NEW YORK CITY: The post-virus financial industry is likely to lose some of its thrum. Take for instance, Wall Street – the heartbeat of corporate America. Long gone are the days where zombie workers are shouting and wheedling their way through big deals, all the while standing shoulder-to-shoulder on trading floors.

A recent return to the workplace from 33 Liberty Street and below in Manhattan feels like a reimagining of a futuristic world. Boxed lunches and ready-to-go meals replace overzealous buffets and luxurious client lunches. Plexiglass divides the once-communal workspaces – floors the size of football fields. Security tech is harnessed for everyday life, to scan heat signatures in the bathrooms so as to avoid crowds. Elevators are touch-free.

In just seven months corporate culture as we know it has been uprooted to our kitchen tables – and these changes will likely last a while. But for how long? And will the current pandemic effect how humans live at the turn of the new century? Where exactly are we headed?

In the midst of uncertainty, ICON explores some of future’s unknowns.

Imagery: (This Image): Alec Favale / Unsplash. (Top Banner): Lorenzo Colombo / Unsplash

Office Culture Will Include Lots Of Office Cultures
“Yes, offices will exist because there is, in the end, no complete substitute for being in the same place,” Ross Dawson, author, futurist and strategy advisor admits to ICON. “There still remains this deep human desire to be physically next to someone. That ability to build trust and collaborate effectively together is not going to disappear.”

Viewing current trends and trajectories, Dawson is in high demand among the globe’s largest corporations; Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and VISA have all mined his unparalleled knowledge into future insights. Furthermore, the lauded entrepreneur is the Founding Chairman of Advanced Human Technologies Group.

The global pandemic has proven the true capabilities of technology, hardwired into portable laptops, phones and Zoom, the prime example of game-changing innovation. Major corporations such Twitter, PayPal and Facebook all announced its staff would continue working from home until 2021.

“Organisations will look exceptionally different … Of course, there are some [industries] where there are still physical tasks required.” But as we’ve seen in recent years, Dawson predicts that there will be a further boom of co-working spaces or the “third space” for those industries working from home. “We will certainly start seeing more of these spaces. Whether you’re an independent or part of an organisation, you can all come together where there are facilities and resources.”

Shopping Malls May Shrink Back To Market-Size
Speaking to Alison Booth, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Australian National University, a Fellow of the Econometric Society and author of latest fiction novel, The Philosopher’s Daughter, change in the retail space is inevitable.

“There could be a shift to less centralised communities and village or market situations in reaction to pandemics like the one we’re in, or greater centralisation as the inhabitable areas of our planet shrink while the population continues to grow unsustainably,” Booth says.

“In which case, I would expect to see large, airconditioned malls, into which people can venture after taking quick temperature and swab tests, that take seconds. These large buildings would be accompanied by a growth in online shopping delivered by drones or some other technology yet to be invented.”

A Robot Will Stack Your Dishwasher
“It is the nature of humans to build, to research and progress and try to make things better,” says Dawson. “It has defined what the human race is. There is certainly no question that there is far more to discover and invent [around] the world.”

“To this point, all plausible manual tasks will be able to be done by robots,” he continues. “One of the first implications [is] in terms of household tasks; we won’t need to do things like clean up, stack the dishwasher, clean things… the household burden will disappear.”

In July 2020, Elon Musk revealed to the media that Tesla cars would achieve “basic functionality for level five autonomy” by the end of the year. Elsewhere, food service Door Dash acquired futuristic-like robots for contactless delivery. According to Dawson, the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence will surpass our wildest imagination.

“What is the most relevant question, is not the question of what those capabilities are but how we use them and integrate them into society,” the futurist says. “The question remains as to what human roles will be available given the extraordinary roles of Artificial Intelligence. We will continue to develop technology, and these will be some of the most highly rewarded roles.”

But to Dawson’s earlier point, human nature is deeply engrained in connecting to roles that require their care, and socialising is still highly sought after to look after our mental health. “I think there is a fundamental role around human connection. For example, people go to a café to have a good quality cup of coffee, but they also go there for the human connection, the conversation or the interaction. In the future, rather than pushing a button, we may have something where people are rewarded for manning the machine and interacting.”

Photography: Echo Grid / Unsplash

Can Classrooms Do Without Teachers?
This year has highlighted the capabilities of online learning as much as it has highlighted how far we have to go in development. But can technology ever really replace the classroom experience children have today? “My belief is that we will have teachers forever but working very closely with technology,” says Dawson. “One of the most exciting applications of Artificial Intelligence today and where it goes in the future, is the ability to help us to learn faster and more enjoyably than ever before.”

Dawson makes the argument again, that technology can never replace human interaction as the fundamentals of learning come from motivation and inspiration. “Whilst machines can learn to do that to a certain degree, even the very fact that you know it’s a machine makes it less motivating and inspiring because it is people that inspire us and it is people that motivate us,” he says. “There will be schools, and there will be teachers in those schools to guide, to console, to inspire, to motivate and to complement the tools.”

Paper – But Make It Have Tech Capabilities
Print media is dead; or at least that’s the argument across the very channels that were born from paper and ink. It is a cruel irony, and those lucky enough to clutch onto traditionalist media are scrambling to find a voice in the saturated marketplace that is the internet. But it isn’t just magazines and newspapers which have had to find a renewed format, paperback books are increasingly being made redundant for a screen.

While the first e-reader, the Rocketbook launched by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, was released in 1997, it displays our fascination for technology and need for space saving measures and environmental responsibilities. But as Dawson points out, the question isn’t if paper alternatives will exist, it is what it will be capable of. “Paper as a medium will essentially die,” he says. “What we will have is things that look and feel exactly like paper today but are infused with technology. There will be far better mediums which will be more environmentally effective. If we choose all of the qualities of paper today – yes, there are advantages to newspaper size and format and foldability – we can have all of those things without it being paper and we can add technological capabilities to it.”

Sharing Your Thoughts Online + In Live Time
While the likes of Facebook and Instagram have endured cultural events and unforeseen hurdles throughout the early 21st century, applications such as TikTok have proved the formidable power and influence of the users that acquire it; and more importantly the companies and countries that control each platform’s privacy policies.

In July 2020, India was the first country to ban the Chinese-owned video application over matters of national security. In turn, the US has done the same with the Trump administration planning to banish the social media platform over the same concerns. The tale follows the quick rise and even quicker burn of Twitter-owned platform Vine in late 2016. So, with the rapid change of the social media landscape, will we even use such applications in 80 years?

“Well it’s whether we use the word social media or not. Yes, essentially media will be participatory,” says Dawson. “Everyone has the ability to send out their thoughts, images and videos, whatever that may be. [It will] be accessible to anyone in the world and that will continue to happen.”

But will we want to risk our privacy? It is suggested that those who choose to have public audiences and private audiences will continue, but the capabilities of social media – or what Dawson dubs as “personal broadcast channels” – will come down to what advancements we’ve made on the brain. “We are making substantial progress with brain computer interfaces and so one of the things we will be able to share is our thoughts, literally, and we will be able to actually think and put that on a personal broadcast channel.”

Photography: Sasha Pleshco / Unsplash

Will Urbanisation Reach Peak Capacity?
According to a report compiled by Our World In Data, an organisation supported by the University of Oxford, 2017 saw more than four billion people living in urban areas globally. By 2050, it’s projected that more than two-thirds of the world’s population (seven billion) will live in urban areas. Dawson says that over the last century, 75 million people have joined urban populations in developing countries each year. “Almost all of that urbanisation is in developing countries: China, India, Africa. So much of the urbanisation essentially already happened in developed countries,” he says.

Urbanisation has been on an upwards trajectory since before the 60s; people would move to cities for more job opportunities, chances to collaborate and to experience a more diverse culture. Dawson argues that environmental efficiency could be reason to more people moving to high density populations. With a rapid rise in the demand for housing and infrastructure, urban sprawl is nearly impossible to avoid.

The term ‘urban sprawl’ refers to the expansion of poorly planned, low-density, auto-dependent development, which spreads out over large amounts of land, putting long distances between homes, stores, and work and creating a high segregation between residential and commercial uses with harmful impacts on the people living in these, as defined by everythingconnects.org. “The counter factors are health and quality of living which is very significant and goes back to the economic element and the ability of the choices people have and how they live their lives,” Dawson says. “I think that it’s likely we will see more distribution – as in more people living not so much in the biggest cities but in ones that do have more significant critical mass of people and culture.”

The question remains as to whether these factors will see a reversal of urbanisation, a trend that has skyrocketed particularly in recent years. We put this question to the futurist. “There may be a slight reversal in the trend we’ve seen so far to urbanisation in developed countries, but not massive. There are still reasons why people want to be together in the same place and that will unravel somewhat as people are able to work more independently. We are able to design and build alternatives to major cities, but a lot of people will still choose to live within a few hours of major cities.”

Photography: Rafal Malinowski / Unsplash

World Trade In The Trumpian Era
“I think we are going to be in real trouble by 2100,” says Booth, and her pessimistic outlook, unfortunately, is warranted. In response to COVID-19 and the ongoing tensions between China and the US, the future of world trade is uncertain. In 2018 – and following less than two years in the White House – the Trump administration sparked a fiery trade war with the east-Asian country by imposing harsh tariffs and trade restrictions in a bid to bring jobs to American shores. At the time, Donald Trump declared, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.”

But what was said to be an “easy” trade war to win according to the President, has in turn caused the country to weaken against other world powers. “The trade war with China has potentially paralysed the World Trade Organisation and the US has withdrawn under Trump from the World Health Organisation. And he’s talking about pulling the US out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well,” Booth explains.

What has transpired is the breakdown of hegemonic stability, or as Booth puts it in layman’s terms, “leadership stability”. Other issues which will see a further breakdown in world trade could include environmental issues, that as the economist points out, “wasn’t even on the radar 20 years ago.” Land degradation, growing populations and food shortages could all affect world trade and whilst we don’t know what would occur in response, Booth wasn’t prepared to predict what a country would look like if it was forced to rely on its own resources. She says it will be up to major country powers such as India, Germany, Japan and global cooperation to uphold world trade agreements. “What we have to remember is the importance of international institutions which foster economic stability and political stability as well,” she says. “If these are all breaking down as they seem to be at the moment, then the prospects for the next 80 years are not looking very good.”

Photography: Eliott van Buggenhout / Unsplash

A Universal Currency Will Only Come With World Trade Stability
The rise of technology-based currency such as Bitcoin has taken the world by storm. The form of cryptocurrency was invented in 2008 by an unknown group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It was released in 2009 via open source software. Without the need for a middleman and controlled by no government, the digital currency is wildly popular thanks to its scarcity, divisibility and portability – the most transferrable currency on the planet.

At the time of writing, one Bitcoin is valued at $16,035.30 AUD (however its value can experience steep rise and fall dependent on the market). Nevertheless, Bitcoin has made apparent the possibility for a universal currency. But what is the possibility that we will all use the same dollar, no matter where we are in the globe?

Booth notes that exchange rates provide a solution to economic globalisation, however “it’s not even clear that matters, as long as there’s some sort of stability” within world trade.

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE 5TH PRINT EDITION OF ICON INTERNATIONAL, AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE ONLINE HERE.

thoughts?