Power without higher purpose is losing its appeal. Intelligence continues rising and is no longer young. Spiritualization, or connectedness, is likely to take their place as the main driver of development. These are the results from the horizon scanning I conducted in September-October 2019.
Global megatrends – what is it?
A trend is a direction of change, more precisely a common direction of multiple change events. Usually, a trend is mentioned in the context of a certain field, industry or another system. Trends are expected to continue for a certain time, rather longer than shorter. Yet, not eternally: a trend gets born, lives and dies.
A megatrend is a bigger trend. It may concern several fields, industries or other systems.
A global megatrend is a trend of changes in the entire world, in most of the fields, industries or other systems.
Abundance and why it is declining
Abundance is the result of the increased power, i.e. higher productivity and new capabilities that humans acquired in the recent decades. One of the most visible outcomes of the Abundance megatrend is chronic oversupply in the markets. Tons of products stay unused, billions of dollars, coins and tokens multiply in their parallel universe, good ideas e.g. ‘Instagrammable’ looks, recipes etc. get cloned soon after they are born and then this massive clones attack becomes a thing to avoid. Abundance can be found even in expressions of sexuality: unlimited number of genders in Google, over seventy of them in Facebook (1).
Empowerment has brought many good things, but also aggravated some problems, namely inequality and exploitation of less free others, especially nature. The need for self-limitation becomes obvious if the humankind wants to survive (2). As a result, the perceived importance of (and will for) abundance decreases gradually. Other values than chase of power and dominance begin to get their ground. Signs of the probable farewell to Abundance can be found, for instance, in the growing pessimism about progress, anti-tech moods, and revival of traditional ideologies. In particular, the Intelligence megatrend is hoped on to satisfy human needs more precisely, more efficiently, and solve many of the Abundance problems.
Intelligence and why it is maturing
‘Information society’ or ‘knowledge society’ terms (discussed e.g. in (3)) reflect the importance of the so-called operant resources (knowledge, technologies, skills etc.) in the modern life. As nearly every industry is coupling their products with artificial intelligence and internet of things, the Intelligence megatrend is obviously no longer young, but probably the most impactful megatrend today.
Can’t it dominate much longer, particularly as scientists anticipate general superintelligence to emerge in the XXI century (4)? I don’t think it can because, all other things being equal, human values (priorities, desires) are not likely to stay the same. Evolution of buying preferences, political regulations, civil unrest are just some ways how the current champion may lose its position. Oil & gas monopolies, ICT giants, autocracies… – they all concede when people make other choices. As history shows, the initial balance of forces is not important – human desires are. Under the assumption that people have free will, of course.
Similarly, the Intelligence megatrend is going to dominate as long as people desire so, as long as their problems are solvable with just more intelligence. As the Intelligence megatrend is simply a continuation of technological empowerment, it may not be a good problem-solver though. It is rather an accelerator of ‘the same’. How long can we continue to accelerate the same?
As soon as people notice they must add something new or die, this something has chances to become a more important megatrend. This something can be Spirituality.
Spirituality and why it is rising
Spirituality is based on the idea that everything, including ways to communicate, has an immaterial, spiritual side. In other words, there’s more than meets the eye. An additional dimension of the reality includes immaterial part of the physical objects, purely immaterial (bodiless) entities, and immaterial ways of communication, i.e. ways to exchange resources and make impact.
Ideas about immateriality and connectedness come from many corners. Historically, from ancient mythologies and beliefs. Contemporary sci-fi and fantasy literature also describe the worlds in which bodiless creatures exist, souls can travel, observe and learn separately from bodies, and distances do not matter for an action or conversation. ICT industry contributes to making the images of immaterial reality more perceptible: video/VR entertainment, digital twins of material phenomena, ‘animation’ of inanimate objects through making them ‘smart’ and communicating. Although artificial entities are regarded as co-agents now, they are gradually getting more and more autonomy and may soon be considered agents, at least in some contexts: e.g. autonomous blockchain contracts, virtual assistants, distributed intelligence, car driving software etc. In other words, the fundamental ideas for the Spirituality megatrend are no longer fantastic, yet they have some real-world analogues and sometimes even scientific basis.
Is spirituality really rising?
While no answer can be certain, here is some food for thought:
(i) Growing popularity of posthumanist views that all living entities, be they human, floral, faunal or of any other sort, are equally conscious and may have some equal ‘rights’ or ‘value’. Modern scientific works show, for example, that animals and plants feel, communicate smartly, help each other and sometimes act in ways that humans would consider highly moral. Some jurisdictions (5) recognized even inanimate natural objects to be entitled to rights (rivers, lakes, forests, nature in general);
(ii) Shift to so-called developmental values (e.g. altruism, helping others, caring about environment, freedom etc.) vs. survival values (e.g. build-up of security, accumulation of wealth, other fear-based behaviour), which can arguably be seen as recognition of importance of immaterial. This tendency is particularly noticeable in the world’s most free countries: moral investing, corporate social responsibility, eco-consumerism, international aid etc.;
(iii) Professionals are getting used to an idea that ‘invisible’, at first sight ‘irrational’ connections exist. The experts purposefully seek to identify more of them through holistic and multi-disciplinary thinking, by combining seemingly unrelated phenomena. Examples are Big Data analytics that helps detect such relationships; business ecosystems resulting in unforeseen synergies; inclusive and participatory decision-making practices that are regarded as more viable, sustainable compared to the narrower methods (top-down, expert rule). Furthermore, Riel Miller, UNESCO’s head of Futures Literacy, calls academics and policy makers to rely more on intuition in their work instead of being limited to rational thinking (6);
(iv) Some communities can be regarded as transiting to or living partially in the spiritual world, for example, sub-cultures interested in elves, anime, Potterian, folk and pagan legends, sci-fi stories, including those engaged through AR/VR. Revival of religions and traditionalist rhetoric in autocracies such as Russia, ISIC, some states with strong positions of Islam, might also be another way for spirituality to (re-)enter the modern world.
Why is it rising?
Since Spiritualization is not a mature trend, it is difficult to say what the strongest trigger may be. The need to survive in the times of global risks seems to be one. Since the risk causes are often attributed to egoistic and materialistic behaviours, the opposite direction can naturally be regarded as a solution, namely, adopting the worldviews that are more ethical and giving priority to the immaterial.
What changes if Spiritualization becomes the dominant megatrend?
Being no longer alone, but with ‘spirits’ – wholly or semi-immaterial phenomena around, people will need to listen to, talk to, and cooperate with them. As immaterial links add to material ones, we will perceive the world as even more interconnected and, hence, offering less, if any room for win-lose solutions but requiring best-for-all logic for every choice. Since spirituality may come into conflict with rationality, we will need to go through these conflicts, both individually and collectively, both mentally and physically, i.e. by acting in the material world.
Accordingly, people will need to develop the abilities to ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘talk’ to the immaterial part of the world: e.g. souls of other people and animals, energies from inanimate objects, spirits without bodies and maybe spirits that are not from our planet. People with developed intuition and other spiritual skills – (extra)sensitivity, psychic abilities, clairvoyance, spiritual teleportation, mental time travel etc. – will be more sought-after. To rely on spirituality, in addition to intelligence, will be seen as more effective than to rely on intelligence only. Holistic and cross-disciplinary thinking may also be in higher demand.
Equipped with better understanding of the connected world, people will need to re-design what does not fit the best-for-all principle. In business terms, more ethical products and systems are likely to win over less ethical. Economic, political and social systems will need to be re-built on the ‘new’ foundations of freedom, equality and fraternity (1790, French revolution). Old hierarchical systems, thriving on dominance, will attempt to protect themselves and fight back. Hence, not only do people need to design the new systems that are based on partnership, but also find ways to transit. As typical for the times of change, art, conversations and leading by example will play a most important role in (re)discovering the connectedness.
To sum it up, if the global megatrends develop as I suggest, then best-for-some is gradually ceding to best-for-all. Someone who hopes to get superrich by mining asteroids, they may be late by the time they get there. The values of the society may change so that benefits for one at the expense of others will not be acceptable in future. Thus, it might be wise to begin investing into a) ethical products or activities, b) own spiritual development and holistic thinking. Including courageous action.
(1) Dockterman, E. (2014) Google+ Offers Infinite Gender Options. TIME USA, LLC. < https://time.com/3630012/google-infinite-gender-options/ >, retrieved 12.11.2019.
(2) Nareiko, A. (2019) Probable New Human Needs – a Lesson from Safe Sci-Fi Futures. Official website of A. Nareiko. < https://www.nareika.com/single-post/2019/07/12/Probable-New-Human-Needs-%E2%80%93-a-Lesson-from-Safe-Sci-Fi-Futures >, retrieved 12.11.2019.
(3) ScienceDirect (2019) Learn more about information society. < https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/information-society >, retrieved 12.11.2019.
(4) AI Multiple (2019) 373 experts opinion: AGI / singularity by 2060 [2019 update]. < https://blog.aimultiple.com/artificial-general-intelligence-singularity-timing/ >, retrieved 12.11.2019.
(5) CELF (2019) Advancing Legal Rights of Nature: Timeline. < https://celdf.org/advancing-community-rights/rights-of-nature/rights-nature-timeline/ >, retrieved 12.11.2019.
(6) Miller, R. (2018) Sensing and making-sense of Futures Literacy Towards a Futures Literacy Framework (FLF), in Transforming the future : anticipation in the 21st century / edited by Riel Miller. < https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1494609 >, retrieved 12.11.2019.