When we plan for the future, it’s easy to think that we’re planning for a future that’s similar to the present.
But think about how much the world has changed in your own lifetime.
In my 37 years of life I’ve witnessed a lot of change. Year to year, nothing has seemed radical, but the changes add up.
It’s amazing to think of the technological changes. Since being a teenager, I’ve witnessed the birth of the internet as we know it today. My initial experiences with the “web” involved logging into local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) on a 2400 BPS modem. (If I recall correctly, it took about 30 minutes to download a 100kb image.) My first computer had a 4-colour CGA monitor. Cellphones weren’t widely available and adopted by people my age until we were in university. (The screens were black and white.) Digital cameras during my early years at university used 3.5″ floppy disks, storing a whopping 1.44MB. 3G still seems magical, let alone 4G.
When I remind my children that there was no YouTube when I was growing up? Their minds are blown.
Take a step further back and think about some of the innovations of the last 100 years or so. Off the top of my head these include:
- Modern flight
- Supermarkets as we know them
- Standardised shipping containers
- Mass-market cars
- Birth control
- The increased incidence of women in the workforce
- Black and white TV, which has evolved to Netflix on every device
- The financial system as we interface with it on a daily basis – credit cards, ATMs, EFTPOS, managed funds (especially index-based funds), Paywave
- Online shopping: think of Amazon’s ubiquity.
What will happen in the next 100 years hold? Off the top of my head:
- Renewable energy with low ongoing costs (and risks)
- Changes to our climate
- Self-driving cars
- Plant-based “meat” or lab-grown meat (or synthetic meat, or cultured meat, or clean meat, or ethical meat, or meet without feet, or whatever it ends up being called)
- Travel to Mars and possible human colonisation of Mars
- Increasingly wide applications of artificial intelligence (AI) (note that calculators are an extremely effective form of narrow artificial intelligence. But somehow once a form of AI is adopted it no longer becomes “AI” in our minds0)
- Nanotechnology and the ability to produce items seemingly out of thin air
Each of these have enormous opportunities for humanity. Not to mention risks.
When we think about what the world will look like for us in the future, it’s easy to extrapolate and think that the way we live in the future will be very similar to the way we live today.
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But when we think about how the world has changed over the past 100 years and project forward into the future, it’s easy to wonder whether this will be the case.
God may laugh when we tell him his plans. But the benefit of the plan isn’t the plan – it’s the planning. And when doing so, we need to think about the broader backdrop in which our lives will take place.
It’s easy to overestimate what you can achieve in the short-term and underestimate what you can achieve in the long-term.
It’s true at the individual level and it’s true in terms of society at large.