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PHIL HARDWICK — Forecasting the future

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

— Yogi Berra


The World Future Society just issued it list of 20 Forecasts for 2014-2030. I’ve selected several from that list that I think will affect many Mississippi businesses and consumers and offer a bit of commentary about each.

Amish Boom. The fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. is the Amish. Their numbers will reach one million shortly after 2050. The news here is that Amish growth is based on growing family size, not conversions. The Amish have a long way to go to catch Catholics, with 78 million American members, Southern Baptists, with 16 million members and Methodists, with 7.7 million members. This forecast is of interest not so much in the Amish as it is to the topic of Religion in America. It is getting a lot of attention these days because its membership profiles are changing and because religion is again dominating the political and legal landscapes. I predict no slowdown in religious and political controversies in the next decade.

Longevity Revolution Creates Lifespan of “Haves” and “Have-Nots.” This forecast relates to the explosion of medical technologies using gene therapies, stem cells, and organ printing. The result will be will be extended average lifespans. This forecast is not so much about the incredible evolution of medical technology as it is about the influence that medical technology can have on social and medical issues. The problem relates to whether the benefits of medical technology will accrue to the wealthiest among us which will create difficult issues around the distribution of health, wealth, and power.

“Rateocracy” and augmented reality makes corporate reputation a key driver of profitability. If your business has not yet been rated by a customer then do not fret because it probably will not be long before that happens. This forecast says that Yelp.com and Angie’s List are just the beginning in a new wave of “rateocracy” where reputations rule. Restaurants are currently the businesses that get the most reviews, and that may not change because of the volume of transactions. What will change is that almost every business will be subject to ratings by customers.

That means that corporations will closely track the real-time rise and fall of their ratings as closely as they watch their stock prices. Reputations are key drivers of their growth, profitability, and employee retention. Although ratings from magazines, newspapers, independent ratings organizations and surveys will still be important, it is the increasing use of apps and social media that will change the ratings landscape. Reputation management companies are already offering services to businesses and professionals in cases where it is felt that the rating was unjustified or even libelous. Also, it was recently revealed that there are companies that provide good ratings even though they never partook of the product or service. That investigation continues.

“Peak Water” may become a bigger problem than peak oil. This is one forecast where some locations in Mississippi will be beneficiaries because of their ample supplies of water. Already, there are so-called border wars over water rights even in the Southeastern United States. Companies in industries that need a good supply of water will be adding that factor to their location and expansion decisions. This appears to be a global problem as water tables around the world become depleted.

“Lab-on-a-Chip” Technologies Revolutionize Health. Medical technology in hospitals, labs and even the doctor’s office nowadays was only a dream just a few decades ago. What was even more unthinkable was the use of devices outside the doctor’s office. What they are talking about here is the technology of smart phone apps to conduct sophisticated lab tests for many different health conditions. These devices will enable users to know your health status for many different tests on an almost – and in some cases – real-time basis. This will be of special benefit in developing countries because it can provide medical diagnostics to those who do not have access to hospitals and labs. This should certainly contribute to Bill Gates recent prediction that there will be almost no poor countries by 2035.

The “cloud” will become more intelligent, not just a place to store data. We will be interacting with programs and data on the cloud. For example, everything from planning a family menu to keeping up with fitness levels to personal productivity tools will be available.

“The Internet of Things” Creates a Revolution of Wired Devices. Up to now, we have been dazzled by what computers and smart phones can do when connected to the Internet. The next phase is known as the “Internet of Things.” Trillions of devices— thermometers, cars, light switches, appliances, homes, will also be connected to the Internet—each with its own IP address. Monitoring of real-time data will be possible. For example, our cars will tell us when service is required and our home heating and air-conditioning will adjust automatically.

To read the remainder of the forecasts and learn more about what may come check out the World Future Society website at www.wfs.org.


Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Pease contact Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com.


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