Friday, 6 January 2023

Look into the crystal ball

The Beginning

Your Wealth is a custom Enterprise briefing for people just like you: Executives, entrepreneurs and builders who know that time isn’t money, but that time and money are feedstock for the one thing that matters most in life: Your family, however you define it.

Once a month, we’ll bring you a hand-picked selection of ideas, tips and inspirational stories that will help you make the most of your time, enhance our wealth, and build a better life with the people you love.

As always, we love hearing from readers. Send us story ideas, hints, tips or interview suggestions to editorial@enterprise.press.

A LOOK AHEAD

What do we know about the future? For most of us, the answer is not much, or at least that we can’t really be certain. But looking ahead and trying to forecast what the future holds, and what changes — big and small — we can reasonably expect to take place is not uncommon. One of our favorite past editions of Your Wealth looked at the predictions that people made about what the world would look like by 2020 (Spoiler alert: We’ve fallen short on a lot of crazy futuristic advancements). Now, instead of looking behind us and comparing expectations with our current reality, we’re turning our gaze forward and looking at what might be coming our way in the years ahead.

THE FUTURE IN CULTURE

How does culture influence the future? When it comes to laying out basic expectations of what the future entails, the creative industry — whether it be books, tv shows, or movies — all have ideas, visions and predictions to offer. It’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and the extinction of any form of personal privacy or human autonomy appear to be a recurring theme. Here are some eye-opening and thought-provoking picks that predict a future through a more realistic lens.

The Future Of is a 20-minute Netflix docuseries from the makers of Explained that imagines a future aided by the technology we are currently developing today. The episode of Houseplants is particularly mind boggling, detailing how plants will be able to store data and monitor pollution, helping to preserve the planet and minimize the use of climate damaging machinery. We were also big fans of the idea depicted in the Dogs episode, which suggests that we may eventually be able to interact with our pets more efficiently and easily understand their needs.

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams has nothing to do with our current world and its principles, but we wouldn’t be surprised if a similar gadget appeared in the future. The plot is set in the year 2035 and follows Pearl, a woman technician tasked with gathering DNA samples to analyze what clients need to do to attain happiness. Her avatar resembles a talking fortune cookie to help clients find her advice uplifting and hopeful. This read will have you questioning whether positive psychology and affirmations are all we need to be happy, or whether our current and future reality is far from it.

Apple TV’s Ready Player One is a 2018 science fiction film based on Ernest Cline's novel, and the concept is more alarming now that we have the Metaverse. Set in the year 2045, the film takes place in a virtual reality simulation called the OASIS where individuals escape the dreadful society they live in. In this parallel realm, you’re given a second chance to live a better life and become a much better version of yourself. The movie follows a young orphan who finds out about a competition to control the OASIS and sets out on a series of adventures with his allies to win it before an evil business seizes it and destroys it.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey picks up on the future of an existing controversial science — cloning. This novel takes place in a future wherein cloning goes mainstream, and a host of challenges that will arise. The plot centers around Evelyn, a scientist so enthralled with technology that she tests it on herself and creates Martine. Unfortunately Evelyn’s ill-advised decision leads to her husband Nathan catching feelings for Martine, unable to resist the temptations of having two Evelyns for the price of one. Evelyn is devastated by the news, until she and Martine are forced to join heads and solve a Nathan-related problem. The plot takes a turn that will keep you intrigued until the very end.

YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in December 2023:

  • The IMF approved a USD 3 bn, 46-month loan for Egypt, which is expected to unlock bns of USD of vital funding as the country struggles amid global headwinds.
  • Major banks tightened foreign currency withdrawal limits for Egyptian customers abroad.
  • The Madbouly government approved the final draft of the state ownership policy document.
  • Egypt signed MoUs with seven companies and consortiums to conduct feasibility studies on new projects to produce green hydrogen and its derivatives
  • Vodafone Group transferred its 55% stake in its Egyptian unit to its South African subsidiary Vodacom in a EUR 2.37 bn cash and stock transaction

SCIENCE

From Nostradamus to the Oracle at Delphi, people have been trying to predict the future and read their fortunes since the dawn of time. But what if we could use science and technology to forecast the future rather than relying on tarot cards or a fortune teller's advice? Scientists and scholars have begun to take a more systematic approach to predict events and trends with the help of advanced data analysis techniques and artificial intelligence (AI), making more accurate predictions about our world is becoming possible.

Enter “futures studies”: Futures studies, also known as futurology, is an interdisciplinary field of study that uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to figure out how society works and what might happen in the future. It focuses on long-term trends, dynamics, and processes as opposed to short-term events or predictions. The discipline looks at trends from different perspectives including political, economic, environmental, technological, cultural, and social factors. This allows researchers to develop meaningful insights into potential scenarios that may arise in the future.

Using data to predict the future: Data plays an essential role in futures studies as it helps inform predictions regarding potential outcomes based on past behavior or trends, also known as predictive analytics. For example, researchers can use data on population growth rates to predict how many people will be living in a particular area 10 years from now, use economic activity data to forecast a country's GDP growth over time, or analyze climate change data to project global temperatures in the decades ahead. By combining multiple datasets with statistical tools like machine learning algorithms, researchers can create predictive models that can provide valuable insights into what might happen next.

How does futurology work? The basic principles of futures studies include three parts: forecasting, backcasting, and foresighting. Forecasting looks at present trends and predicts where they will lead in the future. Backcasting looks at desired outcomes or goals and then works backwards to determine what actions need to be taken in order for those outcomes or goals to be achieved. Foresighting involves looking at alternative possibilities and allowing for creative thought in order to find solutions that may not have been previously considered. Other tools that can help us understand the complex systems that shape our world include scenario planning and trend analysis.

Like Scar said, “be prepared”: By studying futurology, we can look at the current state of the environment, consider potential consequences of different actions (or inactions), and come up with ways to mitigate or prevent negative outcomes. Rather than simply reacting after the fact, we can make informed decisions about how to best address pressing global challenges like pandemics or climate change. This could involve transitioning to renewable energy sources, investing in green technologies, or changing the way we live our lives to be more sustainable.

While the possibilities are endless, it's not an exact science: Some critics of futures studies argue the predictions of futurologists are often wrong, utopian, or overly pessimistic and can't be accurately predicted due to unforeseen events or changing conditions. For example, futurists in the 1950s famously declared we'd be riding in flying cars by now and transition to interplanetary travel by the year 2000 — which hasn’t materialized, but we can still hold out hope.

SCIENCE

While prophesying may give us some sense of control over our fate, it can often be a fool’s errand. Writers, critics and scientists are often eager to give their two cents as to what the future holds, but how many of these predictions from the past have come true? Here’s a round-up of some entertaining prophecies and critiques that either fell flat or surprisingly hit the bull’s eye.

TV will render future generations illiterate: Before social media was deemed the root of all evil, television was the culprit. In July 1951, three years into the Golden Age of Television, station WOR-TV gathered the predictions of TV critics on the future of TV and sealed them shut in a radiation-proof time capsule to be unearthed 100 years later. “Our people are becoming less literate by the minute,” one critic protested, “by the 21st Century our people doubtless will be squint-eyed, hunchbacked and fond of the dark,” she lamented. Thankfully, the editor’s prediction missed the mark and you’re scrolling through our issue today. If anything, research has shown that watching TV in moderation can be beneficial for children’s reading.

Obomi, the EU, and Viagra: In his awardwinning 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner depicts a dystopian world set in 2010. A classic of New Wave sci-fi, the futurama foretold a slew of modern realities with uncanny prescience. Perhaps one of the most amusing things it got right is a character named President Obomi. While Brunner’s character headed a fictional African state named Beninia, he was only two letters amiss, but hit the mark on time: Barack Obama served as US president from 2009 to 2017. Brunner also prophesied that the world’s population would reach 7 bn by 2010 — only a year earlier than it really happened — and foresaw the European Union, legal marijuana, satellite news, and Viagra.

Wireless technology will result in mobile phones: Serbian-American engineer Nikola Tesla was not only the ingenious inventor behind the electric alternating-current system that powers the world as we now know it, but also an insightful futurist who made a host of accurate predictions. In a 1909 interview with the New York Times, Tesla foresaw that “it will soon be possible…to call from [one’s] desk and talk with any telephone subscriber in the world. It will only be necessary to carry an inexpensive instrument no bigger than a watch, which will enable its bearer to hear anywhere on sea or land for distances of thousands of miles.” An impressive prophecy considering the pinnacle of wireless technology was the telegraph at that time. His prediction may have been correct, but little did he know many of these devices would actually break the bank.

The Beatles will be a flop: In what is likely one of the most regrettable decisions in music history, Decca Records turned down offering the Fab Four a record contract in January 1962, proclaiming “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” The Ed Sullivan Show’s musical director Ray Bloch had an equally myopic vision, dismissing the Beatles’ debut live appearance on American television as nothing more than a few great heads of hair, famously saying: “I give them a year.” Of course, the Beatles went on to become one of the most influential bands of all time, forever changing the world of music.

SCIENCE

Why is it increasingly difficult to imagine our future selves? Have you ever thought about who you will become in the future or what consequences your short term actions have on your future self? If the answer is no, this behavior has always piqued the interest of both psychologists and neuroscientists and they have conducted several studies to better understand it. Most of the studies found a common culprit: The brain. The human brain fails to make the connection between who we are today and who we will become in the future. In other words, it recognizes your future self as a stranger.

How does it work? A recent study found that the medial prefrontal cortex is highly active in reference to the present self and becomes less active in reference to the future-self. This explains why people have a hard time acknowledging their future selves and as if it is a stranger to their present self. Located in the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex involves executive functions which are responsible for personality expression, social behavior, emotions such as empathy, fear, and intuition; reasoning, decision-making, and planning. In other words, it is implicated in the way we see ourselves and others.

The illusion of continuity: If you reflect on who you were in the past, you might recognize that you are no longer the same person but if you imagine yourself in the future, you are more likely to believe that you’ll stay the same. This paradox — known as the illusion of continuity — was coined by the American writer and science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. Our brain tricks us into thinking that we have reached the best version of ourselves and that we are no longer going to change.

The end-of-history illusion: People tend to claim that they have changed more in the past than they will in the future, and research into the end-of-history illusion backs it up. A 2013 study analyzing 19k individuals ranging in age from 18 to 68 on the basis of personalities, values, and preferences. The study concluded that people of all ages believed that they will continue to be who they are with little to no change but participants of all ages described more change in the past 10 years than they would have predicted 10 years ago.

So how will we be able to imagine our future selves? A lot of the decision making we make on a daily basis requires a trade off between the present and the future and using our imaginations to dream up scenarios can significantly alter our decision making process and develop our empathy towards our future self. New technologies such as VR and AR help us vividly imagine ourselves in the future and could prove to be a powerful tool in generating empathy towards our future self, helping us realize the impact of present decisions. A 2022 study tested VR on 45 convicted offenders and found that interaction with a “future self” avatar helped to decrease the potential to engage in self-destruction behavior by increasing the vividness of potential impacts.

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