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We asked some of the boldest thinkers what the world will be like in 50 years. Here’s what their answers tell us about the future.

Sponsored by
Ann Kim

Ann Kim

Portfolio Director, IDEO Cambridge

Ann Kim is Director of Health and Well-Being at IDEO Cambridge. Kim served as Chief Design Officer for US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, focusing on addiction, opioids, and emotional well-being. Kim worked for years as a filmmaker; two of her Frontline documentaries earned duPont-Columbia Awards. Her latest film "Lovesick" is about matchmaking for HIV-positive singles in India

  • What kinds of companies will be the most important?

    • The human need for meaning will become all the more apparent in a world that faces the existential and very materially real question of demise. Companies that prize unchecked capitalism will leave people feeling tired and empty. Purpose-led companies that see their employees’ well-being both as a competitive differentiator and important to their bottom line will be the most important.

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    • How will people earn a living?

      • The robots will have arrived, fine-tuned to a degree of elegant automation. For humans, we’ll earn a living by doing work that humans are best suited to do: that which requires creativity, intuition, critical thinking, and connection to one another. As people switch jobs 15 or more times in their lives, companies will be on the lookout for the ability to learn fast and be comfortable with change.  
         
        Also, money won’t be the most important thing. While the Gilded Age and the tech age will have glamorized the riches and spoils of mega-wealth, people will be willing to take lower pay for more meaningful work. Compensation will not just be money and reputation, but new, more human- and values-centered metrics designed to help us measure our impact on society.

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    • How will we communicate with each other?

      • The epoch of fear and isolation that defined the earlier part of the century will galvanize the development of new technologies to create better, more honest communication, and deeper connections. Empathic technology will connect humans not only by verbal, auditory, and visual means, but also emotionally. Through technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence, we will be able to map neural activity and emotions, enabling communication of feelings directly between brains.
         
        We will have solved the epidemic of loneliness and moved way past the trap of the attention economy and social media likes. At home, empathic technologies will deepen our bonds—divorce rates will go down, teenagers will start dating more again (and have more sex), and cities will be known for how easily their residents make friends. On the global stage, empathic technologies will radically change international diplomacy, undermining the sense of “other,” and giving birth to a new sense of “us.”

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    • What will we eat?

      • Our diets will be a mix of natural and synthetic foods. Red meat consumption will be curbed to reduce methane emissions, and we will eat more plant-based foods. Cows and pigs will become more companion animals, admired for their intelligence and connection to humans, than livestock.
         
        Instead of classifying foods as “healthy” or “junk,” microbiome and DNA technology will enable us to map out our individual nutrition needs and understand our food-gut bacteria-body-mind systems to enable us to eat for mental health as well as physical health. In other words, we’ll use food as medicine and eat ourselves out of depression, anxiety, and diseases.
         
        While meals as social rituals will continue, in 50 years, designers will be creating new modes of dining, like personalized elixirs and plates, based on precision nutrition. Most exciting, this won’t just be a fun dinner party trick for the rich—precision nutrition will help deliver meaningful nutrition to refugees living in climate camps.
         
        Inspired by foods as new materials, designers will entrench what we eat into our immediate environs. No longer just relegated to backyard gardens, our shift to plant-based diets will be embedded in our everyday spaces. Public schools will be on farms, where, as part of new federal nutrition programs, kids will take home produce for dinner. Rather than snacking from vending machines, cities will have buildings covered with vertical gardens, where passersby can pluck fresh snacks.

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      • How will we die?

        • In 50 years, we’ll have become all the more familiar with death. Between climate disasters and the growth of end-of-life care, death will become less something to be feared. The stigma around death will have passed; instead, death will become as celebrated as birth.
           
          The funeral industry disruption that started when millennials began burying their parents will continue, becoming more human and family-centered through design. Expensive caskets and practices that take advantage of grieving families will become a thing of the past. As millennials face the last phase of their lives, composting burial suits will become the new normal. Death doulas will help people who have the means to navigate their options, while more economical burials might take the form of group burials. Cemeteries will be forests, where trees are planted with the ashes or buried bodies of loved ones.
           
          But the ritual of death will not just be about how one’s body is handled; new services will provide ways to keep a person living forever. There will be DNA freezers. Digital afterlives will be offered in countless forms: bots modeled after the personalities of our loved ones. New discoveries in memory and neurology will give people a chance to reconnect with their deceased loved ones in their dreams.

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        • How will we find love?

          • Matchmaking will thrive in 2070. After major social networks and dating sites get hacked out of existence, digital methods of meeting new people will become socially taboo. As a result, personal networks and in-person connections will be the preferred way to meet both romantic partners and new friends. 
             
            Some of the most avid matchmakers will be retired millennials who saw this coming (and also want grandchildren). An entrepreneurial generation, millennials will create new types of gatherings—restaurants will feature a matchmaker along with a sommelier; they’ll apply grassroots organizing toward developing a robust network of global matchmakers.
             
            Also, with terrorism at an all-time low, bomb-sniffing dog breeds will now be trained to sniff out pheromone matches, working at airports and parks to bring together potential matches.
             
            While the early internet matchmaking boom was based on crude algorithms that matched people by their race, occupation, or interests, this era of Applied Social Chemistry will build on intersections of biology, psychology, data science, and behavioral economics to bring together new matches based on a more holistic set of characteristics and aspirations.
             
            Architects, urban planners, and designers will round out the creative matchmaking industry. Neighborhoods, transportation, and public spaces will be designed to help people forge real connections. Stores and libraries (yes, they will still exist) will be designed to increase the likelihood of serendipitous encounters. Instead of finding a match on Tinder, as their grandparents had, people will find love on exit 22.

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          • What kinds of stories will we tell?

            • By 2070, we’ll have worked through our stories of fear and apocalypse. From that era, The Handmaid’s Tale will endure as a classic.
               
              We will have more stories of loss—the end of species, end of languages, end of the industrial age. But we will also have more stories of invention: life on new planets, ways to finally reuse all the plastic in the ocean. We will continue to use stories to grapple with our wrongs, and hold on to stories we find hopeful.
               
              The chase against fake news will continue.
               
              While the topics may not change drastically, the how and context of stories will be different. Stories will not just be a form of entertainment. Between the ritualized (and now legalized) use of psychedelics and strides in medical research, we’ll better understand how narratives can be a medicine, in some cases replacing a pill. Implanting new narratives will be a new (non-expensive) procedure, wholly personalized. The patient, clinician, and designer specializing in ritual and narrative will together craft the narrative, which will be a powerful antidote for anything that undermines our mental health.

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            • What’s your best prediction for the world in 50 years?

              • By 2070, we will have curbed the rate at which the Earth’s temperature is rising.
                 
                The creativity and inventiveness that will be most prized will be around human and planetary sustainability.
                 
                By 2070, we will have achieved a new level of shared humanity. We won’t be post-race or post-class, but we’ll see each other more easily, more closely. The meaning of connection will not default to an association with internet connectivity or online social networks; instead, when we say “connection” in 2070, it will mean something much deeper. A connection to ourselves, to each other, to other beings, and to the planet. Designers will no longer be designing things, but designing for relationships and meaning. We’ll more innately understand how all this connectedness adds up to the complex yet elegant ecosystem called Earth.
                 
                All of our problems will not be solved, but we will have figured out, through shared successes and missteps, that the only way to survive is collectively.

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