What’s new, Mr Fox? I was asked this question before giving a talk to an ultra-intelligent group of Mensa members in Somerset West last week.
I started my presentation by saying that what was not new was being faced by brains more powerful than mine. I went up to Oxford University to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the same time as a relative of mine called Emma, who is the daughter of my mother’s cousin. She did the same degree as me and got a first at the age of 18 compared to my second at the age of 21. She is now a professor at Harvard University and married to a Nobel laureate.
Nevertheless, the question posed made me think of what distinguishes a foxy futurist from a normal person. The answer is that the bright-eyed fox spots a significant new trend in the world ahead of the crowd. As readers who have read previous articles of mine will know, I talk of such a trend as a flag indicative of a new normal to which we will all have to adapt.
Here are some of the ones I spoke of last week:
1. We now have a world population of 7.5 billion which is anticipated to increase to 11.2 billion by the end of this century. Africa and Asia will make up 83% of the latter figure.
Apart from the fact that China will in the near future overtake the United States to become the largest economy in the world, sheer population numbers dictate that we are witnessing the end of Western supremacy as we know it.
Just as Athens gave way to Rome and London gave way to Washington, Washington will have to bow to this flag. Having the mightiest defence force in history means nothing because if the US destroys the world, it destroys itself.
2. According to America’s top futurist with whom I had a telephone discussion the other day, the world has gone past the tipping point of climate change. We are now in a period where extreme weather conditions ranging from abnormal rainfall to abnormal drought will become the new normal.
The mixtures of highs and lows over the oceans together with the change in strength and direction of currents and winds will bring unprecedented change to regional climates. Nobody has yet worked out the precise consequences. The North Pole will open up as a shipping route. Sea levels are set to rise and threaten coastal cities.
3. We are facing the sixth extinction of species but what is new about this one is that it is entirely caused by humankind. Thus, the displacement of fauna and flora is set to intensify as the human population grows meaning that the planet will be far less diverse in the life it supports in one hundred years’ time.
Many unforeseen consequences may occur to the ecosystems with which we are familiar as the links in the chain disappear.
4. The game of nuclear warfare has been changed by North Korea. At no time in the past has a country which America considers to be a rogue state acquired full nuclear expertise. Unlike Iran, North Korea is not going to back down from its programme to develop nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Meanwhile, America has made it plain that this will not happen. At some stage there has to be a war to resolve this issue with huge implications for China and South Korea. It will be the end of peace in our time as no recent wars have rivalled the destruction of the two world wars in the last century.
5. The next big wave of technology will be around alternative energy as the internal combustion engine makes way for hybrid and electric vehicles and solar panels make every household self-sufficient in power requirements.
Artificial intelligence will improve the performance of robots to the point that they can replicate most of the activities of the human race. Work will be transformed in that millions of jobs currently done by humans will disappear necessitating a revolution in outlook on how the vast majority of the human race can be gainfully employed. This in turn will feed back into what constitutes a value-adding education.
In addition, future wars may be fought by robotic armies and navies backed up by drones with the full capability of manned fighter aircraft.
6. Apart from being responsible for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the anti-establishment flag is suggesting the end of history as we know it.
The popular fury surrounding the values and behaviour of previous generations which contradict current ethical norms will demand a revision of how the past is interpreted. More than statues will fall as a result of this new phenomenon, whether we are talking about America, Europe or South Africa. Social media is ironically ushering in a new period of censorship.
I wonder what Emma might think about this list.