Entering the innovation age and looking to the future

10 min read
11 Dec 2018

ow do you want the world to look like for generations to come? And what action can we take now to secure that? From finding renewable energy sources to reducing global poverty, creating a better world will need the participation of us all.

This article was written by the original owner of startupguide.com, Ryan Allis, and published on his website in 2012. Read more about why Ryan was happy to hand over his website domain to us here.

As of 2013, only 36 percent of humanity has internet access. That number will reach 50 percent by the end of 2015 in a major tipping point for our species. Instead of the lucky few having access to free cloud education, soon all humans will be able to benefit from sites like EDx, Wikipedia, iTunes U, and Khan Academy.

The innovation age will begin at the end of 2015, when for the first time more than 50 percent of humans have access to the cloud.

To say the least, I am excited about the next few decades. Humans have made great advances since the nineteenth century, as we’ve come through the industrial age to the information age, enabling the human population to grow from 1 billion to 7.2 billion in just two centuries.

The information age, which began with the advent of microcomputers in 1970 and will end with the start of the innovation age in 2015, has brought with it the greatest 45 years in the history of human progress.

We now live in the most exciting time in human history for creators and innovators.

There have been substantial increases in life expectancy, per capita income and literacy, and significant decreases in infant mortality and the number of people living in poverty around the world.

Now, as we enter the innovation age (2015-2050), we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us. Synthetic biology is here. Clean renewable energy is here. Global connection is here. The platforms have been built. We now live in the most exciting time in human history for creators and innovators.

Our next great opportunity is creating a carbon-neutral world in which every human has access to what they need to thrive. Prosperous sustainability is coming. To achieve it will take your help and the collaboration of all of us.

Creating world 2050

Being a futurist is one of the things that excites me the most. There are some amazing organizations around the world that really think about the future of the human species.

The Long Now Foundation in the San Francisco Bay area is building a clock that they intend to work for 10,000 years. Other organizations are thinking about space travel, the future of innovation, and how to create a world that is more equitable for all.

In order to talk about the future of the world, we have to project some important statistics so that we can at least understand what is likely to be seen in the future.

That’s why, in this section, I’m going to be using some data from studies at the Pardee Center for International Futures to show some trends that are going on at the macro level and projecting them forward about 40 years.

The future of population and life expectancy

Let’s start by looking at population. For tens of thousands of years, human population was stuck at under a billion people. Around the turn of the 19th century, we start to see the beginning of a rapid increase in human population as we hit the industrial age.

With new innovations and new abilities to produce food at scale, we have been able to increase the global population from about one billion to a little over seven billion in the last couple of hundred years.

In the next 35 years, the UN estimates that we’re going to see population rise above nine billion and then begin to level off. This will create new market opportunities for entrepreneurs all over the world, but it will also create new challenges for governments in metropolises and cities, and particularly for folks that are working on environmental issues.

Global energy demands will more than double by 2050. Fossil fuel usage will peak and then decline as we begin to move to more renewable sources.

Looking at internet access, broadband is expected to reach 85 percent of the population from about 9 percent as of 2010. That is an exciting trend. When we can get high speed access combined with pocket supercomputers in the hands of more than 80 percent of the world, amazing things will happen.

In terms of life expectancy, we’ll continue to improve. In the last 40 years, human life expectancy has increased from the age of 59 to over 69. In the next 40 years, life expectancy is on track to go from age 70 to 77, about a 10 percent improvement, according to data from the Pardee Center for International Futures.

Based on some of the medical science I’ve been seeing recently here in Mountain View, California, particularly at Singularity University and at Stanford, I would not be at all surprised if this number actually gets blown out of the water, and that average life expectancy is much beyond 80 by that time, if not more.

In terms of infant mortality, the great news is that fewer babies will die before age five, going from a global average of over 30 (out of every thousand births) today to a global average of under ten (or under 1 percent of the population) by 2050.

The future of income and poverty

In terms of economics, GDP per capita (or average income per person) is going to more than double over the next 40 years, from a little over $8,000 today to about $18,000 in current dollars by 2050.

What’s going to happen to extreme poverty? Well, we don’t exactly know, but the Pardee Center believes that extreme poverty is going to go down from about 18 or 19 percent today to under 6 percent by 2050.

This is an area of particular interest to me. I’ve been passionate about creating a world without poverty, a world in which every human being has access to basic human needs and has the ability to create, inspire others and innovate.

Extreme poverty is a measure that I think can, in our lifetimes, approach zero, probably by 2030-2035, if we as a species determine that having a world in which everyone has access to basic human needs is a priority.

When we create a world in which everyone has access to what they need to survive, what they need to raise their family, what they need to educate their kids and keep their families healthy, we will have a much more secure world in which all of us will be able to be more prosperous.

The future of education and cities

In terms of education, we are going to be getting better educated as a race. We’re going to go from a world in which 24 percent of the population finish secondary school, to a world in which 46 percent of the population finish secondary school.

It’s a disturbing statistic: only one in four human beings today finish secondary schooling. But fortunately that’s going to nearly double over the next 40 years.

In terms of college completion, globally it’s around 7 percent today. But the percentage of people with college degrees over the next 40 years is going to triple to over 20 percent of the population.

Imagine a world in which three times as many people had college degrees. I think that’s going to be a better world. And importantly, women will be going to college in droves, going from 5 percent of the population today to over 21 percent of the population in 2050. That’s up to 3.5 times the current amount or a 265 percent increase.

It’s a disturbing statistic: only one in four human beings today finish secondary schooling. But fortunately that’s going to nearly double over the next 40 years.

We’re also becoming more urban as a species. We’re moving from rural areas to suburban and urban areas. The percentage of our population in cities, which has just recently passed 50 percent, is likely to go 67 percent by 2050, according to the Pardee Center.

So in the next 35 years, we’re going to see amazing innovations. We’re going to see tremendous changes in the interactions of internal, external, and ecological systems. We have an exciting future ahead of us, one that I’m optimistic about.

Yes, we do have challenges, particularly with global security, nuclear proliferation, carbon output, and climate change, but I think that we have an opportunity in the next 40 years, as global population expands beyond nine billion people and science and technology and the internet is truly able to be democratized, to create an amazing future together.

We’re going to see some game-changing innovations in the years ahead, including nanotechnology, 3D printing, genome sequencing, synthetic life, private space travel, and new desalination techniques that can efficiently provide clean water to everyone.

We’re moving into a world where, if you want to be a leader, you have to be a good person. I look forward to that world.

The future of government

Governments will have to adapt to this new world. Societies and populations are going to demand increased government transparency, better access to public and government data, and stronger property rights.

For innovation to spread globally, it’s going to need to get easier to start a business around the world. We’re going to need better and smarter regulations on carbon dioxide output.

Some of the remaining totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that don’t listen to their populations are likely to be overthrown as today we have technologies that enable anyone to easily communicate with a massive group of people and create change.

Fortunately, with social media, we’re entering a world in which if you are not a transparent person, if you’re not an authentically good person, you will not be able to be elected as a leader, because people will know and that information will get out. We’re moving into a world where, if you want to be a leader, you have to be a good person. I look forward to that world.

Major geopolitical changes are going to happen as well. It’s projected that by the mid-2020s China will have the world’s largest GDP. India will be the world’s most populous nation. Africa, which today is the stage for some of the most extreme poverty in the world, will have over two billion people and be a true economic power, a market of two-ninths of the world in which there are tremendous moves ahead as they leapfrog some of the technologies that we’ve built here in the West.

Fossil fuel producers will have less influence as we begin to move away from fossil fuels pretty quickly, out of necessity. We will have continued insecurity globally until we lower our emissions, particularly considering that some of the most significant and dangerous effects of climate change are going to happen in the places that currently have the least economic security.

If we truly want a secure, prosperous, strong economy and a strong society, we need to take fossil fuel reduction and the move to clean renewable energy very seriously.

The future of frontier markets

The May 2000 cover of The Economist referred to Africa as “The Hopeless Continent.” I was very glad to see the same magazine, in its December 4th, 2011 issue, writing a new story for Africa: a story of Africa rising.

I’ve spent a good amount of time in East Africa over the last five years and I found it to be a region that is growing, with tremendous opportunities. And that’s true not just in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda but all over Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana to Botswana to South Africa. To me, investing in Africa today is like investing in India or China 30 years ago.

In the next 40 years, Generation Y will be leading. I define Generation Y as folks who were born between 1980 and 2000. We’re also known as the millennials.

Forty years from now, the youngest millennials will be about 52 and the oldest millennials will be about 72. Generation Y truly will be leading the next 40 years.

As we see the internet generation grow up and become leaders with all this access to information and knowledge , we’re going to see amazing, positive changes in society. But we also have great challenges ahead of us that we have to tackle head on.

I hope you’ll also start dreaming about the way the world can be in the future.

Main photo: Unsplash/Giu Vicente

*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on December 11th, 2018.