The World In 2020 author to give bigger snapshot of future in Dubai

As an expert on future trends and innovation, Tim Jones – the programme director of The Future Agenda – is often spot-on with his predictions. Now he is heading to Dubai to share his insights at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Tim Jones, the founder and programme director of Future Agenda, has ran 120 events in 40 countries. Courtesy Future Agenda
Tim Jones, the founder and programme director of Future Agenda, has ran 120 events in 40 countries. Courtesy Future Agenda

When Tim Jones forecast that the world could expect to see self-driving cars, fake news and an increase in solar power in the next three years, he was spot on – with his decade-old forecast.

He wrote The World In 2020 back in 2010, the output of a massive “foresight” project he ran by talking to industry experts, politicians and chief executives around the world.

Now the founder and programme director of the Future Agenda, a non-profit initiative, is back with another, bigger snapshot of the future, undertaken in 2015 and predicting how the world will look by the quarter-century – something he will share at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 11.

From Washington DC to Dubai and Singapore to Sao Paulo, Mr Jones and his team ran 120 events in 40 countries, touching every continent, to discuss two dozen topics including trade, education, data, cities, food, water and energy.

They spoke to thousands of people, from chief strategy officers, academics, government advisers and ministers and even students, to bring together wide ranges of views and informed debate.

The American University of Beirut was one of the global universities whose students were invited to participate. All events were run under Chatham House Rules, so attendees’ identities have not been revealed.

“Our job is to find things that will be big in 10 years – not necessarily new things,” says Mr Jones. He says they look to the biggest topics, which will affect “millions and potentially billions of people”.

“We separate probability from possibility; the forecasts are not necessarily 100 per cent,” he adds.

Eighty per cent of the 50 predictions made back in 2015 are happening “quite tangibly”, he says, from the self-driving car to artificial intelligence, shifting centres of economic power and increasing migration.

The rise of solar power has happened quicker than expected, he says; the price of solar panels has dropped considerably and there has been a huge amount of investment, particularly by China.

The country is building the world’s biggest solar farm in the Ningxia region, the size of 7,000 city blocks and costing US$2.3 billion.

The growth of mega-city states such as Dubai is another key trend, says Mr Jones, which is “almost going back 200 to 300 years”. The London economy is different to the rest of the UK, particularly in its reaction to Brexit, and California operates ahead of the rest of the US, he adds; such places are now becoming “decoupled from nations, the hinterland”.

In China and India, he says, cities are even joining together to operate at a mega-city level, coordinating their transport, education and economies. “This accelerates the ability of a region to perform but without the burden of massive populations coming into cities and creating slums,” says London-based Mr Jones.

Chinese cities along the Pearl River Delta, for example, such as Chaoshan, Fuzhou and Zhangzhou-Xiamen, have joined together to form a network equivalent to a mega-city of 42 million people, according to The World Bank. That makes it the world’s largest urban area, with a population higher more than Argentina, Australia, Canada or Malaysia.

Shanghai will be the city leading the world by 2020, Mr Jones says, and China is on track to meet its pledge to have one of the world’s cleanest economies by 2030: there are radical moves afoot to reduce China’s dependence on coal, while solar power and electric vehicles will also help enormously.

Disbelievers would do well, he adds, to remember that the country pledged to move half a billion people out of poverty in 1977, then did, and - as a communist party does not have elections to worry about like western governments, it can make changes so much more swiftly.

With the big shift to cities, another key issue is the increasing inequality of the worldwide rich-poor divide. But the divide is less about money and more about access, says Mr Jones.

“If we can give wider access to better health care, education and do the right things to make sure people can access decent public transport, improve mobility and be connected, it will reduce financial inequality over time,” he predicts.

As currencies are now decoupled from assets such as gold, currency is now “just the share price of a nation”, says Mr Jones – so we will see more digital currencies like Bitcoin, which he says are as likely to come from Apple or Google as from any government, as people trust them more.

The irony in it all, he says glumly, is that when you get a prognosis correct, people are neither shaken nor stirred, whereas if you get it wrong, “people think you’re a little bit mad”.

It will be fascinating to see in 2020 how many of the latest set of predictions have come true – and to look ahead again, with Future Agenda 3.0 an augur of 2030.

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Published: February 5, 2017 04:00 AM


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