Trends are all the rage. As we enter 2019, there are no shortages of predictions and speculation about what the future may hold. Trends can be useful, but they are also problematic. Despite their appeal, trends:
- Are a reflection of the past because all data is historical by nature
- Don’t account for wildcards and unpredictable events
- Become more difficult to predict the further out we look
- Encourage extrapolating the past into the future, rather creating new visions
- Support an economic/tech-driven mindset (e.g. what to invest in next) which isn’t always the right approach
- Are simple and linear, and not systemic (we tend to follow single threads and not how they weave together)
- Can be vague, misleading, or wrong, especially when they capture short-lived fads
- Are not all equal
Given the sheer number of trend predictions, it can be difficult to determine what matters and what to pay attention to.
To that point, I would argue there are only three trends that matter:
- Climate change and the havoc it will wreak
- The battle for an equal, just, and democratic society
- The rise of artificial intelligence
These three things significantly impact what it means to be human, how we relate to each other, and whether or not we survive the next century. While other trends may have short-term buzz and/or financial benefits, it is the above three that will dominate and shape our reality in the years to come.
What I’d like to propose is that the above three trends should serve as a basic criteria for future-proofing, and innovating in a way that is coherent with the reality we’re facing.
When we design for the future, we should ask:
- Does it support long-term environmental sustainability? How?
- Does it enable justice, equality, and democracy? How?
- How is it helped or hindered by AI, and what are underlying ethics and assumptions?