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5 questions to ask about emerging technologies

In a few years manufacturing and resource exploitation might be highly localized, services automated, employee productivity and consumer sentiment highly transparent and predictable, and human enhancement widespread.

World Bank

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In a few years manufacturing and resource exploitation might be highly localized, services automated, employee productivity and consumer sentiment highly transparent and predictable, and human enhancement widespread.

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What would this really mean for “us” as individuals and for our economy?

1. Will robots be our peers?
The boundary between human and machine is becoming increasingly tenuous. The possibilities for enhancing ourselves might increasingly allow us to work like machines. Robots themselves might soon be endowed with traditional human attributes such as cognition and emotional intelligence, allowing them to mimic the most complex human activities. Thus, we might have to rethink not only what it means to be human but also the nature of our competitive advantage in the labor market and our place alongside machines. Which jobs will we need other humans for? Which skills will we value most? And if work became mostly obsolete, what then will be our primary occupation, how will we earn our livelihoods and how will we redefine success?

2. Will schools become implanted? 
The question of which work skills will be most coveted in the years to come embodies one of three dynamics evolving in parallel that might deeply reshape the ways we learn. A second dynamic considers that our healthy and active life expectancies might be significantly increased to well above 100 years. The third takes note of how information and educative tools are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and universally available: online, on mobile devices and even by way of wearable electronics. As result, we need to rethink the ways in which we prepare ourselves to enter and remain relevant in the job market. What will we learn, how and when? Will we still receive our central education from childhood until our mid-20s or will we continually need to be retrained? How will vocational training evolve?

3. Will technology determine social class? 
Whether technology leadso decreases or increases in social and economic equality is an ongoing debate for which the jury is still out. This discussion becomes increasingly important, however, as the number of technologies shaping our lives grows. Beyond current drivers of equal opportunity such as access to health care and education, the lack of access to technology might soon become the foremost driver of inequality. Which economic systems will be most successful in providing equal access to the social and economic benefits of technology?

4. Will “prosumers” oust companies? 
Technology is said to have made the notion of “privacy” a relic of the past whereas transparency seems to have become the new normal. Other technological advances will allow for a greater decentralization of production means. Through 3-D printing and the “Internet of things” many marginal costs could be cut such that prices and, subsequently, profits would gradually disappear. This sort of “zero marginal cost society” could potentially usher the rise of “prosumers”: people who both produce and consume at the same time without either generating costs or profits. Under such a scenario, how would businesses make profits and will profits still be the main business purpose? Will intellectual property rights lose relevance altogether or will they become business’s only valuable assets—for instance, selling the right to print products at home? Which insurance schemes will we favor (insurance against hacking, for example), and will risk-pooling dynamics change?

5. Will there be anything left to transport?
Technology might soon allow us to mine metals from desalination brine, produce clean energy from wastewater and grow food in labs. In addition, as mentioned above, consumers will be increasingly offered opportunities to become more active prosumers. Finally, automation and robots might make outsourcing labor to low-cost countries increasingly irrelevant. All of these aspects point in the direction of an increased localization of production. How will this impact trade schemes and global economic relations? How will migration patterns evolve? How will the centers of economic activity change?

This article first appeared in Scientific American

Author: Kristel van der Elst is head of Strategic Foresight at the World Economic Forum.

5 questions to ask about emerging technologies

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Ecommerce

How will oil prices shape the Covid-19 recovery in emerging markets?

Oxford Business Group

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How will oil prices shape the Covid-19 recovery in emerging markets?

– After falling significantly in 2020, oil prices have returned to pre-pandemic levels
– The rise has been driven by OPEC+ production cuts and an improving economic climate
– Higher prices are likely to support a rebound in oil-producing emerging markets
– Further virus outbreaks or increased production would pose challenges to price stability

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A combination of continued production cuts and an increase in economic activity has prompted oil prices to return to pre-pandemic levels – a factor that will be crucial to the recovery of major oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Brent crude prices rose above $60 a barrel in early February, the first time they had exceeded pre-Covid-19 values. They have since continued to rise, going above $66 a barrel on February 24.

The ongoing increase in oil prices, which have soared by 75% since November and around 26% since the beginning of the year, marks a dramatic change from last year.

Following the closure of many national borders and the implementation of travel-related restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, demand for oil slumped globally.

In the wake of the Saudi-Russia price war in early 2020, Brent crude prices fell from around $60 a barrel in February that year to two-decade lows of $20 a barrel in late April, as supply increased and demand plummeted. The value of WTI crude – the main benchmark for oil in the US – fell to record lows of around $40 a barrel last year on the back of a lack of storage space.

While global demand for oil remains low, one factor credited with reversing the trend is the decision to make significant cuts to oil production, which subsequently tightened global supplies.

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How the Rural-Urban Divide Plays Out on Digital Platforms

It is one thing for entrepreneurs, whether urban or rural, to create and operate an online store, as some digital platforms have made it relatively easy to manage an e-store – even by using just a smartphone.

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In the West, villages are emptying out due to the lack of economic opportunities. Consider Italy where, in a bid to attract newcomers, a handful of municipalities have turned to selling houses for €1.

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Will South-east Asia’s tech giants turn to SPACs to boost post-pandemic growth?

Oxford Business Group

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Will South-east Asia’s tech giants turn to SPACs to boost post-pandemic growth?
– SPACs have become a hot-button topic in global finance
– The vehicle is widely used to help tech start-ups go public
– Both Singapore’s and Indonesia’s exchanges are set to allow SPACs
– Several South-east Asian tech unicorns may use SPACs to list publicly

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South-east Asia is seeing a wave of interest in special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, with various major tech players considering them as a means to fast-track public listings. In parallel to this, several exchanges in the region are moving to allow SPAC listings, with a view to boosting post-coronavirus growth.

SPACs are shell companies set up by investors and then listed on a given stock exchange. Their sole function is to acquire a private company, enabling it to go public without having to go through a traditional initial public offering (IPO).

A SPAC does nothing beyond its essential function – it neither produces nor sells anything, and a SPAC’s only assets are the funds raised from its own IPO.

Crucially, people who buy into a SPAC do not know what its eventual acquisition target or targets will be. This is why SPACs are often referred to as “blank cheque companies”: they give the founders a free rein to back their choice of private company. A key feature of SPACs is that they are often headed by big-name business executives or fund managers, who trade on past successes to inspire trust in investors.

While they are far from a novel phenomenon, SPACs have become a hot button topic in recent times: SPAC initial offerings quadrupled last year, with the vehicles raising a record $80bn.

Merging with a SPAC enables a company to go public and raise capital more quickly and painlessly than with a traditional IPO, circumventing some of the volatility that Covid-19 unleashed on global markets. At the same time, they function rather like venture capital, helping investors to buy into high-growth start-ups on the ground floor.

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