Man and Machine: The 2050 Human Experience
The first Gen Z-ers will earn their undergraduate degrees this spring.
Nothing like the revelation that someone born in 1995 is legally buying alcohol AND entering the workforce to make you want to relive the glory days. In fact, by 2020, this group will constitute 36 percent of the global workforce.
And 2017 brings other revelations. Every January, the World Economic Forum’s annual meet in Davos lets us ponder what is possible.
And as Gen Z comes of age, it’s incredible to imagine how their world will change. While mainstream culture still grapples with millennials, Gen Z will catalyze major societal shifts in the next 30 years; from food and healthcare, to Internet access and infrastructure.
Among the WEF’s strategic initiatives, two mega trends will particularly influence the world that a fifty-something Gen-Z-er lives in come 2050: rapid urbanization and hyper-connectivity. These two dynamics will create a barely-recognizable human experience by integrating our physical and digital experiences into one blended reality.
New Urban Environments for New Expectations
The WEF’s Future of Urban Development and Services project has opened eyes to the challenges and opportunities of rapid urbanization.
By 2050, Gen Z will be fifty-plus – an age group that is the biggest demographic in the world. By that same point, the UN estimates they will be part of a global population of 9.6 billion, with two-thirds living in urban areas.
On average, they will spend three years in any one job and have a total of 17, and they will live in 15 different places. No wonder this group also tends to rent things more often than own them.
Even more vital is how these digital natives have grown up: A mobile phone in their pocket, the internet at their fingertips every day, and five screens constantly available – smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV and desktop. And all of which increasingly have some form of artificial intelligence built in.
Cities can be reinvented for this new urban reality. Smart buildings, more immersive and ambient computing technologies, and connectivity built in to virtually everything.
But as this generation ages, they’ll tell you it’s sometimes hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Which is perhaps why this next generation may find themselves living in places like The Great City outside of Chengdu, China – a greenfield city built for just 80,000 people with no cars, 48 percent less energy and 58 percent less water use than traditional cities, and generating 89 percent less landfill waste and 60 percent less carbon dioxide.
Two thirds of the world will live in urban areas by 2050, but 95 percent of them will be in what, today, we consider emerging markets.
If we are to reinvent future cities, we must connect absolutely everything and everyone.
Again, the WEF’s Hyperconnected World and Internet for All initiatives are appropriately focused. By 2020 there will be 50 billion networked devices, and by 2021 4G coverage will reach about 75 percent of the global population. The thirty years beyond that will see not only cars, thermostats and refrigerators connected to the Internet of Things, but an explosion in the Internet of ALL Things: connected sidewalks, furniture, and even disposable items like trash bags.
Connecting humans themselves is the most exciting.
By 2050, this on-demand generation will be part of an enormous fifty-plus age group that will need more access to high quality care. With things like hearing aids, pacemakers and wearables, humans are already somewhat ‘bionic’. But by 2050, the warehouse worker that resembles Iron Man won’t be the stuff of comic books. And restoring a blind person’s vision will simply be science, not science fiction.
Perhaps the most impactful part of this hyper-connected future will be advances in remote care. A Gen-Z-er that takes a job with a biotech company this summer may outfit doctors with augmented reality glasses for hands free information; or create the AI-enhanced robot allowing a surgeon in New York to operate on a patient in Nigeria.
But creating all of these new experiences also requires a new way of designing and building the world around us. Current supply chains and economies aren’t equipped for this on-demand, sustainable future. This week, our CEO is in Davos taking part on a panel that looks at the fourth industrial revolution, a massive societal shift that will transform how we create, deliver and consume things. In its wake, cities will change, demographics will be reinvented, and new experiences will take shape.
The common outcome in all these trends is our persistent trek toward blended reality: the intertwining of our digital and physical worlds; man and machine combined to make life better.
Gen Z’s future is looking bright.