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These 25 ideas will shape the 2020s

Fortune asked the sharpest minds to weigh in on the epic, disruptive, thrilling, terrifying, and fascinating ideas that will mold the 2020s.

Here's a summary of what they came up with.

1. Business and government will work together again

There was once a fairly smooth running partnership between the two in which publicly funded research and development helped propel humankind into the space, and, later, the computer and Internet ages. Unless we rebuild those bonds innovation will dry up, growth and profits will suffer, and inequality will worsen.

We need to focus on a more purposeful system that goes beyond shareholder value. And that requires a redesign of the governance systems of both the public and private sectors, and how they relate to one another. - Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in London.

2. The new age of economics will dawn

The power of narratives in driving economic events will be studied more. Economics will become less mechanical—more attention to storytelling and changing popular ideas.

3. A gold standard of digital currencies will emerge

Over the next decade there’s the potential for an entirely new form of money, “stablecoin.” he real opportunity lies in major guarantors of the financial system, such as central banks and governments, committing to a supranational form of money. Such new currency could facilitate international payments and include those people and small businesses that are currently unbanked in the financial system in countries like India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, or the DRC. A stablecoin could make financial inclusion real.

4. Capitalism will save the planet

In the Industrial Age economies grew at earth’s expense. Resource extraction directly correlated to wealth accumulation: More mining of metals, felling forests, and burning bitumen meant greater prosperity. Capitalism literally became a dirty word.

In the U.S. “we’re not using up the earth as much anymore. We’re using it less, even as our growth continues,” - Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Pollution is, in the developed world, decreasing year over year. Electricity use has been effectively flat in America for about a decade even as growth continues.

5. Business will embrace its responsibility to save capitalism

Society needs to have lots of different organizations that are all morally load-bearing. Firms have to be morally load-bearing, and for most of human history they have been. But that aspect of capitalism came off the rails sometime around the 1970s, with Milton Friedman’s dictum that the sole purpose of a firm is to make profit for shareholders.

Leadership and measurement of companies accomplishments matter, because if firms only measure profit, they'll only be about profit. The Business Roundtable has finally found the courage to say, “We just don’t do that!” Now, either promises to take a more holistic view of the purpose of business just degenerate into happy talk, or we get serious about it.

6. Genomics will rewrite medicine and prevention

10 years from now, we’re likely to see much more high-quality prediction about health outcomes for people that are based on their genes.

Over the coming decade we (will) see an increasing global effort to put in place appropriate regulations for using genome editing, especially in applications that could have a very profound impact on everyone. And that’ll include not just human reproductive health, but frankly also agriculture. - Jennifer Doudna, a UC–Berkeley professor and world-renowned biochemist is one of the pioneers behind the gene-editing technology.

7. Cell-based meat will change the way we eat

People are becoming more conscious about food. Over the next decade, diets will become increasingly individualized—vegan, ketogenic, gluten-free—and also more tribalized; if you’re paleo, you’ll have an affiliation with people doing the same thing. A mass market still exists, but it’s shrinking.

In the next decade, we'll see the trend of growing cell-based meat —that is, meat grown from animal cells. This trend could change the entire planet.

8. The 31st human right should be to own your medical data

There is a fundamental lack of trust between consumers and corporations. The relationship is ill-designed in the terms and conditions agreement you have to sign for the most basic applications.

What we have invented, because of our belief that there should be better ways for consumers to engage, is something that transforms the “I Accept.” That could have applications for industries ranging from air travel to healthcare—and it feeds into the idea of a 31st human right for one’s ownership of their own data, adding to the 30 rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. - Richie Etwaru is the founder and CEO of

The ecosystem of your trading partners have to be more trusted, to be more transparent, where it’s not predatorial on the consumer’s data.

9. The future of work is skills - so stop worrying about degrees

A four-year college degree is not the only path to a well-paying job. The reality is the future of work is about skills, not just degrees. To be clear, we continue to value college and advanced degrees, and there’s no question of their relevance. But the talent that fuels global companies is increasingly diverse and includes people who do not have a four-year college education. As technology changes the way we work, we must be better at providing pathways to good jobs that everyone—no matter their zip code or background—can access.

10. What will really lead to workplace equality? Men leaning out

We’ve set up the cultural equation so that assertiveness is greater than deference, demanding is greater than listening. What we need to do is ask men to step back, listen more, and be humble. Maybe instead of telling women to stop apologizing, we need to encourage men to apologize more when they make mistakes!

11. The 4-day workweek will make companies more productive

What if there were one change companies could make to lessen their environmental impact, close the gender opportunity gap, improve employees’ mental health, and increase productivity—and what if all it took was taking a day off? The secret is rethinking how employees work during the four days of the week they’re still spending in the office.

The system takes cars off the road during rush hour. Flexible work schedules help women stay on track to move into leadership positions, rather than dropping out of the workforce after having children.

12. Women will alter the workforce—dramatically

Women—and, more important, women of all backgrounds—will increasingly be the ones making decisions, controlling resources, and shaping perspectives in all spheres of society. We’ll see this shift play out in homes, in workplaces, and across public life. It will lead to new narratives, products, and policies that reflect a much broader range of perspectives. And it will enable more women to fully participate in solving the challenges that will require our collective brainpower, like structural racism and rising inequality.

13. Showing up will matter again

In the 2020s people in developed economies will rediscover the value of physical presence—engaging with others face-to-face, eye-to-eye.

The trend for the next decade: the embrace of what we don’t share with machines. Empathy. Vulnerability. The human-specific joy of the friction-filled life. - Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation.

14. Investing in girls' education will pay huge dividends

Our world often fixates on a single story—the girl who went on strike for climate justice, the girl who spoke against gun violence, the girl who fought for her education. But impressive young women aren’t as rare as headlines suggest. Young women everywhere are speaking out, tackling local issues, and showing the next generation they can do the same. But even with enormous progress, far too many are unable to access quality education. We need every individual, every company, and every country to recognize their potential and invest in it.

15. Thinking big will redesign the world

A couple decades ago, designing in a human-centered way was a new idea—and it created a major opportunity for leaders in business. Now, we have to think even bigger about what we’re designing for. We have to ask: How does this thing I’ve designed affect a larger system? How does it affect society? How does it affect the planet?

This is a new realm of not just the design of the thing, but the design of the system around the thing. We have to understand the diversity of many people’s needs in order to change the system. That means working together. And it means asking who is at the table doing the designing—and how we can ensure that people contribute to what is being designed for them.

16. Venture capital will transcend the valley

For the first time, in 2019, this became part of the conversation between venture capitalists and startup founders: Where are you thinking of being based? Will you have one headquarters or two? Are you planning to be a distributed workforce from the beginning? The fact is, those types of decisions change how you build your culture and processes from the get-go.

I think you will see more regionally focused VC firms have success. And more Silicon Valley VCs will spend more time on airplanes. I think Zoom [the videoconferencing company] has something to do with this trend too. You can live—and work—anywhere.— Aileen Lee is a venture capitalist and founder of Cowboy Ventures. She coined the term “unicorn.”

17. Big tech won't reign—it will be reined in

Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, currently director and a cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology, proposes implementing regulation that would force Big Tech to disassociate its profits from “the increasing capacity to control and shape human behavior.” These companies should be required to plow some of their profits into “regenerative” areas. Some money could prop up investigative journalism, whose core business model Big Tech helped hollow out. Some could bankroll mental health and community-building initiatives. Still more could fund alternative tech products designed with the public interest in mind, like public utility social networks supported by Wikipedia-style nonprofit business models.

18. The line between human and bot will disappear

When you're text-chatting with Katie as you resolve a problem at a retail website, do you wonder whether Katie is a person or a bot? More important, do you care? The blurring of humanness is well underway and will accelerate in the 2020s. Living with indistinguishable humanoids—text, audio, and video versions, and just maybe physical—will become routine.

19. The 2020s will connect rural America—or lose it

Today, 24 million Americans, 80% of them in rural areas, do not have access to high-speed Internet—the greatest enabler of human connection in our lifetime. It is to our times what electricity and transportation were to our grandparents. In 10 years, all America must be connected. We must address accessibility in rural areas and affordability in urban areas. [Author remark: I'd say this applies to all rural areas].

20. AI "hygiene" will determine the success of AI

More companies need to consider whether it’s appropriate to use an AI system in the first place. If they do, they must keep track of their impact on different societal groups, because systems often function differently than expected.

Companies also need to be aware of their technology’s limitations and open to having an “active process and oversight and engagement with the people using these systems” - Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League.

21. Tech companies will finally decide it’s in their best interest to make devices less distracting

The speed and ubiquity of modern information has no precedent—and appears to have given rise to a similarly unprecedented levels of distraction. Our society is waking up to our obligations to help the most tech-vulnerable among us, especially children. Companies know this—and understand its potential to affect their bottom lines. That’s why the most recent Apple and Android operating systems include much more robust parental controls. Expect to see more of these efforts in the years to come. 

22. Consumers should own—and be able to sell—their personal data

Consumers spent the first part of this century losing control over our personal information. We traded it to Facebook, Google, and other big tech companies, which have built empires by amassing—and monetizing—their users’ data.

Collection of data is allowing innovation and improvements in a lot of the products that we use—in the medical context, the education context, the technological context. Consumers owning their data gets to the best of both worlds. They can protect their own privacy [if they choose]. Or they can sell their data to many firms at the same time, which is going to spark innovation and quality improvement. - Christopher Tonetti, an economist and associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

23. We'll witness the end of the internal combustion engine era

The entirety of our economic growth over the last 150 years has come on the back of the combustion engine technology and the fossil fuels that feed it. By 2030, we'll probably not be able to purchase a new vehicle with an internal combustion engine. We'll still have a transition period of maybe 10 to 15 years during which both technologies will be on the road.

24. Today's waste will replace tomorrow's plastic

We need a bio-inspired packaging material that disintegrates completely, no matter where it ends up. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates, a class of natural polyesters derived from bacterial fermentation) is one solution. It will degrade just like a leaf—quickly in any type of environment and into nature’s molecular building blocks: carbon dioxide, water, and nontoxic biomass. We’re learning to produce it with biowaste, like rancid olive oil.

Read about other bio-inspired packaging material

25. Tech alone can’t save the planet—transparency is needed, too

The pace of environmental innovation is accelerating too. We still need ambitious government policies, but new technology and increased transparency can speed progress and spur both business and government to deliver better results.

Source: Fortune, dated 19 December 2019. Read the full article here.

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