Full disclaimer: …any of those “10 things that…” you see around is an attempt to score high on google… however in my defence the reason it is also a clear and itemized framework for ideas that may become full posts in future.
Also, there are some notable missing trends, for example the technological backlash that started in 2018, but that I see more like a phase, than something that will shape decades to come.
Finally: the order is entirely arbitrary.
Here we go!
- Foldable phones
This technology opens infinite possibilities… it’s definitely not about phones. Phones are just a mean to bring economy of scale into bendable screens, economy of scale means further investments and faster development. Buying a flip phone in itself can be mildly exciting to many, but a rollable phone that when unused becomes a pen-shaped device is already ways more interesting, and a rollable TV that won’t take your living room when turned off follows the same technology and is also going to be released…
In general bendable screens means we can start expecting screens in places where we never thought there could be one. As they get thinner, cheaper and less power hungry, they will become more and more ubiquitous, and some of the uses could really look like sci-fi…
I am thinking of Harry Potter style newspapers, sport clothing signalling your direction while skiing or your presence at night while cycling, smartwatches with 5 inches of rollable screens, but -to be honest- I am also thinking that reality will most likely exceed my imagination in due time!
- Financial Crisis
Economy has its cycles, and we had a good 10 uninterrupted years of growth or “bull market” now. The sentiment around economy has changed in the last 6 months, major IT companies experienced huge losses in the same period, gold is growing and doubts are being casted on chinese economy… the trade war with US doesn’t help either.
The change of sentiment alone can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy… I wouldn’t be surprised if this was to happen already towards the end of the first quarter, but realistically it will take longer. I would however be surprised if nothing happens in this respect within a year or so.
The impact of a financial crisis in a world where Europe hasn’t yet fully recovered from the previous one dated 2008 will be rather major. Neoliberalism is already becoming unpopular and a crisis could be the tipping point. As things are now, left wing parties don’t yet have a fully developed proposal for departing from neoliberalism, while right wing populists do, so realistically there can only be one winner at this stage. Governments are more fluid than they used to be, but they do still last years, and a world dominated by a large majority of right and far right governments is almost unprecedented. The one historical parallel I can think of is not encouraging either.
- European Elections
European parliamentary elections won’t really change that much in political terms given in EU the parliament can only approve laws decided elsewhere. However the results are likely going to be dominated by populist “sovereignist” (nationalist) parties. How will the desire for sovereignty reconcile with sitting in a supranational union’s parliament is difficult to envision.
In the best case they will lead a reform that will reduce bureaucracy, increase democratic participation, will allow the EU to regain popularity, all while increasing the spirit of unity and transferring the nationalism from the single countries to Europe.
In the worst case, they will lead a reform that will change EU into a hollow box where individual countries can pursue their sovereignist tendencies. 2019 could be the year where the end of EU is determined. A world without EU will risk ending up going back to cold-war blocks and divisions.
- Saudi Arabia ambitions in East Africa
China took quite an interest in Africa in recent years, and in this sense two forces are acting here: from one side chinese economy is slowing down a bit, and some observers do even envision a financial crash sometime in the future… this weakness is an opportunity for other countries; on the other side Saudi Arabia has a plan to step away by 2030 from a petrol based economy, as the technology will allow for reduced consumption in that field. Saudi Arabia is already showing interest in Yemen, and disorders are emerging in the nearby region of the horn of Africa, over which Saudi Arabia could be interested in expanding its sphere of influence.
Political instability in this region proved to be fertile ground for terrorist groups. The global scenario that made it possible for al qaeda first and daesh/isis later to emerge is still very much in the present, so albeit they are less and less of a threat nowadays, there’s little to say that new groups will not form.
- 3D printing
At the end of the year this will look like an epically failed point in my list, but what is about to happen is the beginning of a race that will make 3d printing faster, recyclable, cheaper, ubiquitous in the decades to come. It’s from these days the news that a resin has been developed to allow for 100x faster 3d printing.
The development of this technology, together with reusability will blur the line between what is hardware and what is software… need a chair? print a chair, don’t need it anymore? turn it back to a resin brick for compact storage… now need a ladder? print a ladder from that brick… etc!
It will take decades, but it seems we are beginning to fast track now, especially in applications for business printing, after many years in which 3d printing was little more than a gimmick for many.
- Plastic emergency
At the end of 2017 China banned plastic import for recycling. This is probably for the best, as the country does still score high in the scale of corruption, and sadly it’s easy to imagine an important slice of the plasticky cake being dumped in the oceans amid lack of control. However this leaves the world with a problem worth a few million tons of plastic per year.
It’s suddenly less surprising to see how many governments jumped on the plastic-free wagon almost overnight during the last year, but as our stockage fills up, plastic emergency will become more and more of a buzzword.
- Cybersecurity Threats
This isn’t a 2019-only trend really: it is more of a decade long trend, and as it often happens in our fast-changing era, one of the problems is that the tools we use were designed with a different world in mind, a world that doesn’t exist anymore where a 4 pin code and your debit card is still all that keeps a thief from getting all your money.
Cyber attacks are a lot more than that, they involve personal and national security, as well as financial security on a global scale.
To move on we must admit that privacy as we know it is a concept of the past. How many Panama Papers or Snowden’s there will be in 2019? These attacks are ethically questionable devices to reach a goal that is supported by the population at large: while the institutional Big Brother is aiming at people in the streets, the bulk of the threats to our economy and security happen behind closed doors, and until our system will update to reflect the need of this century’s more open society, these types of Cyber Attacks will keep occurring and probably intensifying.
Fluidity may very well end up being the word of the year, there are at least 3 uses that are becoming more and more common: political fluidity, gender fluidity and work fluidity.
In general, we are beginning to fully embrace a century that is for ever changing all aspects of our life, and fluidity seems to be our natural response to it: enhancing our ability to adapt, to the point where it becomes a second nature, welive dynamically and reclaim our right to make a choice at every single turn, all while we lose the ability to live statically.
Gender fluidity is a decade long trend that will impact at the very least western society, probably forever. As more and more mainstream media are popularizing the concept, it is worth marking this down to 2019: this year could be a turning point in public acceptance of a phenomenon that is spreading between teenagers and will be everywhere before we think. Gender fluidity is not about the write on the passport or which toilet one should use: it is instead about the refusal of assuming predetermined social roles based on having a X or Y chromosome. It is another step in our world of strong individualism where the right to self determination is considered a paramount value.
Political fluidity is embedded in the current trend of changing our mind faster and faster about the political agenda and leaders. It is a trend that will reshape the political world and institutions of democracy, eventually replacing leaders with ideas+spokespersons.
Work fluidity is the result of automation and neoliberalism, where jobs get replaced by technology every few years, and the political framework allows the companies to release surplus workforce whenever needed. Small and medium businesses have been one buzzword of the decade, and “solopreneur” is a recent neologism that is significant of how the growing demand for consultancy and freelance jobs, where the bond between the hiring company and the hired workforce can last days rather than months.
Another trend that may seem to be arbitrarily pinpointed to 2019.
Last year Amazon opened the first cashier-free store, a place where you can literally walk in, get what you want, and walk out… pretty much like stealing, except your credit card gets charged automatically of course!
Many other stores expressed interest in the technology, however this is only one possible application. Bar, cafe and restaurants will benefit hugely from the technology, especially for fast food and lower-end chains, where queuing or waiting for the bill can take a significant slice from the time dedicated to a meal. Expect this technology to explode and significantly change the way you think of shopping and entertainment.
But there’s more: last year google took aim at the turing test, by having its virtual assistant making phone calls, with receivers seemingly unaware of what was going on: they did not realise they were talking to a computer.
Home Automation is also becoming more and more mainstream, and fully driverless cars trials are being conducted in many areas, which will eventually automate the whole transportation industry.
Lastly, robots mimicking humans and mammals are to a point where they are starting to have real life applications such as being artificial pets, or even serving at tables. So -yes- this is most Definitely a trend to watch out for, as the end of work as we know it is nearing, and automation is one of the main reasons for it.
- UBI – Universal Basic Income
Talking about the end of work… this is a little bit of wishful thinking, but there’s no denying that the interest around this topic is growing, as more and more politicians and economists are beginning to realise it may actually be our only chance to avoid a near-apocalyptic collapse of economy and even more importantly of our whole society.
Very few, hardly meaningful trials have been conducted yet, however the italian government has been misusing the expression to introduce a “citizens’ wage” that is currently aligned with what the local economy is capable of supporting, but has the potential to scale in due time; all in all, while not revolutionary, it seems like a tip of the hat in the right direction.
India’s Sikkim region is also planning the world’s largest trial yet, involving over 600 thousand citizens.
This and many more trials will be planned, start and continue in 2019, and they will serve as a tool to understand how to fine tune the idea until it will become workable in real life. These trials together with the end of neoliberalism, a potential financial crisis, a surge in unemployment that are all part of a realistic scenario for the coming years, will make UBI a necessity, and the countries better prepared to implement it will be the ones that will be less impacted by the huge revolutions that wait for us in the coming decade or so.
That’s about it… I don’t expect to have them all right, and some of them may prove correct in a decade, rather than in 12 months… but regardless whether they do make it to the top 10 of the defining events and technologies of the year, they are definitely trends to watch out for, some of which I will discuss in more details as the weeks go by.