Welcome to the Future, Right Now?!

woman using virtual reality goggles

Superfast-gaming chips and fat-busting superdrugs, asteroid-chasing rockets and carbon-capturing technologies, four-day working weeks and chess reinvented as a reality TV game, health-enhancing fashions and the rebirth of the hairy mammoth. Companies like Nvidia are transforming tech, Novo Nordisk is innovating healthcare, KinetX is changing the space race, and Climeworks is eliminating carbon.

The Convergence of Innovation

In the past, we marveled at innovations with a leap of imagination. Ideas and technologies that promised to transform our world but seemed out of reach. Today, science fiction has collided with practical reality. Mind-boggling technologies are evolving at incredible speed, coupled with rapid social and cultural changes, accelerating human possibilities into practice.

Next is Now: This statement isn’t just about the pace of innovation. It’s about the convergence of pathways—technologies, industries, customers, applications, and expectations.

What’s happening in gaming today shapes new experiences in retail or finance. The possibilities of space travel accelerate the evolution of EVs. Clean energy meets green cement. Pharma tech meets fashion tech. Physical and digital realms merge, fast-developing markets outpace stagnant developed markets, and Gen Z outthink their Gen X leaders.

Driving Curiosity and Creativity

The future is already here, even if it’s unevenly distributed. Curiosity drives creativity, enabled by new capabilities to address the biggest challenges. So what could you do? What’s your vision of next, and how do you start now?

Colossal: The De-Extinction Company

Colossal Biosciences seeks to reawaken the past. Their goal is to bring back extinct species, expand endangered populations through genetic rescue, and support biodiversity. In a world pushed to the brink, Colossal is optimizing conservation through exogenous development, bioinformatics, modern genetics, cellular engineering, paleogenetics, biodiversity, genomics, embryology, stem cell reprogramming, computational biology, artificial intelligence, bioethics, and de-extinction.

Reviving the Woolly Mammoth: Colossal, founded by geneticist George Church and entrepreneur Ben Lamb, is working to de-extinct the woolly mammoth, Tasmanian tiger, and dodo. The woolly mammoth and Asian elephant share 99.6% of the same DNA. Colossal is developing a proxy species by swapping key mammoth genes into the Asian elephant genome. This includes a 10cm layer of insulating fat, five types of shaggy hair, and smaller ears to tolerate cold weather.

Gene Editing and Conservation: Launched in 2021, Colossal’s mission is to preserve endangered animals through gene-editing technology. They aim to use these animals to reshape natural ecosystems and combat climate change. The lab pairs CRISPR/Cas9 with other DNA-editing enzymes to splice woolly mammoth genes into the Asian elephant. Sequencing both elephant and mammoth samples, they identify key genes to promote population diversification and prevent rogue mutations.

The Evolution of De-Extinction: George Church first expressed interest in engineering a hybrid Asian elephant-mammoth in 2008. By 2012, Church’s team pioneered the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool, revealing the potential for altering genetic code to create the “mammophant.” In 2015, Church’s lab integrated mammoth genes into elephant skin cells, focusing on genes for high-domed skulls, oxygen retention at low temperatures, and fatty tissue. By 2017, 45 mammoth genes had been added to the Asian elephant genome.

Science Fiction Becomes Reality: While Colossal’s work might seem like a scene from Jurassic Park, it echoes the progress of companies like CRISPR Therapeutics. The same science applied to human genetics, with all the associated technical and ethical challenges, shows how rapidly fiction is becoming reality.

Big Ideas and Global Opportunities

The new Big Ideas report by ARK Invest captures the disruptive impact of technologies. By 2030, the convergence of five significant technologies, accelerated by artificial intelligence, will have an unprecedented economic impact. AI acts as the “intelligent glue,” combining the potential of public blockchains, multigenomic sequencing, energy storage, and robotics to transform global economic activity more significantly than any previous industrial revolution.

Economic Growth: Global real economic growth could accelerate from 3% to more than 7% over the next seven years. Robots will reinvigorate manufacturing, robotaxis will transform transportation, and AI will amplify knowledge worker productivity. The global equity market value associated with disruptive innovation could increase from 16% to more than 60% by 2030, leading to annualized equity returns of 40%.

Future Possibilities Index 2024: This index explores the applications of emerging tech and how they will shape new economies. It focuses on six transformational trends creating possibilities: the Exabyte Economy, the Wellbeing Economy, the Net Zero Economy, the Circular Economy, the BioGrowth Economy, and the Experience Economy. These trends arise from new business models, technologies, and changes in attitudes and behaviors.

Innovations for a Better Future

Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2024 list showcases exciting innovators driving tech acceleration and embracing its benefits. While BCG’s annual innovation ranking quantitatively evaluates corporate R&D efforts, Fast Company’s version highlights the people and solutions driving innovations.

Nvidia’s Warp-Speed AI Progress: Once lagging behind Intel, Nvidia, founded by Jensen Huang, has surged ahead of tech giants like Alphabet and Amazon. Driven by the growth of AI and high-powered gaming, Nvidia’s business has reached $1.5 trillion.

Novo Nordisk’s Obesity-Busting Drug: Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic, along with its sister brand Wegovy, has become an obesity-busting sensation. The Danish pharma company has soared to become Europe’s most valuable company, surpassing Denmark’s GDP.

Perplexity’s New Way to Search the Web: Perplexity leverages AI to provide contextualized and accurate answers, rather than a list of links. Using large language models and retrieval-augmented generation, it transforms how we search online.

KinetX’s Deep-Space Missions: KinetX, a spinoff of Lockheed Martin, navigated a spacecraft on a 4.4 billion-mile mission to an asteroid. Partnering with NASA on missions like New Horizons and Messenger, KinetX is at the forefront of deep-space exploration.

Climeworks’ Carbon Capture: Climeworks uses direct air capture to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Operating the world’s largest DAC plants in Iceland, Climeworks removes around 10,000 tons of CO2 annually.

Embracing the Future

The Global 50 Opportunities report by Dubai Future Foundation explores the innovative applications emerging from our rapidly changing world. Driven by technologies and other factors, it identifies eight megatrends most influential right now. These include the materials revolution, future humanity, and advanced health, unlocking 50 opportunities for future growth, prosperity, and well-being.

Materials Revolution: Opportunities such as 3D printing of human organs, green plastics, and health-enhancing fashion arise from new materials.

Future Humanity: Concepts like schools for wisdom, open-source science, and flipping career ladders are reshaping our understanding of human potential.

Advanced Health: Innovations like mental AI, pulse-over-pills, and biohacking 2.0 offer transformative possibilities for health and wellness.

Hope Amidst Uncertainty

AXA’s “100 Reasons to Love the Future” report promises new narratives of hope. In a world of escalating risks, it inspires us to imagine utopia rather than retreat into dystopia. The report emphasizes that our societies and economies cannot afford to become paralyzed by uncertainty. We are living through a deep transformation. Embrace it rather than retreat into anxiety and doubt.

Innovative Organizations of 2050: Insights from Plurality University suggest future organizational structures like the Marketrix, the Reactivator, and the Zombinc. There’s also a great insight about Te Korekoreka, a New Zealand initiative using social innovation to achieve equity in education, employment, and income for Māori people.

Tech for Good: Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2024 list features smaller companies harnessing tech for good. Examples include Solfácil, bringing solar power to the Amazon, and 4 Day Week Global, promoting a shorter work week for increased revenue and productivity.

Solfácil’s Solar Loans: Solfácil has financed approximately $450 million in solar loans, working with more than 4,250 active solar installers and 66,000 customers in the Amazon.

4 Day Week Global’s Revolution: The nonprofit convinced companies worldwide to adopt a four-day work week, resulting in a 36% rise in revenue.

Chess.com’s Cultural Hub: Chess.com has turned the centuries-old game into must-see reality TV, with 12.5 billion games played and a thriving cultural hub.

Sea Forest’s Methane Reduction: Sea Forest’s seaweed supplement reduces cows’ methane production by up to 90%, winning the 2023 Earthshot Prize.

Mattel’s Barbie Blockbuster: Mattel transformed its Barbie dolls into a $1.4 billion global movie blockbuster, the highest-grossing film of 2023, with cultural messages and diverse audience appeal.

Embracing Utopia

Technology is complex and relentless, raising profound questions about ethics and humanity. Yet, our rapidly changing world can also be deeply human, sometimes frivolous, sometimes profound. The opportunities to innovate are everywhere. While old markets may seem stagnated, the world moves forward at an incredible pace. Radical new thinking and technologies are essential to conquer challenges like climate change.

A Cautionary Tale: The Race Toward Utopia

While the promise of a utopian future brims with exciting possibilities, we must also consider the potential pitfalls. The relentless pursuit of technological advancement and the creation of a seemingly perfect world can bring about significant destabilization, posing existential threats to our civilization. Here’s why the race toward utopia could end in dystopia.

The Technological Singularity: A Double-Edged Sword

The rapid convergence of AI, robotics, genetic engineering, and other advanced technologies carries unprecedented potential. However, unchecked and unregulated advancements could lead to unintended consequences. As AI grows more autonomous, the risk of losing control over superintelligent systems looms large. These systems could make decisions beyond human comprehension, leading to unpredictable and possibly catastrophic outcomes.

Autonomous Weapons: AI-driven weaponry could fall into the wrong hands or malfunction, resulting in large-scale conflicts or even accidental wars.

Privacy Erosion: As surveillance technologies advance, personal privacy may become a relic of the past. Governments and corporations could exploit these technologies to exert control, stifling freedom and individuality.

Economic Disparity and Social Unrest

While technological innovations promise economic growth and improved quality of life, they also risk exacerbating inequality. As automation and AI replace human labor, vast segments of the population could find themselves unemployed, unable to adapt to the new economic landscape.

Widening Wealth Gap: The benefits of technological advancements are often unevenly distributed, favoring those with access to education and resources. This could lead to a widening chasm between the wealthy and the poor, fueling social unrest and instability.

Loss of Jobs: Entire industries could become obsolete, leaving millions without livelihoods. The transition to a new economy may not be swift enough to absorb the displaced workforce, leading to widespread poverty and discontent.

Ethical and Moral Dilemmas

The drive to push the boundaries of science often outpaces ethical considerations. Genetic engineering, particularly in humans, raises profound moral questions. The potential to create “designer babies” could lead to a new form of eugenics, where only the genetically enhanced thrive.

Genetic Inequality: Access to genetic enhancements may be limited to the elite, creating a genetically stratified society. This could institutionalize inequality on an unprecedented scale, leading to social division and conflict.

Bioethics: The manipulation of life at its most fundamental level raises concerns about playing God. Ethical boundaries may be crossed in the quest for progress, leading to unforeseen consequences for humanity and the environment.

Environmental Impact

While some technologies aim to mitigate climate change, others could exacerbate environmental degradation. The production and disposal of advanced tech can lead to pollution and resource depletion.

Resource Depletion: The mining of rare earth metals for electronics and batteries can devastate ecosystems. Unsustainable extraction practices threaten biodiversity and long-term environmental health.

Waste and Pollution: E-waste is a growing problem. The rapid obsolescence of devices leads to mountains of discarded electronics, which often end up in landfills, releasing toxic substances into the environment.

The Fragility of Hyperconnectivity

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through digital networks, the risk of systemic collapse grows. A single cyberattack or software glitch could have cascading effects, disrupting critical infrastructure and services.

Cybersecurity Threats: The more we rely on interconnected systems, the more vulnerable we become to cyberattacks. A well-coordinated attack could paralyze financial systems, power grids, and communication networks.

Systemic Failures: Complex systems are prone to unforeseen vulnerabilities. A failure in one part of the system can quickly escalate, leading to widespread chaos and disruption.

Societal and Cultural Erosion

The relentless march of technology can erode traditional cultural and societal structures. The pace of change can outstrip society’s ability to adapt, leading to cultural dislocation and identity crises.

Loss of Human Touch: Overreliance on technology can diminish human interaction and empathy. As virtual interactions replace face-to-face communication, we risk losing the depth of human connection.

Cultural Homogenization: Globalization and the spread of technology can lead to cultural homogenization, where local traditions and identities are overshadowed by a dominant global culture.

In Conclusion: Balancing Progress with Prudence

The pursuit of a utopian future through technological advancement holds immense promise but also significant peril. As we navigate this brave new world, it is crucial to balance innovation with ethical considerations, economic equity, and environmental sustainability. We must be vigilant and proactive in addressing the risks associated with rapid technological change.

Striking a Balance: Policymakers, scientists, and society at large must work together to establish frameworks that guide responsible innovation. This includes robust regulations, ethical guidelines, and inclusive policies that ensure the benefits of technology are broadly shared.

Embracing Ethical Innovation: We must prioritize ethical considerations in the development and deployment of new technologies. This involves transparent decision-making processes and active engagement with diverse stakeholders to address moral and societal implications.

Fostering Resilience: Building resilient systems that can withstand and adapt to disruptions is essential. This includes investing in cybersecurity, sustainable practices, and social safety nets to protect against the negative impacts of technological advancement.

In embracing the future, we must also be mindful of the lessons of the past. By approaching the march toward utopia with caution and wisdom, we can harness the power of innovation to create a future that is not only advanced but also equitable, ethical, and sustainable. The future begins today, but it must be shaped with a deep understanding of the potential consequences and a commitment to the greater good.

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