It’s my first column of 2023. For a futurist this means one thing, looking forward to the year ahead, attempting some prognostics without necessarily trying to be predictive. Yes, that’s right: we cannot predict the future but we can imagine what might be coming our way or reflect on the potential impacts. For example: based on statistics, historical data and punditry, Brazil was widely expected to win the Qatar World Cup, and yet …
So, what might we see in 2023?
This year could be a make-or-break year for Meta. The company has invested billions to develop metaverse-related software and infrastructure. Much of that has yet to pay off, but other companies are also investing in hardware such as VR headsets and more. Part of the reason for the sustained investment is that there are masses of gamers: more than 3.7 billion globally, and growing.
Immersive experiences and advertising in this space is expected to reach over $780 billion by 2024, according to research by the management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. That figure might well reach an eye-watering $13 trillion by 2030. Yet, remember how Brazil was meant to win the World Cup? Well, much of this huge revenue in the metaverse comes from advertisement – that age-old and not very innovative way of indirectly paying for a service. Well, the coming years will also probably see marketers pull out of the advertising space because users find advertisement invasive and unhelpful – plus, increasingly countries are passing privacy laws that could restrict advertisement opportunities. Taking these outlooks together, Meta will need to be supremely creative and disrupting itself to find ways to create value from/in the new digital space beyond the historical business models the company has been relying on.
Crypto – is the end in sight or will there be a rebirth? There is no denying that these digital assets have taken a beating, not least because of lack of regulation and generally poor risk management of exchanges. Throughout much of the Covid-19 pandemic, the principal cryptocurrencies have returned profits to investors. Then much of the house of cards has come crashing down, causing an inevitable price correction and some widespread pain. Is this the equivalent of the dotcom bubble?
In the year 2000, the market corrected the exuberant prices of company stocks that had yet to turn a profit. Of course, it was too early to write off these internet companies as a whole and the likes of Google, Amazon and eBay have emerged as winners from the ashes. The question for 2023 will be whether cryptocurrencies or their new incarnations will define a reason to exist in the mainstream beyond speculation. New purposes might well emerge, but if they don’t, these currencies and their investors could well stare into the abyss.
Chat with a bot – who is on the other end of the line? In time for the holidays, many clever AI systems are now available to help writing compelling season’s greeting cards. Suddenly, children will send articulate thank-you notes to generous grandparents. And businesses might use their Enterprise Resource Planning system to send heartfelt personalised messages to each and every last one of their employees, suppliers, customers and relatives. Such is the world we could inhabit: words become as cheap as fortune cookie messages, yet eloquent and plentiful. So, how will we know if that love letter is truly a message from the heart or a bot that has extracted meaning from Shakespeare, the Beatles and many others? Will it matter? The world needs to be ready to react to receiving apparently intelligent automated text. And, importantly, those who need to be even more ready to the consequences are the authors who would have penned those words but are now written out of the equation.
Finally, despite the relentless advance of technology, we are human after all, and next year, like the years past, we will define ourselves by how we relate to each other individually and as societies. It’s really about whether our species advances as a whole, and specifically whether the people with the least opportunity are given a chance. The pressures have been mounting: whether it’s inflation, conflict, migration, disease, unemployment, exclusion, our societies are only as strong as our weakest members.
It is unreasonable to think or expect that all challenges will suddenly be resolved or disappear with the start of a new year. But each new year, like every new day, provides an opportunity to shape a better future for all.
In Dubai, and the UAE, this is like a mantra – imagining, designing and executing the future. And at the Dubai Future Foundation, we are developing the principles that will allow us to achieve this consistently. One of the first and most important principles is to envision futures that reflect the values we say we believe in. So, for 2023 and beyond, I can imagine that with collective effort and appreciation for society’s differences, it’s up to us to create the conditions to achieve a more human future. This is eminently possible and entirely independent of access to technology.
So, get on with it – don’t ask chatGPT to help you with that.