There’s no shortage of media pundits this time of year gazing at their crystal balls to divine what the next decade will bring, but the reality is that nobody can predict what technology and innovation will look like at the end of the 2020s.
Earlier this year, I saw Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president and global head of SAP Next-Gen, talk about the value of “science fiction thinking” in coming up with “disruptive models for scaling solutions to the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals” at the SAP office in Hudson Yards.
Speaking at the SAP floor decorated with SDG colors and slogans, she talked about her recent book called Science Fiction: A Starship for Enterprise Innovation, which details case studies and examples of science fiction inspiring real-world innovation.
“With science fiction’s proven track record of predicting future technological developments, science fiction thinking can serve as a wellspring for disruptive innovation,” Rosenberg wrote. “Innovation 4.0 is all about being inspired by science fiction while being guided by purpose aligned with the SDGs, to uncover bold, new models for using exponential technologies such as AI, machine learning, Blockchain and IoT to both profit and serve a higher social purpose.”
If the six seasons of the TV show Silicon Valley are any indication, serving a higher purpose and “making the world a better place” is not a novel idea for the tech world. At this point, it’s an overused joke.
There is no shortage of brilliant minds or ideas to take each industry to the next level. But what’s going to be different over the next 10 years is that more companies will be held accountable for their grandiose promises. We’re entering the age of reckoning for the tech world.
Each time a new social media company promises to do better and take privacy seriously, we’ll have to ask more questions. The next time a company like WeWork decides to “elevate the world’s consciousness,” everyone needs to be paying attention a lot earlier to what is really happening behind the scenes. We’ll have to look out for the next Theranos as well.
And we’ll have to come to terms with how we launch new technologies and their impact on societies, the planet and, increasingly, the wider universe when it comes to space tech innovation.
It’s great that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is pledging to move away from fossil fuels and make the e-commerce giant carbon neutral by 2040. But we need to pay attention to Bezos’ other company, Blue Origin, and his plans to move manufacturing and mining into space to keep Earth “residential.” If manifested successfully, what will that do the climate surrounding Earth and the wider universe?
As a planet, can we continue to allow charismatic, well-funded, founders run wild with their ideas without much oversight, until it’s too late?
In the next decade, investors will have to step up their due diligence and ask more detailed questions about each product and solution’s impact and potential ramifications.
As consumers, we’ll have to ask more questions about how each product is manufactured and how these companies operate. Do you really not care that majority of chocolate companies in the world still can’t figure out a way to remove child labor from their supply chains?
As journalists and media companies, we’ll have to deal with the onslaught of misinformation and malicious actors, the rise of deepfakes and automation in the fight to deliver news and information in a balanced way to our readers.
The biggest question for the next decade won’t be what great science fiction ideas we can manifest and what fantastic technology we can come up with next, but how we’ll choose to deploy and use them.