by Ryan Allis
The Innovation Age will begin at the end of 2015 when for the first time more than 50% of humans have access to the cloud. As of 2013, only 36% of humanity has internet access. That number will reach 50% 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, and Khan Academy.
To say the least, I am excited about the next few decades. Humans have made great advances since 1800 as we’ve come through the Industrial Age to the Information Age—enabling 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 forty-five years in the history of human progress, leading to 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. See the data in the article The World is Actually Getting Better.
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. At we reach solar grid parity, within ten years clean energy will be at a lower cost per kilowatt than fossil fuel energy. And, as Peter Diamandis argues in Abundance, soon we will have a world in which everyone globally has access to their basic needs.
After 200,000 years of homo sapiens being around, within the next 40 years we will for the first time in human history create a carbon-neutral sustainable world in which everyone has access to food, water, shelter, and education as well as modern medicine, electricity, and the cloud.
The four billion “digital natives” born between 1980 and 2012 intuitively understand global connection, species-level identity, and innovation and will be leading the time ahead—bringing exciting new perspectives to replace the industrial-age thinking of the past. We see business, when done right, as a tool for good. We see efficient, effective, transparent, and technologically-enabled government as essential.
In the two-hundred-year debate of socialism vs. capitalism, it is socially responsible capitalism that has won—built on a foundation of compassionate and efficiently-run cloud-enabled government.
The companies that build a better world for all will prosper. The entrepreneurs who build companies that make a positive impact will prosper. The politicians who embrace the reality of a connected, interdependent world, driven by innovation and ubiquitous access to the cloud, will prosper.
We should celebrate this human achievement of the democratization of access to information, people, and opportunity—and push to bring the cloud to 100% of humanity by 2030. The cloud is the greatest innovation platform ever built. The cloud has come a long way from its origins as ARPANET in 1969.
The Innovation Age will be characterized by the transformative effects of a world with ubiquitous cloud-connected nanocomputers. Every human being will be empowered to learn, grow, and make a difference for their family, community, and world. Every business and every government will have to be re-imagined as we solve the challenges of the future, creating great opportunity for the entrepreneurs of Gen Y.
For the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, the greatest opportunity is completing the work of our forebears and finally building a world that is both sustainable, with low-cost clean energy, and prosperous—a world in which all people have access to what they need to survive and thrive.
I like to imagine the innovation that will ensue when every person in the world has access to Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and Code Academy. This Innovation Age is coming. I hope to be an accelerant in ensuring everyone has the access and the tools and the easy-to-use software power the nan supercomputer in their pocket, eyeglasses, or contact lens.
I see a sustainable, prosperous, and connected world ahead. A world in which bad dictators get ousted, unethical leaders get exposed, people who harm others get put on broadcast streaming iTV. A world in which we all have access to education, knowledge, and information is coming. A world in which we have equal rights under internally enforced law, regardless of birthplace or skin color, is coming. A world in which everyone has enough to eat, enough clean water to drink, and access to medicine, lighting, and a solid roof over their head is coming. This world is not the one we live in yet—but wow, we’ve come a long way toward this world of sustainable global prosperity in the last 200 years.
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 excite 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 the Pardee Center for International Futures‘ studies to show some trends that are going on at the macro level and projecting them forward about 40 years.
The Future of Population & 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 1800, 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 1 billion to a little over 7 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 9 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 fortunately will peak and then decline as we begin to move to more renewables.
Looking at Internet access, broadband is expected to reach 85% of the population from about 9% 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% of the world, amazing things will happen.
In terms of life expectancy, we’ll continue to improve. We saw in the section “The World is Actually Getting Better” that in the last 40 years, human life expectancy has increased from 59 to over 69. In the next 40 years, life expectancy is on track to go from 70 to 77, about a 10% 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 over 30 (out of every thousand births) today to a global average under 10 (or under 1% 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% today to under 6% 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 and inspire others and innovate, for the last ten years—ever since I had an amazing professor in high school by the name of Mr. Fletcher who taught me about economics from a human perspective.
Extreme poverty is a measure that I actually think can, in our lifetimes, asymptotically 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. I actually think that 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 & 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% of the population finish secondary school to a world in which 46% of 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% today. But the percentage of people with college degrees over the next 40 years is going to triple to over 20% 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% of the population today to over 21% of the population in 2050—up nearly 3.5 times or a 265% increase.
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%, is likely to go 67% 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 9 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.
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 an, en masse, and create action to 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 2 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 4, 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, Gen Y will be leading. I define Gen 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 millenials will be about 72. Gen 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.