Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda
Our future in the next 20 years and beyond will be a blend of 10 major trends with far-reaching impact. Recognising these trends and identifying suitable solutions is important if we are to exist and thrive in the extreme future.
From synthetic humans to nanotech, from DNA genomic data to the Saddam Syndrome, this book covers a wide range of subjects, briefly yet logically, illustrating how our world will be reshaped in the near future.
Author Dr James Canton is a renowned global futurist, business advisor, social scientist and chief executive officer at the Institute for Global Futures. He has worked as an advisor to three US presidents.
In this book, Canton has identified 10 broad categories that will dominate our future. These include energy, innovation, a diverse workforce, longevity medicine, weird science, security issues, globalisation, climate change, the individual’s future, and America and democracy.
Canton is of the view that the future is not as unpredictable or uncontrollable as several people believe it to be. It is possible to anticipate the future and change the way one thinks about it. Canton opines that we should see the future as a sequence of events that can be influenced by personal choice and design.
The world is rapidly changing and becoming more risky and complex. Businesses, governments and individuals need to develop futuristic thinking and engage in long-term planning to prepare for the challenges and surprises of the future, ‘When there is no future vision, there is nothing to work toward creating.’
Bold new leadership will be required to fix the energy crisis that is emerging. Innovation represents the largest future threat or opportunity for your career or business. Diversity will define the future workforce.
Although it may not be very apparent right now, all kinds of firms will face difficulty in attracting and retaining the right people with the right innovation skills in the future, ‘If leaders don’t embrace more future-focused strategies, they will fail to avoid the real risks of the 21st century talent wars.’
Longevity medicine and human enhancement may become a reality, leading to the emergence of new ethical codes and models, ‘Need that new kidney by Christmas? How about those memory cells? Don’t replace the hip, grow a new one.’
Canton does not judge how ethical some developments in these fields will be. He just states what is likely to happen.
Moving on to climate change, he says that this cannot be fixed fast enough and will threaten national security, global prosperity and consequently peace. A new collaboration of nations, citizens and corporations must be forged to offset climate change, the author advises.
He also suggests that globalisation may be the greatest challenge that modern civilisation has ever faced. It will not expand smoothly as globalisation poses many contradictions that must be redefined or ironed out, ‘It will meet with concern and even alarm everywhere from a small village in India to New York City.
‘As a result, we must tread carefully to define globalisation in a way that will enable every person and every nation to be a productive stakeholder in the extreme future.’
Our world will face many security threats in the time to come as a result of bio-terror, dirty bombs, World War III, cyber terror, end of privacy and several other factors, thus ‘Individuals must be cognisant that in a post-9/11 world, security will be a precious commodity that must be nurtured, protected and managed in entirely new ways if we are to survive.’
Innovation is defined as a double-edged sword. While helping us create unique products it may also be used to annihilate civilisation. However, it is said that ‘the battle for the future will be won with ideas instead of guns, with
economics instead of bombs.’
With the notion of global superpowers changing, there will be a collaboration of culture, ideas and economies. The fate of the individual will have to be protected from, amongst other things, the invisible war between global organisations, governments and religion, which will compete to control individual rights, minds and freedoms.
Meanwhile, China’s emergence as the new superpower will define the global economy. America’s destiny is tied to the future of democracy and the fate of the world’s markets, people and economy.
Canton shows creativity with the inclusion of fake headlines such as an online ad: ‘2012 — Anti-terror insurance for sale’. He has also sketched scenes from the future such as the employment auction due to scarcity of talent and Jill’s robo-friend.
These headlines and fictional additions help break the monotony, making the chapters more interesting and seminal ideas seem authentic. Moreover, the writer’s extensive knowledge as well as professional experience lends credibility to the text. His tone warns us yet is optimistic.
Canton’s narration of personal experiences in relation to the aforementioned themes, also helps readers relate to the predictions made. Some of these are believable while others seem a little absurd, at least in the present, but the main point that Canton seems to make is that we should be prepared for big shocks and surprises as well as massive changes in the future.
To come up with effective solutions and survive, we need to develop an entirely new way of thinking, ‘But survive we will.’
The Extreme Future
By James Canton
Plume Books, USA