Trends Now Changing the World: Technology, the Workplace, Management, and Institutions

Article excerpt

Editor's Note

All careers and businesses will be transformed by new technologies in often unpredictable ways. The era of the entrepreneur will make "boutique" businesses more competitive with the behemoths, as mid-sized institutions get squeezed out. And medical breakthroughs and the ongoing health movement will enhance--and extend--people's lives. These are a few of the major forces shaping the next 20 years and beyond. Veteran forecaster Marvin Cetron of Forecasting International Ltd. and science writer Owen Davies describe the implications of these trends for our long-term future.

For some four decades, Forecasting International Ltd. has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. About 10 years ago, Cetron and Davies condensed their observations into reports for THE FUTURIST covering key aspects of the economy, technology, business, and society.

Those early forecasts have often been updated and extended. In this article, the second of two excerpts from their latest report, the authors reconsider the trends from their previous work and focus on major trends that are now changing the world. For each trend, they also offer a succinct conclusion about its implications for the future and how it may affect individuals and organizations, including policy makers.

* Technology increasingly dominates both the economy and society.

* In all fields, the previous state of the art is being replaced by new high-tech developments ever faster.

* Technological advances such as more powerful personal computers, robotics, and CAD/CAM directly affect the way people live and work. Computers also add an estimated 1.5% to the U.S. economy.

* Mundane commercial and service jobs, environmentally dangerous jobs, and assembly and repair of space-station components in orbit increasingly will be done by robots. Personal robots will appear in the home by 2010.

* Computers are fast becoming part of our environment, rather than just tools we use for specific tasks. With wireless modems, portable computers give us access to networked data wherever we go.

* Global sales of packaged software are growing at a rate of more than 15% per year.

* Satellite-based telephone systems and Internet connections and other wireless links will simplify relocation of personnel, minimize delays in accomplishing new installations, and let terminals travel with the user instead of forcing the user to seek out the terminal.

* By 2005, artificial intelligence, data mining, and virtual reality will help most companies and government agencies to assimilate data and solve problems beyond the range of today's computers. AI's uses include robotics, machine vision, voice recognition, speech synthesis, electronic data processing, health and human services, administration, and airline pilot assistance.

* By 2005, expert systems will permeate manufacturing, energy prospecting, automotive diagnostics, medicine, insurance underwriting, and law enforcement.

* Superconductors operating at or near room temperature will be in commercial use soon after 2015. Products will include supercomputers the size of three-pound coffee cans, electric motors 75% smaller and lighter than those of today, practical hydrogen-fusion power plants, electrical storage facilities with no heat loss, and noninvasive analyzers that can chart the interaction of brain cells.

* The engineering, technology, and health industries will all grow rapidly, and many new biotechnology jobs will open up.

Implications: New technologies often require a higher level of education and training to use them effectively. They also provide dozens of new opportunities to create businesses and jobs.

Automation will continue to cut the cost of many services and products, making it possible for companies to reduce prices while still improving profits. This will be critical to business survival as the Internet pushes the price of most products to the commodity level. …