again. Day after day. It goes something like this.
Earn your own daily bread, do not expect government to do that for you. Take responsibility of your own life. Take responsibility of your children. Head for success and excellence. Be an entrepreneur. Don't be a criminal. Give to your community and your neighbours. Speak English as well as the language of the country you live in. Don't force your religious beliefs upon others. Gain respect by giving it. Be polite and smile! (PS. If you are looking for a person with more ethical authority than me, please visit Mahatma Gandhi's site.)
No one can predict the future, but we can sure as hell prepare for it. Let's embrace the chances the flat and smart world gives to Europe. The future is flexible, open, and full of chances. All that human energy and spirit waiting to be used! There is not one single future, there are many thousands. Let's focus on passion, not on fear, and let's pick the right one. The one we want to live in. "Do your best and don't be afraid!"
Independent European Futurist and Guest Speaker Marcel Bullinga has a passion for the future and innovation. His motto: "There is not one single future, there are many thousands. Choose the one you want!"