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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
Emile Sherman

Emile Sherman

Co-founder, See-Saw Films

Producer and financier Emile Sherman co-founded See-Saw Films with Iain Canning in 2008. Based in Sydney and London, See-Saw Films has worked with many of the world’s leading filmmakers. Their productions have won four Academy Awards, nine BAFTAs, two Golden Globes, five Emmys, and 22 AACTAs.

  • Which country will have the most powerful economy?

    • I’d back India over China. To use the lexicon of Nassim Taleb, China is strong, but its top-down structure seems unlikely to be able to absorb black swan events, whereas India is more anti-fragile and therefore likely to withstand and even benefit from the unpredictable.

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    • What will cause the biggest conflicts?

      • The rise of China will come with the rise of China’s worldview—the matrix of ideologies that informs the country and its people. The dominant narrative in the West has been that China will adopt Western ideas progressively, just as it adopted elements of Western capitalism. This leads to oft-vented frustration at China’s seemingly slow adoption of Western values. That assumption of inevitability may prove as spurious as Marxist ideas about the inevitable death of capitalism and dawn of a socialist utopia. Humanist values, predicated on the primacy of the rights of the individual, often in conflict with social harmony, which underpins much Confucian thinking. Today the news is dominated by a backlash against capitalism in the West. In 50 years, however, the conflict of ideas will take place, above all, at the intersection of social harmony and liberal humanism. With a totally different philosophical heritage, China is unlikely to bend much more to humanist values. Where we see individual rights being trampled, or censorship quashing individuals’ freedoms, a philosophy based on social harmony will see those measures as necessary steps to ensure social cohesion and the greater good. Like it or not, in a world dominated by Asia, it is the West that’s most likely to arc towards the East.

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      • How will people earn a living?

        • With the rise of AI, and the cost of material sustenance dramatically reduced, life won’t have to be “earned” in the same way. The strong bind between our contribution to society and our economic reward, which is what underpins the concept of “earning a living,” will have been severely tested. We will hopefully be able to contribute to society, to build, to connect, to give, and to create within a different economy of reward. Imagine if living didn’t have to be earned.

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      • What will we eat?

        • With the rise of intelligent AI, we will more and more come to appreciate the difference between intelligence and consciousness. Although animals will increasingly be recognized for their own forms of intelligence, their right to life springs from their sentience, their status as conscious creatures. Technology will fuel this, providing us with the ability to eat meat in a way that doesn’t involve taking a life, and so the preservation of conscious life will become the moral norm.  

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      • How will we die?

        • The medical oath to “first, do no harm,” will be tested and replaced with the even more complex obligation to decide when “enough is enough.” Technologies will enable life to be prolonged much further, but they will come with a cost. Questions like “how long can we afford our father to live?” will therefore become the norm, as we are forced to grapple with the economic and moral value of a life. With medical advances over the last century or so, death has, for the most part, been removed from our daily lives and pushed into the hospital for our final moments. In 50 years, technology will paradoxically bring death’s presence back into our daily lives, as the line between the living and the dying will blur. We will recognize that we’re all in various forms of decay, and we will be forced to make decisions about who we can afford to keep alive.

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        • How will we find love?

          • Matching algorithms will of course be vastly more effective due to a plethora of data. They may even know our preferences better than we do. The final frontier, however, will be smell—the ability to analyze pheromones and crack the code of attraction. There will also be a clearer distinction between and understanding of who is an attractive one-night proposition versus who might make for a successful long-term partner. 

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          • What kinds of stories will we tell?

            • The types of entertainment we enjoy depend first on the available technology and the economic structure of content businesses that produce that entertainment. The invention of film, coupled with cinemas where hundreds of people can gather, enabled the two-hour film format to flourish. The invention of television, paid for by advertising, allowed for the rise of episodic half- and one-hour TV. Once people were able to record episodes, television became serialized, with story and character arcs able to develop in an almost novelistic way. 

              The future of content will be shaped by the same forces. VR allows for truly immersive experiences and it challenges some of our instincts including that stories need to be told linearly. There has been debate for millennia over how much of our storytelling instincts are ingrained—hardwired biologically or through deep archetypes—and how free we are to reinvent storytelling. I predict that the novel will continue as it is today—as the preeminent medium for exploring the intimate. At the same time, our urge for spectacle, fuelled by the most advanced technologies of the day, will continue to reinvent itself in 2070. 

              It’s also worth thinking about Asian storytelling, and how the rise of Asia will influence the stories told worldwide. My company See-Saw Films has developed a family show on Netflix, The New Legends of Monkey, based on one of China’s greatest mythological novels. One of the challenges we faced was finding character and story arcs that could resonate with Western audiences as well.

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            • What will cities be like?

              • Cities are known for their intense sounds. In 50 years they will sound different. Electric vehicles will make almost no noise. With autonomous cars there will be no honking. If there are drones, they will be quiet. The hidden sounds will emerge. We will hear our neighbors more. We may even hear birds.

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              • What will our most valuable resource be?

                • Mental health will become our most valuable resource. Material resources will likely be more available than they are today. However, in a world overloaded with stimulation, and with mind-bending complexity straining our neural-chemistry, the most valuable resource will be the ability to master oneself—to create meaning, to sustain a productive self-narrative that involves contributing to one’s society, and to find joy. 

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                • What will the biggest change to our natural world be?

                  • Is “cultured meat” natural or man-made? The distinctions that keep those two worlds separate will be fraying. The natural world of today will be enhanced by man-made technologies. We may still be a way off, even in 2070, but everything is made of atoms. Once we master those, there will be no distinction.

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                • Will our world be more equal or less equal?

                  • Equality will not be measured solely on the basis of material wealth, although that will always form a core part of the equation. We will have moved to a richer metrics that take in the broader conditions for humans to flourish. Narrow bands of GDP will broaden to, or be replaced by measurement indices and goals that factor in quality of life, happiness, opportunity, social infrastructure, the environment. All the former “externalities” will no longer be sidelined, but will be brought into the equation. With technology able to provide much of our material necessities at low cost, and with many of today’s developing nations emerged, the softer forms of wealth will become more central. What will remain the same, however, is the importance of our social and political structures in determining which countries flourish and which don’t.

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