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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
Andy Kuper

Andy Kuper

Founder, LeapFrog Investments

Dr. Andy Kuper founded LeapFrog Investments in 2007, pioneering the impact investing industry. By 2017, LeapFrog was named by Fortune as one of the top 5 Companies to Change the World. Today, LeapFrog’s companies reach 188 million people in Africa and Asia with healthcare or financial services. Kuper has received many awards for entrepreneurial leadership including from EY, YPO and WEF.

  • Who will run the world?

    • It’s a trick question. In my 2004 book Democracy Beyond Borders, I predicted that the rise of corporations, non-state actors, and networks would lead not to “a world state, nor a system of superstates, but a multiform global system.” There will be no single locus of ultimate authority, as Thomas Hobbes insisted there must be when he defined state sovereignty in 1651. That system of nation-states was more suited to the technologies of the 20th century. Trumpism, Brexit, and the Facebook wars heralded the death throes of its dominance. Historians in 2070 will look back and see a decade or two of convulsions, as the paradigm shifts toward the next era of governance. Although states and nationalism will remain strong forces, we will see power, responsibility, and accountability distributed across a wider range of actors—from cities, regions and states to corporations, nonprofits and multilateral agencies, to influential networks and associations. Each type of authority will have its own accountabilities and only some will be based in direct elections and patriotism. It’s not all that hard to imagine. Today, power is distributed within states—between legislature, executive, and judiciary—rather than any one authority dominating. Each authority has its own source of legitimacy. By design, they check and balance one another. In 50 years, there will be a new plural division of powers (and even more plural identities, to be constantly navigated). The world will be run not by POTUS but by patchwork.

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    • Which country will have the most powerful economy?

      • The 200 years of Western economic dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries will be seen as a short-lived historical anomaly, the early years of an Industrial Revolution dwarfed by later growth and change. The economic center of gravity of the world will shift back, and go even further East and South. Demographic destiny, insurgent entrepreneurship, plus multi-decade investments in technology will place China and India once again as the largest national economies by some distance. For the same reason, challenger economies like Nigeria and Indonesia that are now underrated will loom large globally, as immense engines of economic innovation and progress. Most nations, however, will be dwarfed by networks and corporate economic entities that command far more resources. A decade ago, states already accounted for fewer than 50 of the 100 largest economic entities in the world; expect this to drop to under 20. We will mean something different when we talk about powerful economies.

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      • What kinds of companies will be the most important?

        • When I founded LeapFrog Investments in 2007, before the Global Financial Crisis, our idea of “Profit with Purpose” business seemed to many people to be marginal and perhaps naive, and to have no chance of ever dominating capital markets. No longer. The Chairman of BlackRock and the CEOs of 200 of America’s largest companies, as represented by the Business Roundtable, now insist that each business lead with a purpose and prioritize stakeholders over exclusive shareholder interests. This is not because of morality or marketing, but because capital flows to where it is best treated. Historians in 2070 will note how purpose-driven companies trounced conventional businesses by some distance, so much so that concepts like “ESG” (environmental, social, governance) and “negative screens” (keeping out tobacco, guns, etc.) will look quaint. Impactful companies will grow by identifying real and enduring human needs, and meeting those needs in technologically-enabled hyper-scalable ways. They will outperform—and attract more capital. Businesses will not be sustainable, and often will fail, when they do not meet those basic human needs. Already, sustainable investing, which screens out harmful businesses and takes a longer-term view, accounts for vast swaths of the capital markets. Now, impact investing is surging, as investors put money behind companies that make positive contributions to society. The IFC predicts that impact investing could grow 52x in the next 10 years, from $500 billion to $26 trillion (pdf). At that pace, it won’t take much longer for Profit with Purpose to become the business and investment norm.

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        • How will we entertain one another?

          • Already by 2025, the average African will have a supercomputer in their pocket that will make the first iPhone appear to them as a horse and carriage do to an astronaut. Consumers will command technologies that make them participants and producers at the same time. This will extend far beyond media and entertainment industries already witnessing the collapse of those old categories. I (if I am still around) will be able to modify and mash up the 3D printing template bought from a company or individual, and sell on that creative product via micro-payments, which will go through yet more variation. Ironically for those who celebrate this democratization, the act of creation will become less valued and more mundane, as it shifts from the work of gods to daily efforts of humans.

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          • How will we die?

            • Two hundred years ago, the average global life expectancy was about 38. Today it is 72, and over 80 in some wealthy countries. In 50 years, as life extends ever further, many more generations will exist alongside each other. At the same time, instant, universal, and rich communication technologies will ensure that a wider matrix of bonds is made constantly present and vivid. Instead of lamenting the decline of the two-generation nuclear family, we will speak of the explosion of the five-generation extended family. Death will come to us all, still. But it will take longer, and there will be more people at our funeral, albeit many via hologram.

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            • How will we find love?

              • Sex will remain quite popular as the route in. Of course, algorithms will take that into account when identifying your most likely flings and long-term relationship matches. There will be fewer “how we met” stories. But the evolution of lust and love will still depend on surprise, delight, and exhilarating difference, discovered in the lived experience of all-too-human and unpredictable coupling.

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              • What will cities be like?

                • Urbanization is unstoppable. Demography is destiny. In 50 years, there will be 70 megacities of over 10 million people. In the current emerging markets, capital, talent, and technology will come together with an intensity so great that cities like New York, Shanghai, and Lagos will seem positively mellow. As the number and dimensions of interactions ramify, the creative and productive results will become less predictable, not more—contrary to apocalyptic and determinist fears about the Artificial Intelligence era. Also, urban denizens will be more connected to people in other megacities than to the suburbs or rural areas that surround them. The human connection will extend beyond media consumption to include virtual reality engagement, both mechanical and creative, that will trick our primitive brains into experiencing others as present, wherever they are. We humans have a deep need for place and local community but the meeting of that need will be untethered from our physical environment. Where you are will not dictate who you relate to.

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              • Will our world be more equal or less equal?

                • I launched LeapFrog Investments in the same month that Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007, convinced that 4 billion people soon would join the global economy via mobile. That half of humanity would need access to essential services—insurance, pensions, credit, and
                  healthcare—and these could be provided cheaply for the first time. I underestimated. There was a cost reduction of over 100x in innumerable cases, sure, but smartphones, streaming, the explosion of data, and AI have amplified the quality of potential interaction with customers over 100x too. A lower-income African or Asian person has technology and possibilities that the richest of kings and queens could not have dreamed of in all previous centuries. 

                  The exponential results of this are not to be underestimated. Billions of people who were once excluded and underserved will rise into security and prosperity. They will do so as a result of their own efforts to rise—not as the mere beneficiaries of governments or elites. Unfortunately, the vast gaps in access to capital and technology will only increase, fueling greater inequality and thus instability. Fortunately, the “bottom billion” in our world will be better off in absolute terms.

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