By Richard Jebb, Head of Content at davies tanner

The business of conferences, events and meetings exist in a world influenced by factors that also influence the development of every other industry. I’m setting aside thoughts of venues filled with delegates for just a few moments, to look toward the success of another event: The future.

Last year, we published a blog about the technological developments of the past 20 years – it was a celebration of the lifetime of davies tanner at 20 years old. While researching technology for that piece, I discovered a fascinating (and scary) article on the technology that will be affecting our lives over the next 20 years and beyond. It is such a profound and well-thought out essay that I immediately shared it with my friends and family; I felt they needed to know what it said.

“everyone needs to know about this stuff”

Now I will share it with you in this blog, because I feel everyone needs to know about this stuff. It’s mostly the work of a man called Dr. Robert M. Goldman MD, PhD, DO, FAASP. Now, I imagine you’re asking, “Doctor who?” and I love the pun, because it certainly seems like this man has travelled through time to the future. But he’s not a Timelord, he’s a real doctor – feel free to look him up.

His article begins with a statement claiming the doubling time of medical knowledge in 1950 was 50 years. By 1980 it was 7 years. In 2010, 3.5 years. By 2020 it predicts medical knowledge will double in just 73 days. Computer power is doubling every 18 months, so the massive increases in scope, scale and industrial disruption we’ve become used to, are set to continue.

The age of industry disruptors

Consider this example – the end of the Kodak Smile. In 1998, Kodak employed 170,000 people and had an 85% share of the worldwide photo paper market. A few years later, Kodak went bankrupt. Its industry was disrupted and its business model was obsolete. Kodak hadn’t seen it coming. The disruption that happened to Kodak is going to happen to many, if not all industries over the next decade. Will you see it coming to yours? Digital photography was invented in 1975, but most people ignored because it wasn’t very good. Then, in a few short years, it became superior and taking photos using photopaper became a thing of the past. The way digital photography rose from obscurity to dominate will happen with artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), health, driverless and electric cars, trucks and planes, education, 3D printing, robotics and many more technologies. Work as we know it will change.

To have the great jobs and careers that will exist in the future, you must embrace and see it before it arrives.

Two other recent examples of industry disruptors are Uber and Airbnb. Uber is nothing more than a software tool. Uber, the biggest taxi company in the world, doesn’t own cars. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, yet they don’t own or operate hotels.

Artificial intelligence is replacing lawyers

According to the Doctor, in the US, young lawyers struggle to find jobs. An AI computer, IBM Watson, gives basic legal advice within seconds, with 90% accuracy, compared with 70% accuracy from humans. There may be 90% fewer lawyers in the future, with only specialists still in demand. IBM Watson is also helping nurses diagnose cancer, it is four time more accurate than humans.

Facebook’s pattern recognition software can recognize faces better than humans. By 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans. They can already reliably tell what mood you are in and soon, whether you are lying or not, just from your facial expression. Imagine what that means for our not-so-distant future politicians.

Driverless cars will have a huge social impact

Autonomous, driverless cars are already being test driven on our roads. They will become mainstream very quickly. To get somewhere, call a car with your phone, and it’ll drive you there. Car ownership becomes unnecessary for most people. You can be productive while driving, there’s no need to park it and you only pay for the driven distance. This will change cities because we will require far fewer cars (the Doctor says 90-95% fewer). Traffic will be virtually non-existent and car parks could be transformed into green leisure parks. Accidents will be virtually eliminated. Currently, around two jumbo jets worth of people die each day in car accidents – 1.2 million per year worldwide. There’s an accident every 100,000 km, driverless cars could drop this to one accident in 10 million km. This could save a million lives each year.

Can you imagine what such a reduction in the number of cars will do to the car industry? Are the established car companies equipped with the insight to deliver the in-car experience we’ll want or will this task fall to Apple and Google? The Doctor says he has spoken to engineers from Volkswagen and Audi and they say they’re terrified of Tesla.

The end of car insurance?

And with hardly any accidents on the road, what about insurance companies? Insurance will have to be many many times less expensive. It’s another business model set to be disrupted.

If you can work (or play) while you commute to work, people may be prepared to spend more time on the journey, especially if the traffic is lighter. They’ll take the opportunity to move further away to live in better value houses in more beautiful areas.

There is now more solar energy being installed worldwide than fossil. Electricity is getting cheaper and cleaner. The Doctor predicts solar electricity will become so cheap that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025.

Cheap electricity will bring cheap and abundant water to developing countries. Remember, sea water is not scarce, just drinking water. These days, desalination of seawater requires just 2kWh per cubic meter. A planet where everyone has as much clean water as they need for almost no cost is coming. Just imagine how that will change the world.

A toothbrush that makes dentist appointments

There are currently billions of items connected to the internet – smartphones, smart TVs, computers, printers, tablets. Don’t forget a few fridges and robotic vacuums. This is set to increase drastically. The number of connected devices in our homes, offices, streets, venues, vehicles…everywhere will increase exponentially until even your toothbrush is online. I’m not joking, a toothbrush will be fitted with sensors that keep your dentist updated with the condition of your teeth. When you get a cavity, your dentist’s AI will contact your AI and they’ll arrange an appointment for you. Fridges will reorder food. Washing machines arrange their own maintenance and replacement, ovens switch on when your AI tells them you’re nearly ready for dinner – the list could go on – it will.

Your smartphone will replace your doctor

While we’re on the subject of health, Star Trek fans will remember the medical device called the Tricorder, a quick scan and it could tell what condition was affecting your health. It’s not long before your phone, perhaps in partnership with a smart watch, can scan your retina, take a blood sample, check your blood pressure and an analyse your breath. It could identify almost all diseases early – at a stage when they’re much easier and inexpensive to cure. Since smartphones are cheap, almost everyone on the planet will have one, so in a few years, everyone in the world could have access to world class medicine. Not to mention free degree level education through online courses.

Your smartphone will become a factory

The space station has a 3D printer for spare parts and airplane parts can already be 3D printed in remote airports. Major shoe companies already 3D print shoes. The cheapest 3D printer cost $18,000 at launch and reduced to $400 within 10 years and was 100 times faster. The technology is coming to smartphones. Would you 3D scan your feet with your phone, to print your perfect running shoe at home? Of course you would. In ten years, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.

If you have a business idea that doesn’t involve a smartphone, it’s probably time to forget it.

Robots everywhere, doing everything

Robotics will soon effect every part of our daily lives. Along with 3D printing, it will replace huge numbers of manufacturing and manual labour jobs. Japan already has robots caring for the elderly and a hotel with lifelike robots, called ‘Actroids’, work as check-in staff.

Remember the robots from Star Wars? R2-D2 and C3-P0 were originally bought by a farmer, and yes, there will be $100 agricultural robots in the future. This means farmers in developing countries can become land managers instead of agricultural workers.

Robotics, AI and VR are massive growth industries, that will make 70-80% of jobs disappear over the next 20 years. There will be new jobs, but probably not enough.

The age of unemployed and highly skilled

The skills gap and information gap does not mean that people are unskilled, it means that workers don’t know what skills employers need. Technology is disrupting traditional jobs, and creating new ones that never existed before. The Doctor states that the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. The change is so rapid that 65% of young school children will have jobs that currently don’t exist. To be competitive you must have the tech skills for industries that are not yet mainstream.

Businesses will take advantage of improvements in global communication and education. McKinsey estimates that half of the world’s largest companies will be headquartered in what we now call emerging markets – Brazil, India, eastern Europe. Over 40% of the companies in the Fortune 500 in 2000 will fall off the list in the coming years. They’re being replaced by new global entrants and technology companies – this global powershift will continue.

It’s happening now. Technology will drastically change the world in our lifetimes. It will affect our industries, our businesses, our careers, and those of our children, in ways that I have only touched on in this piece. How will this change affect meetings and events? How should the MICE industry respond? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with a final word from the Doctor.

“We either prepare for these future high tech/Info tidal waves and embrace them, or be swept away by them.” Dr. Robert M. Goldman


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