The Concerns of Tomorrow
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The Concerns of Tomorrow

The next 40 years – What will shape our lives? A futurologist ventures a prediction.

When I, in my role as a futurologist, outline the concerns of tomorrow, people might get the impression that the future is gloomy. This is neither my intention nor my expectation. I do not see myself as either an optimist or a pessimist, but rather as a "possibilist" who recognizes challenges, along with the opportunities and risks that they represent. There will be crises in the future. But crises represent a crossroads, similar to what we see over the course of an illness. The illness can accelerate, or it can turn around and begin to heal. If the Swiss actually tackle the following issues, the country will, in the best case scenario, find the solutions to its future challenges.

In the pension system, we have still to face the real challenges.

Georges T. Roos

In the Next 10 Years

We live in an unusual time: Savers are punished, while those who go into debt reap benefits. Central banks have been trying to use negative interest rates to induce banks and investors to lend more, which they would do if they found the risks justifiable. Over the next 10 years, central banks will look for a way out of this paradoxical situation. Will this result in the collapse of the euro? Will the Swiss franc go through the roof? Will there be high inflation? Experts today have become lost in a thicket of technical details. Hardly anyone is asking the obvious questions, but they will need to be answered. Every day, thousands of people cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats, fleeing war, poverty, despotism and a sense of hopelessness. They are seeking asylum in a Europe that is at a loss as to what it should do. And I see no signs of this crisis resolving itself. Taking in and integrating hundreds of thousands of people into our social systems and labor markets will shape the next several years.

In 10 to 20 Years

In the pension system, we have still to face the real challenges. In a little more than a decade, the last members of the Baby Boom generation will reach the age of retirement and begin collecting AHV pension payments. The ratio of pension recipients to workers has become perilously high. There is now one retired person for every two working-age adults (in 1960, the ratio was 1:6). It might be possible to finance everything. But that does not mean the solution is always fair. The plague the "Black Death" ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killing a third of the population. Today, we have antibiotics that can cure the plague, which has still not been eradicated entirely, provided they are applied early enough. But what will happen in the future if a virus comes along that is resistant to antibiotics? Experts are already warning of this threat. In a globally connected world, pandemics have become more likely.

Collaborative robots will work with nursing staff to care for the elderly and the sick. 

Georges T. Roos 

In 20 to 30 Years

On the whole, however, I do not expect more diseases in the future, but rather significantly better medicine. Scientists managed to sequence the human genome several years ago. Now we need to understand our genes better. It is like having a dictionary with the definitions missing. Things will be different in 20 to 30 years. Much more efficient treatments will be possible, with personalized medicines and the ability to grow body parts in a bioreactor using our own genetic material. Some visionaries already claim that they will soon be able to heal the "disease of age." But what should be permitted? What should be financed through the combined community of health insurance plans? Should we have two classes of medicine? Health care will likely become more important in the Worry Barometer not in spite of, but rather precisely because of the expected progress in medicine.

Medical progress goes hand in hand with the development of artificial intelligence. Machines capable of learning will shake up the workplace over the next several years, in what is being called the fourth Industrial Revolution. This process of automation will likely reach deep into the service sector. Intelligent machines will serve as the accountants, clerks, controllers and land surveyors of the future. Collaborative robots will work with nursing staff to care for the elderly and the sick. If the prediction in an Oxford University study is correct that nearly 50 percent of all jobs today will be automated in 20 years then concerns about unemployment are more justified now than they have been for 40 years (for more information on the future of work, read the article of Nicole Burth Tschudi, CEO of Adecco Switzerland).  

If Africa manages to find its footing, it will be a force to be reckoned with. 

Georges T. Roos 

In 30 to 40 Years

At some point, artificial intelligence will be more intelligent than people, or even more intelligent than humanity as a whole. Technology guru and futurist Ray Kurzweil talks about singularity: This will be achieved when intelligent machines are able to build even more intelligent machines – without the involvement of human beings in any way. Will these super-intelligent beings conduct an analysis of the situation and conclude that the biggest problem facing the planet is humanity? I do not believe that this will occur – but I do believe it is humanity's responsibility to understand how and to what extent it should rely on artificial intelligence systems. The future structure of globalization could also once again become increasingly important in the Worry Barometer – albeit in a surprising form. It is conceivable that in 30 or 40 years Africa will supplant Asia and the US as the engine of the global economy. Of all the continents, Africa has the most favorable demographic structure for the future. Not only does it have a high percentage of young people, they are also increasingly well educated. And it has natural resources. If Africa manages to find its footing, it will be a force to be reckoned with.