2020: "China will be number one at everything."
That's a phrase one hears frequently nowadays. Another is that the United States and China will battle for global supremacy for the foreseeable future. There is some truth to these statements, but they hardly reveal the whole picture. In 2014, India stunned the world by successfully placing a space probe in orbit around Mars—the first country to accomplish the feat in its maiden attempt. Since the dawn of the space age, fewer than half of the missions launched by the United States, Russia, and Europe have been successful, making India's accomplishment truly extraordinary. What's more, the Indian Space Research Organisation made history with the mission's low $74 million budget.
Now, exactly how much money should it take to set a satellite orbiting around the red planet? Well, a single space shuttle mission might burn as much as $450 million, and it cost $165 million to produce the movie Interstellar and $108 million to bring The Martian to a theater near you.
The Indians demonstrated that they too have the "right stuff," as Tom Wolfe once put it. They showed they are a world-class technological power-house and can get things done efficiently and on time. The Mars mission wasn't a fluke. In fact, it was the second time that India had surged ahead of the world's established superpowers. Back in 2009, its maiden mission to the Moon produced the first evidence of the existence of water, "apparently concentrated at the poles and possibly formed by the solar wind," as The Guardian reported. It took NASA ten years to independently confirm India's finding.
Most of us grew up in a world in which the exploration of the cosmos was an expensive endeavor conceived by rocket scientists, funded by global superpowers with vast resources, and carried out by heroic astronauts and capable mission specialists. The comparative complexity and cost of space missions (and which countries had the capacity to accomplish them) were taken for granted. But that reality is now part of history.
Once upon a time, not only was the world neatly divided into prosperous and backward economies, but babies were plentiful, workers outnumbered retirees, and people yearned to own homes and cars. Companies didn't need to see any farther than Europe and the United States to do well. Printed money was legal tender for all debts, public and private. In school they told us how we were supposed to "play the game," and we grew up thinking that the rules would remain the same as we took our first job, started a family, saw our children leave the house, and went into retirement.
That familiar world is rapidly vanishing as we encounter a bewildering new reality driven by a new set of rules. Before we know it there will be more grandparents than grandchildren in most countries; collectively, middle-class markets in Asia will be larger than those in the United States and Europe combined; women will own more wealth than men; and we will find ourselves in the midst of more industrial robots than manufacturing workers, more computers than human brains, more sensors than human eyes, and more currencies than countries.
That will be the world in 2030.
I have conducted research on the outlook ten years down the road over the last few years. As a professor at the Wharton School, I worry not only about the future state of business but also about how workers and consumers might be affected by the avalanche of change coming our way. I've made countless presentations on the material contained in this book to audiences as diverse as executives, policymakers, middle managers, and college and high school students. I have also reached out to tens of thousands of people through social media and online courses. Invariably, my audiences react with a mix of bewilderment and apprehension to the future I outline to them.
This book offers a road map to navigate the turbulence ahead.
Nobody knows for sure what the future will bring. If you do, please let me know—together we can make truckloads of money. But while predictions are never fully accurate, we can certainly make a series of relatively safe assumptions about what might happen in the decade to come. For example, the majority of people impacted by the forecasts in this book have already been born. We can perhaps describe in general terms what we can expect of them as consumers, given their likely educational attainment or current patterns of social media activity. We can also calculate with reasonable accuracy how many people will live to be eighty or ninety years old. And we may even be in a position to predict with some acceptable degree of confidence that a certain percentage of seniors will need a care provider—whether it's another human or a robot. When it comes to the latter, imagine that these robots speak different languages with a variety of accents, aren't opinionated, don't take days off, and don't abuse their patients financially or otherwise.
The clock is ticking. The year 2030 isn't some remote point in the unforeseeable future. It's right around the corner, and we need to prepare ourselves for both the opportunities and the challenges. Simply put, the world as we know it today will be gone by 2030.