It’s the question we all want the answer to: What’s next?
Which industry is going to be the next big thing? Where will the jobs of the future be? What can I do right now to succeed tomorrow?
Using reports from Deloitte Access Economics, The World Economic Forum and PwC, and research from innovation experts like Alec Ross, we’ve mapped out the 12 industries of the future.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Steam power, electricity, the internet – these were all game-changing inventions that catapulted mankind into a brave new world of industry and innovation.
So what’s the next big leap for humanity?
Two letters that scare the living daylights out of us.
Artificial Intelligence – be it for better or worse – is the next frontier, with AI technology improving in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and expected to evolve even more rapidly in 2017 and beyond.
Tech companies like Google and Microsoft are investing heavily into AI, with the industry projected to be worth an eye-watering $70 billion by 2020!
While we’ve only begun to realise the potential applications of AI, many are hailing the next two decades as the Era of Artificial Intelligence.
Here’s a crazy statistic:
The drone industry is set to boom by 6,000% by the end of the decade.
Six. Thousand. Per. Cent.
Drones are making the exciting transition from geek novelty item to indispensable business tool, with the industry predicted to contribute over US$127 billion to the economy by 2020.
‘The cost of drone technology is falling so quickly that a number of everyday applications are becoming cost-efficient,’ says PwC partner Piotr Romanowski.
But if you think drones are just for delivering Amazon parcels and pizzas to your front door, think again.
Better yet, think bigger.
Drones could be the next workhorse for the agriculture industry, flying over fields to detect and spray failing crops. They could be used by law enforcement to surveil international sporting events – and if incorporated with machine learning and facial recognition technology, identify wanted criminals. Hospitals could deploy drones with defibrillators to patients suffering heart attacks and effectively increase the survival rate from 8% to 80%.
I told you to think big!
A PwC report outlines thousands of ways that drones could change the world as we know it. It’s pretty clear to see that thanks to drones, the sky’s quite literally the limit.
3. Virtual reality
Ever heard of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
And there’s a reason for that. As the gaming industry’s most ridiculed console, the Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s disastrous foray into virtual reality (VR) back in the ‘90s.
But fast forward two decades and things are very different.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg hailed virtual reality as ‘the next great technology platform’, and more importantly, put his money where his mouth is by acquiring Oculus Rift for $2 billion, there’s been a renewed buzz around VR.
The emerging new medium is expected to disrupt today’s current entertainment ecosystem and generate billions in revenue.
Goldman Sachs predicts that the whole augmented reality market will be worth $80 billion by 2025, while Digi-Capital has put forward a more bullish forecast, estimating VR’s worth will hit $150 billion by 2020.
As game developers and marketers clamour to figure out how they can capitalise on this ‘next big thing’ – it’s easy to forget that VR is still in its infancy. As immersive as it may be, the head-spinning motion sickness it induces is still a major turn off; and the industry needs to overcome this technical setback before VR can truly take off.
Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped tech giants and indie developers alike from dreaming up endless possibilities for virtual reality.
Facebook’s Social VR team is looking to create new ways for us to ‘hang out’ with friends and families, while some developers see VR as a powerful new training tool for a range of professionals including pilots, Navy Seals and surgeons.
‘We can do anything we want,’ says Michael Booth, Facebook’s head of Social VR. ‘With VR right now, it’s a question of what not to do.’
I’ll admit it. I was a Fitbit convert.
Was being the operative word.
I strapped on my Alta, turned my nose up at elevators and loved competing in the office’s Work Week Hustle. And then after 4 exhausting weeks, I did what almost a third of consumers do – I ditched my wearable!
Despite attrition being a real issue for the industry, the wearables market is experiencing exponential growth. Estimated to be worth $14 billion at present, the wearables industry is expected to grow to a staggering $34 billion by 2020.
From a healing bracelet that sends thermoelectric pulses to reduce joint pain to biometric garments that measure your body’s vitals – the future of wearable technologies won’t just see a greater range of products on the market, but they’ll also work better, look cooler and offer more benefits.
But the true potential of wearable technology lies in its ability to revolutionise the healthcare industry.
As journalist J.C Herz observes in her essay for Wired, ‘People with chronic diseases don’t suddenly decide that they’re over it and the novelty has worn off. Tracking and measuring – the quantified self – is what keeps them out of the hospital.’
There’s ‘a very real – and potentially lucrative – potential to shake up the healthcare system and frack the $2 trillion annual cost of chronic disease,’ she writes.
5. Mobile payments
Imagine walking into a grocery store where there are no cashiers, no queues and no fumbling for your credit card.
You just grab what you need and walk out.
Sounds like something you’d only find in a sci-fi film, right?
Amazon recently opened a store that does exactly that.
Thanks to a combination of sensors and mobile payment technology, all you need to do is tap to enter the store, grab what you need and your Amazon account automatically gets charged.
They’re calling it ‘just walk out’ technology, and it’s expected to revolutionise the way we shop.
‘There is little doubt, many if not all of the concepts from the Amazon Go store will be adopted by A-level retailers over the next 5 years,’ says PayFinders.com founder, Brian Roemmele.
Suffice it to say: The world is embracing mobile payment technology in a big way.
In 2015, the total value of transactions made in the US by tapping a phone or an in-store terminal was $8.7 billion. By 2019, eMarketer estimated it will reach $210 billion.
That’s a lot of money.
And it just makes sense. Who doesn’t want to make their life easier?
For consumers, ‘their smartphone is their bank,’ ING Director executive director John Arnott told News.com.au. ‘It’s a natural extension that their iPhone will also become their wallet.’
Chances are you’ve probably heard of Bitcoin, right? It’s that virtual currency that you wish you bought back in 2009 – the brainchild of the Winklevoss brothers (the twins who claim Facebook was originally their idea).
But what is cryptocurrency? And what’s all the fuss about?
Just like the internet revolutionised the way we communicate – making it possible to speak to anyone in the world, anywhere, anytime – cryptocurrencies allow us to transfer money instantly to anyone in the world, anywhere, anytime.
Welcome to the future of money.
‘Right now, it’s like we’re in a world that is seeing the first automobile,’ says currency futurist Neha Narula in a TedTalk. ‘The first cryptocurrency, like the first car, is slow and hard to understand and hard to use.’
‘If you were the first person on your block to get a car…your neighbors would probably think you were crazy: “Why would you want this large, clunky machine that breaks down all the time, that lights on fire, and is still slower than a horse?” But we all know how that story turns out.’
As you probably figured out, the horse and carriage is our current banking system.
Even though we live in a global world today, banks just haven’t caught up yet.
Transferring money securely – or even just using your credit card overseas – can be a slow and painful process. Despite the fees and the headaches, we end up using banks, because there’s no alternative.
But what if there was?
Enter cryptocurrencies and cryptography (coding that masks information so well and so powerfully that the US Government has classified it as a weapon).
‘Cryptocurrencies are digital money that isn’t run by any government or bank,’ says Narula. ‘It’s money designed to work in a world without intermediaries.’
In layperson’s terms, cryptocurrencies takes banks out of the equation altogether.
So when will this all happen?
Sooner than you’d think. While cryptocurrency won’t be replacing traditional money anytime soon, the virtual currency has the potential to blow things wide open, and has even garnered attention from the US Federal Reserve.
In a letter to the senate, former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke highlighted how cryptocurrencies ‘may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure and more efficient payment system.’
If you could ‘upgrade’ your DNA – make yourself that little bit smarter, eliminate the type 1 diabetes that runs in your family, and turn your much-maligned wavy hair dead straight – would you do it?
Sounds like a question straight out of Gattaca, right?
Actually, it’s an ethical quandary scientists are already wrangling with – and one that you might have to worry about sooner than you think.
Scientists are currently working on a new highly precise gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 – a technology that if successful, could be the most historic medical breakthrough since a forgotten petri dish gave the world penicillin.
‘We’re basically able to have a molecular scalpel for genomes,’ says Jennifer Doudna, a biologist who co-founded the first genetic editing system. ‘All technologies in the past were sort of like sledgehammers.’
The ability to nip and tuck the very blueprint of life itself is just within reach, and much like computers revolutionised the way we work and play, genomics is set to change everything.
‘The world’s last trillion dollar industry was written out of computer code,’ says Alec Ross. ‘The world’s next trillion dollar industry will be created out of our own genetic code.’
The consequences are equal parts breathtaking and terrifying.
Theoretically speaking, CRISPR could deftly cure – not just treat – thousands of genetic diseases and save millions of lives in the process. It could genetically tweak crops to grow in more places around the world and eliminate world hunger. It could even revive extinct species like the woolly mammoth!
‘You’re only limited by your imagination,’ says Dustin Rubinstein, head of the lab that’s working on CRISPR.
But of course, the spectre of a dark dystopian future looms large over such limitless potential.
Just because we can do something, does it mean we should?
As Amy Maxman points out in her feature for Wired, CRISPR essentially hands genetic researchers the tools to ‘conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would –designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes.’
‘It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are – or who will be the first to break them’.
8. Internet of Things (IoT)
As you’re reading this, there are 8.4 billion devices connected to the internet. That’s right, last year the world’s connected devices managed to outpace the world’s population.
The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t coming, it’s already here.
From smart refrigerators to connected homes, the IoT creates a vast network of devices that through a combination of sensors, hardware and cloud technology can speak to each other, and collect data.
It’s also an industry that, according to the Mckinsey Global Institute could generate up to $11 trillion for the global economy.
That’s if we play our cards right that is.
At present, IoT products on the market are still gimmicky and derivative.
‘The same sorts of bland, iterative use cases we’ve been seeing since the term was first coined,’ bemoans Andrew Tarantola at Engadget.
But with enough investment and innovation, IoT could be so much more.
As leading technology forecaster, Daniel Burrus, explains, IoT’s true value lies in the fact that these devices will be able to collect real-time data, and allow us to leverage information and turn it into action.
In an article for Wired, Burrus gives a stunning example of the potential IoT offers.
‘In 2007, a bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing many people, because of steel plates that were inadequate to handle the bridge’s load. When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpages. This is cement that alerts us to fix problems before they cause a catastrophe. And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.
If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car. Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him.’
Robots have long been the stuff of sci-fi dreams.
Ever since C3PO charmed us with his bubbling loyalty and The Jetsons’ Rosie endeared us with her benevolent housemaking – we’ve dreamt of a future where robots did all the hard work.
Well, we needn’t dream much longer.
Alec Ross, author of Industries of The Future, believes that ‘the robots of the cartoons in movies from the 1970s will be the reality of the 2020s.’
But in a future (or arguably present) where robots do all the hard work – what’s will be left for us to do?
Yep, they’re stealing our jobs and literally making all ‘the dough’.
Their entrance into the workforce has ushered in a new Age of Automation – a seismic shift in the labour landscape that will see approximately 47 per cent of today’s jobs (mainly those that are routine and manual) disappear over the next 20 years.
But we needn’t be alarmed just yet. Experts agree that ever since the beginning of time, technology has been simultaneously destroying and creating jobs.
What we’re witnessing is the exponential growth of a multibillion-dollar industry – one that has the capacity to dramatically increase the world’s productivity.
And with it comes huge opportunities.
10. Connected Home
Move over Jetsons, your family home’s got nothing on the connected homes of the future!
From roof tiles that store and convert solar power to smart ovens that recognise food (and automatically cooks it for you!), homes of the future will take convenience and efficiency to a whole new level.
The Guardianpaints a pretty sweet picture of what’s to come, showcasing how AI, wearable technology, virtual reality and the internet of things will converge under the roof of the family home.
Like most future industries, the connected homes market is still relatively new with price being the main barrier for consumers. As Ovum’s report on the future of connected homes points out, ‘many households still struggl[e] to see the value of investing in devices and services that are relatively complex and costly.’
Currently the most promising product on the market seems to be Amazon’s Echo Dot, which at US$50 seems like a decent price to pay to boss a robot around, without even having to pick up your phone.
As entrepreneurs and big brands battle it out to make their products more affordable and indispensable, we can expect to see technology that integrates more seamlessly with our everyday lives and eliminates screen time altogether.
It could also herald a new wave in household consumerism – one that hasn’t been seen since the 1950s when televisions, washing machines and refrigerators first flooded the market.
11. Driverless cars
No, I’m sorry to report that Future You won’t get to fly your car to work. Nor will you fuel your car with last night’s trash, Doc Brown-style.
But your car will be powered by the sun, and drumroll, please – you won’t even need to drive it.
That’s right. Look mum, no hands!
Say goodbye to the concept of the family car, ugly carparks, and possibly even driver’s licenses altogether, because the future of driving involves…no driving whatsoever (well not by you, anyway).
Instead, to get from A to B, all you’ll need to do is call up a smart car. It’ll come pick you up, take you to your destination and zip off to pick up another passenger.
It’s just like Uber. Minus the driver that’s super nice but way too chatty.
‘We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,’ said General Motors president Dan Ammann, in a statement announcing a half-billion dollar investment in ridesharing company Lyft.
And GM aren’t the only ones dreaming of the billions that could be made by fusing driverless technology with the ride-sharing economy. Car makers like Ford are striking up similar deals with Silicon Valley tech firms, while Uber has all but snapped up the entire robotics team at Carnegie Mellon University.
The race to be the first to introduce driverless cars to the mainstream market has already kicked into second gear, and the result is the rise of a whole new area of competition for the auto industry.
But legislation and consumers still need to play catch up. Drivers are struggling to trust and embrace driverless technology, while regulations are yet to be fully rolled out.
Then there’s the ethical dilemma of how to program the car in the event of an accident. Should the car be programmed to save the driver? The pedestrian? Other drivers?
There are still a few wrinkles to iron out, but experts agree that this is the way of the future.
12. 3D printers
2016 was a big year for 3D printing.
The first 3D-printed house was ‘built’ in China in a mere 45 days, an Aussie girl with ear deformities was the first to be fitted with 3D printed ears, and the world’s first 3D-printed (and fully recyclable) car hit the US market.
It’s not hard to see how 3D printing could reshape and disrupt everything from the construction and automotive industry right through to the fields of healthcare and medical research.
According to a PwC report, the future of 3D printing will see printers become cheaper, faster, and more versatile as they print in multiple material types rather than just one – giving both companies and individuals the opportunity to make products that are infinitely more customisable.
From printing live tissues for testing during drug development to complete airplane wings that are lighter and more aerodynamic than traditional manufacturing methods – 3D printing will continue to push industries to new heights and is expected to be worth $40 billion by 2027.