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What stands in the way of disruptive innovation isn’t the technology but our relentless and irrational grip on the past.

A friend recently reminded me of Y2K and the dot-com implosion. It’s hard to believe that was just two decades ago. It made me wonder what the next twenty years will look like.

Predicting the future is always suspect but what fascinates me most are predictions about foundational innovations which have already been technologically proven. What stands in their way are the culturalimpediments that block every disruptive innovation.

We adamantly hold onto mental models of what’s familiar. I’ve picked these four because as you read through them your gut reaction will be to reject them by thinking, “Oh, sure I know about that prediction,” my questions to you is, what are you doing about it? If it’s just wait and see then what I can tell you, with little to no uncertainty, is that these four disrupters will create incredible opportunity for new businesses smart enough to latch onto them early.  

Here are four of those long-term foundational 20-year megatrends that will shape nearly every aspect of global society; if we can just let go of the past.

#1 Within 20 years the overwhelming majority of vehicles will drive themselves.

We already have cars and trucks that can drive themselves under certain well-defined circumstances. Last year Delphi, the Boston-based think tank I lead published an extensive report that looked at the advent of electric and autonomous vehicles, AVs. (Get the full report here).

By 2034 the number of automobiles in the U.S. will peak at roughly about 500 million, from about 250 million today. It’s what comes after 2034 that surprises almost everyone who has seen the research; the total number of cars will decline rapidly to less than 50 million by 2050.

That’s because AV’s will drive 20+ hours a day rather than the 2 hour average for owned cars. In fact, cars will likely own themselves through blockchaintechnology. Cities will reclaim 25 percent of the real estate used for parking today. 1,300,000 lives will be saved each year.  Insurance companies will no longer insure human driven automobiles at rates that make it affordable for the vast majority of people.

#2 Within 20 years quantum computers will be as widely used as classical computers.

Quantum computing is progressing at a rate that is surprising even those who are building it. Google engineers recently talked about how they have already reached “quantum supremacy”–the point at which quantum computers can exceed the ability of any classical computer. IBM projects three years at most for that same achievement.

Quantum computers will not replace all classical computers, but they will become an indispensable part of how we use computers and artificial intelligence in our lives. This will be one of the most radical shifts in the history of science, enabling us to take on problems that classical computers are simply unable to deal with. Quantum computers come as close possible to mimicking the biological world, allowing us to simulate everything from cellular organisms, to human biology, to pharmaceuticals, to the inner workings of the universe. 

#3 Within 20 years every human being will have an immutable identity.

Half of the 7.5 billion people on the planet today have no documented identity. They are unable to own property, open bank accounts, or obtain formal credit. They are at the mercy of unscrupulous actors who prey on their economic vulnerability. It may seem outlandish to suggest that this is a technology problem, but in large part it is. Blockchain will enable the disenfranchised to enter the economic mainstream, to transact, and, most importantly, to obtain identities. The basis of all free markets, and democratic systems, is the immutability of ownership. Without identity there is no ownership. Making identity immutable is perhaps the single greatest step we can take towards creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to extract value from their efforts and contributions.

#4 Within 20 Years Autonomous Intelligent Healthcare advocateswill become essential in navigating increasingly more complex personalized healthcare.

The world’s population is aging rapidly. In 1950 there were 10 toddlers for every 65 year old. Today that ratio is 3:1. By 2100 it will be 1:1. That’s globally, not just the U.S. or the developed world.

This will impact every aspect of society but especially healthcare which is also becoming much more personalized in dealing with genomic diagnosis and therapy. The fundamental challenge will be that the coordination of health care, which gets much more complex as we age.

Which is why one of the most significant developments is the evolution of AI-powered health care advocates who can act on our behalf when we are unable to provide the information necessary for the continuity of our healthcare. Imagine that you’re in the emergency room and are unable to communicate your medical history. A health care advocate will have this information available immediately to share with doctors and to coordinate your care seamlessly across providers.

Far fetched? Not from the standpoint of the technology. The challenge will be in rethinking the industrial, social, and economic systems that these innovations will bring about a the pry the past our of our grip. 

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