International Writers Magazine:
- The Art of Prediction
is hard, particularly the future' Nils Bohr
*This was written in 2000 - with ammendments in 2007.
article is devoted to our future. We havent tackled this lightly.
We have been studying the future for a while now and Ive been
writing about it for a decade at least. The interesting thing about
the future is that it is at one and the same time fixed and ever changing.
Only sometimes I think the future has already been and gone.
Let me explain. We are writing this in the present. The millenium of
our imagination wasn't the year 2000 you actually experienced. There
were no jet cars, no colonies on the moon, all diseases had not been
wiped out, there had been no third world war, computers and robots do
not yet think nor run our lives.
There have been countless scenarios of the year 2000 and all of them
involved either high technology or mass warfare, pestilence, famine
or utopia. Well, look around, is this utopia? Is it hell? Neither, unless
you live in Kosovo or Madagascar, Mongolia or Iraq. Hell, as they say,
will always be with us. Hell just changes address from time to time.
Right now the UK is the worlds fourth largest economy, the unemployment
rate has fallen to the lowest figure for decades, house prices are at
a peak (and still rising) and people appear to be optimistic. If there
was ever a time to measure the start of the next recession, this must
be it? Never, as they say, have we had it so good. If you own a house
it already went up 500% since 1997. You feel so happy about this you
have borrowed against your mortgage to buy that Audi TT you always wanted
and the oh yes, the holidays in the Cape, the second home in Spain...you
don't notice that the key workers that make your life easy can't afford
to buy and are deserting the capital city in droves. In April 22 The
Guardian stated that by 2020 the price of a UK average home will be
£666,000. It will be £300,000 in 2010.
Note that 666 number. I'll just remind you that as pensions will be
worthless in 2020, most people will have to sell their homes to stay
alive and the more that sell, the lower the price goes. My guess is
that houses could be cheaper than now (in real terms) in 2020.
Major Banks are merging in the City, as are Insurance companies. Men
and women who have been borrowing 6 times their incomes to purchase
luxury homes in Docklands or Butlers Wharf, or Chelsea. This is
the nature of things, job insecurity. This is our future. Meanwhile
are taxes are rising and a lot of companies that invested heavily in
dotcoms are now feeling a lot of pain as they realise it was just an
illusion. How many moe National Insurance and hidden tax rises can we
take before strikes become commonplace again.
So what can we rely upon? In times of stress we have to have things
we can trust and that means brands. Coca-Cola will always be the same,
a Big Mac will always be just what it is and Birds Eye peas shall not
wither on the vine. Our lives might be uncertain, but brands will be
there like punctuation to comfort us. What if that isnt true?
What if I remove all certainty?
In the seminal science fiction film from Ridley Scott, Bladerunner
from the novel by Philip K Dick, Scott had to film a possible
Los Angeles of 2018. It was pretty fascinating and as likely as any
vision of the future. It depicted the city as smog ridden, soaked in
rain, people by millions of Chinese and other immigrants and for all
the world looking like a transplanted Hong Kong. A dystopian vision
sure and on the electronic billboards one can clearly see a brand leader
Atari. It was a great guess. Completely wrong, but a great
guess. How do you pick out a product that might survive 38 years beyond
the date you make a film. It is pretty damn hard. Ridley Scotts
designers had to imagine a total world. We have hovering cars that could
fly between giant buildings where the rich live. On the ground people
bought and sold exotic cyberpets that looked just like the real thing.
They had to because all the real animals have died, or been legislated
away. Robots are so real they dont even know they arent
human, they even have real memories implanted to confuse them more.
Thats a nice joke. Robots that smoke because they dont know
they are robots.
So in predicting 2010, eight years earlier than that movie, what brands
will survive? Will it be Sony? or Microsoft or Ford? Can you be sure
IBM will still be around in nine years time? This might seem like a
stupid question in the UK today. All the certainties have gone, ownership
of almost all our most famous brands have gone abroad, as well as ownership
of most of our manufacturing and service industries. The French own
our water, electricity, sewage, Nissan factories. The Germans and the
American own the rest. This isnt the voice of a little englander
bemoaning our fate, but a matter of fact, we no longer own the means
of our production or the brands we consume, our short-sighted managers
and shareholders have sold us out and when the going gets tough, it
will be rough. Really rough. Smoking is now illegal in pubs and clubs
and cinemas. Soon, we hope it will be illegal outside as well. Ford
is selling off Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Ford itself is in danger
and the new Chairman of Chrysler is working for $1 dollar a year (betting
he can increase sales and score a big bonus). In 2007 the worlds largest
car maker is Toyota but China is stepping on it's toes...
So is your money on Marks and Spencer? They are big, probably want to
survive, but who is to say that a French food group wont take
them over and disappear the struggling brand? Sainsburys.
The same. One can see the successful Netto Group going upscale and market
buy buying them out. British Airways? Are you joking? British Telecom?
The jury is out. Big company reluctantly dragging its ass into the 21st
century, unsure of how to beat off the competition that is circling
the BT wagons. Old monopolies dont adjust well to open markets
but at least they are fighting. Vodaphone,, Nokia, Barclays, HSBC, 3i,
Rolls Royce jet engines, these are likely to survive pretty much intact.
They are big, tough and global. The same goes for Mercedes Benz, VW
and BMW. They will, between them, probably own most if not all European
car production. Apple computers? Well they are the masters of re-invention
and as they are design led, should survive. The ipod and iphone will
save them. (Famous last words).
Consolidation is the name of the game. Eat the rest or die. Amazons
chances are good, but an economic downturn could chip away at their
profitability and competition is building. It is yet to be established
if their brand loyalty (which is impressive) will withstand bad times
as well as good. Freeserve might surprise everyone by surviving. Durlacher?
hardly. Rumours abound now about Virgin being overstretched and bleeding
heavily from the railway division. So count out Richard Branson as a
long player. Easyeverything? Stelios is jumping ship. Is there anything
certain? You could fly cheap to Bordeaux and buy a seaside home at Arcachon.
Sterling is low in Europe now the Euro high. But what if you can't get
a budget fight two years from now? What if the holiday home market collapses?
How will get your money out. Will the Euro be stronger or weaker? Hard
isn't it. What about the effects of climate change on the weather and
consumer behaviour. Will flying become expensive again out of guilt?
We shall see.
Even those who do spend $6 billion a year on research and development
like Sony do may not survive. They will, but IBM. How much do they spend
on R&D? Someone once said that no matter how much you spend on research,
you cant beat man with a good idea, a hunch. So it is likely a
new technology company will forge a global ID with one good new idea
over the next nine years and the older companies will curse the day
they fired all the guys with ideas. Microsoft? Not as one company it
wont be. But ten Babysofts could be very dangerous indeed and
one cant rule out them taking a stranglehold over mobile commerce.
Up until now you could have bet the ranch on Nokia but the mobile phone
market has peaked. We've all got on. It's a replacement market now and
3G is taking time to catch on as their debts pile up and indeed there
are much faster systems in Japan. Still look to Kroea for clues. 90
percent of the population are now on broadband and use of videophones
Whether we are talking e-commerce of m-commerce, its the second
generation companies, picking up the pieces of the pioneers who try
but fail who will probably make the big pile of money and those companies
will either be the old ones changing to survive or completely new ones.
That said, does one state with certainty that Shell or BP will be the
brand leaders in 2010, just because they are now. What about all the
anti-petrol engine legislation? Will zero-emmission targets kill of
Big Oil? Will hydrogen or electric power finally make headway, or will
they be the main suppliers of the new clean fuels?
What about Time Warner/AOL. Surely entertainment will be needed, but
since news is going to migrate to the phone, might there not be a shift
in how we consume news and entertainment? Might a new generation just
prefer the headlines? Or will they hunger for in-depth news? Will cinema
be the same or change? The clue to that is not interactive media or
any gimmicks but in broadband delivery. Free or by subscription as the
new widescreen digital TV screens gain acceptance cinema as it stands
could well fall out of fashion. Take a combination of pricey screen
admission, parking problems,unreliable trains, urban crime, or babysitters
versus new films delivered to the comfort of your home at the same time
or three months after release, the death of the cinema could come quickly.
Right now a lot of people are betting on 3-D to save cinema but better
scripts might be a better investment.
We are talking 2.5 years to 2010. (Aug 2007)
One hundred years ago in a similar time frame the telephone, car, trucks,
busses, electric trams, underground services, technology in healthcare,
the tank, concentration camps, flying, electric light using ac/dc power
with all gadgets all became commonplace. Just ten years.
Alongside it came new ideas about politics, (socialism, Marxism), ideas
about public housing, civic sewage systems and fresh water supplies,
express railroads, the modern office, mass mailing, the movies and in
colour, the possibilities were endless the optimism fantastic.
Sure these were all developments of ideas that took place just before
the turn of the century, but the acceleration of patents applied for
after 1900 was phenonemal. Modern society accelerated away from the
Victorian world and everything was changing. If war hadnt broken
out, who knows what kind of century it might have been.
Similarly at the turn of our century the internet is driving a huge
change in the retailing world, delivering synergies and cost savings
to the consumer. Although the uptake is slow it could have a devastating
effect on jobs in banking if e-banking and e-commerce takes hold. 300
years of banking history may disappear. With e-mail and hole in the
wall banking, as well as e-banking, the post office as a concept could
cease to exist altogether by 2010. Link machines will deliver the pensions
and social security cash to the customer right in the supermarket they
shop in. (At a price of course)
Global warming might kill off much more than the car, if it isnt
proved to be a natural cycle. Either way the weather is changing and
this will affect where we live. It is an extraordinary time. We like
to think of everything remaining the same. That certain brands provide
a litmus test of quality and inspire trust. But brands and tastes change.
What looks great now, could look as stupid as the medallion around someones
neck in 1980. You could go very broke predicting what will be fashionable
in 2010. You could get it very wrong predicting which countries would
be best to invest in. Mexico? Singapore? Poland? Each one has an intelligent,
highly skilled workforce, but each one has a substrata of religious
problems and society tensions. India, not if Pakistan can help it. China?
Not if Big Brother loses his grip and the infighting begins, the lid
could come off at anytime but look at the traffic. China the land of
bicyles is now the land of gridlock and car sales there are phenonemal.
China is now a petrol junkie. We will have to compete with them for
the stuff in future and that may not be funny.
The world of 2010 will differ to 2000. I doubt it will sound like ours.
If the past is a guide to the future, the change will be massive and
many will suffer, many will gain. But I hope we can still find a calm
place to eat and a sunny spot to drink some wine and savour the change
that has taken place, and laugh at all the things we got wrong.
SAM NORTH 2000 with a brief update in 2007
a wider Sweep of history go to
Visions of the Future