Life in 2030
Even in a recession, it’s important to consider what the future holds. Irish Timesjournalists assess what the landscape may be like in 20 years time in the fields of technology, science, medicine and finance
TWENTY YEARS ago might seem like an age in a technology world where the latest must-have device becomes passe within six months. But comparing the gadgets at our disposal in 1990 to what we have now provides some clues as to what we can expect to be using in 2030.
At first glance the PC of 1990 was not that disimilar to today’s – a mouse and keyboard is used to interact with a bunch of icons on a screen. But that’s where the similarities largely end.
With the exception of some PCs in universities and large businesses it was highly unlikely your 1990 PC provided email or access to the nascent internet. The latest data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that about 70 per cent of homes own a PC, and of those almost 90 per cent are connected to the web. Mobile phones now have basic internet access as standard, but devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad are showing the potential not just for the mobile web but for accessing key pieces of relevant data, served up in apps, while on the move.
Twenty years ago the potential of mobile communications was barely on the radar. Tom Raftery, an analyst with Green Monk, which advises large companies on technology and the environment, remembers taking a summer job in 1989 with BT Cellnet (now O2) in the UK when “mobiles were something you had in your car and you saw the occasional Motorola brick phone that you carried around in a suitcase”.
Fast forward another 20 years and applications that are “geo-aware” are also likely to be standard. Raftery says we are “only starting to scratch the surface” with smartphones that have built-in GPS and augmented reality applications that layer relevant data over a live image of a street scene on a mobile device.
“The physical world will become part of the interface,” says Prof Barry Smyth, head of the Clarity research centre in UCD. Applications like foursquare, MyTown and Gowalla, which use your location to provide the context for what information you are presented with, are pointing the way forward.
The concept of personal devices may even become redundant according to Smyth, with facial recognition ensuring the device knows who is using it at any given time. “Tablets may turn out to be communal devices that, for example, you might share in the living room,” says Smyth. “Another scenario is that you have a public display, perhaps at a bus stop, and you can use that screen as an extension of your mobile phone.”
One issue that would have to be addressed would be how users might share public screens or how tailored content could be presented to groups of people that briefly come together, and Smyth says his research group at Clarity is already working on how to solve the problem. Were such screens to become ubiquitous it would remove the tension between the desire for larger screens on mobiles and ensuring they are light enough and small enough to fit in a pocket.
An upgrade to the underlying technology of the internet, which has already begun, will exponentially expand the number of available internet addresses and as a result the number and variety of devices that will communicate with the network.
Not surprisingly given his area of research Raftery believes the inevitable constraints on energy capacity, and possibly water supply, will have implications for our use of technology. Millions of sensors which monitor the availability of both resources will be connected to the web while electricity will be provided through a “smart grid”.
“The electricity network will not be fully connected to the web because of security concerns,” says Raftery. “Devices in the home will poll the grid and will make decisions, such as whether to turn on the washing machine, based on real time pricing information or factors such as the amount of renewable energy available.”
The strongest link between the PC of today and 1990 – the keyboard and mouse – will also disappear in the next 20 years. Microsoft has confirmed that Project Natal, a combination of software and a 3D camera, which allows Xbox games to be controlled using speech, gestures and body movements, with no need for a confusing multi-button controller, will go on sale in time for Christmas this year. The warm reception for Apple’s recent release of the iPad tablet computer also suggests there is an appetite for ditching the keyboard and mouse, although it does plan to sell a keyboard accessory for buyers who may be less comfortable with the brave new world. But it’s clear innovation in the area of the human computer interface (HCI) is long overdue.
“Certainly, there are some very interesting prototypes in the HCI space including things like the Wiimote, where people can create a €50 electronic whiteboard with a Nintendo Wii remote and a LED pen (as opposed to some current electronic whiteboards that can cost thousands of euro),” enthuses Breslin.
The brand names that dominate the technology business will also be shaken up. Microsoft’s Windows has dominated the last 20 years, but the history of technology and business suggest that neither Microsoft or its ubiquitous operating system will definitely dominate the next two decades.
Google, which has already encroached into areas that Microsoft may have expected to call its own, such as web search and internet advertising, is itself likely to be facing significant challengers by 2030. But in the intervening years it will lead the charge into cloud computing – the concept that data, software and even computing power is something that we can summon up over the internet rather than having in our local device.
“We are getting used to our data being available in the cloud, through applications like Gmail or Evernote,” says Breslin. “People expect certain features now from their applications: accessibility, freedom to get their data wherever they are, security and the ability to share tasks or documents with others - such that many traditional applications like Microsoft Office are augmenting their offerings with online cloud-powered applications (Office Live). But also beyond just data, computing power can be leveraged in a cloud of machines physically removed from a local user or application, allowing the cloud to carry out tasks for a person that an individual’s computer cannot.”
The issues that have already been raised about cloud computing – such as privacy and data protection, because we no longer have control over our data – are likely to intensify in the next 20 years. Some even believe it will become standard that we give up information about ourselves, perhaps to allow us to receive targeted advertising, in exchange for free services that we pull from the cloud.
“The days of privacy are gone,” says Raftery. “I saw someone on Twitter saying the other day that if Andy Warhol were alive today he would say that everyone will be looking for 15 minutes of privacy not fame.”
WILL WE all be living better through chemistry by 2030? With the chemical drive towards faster, cleaner and smaller, sectors like pharma and energy should benefit as well as end consumers, according to Pat Guiry, professor of synthetic organic chemistry at University College Dublin.
Catalysts, which speed up the rate of a reaction without being consumed themselves, are the focus of current studies worldwide and will hopefully mean faster and cleaner reactions, which in turn can improve the purity of products like therapeutic drugs, he says.
Pharmaceutical processes should also become more efficient, with microwave reactors speeding up reactions and industrial designs switching to energy-efficient, streamlined approaches.
“Currently the vast majority of pharmaceuticals are made in ‘batches’, sometimes in reactor vessels with volumes of thousands of litres. That brings with it problems of heating, cooling, product isolation and purification. The area of ‘flow chemistry’ [chemistry in a pipe] circumvents many of these problems and instead the chemical reaction is run in a continuously flowing stream of fluids and allows for multiple steps to be arranged in a continuous sequence. This is a more cost-effective approach.”
Already, Pfizer in Cork is looking at this concept of flow rather than batch, says Guiry, and it’s this kind of innovation that could keep multinational pharma companies in Ireland.
By 2030 Irish scientists will have contributed to these areas of catalysis and improving chemical manufacturing processes, he predicts, but we have to make sure we protect that potential in order to realise it. “There really is no limit to the possibilities of what can be achieved through the combination of interested scientists and students and state-of-the-art research facilities and proper funding,” says Guiry.
“Scientific research requires the continuation of proper levels of funding and students with a keen interest in science to learn the fundamentals at third level and apply this in their graduate studies. The return from investment in research is a slow process and it requires politicians to have the vision to take the long-term view.”
And what of his own plans for 2030? “I will have a strong interest in chemistry and education and I will be practicing hard for the 65-and-over world team tennis championships. I will also go back and read this article on the web to check its accuracy.”
“BY 2030, the patient medical experience will be dominated by the three P’s – personalised, predictive and preventative.”
That’s the prediction from Prof Brian MacCraith, who directs the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute, a centre for science, engineering and technology funded by Science Foundation Ireland and based in Dublin City University.
Fast-forward 20 years and we are likely to see more abundant technology designed to keep patients out of hospital and get them more involved in managing their own health, explains MacCraith.
“The typical home will incorporate a significant amount of advanced technology, which will be used to inform individuals and their healthcare providers of their state of wellness on an ongoing basis,” he says.
“The concept of a ‘personalised norm’ of wellness will be established based on the measurement of a range of routine parameters in the home, like weight; ECG; and biomarkers in breath, saliva and urine; and any significant deviation from this norm will trigger an intervention. In this way, people will live healthier lives and will live longer – with all the challenges that this delivers.”
One approach MacCraith identifies involves detecting cancer early through the ultra-sensitive measurement of markers in the body that can not only diagnose the disease but point the way to the best therapy for the individual and monitor their progress as they go through it.
“This illustrates the important emerging area of ‘personalised medicine’, which will replace the ‘one size fits all’ approach which predominates at the moment,” he says, adding that devices for such “companion diagnostics” are expected to become commonplace in coming years.
Nanotechnology, too, stands to have an impact across a wide sweep in medicine, from diagnosing disease to helping tissues to repair and delivering drugs specifically to stricken tissues, says MacCraith.
“Customised nanoparticles designed to target and destroy a particular tumour will provide a much more attractive proposition than the current sledgehammer approach of typical chemotherapies,” he says.
“We also expect to see the exploitation of miniaturised in-vivo devices that reside inside the body for short or long periods and combine measurement of particular conditions with controlled drug release. Such ‘closed-loop’ systems will exploit advances in micro- and nano-biotechnology with expertise in wireless communications.”
Ireland stands to play a strong role in these emerging areas of companion diagnostics, nanomedicine and in-vivo diagnostics, according to MacCraith, who says progress in the field is essentially unstoppable. “Globally, I do not believe that nothing short of a major apocalyptic event will slow down the delivery of this vision. And in 2030, with all these exciting advances in health and wellness, I expect to be still working and playing for Dublin in my third All-Ireland final in a row – all victorious of course.”
AT 9.48PM on September 22nd, 2030, an asteroid the size of the GPO in Dublin will make a close flyby of Earth.
By that time, it is likely to be the most studied object in our solar system, with plans afoot to land men and/or women on its surface between now and then. That nine-month mission to land on the surface of an asteroid is likely to lay the foundations for a human mission to Mars shortly thereafter.
If, in the meantime, robot explorers find unequivocal evidence for microbial life on Mars, then all bets are off and such a logical step-by-step approach to Mars exploration will be abandoned.
No modern economy could afford to ignore the consequences of such a discovery, which would offer the possibility of a revolution in the science of biology as dramatic as Darwin, DNA and bioinformatics combined. The discovery of life on Mars would trigger a 2020s “gold rush”.
By 2030, the first solar-power satellites will be providing pollution-free electricity to major cities. The technology has been understood for decades but no one believed men and women would be capable of undertaking the huge engineering tasks necessary to build gigantic structures in space.
Europe, Russia, Japan, Canada and the US have demonstrated this ability in spectacular fashion by the construction of the International Space Station. That is $100 billion well spent.
Irish scientists, engineers and software designers have been pioneers in some of the key areas that will change the world over the next 20 years. The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is a world leader in the study of the cosmic radiation that threatens our astronauts on their way to Mars, researchers in Cork have excelled in the creation of new technologies around solar power and high-powered optics and Irish software companies are designing the programmes that guide space probes across the Solar System.
A 2003 study by the OECD concluded nothing would slow the development of space technology. It identified three scenarios between now and 2030: “smooth sailing”, “back to the future” and “stormy weather”. Each represents a possible geo-political scenario, respectively: “Multilateralism and international cooperation prevail”; “confrontation between China/Russia and the US”; and “a serious crisis in international relations”. In all cases, spending on space technology goes up, just in different sectors.
What would I like to be doing in 2030? Commentating on the first Mars landing, when I hope to repeat my favourite prediction: that the first man on Mars will be a woman.
Space commentator Leo Enright in coversation with Claire O’Connell
BY 2030 THE traditional blockbuster drug may have gone the way of the dinosaurs, smarter “nichebusters” will be improving how we fight disease and clever delivery mechanisms will hopefully have unlocked the potential of a range of innovative medicines.
That’s the prediction of Dr Ivan Coulter, chief executive of Sigmoid Pharma at the Invent Centre at Dublin City University, who explains how breakthroughs in recent decades are setting the scene for decades to come.
“The molecular or genomic revolution has lead to an increased knowledge of the molecular or genetic causes of disease,” he says. “In parallel, advances in medicinal chemistry is leading to more specific and powerful small molecule drugs while advances in genetic engineering are resulting in improved biologics, including peptides and antibodies.”
From that springboard opportunities are opening up to tackle diseases more specifically, and Coulter also foresees more patient-friendly options developing for drug delivery, so the innovation drive will be on formulating drugs that can be taken by mouth rather than injection. Clever thinking will also be needed to realise the potential in gene therapy approaches, he says.
The future will also hopefully see us harnessing the integral defences of our bodies against disease: “Significant effort has gone into developing vaccine-like immunotherapeutic approaches to target endogenous peptides or antigens that have been removed from a patient’s own diseased tissue, such as a tumour, or peptides or antigens that are common to a wide patient population. Incorporated into vaccine-like formats, the patient’s own immune system is triggered to seek out and destroy the cells that are expressing the disease-specific [molecules].”
Combined with more refined and earlier diagnosis of disease, improvements in drug design and delivery over coming years will further usher in the era of personalised medicine, where treatments are tailored for specific patients or cohorts rather than the broad population, he adds.
“It will result in the demise of the blockbuster and the emergence of the nichebuster. A good example is the Herceptin breast cancer treatment that only works on breast cancer patients with a specific genetic mutation.”
So what does Coulter plan to have contributed to the rapidly changing pharmaceutical landscape 20 years hence?
“By 2030 I would hope to have been responsible for or involved in the development of novel therapies that are making a contribution to the health and well-being of patients, and also to be involved developing innovation through basic and clinical research for the next generations of start-up companies,” he says.
“And on a national level, I would hope that by then Ireland will have developed the confidence to not only start companies but to build them into truly international companies. The talent exists, it just needs to be focused and supported to take the leaps of faith that are necessary for success.”
IT’S HARD to imagine now, but life was very different just 20 years ago. There was a limit on how much foreign currency you could carry, the Irish Stock Exchange’s trading floor was a hive of activity, and when you bought shares you were presented with a hard copy share certificate.
The concept of investing in the Chinese stock exchange was not only absurd it was impossible – while securitisation, the technique which heralded the credit crunch, was an emerging financial instrument and CDOs, CLOs and CDS, were just a twinkle in some trader’s eye.
The euro was yet to be thought up and instead, traders spoke of the “ecu”, the European currency unit, while the punt was still the currency at home.
But, if there has been tremendous change in financial markets over the past two decades, what will the next 20 years hold for the world of finance? How will the aftermath of the credit crunch play out? Will the dollar still be the world’s currency in 2030? Will the Irish Stock Exchange even exist? And will we be following the Shanghai Composite Index as closely as the FTSE 100 or SP 500?
If the past 20 years introduced a plethora of innovative financial instruments, the next 20 will be no different. “Finance will continue to innovate new products to be able to help us deal with an increasingly diverse array of risks,” says Colm Kearney, professor of international business at Trinity College Dublin, adding that the new instruments will be more encompassing, and more complicated, to deal with a more risky environment.
However, he adds the caveat that banks “won’t be able to deal in instruments they cant understand”. And just because securitisation was the technique which launched the sub-prime fiasco which turned into the credit crisis, doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.
Jason Berry, head of trading with Positive Equity, a Dublin based independent futures and options trading company, says it’s “only the beginning”. “The splicing and dicing of instruments will go on,” he adds.
Alastair Blair, head of financial services with Accenture, is in agreement. “There is no doubt in my mind that innovation around derivatives will continue,” he says, adding that he expects that products which are currently being packaged up and sold to institutional investors, will have to come to the retail market.
Elsewhere, Berry points to possible new innovations such as diamond futures, while Derek Moriarty, a partner with Deloitte, says we could see a pan-European insurance business for mass risks, such as travel and home insurance sold at a retail level.
While technology will be expected to drive the next stage of innovation, with Kearney pointing to the increasing use of the internet to cut out the middle man, nevertheless, the next 20 years won’t see the computer take over.
“Humans will always be needed, computers always make mistakes, humans will be there for interpretation, guidance, and idea creation. Computers may be faster and more nimble at placing complicated orders, but the ideas still have to come from people,” says Berry.
While banks in the west struggle to get it together after being hammered in the credit crunch, banks in the east are gearing up for growth, and this trend is only going to get more pronounced over the next 20 years.
In the most recent Global Financial Centre Index, Asian centres launched an assault on the rankings, with five cities including Shenzhen and Shanghai, moving into the top ten and kicking Dublin out of it in the process. Moreover, in The Banker magazine’s annual compilation of the top 1,000 global banks, six of the top 20 banks came from Asia, while three of the banks were Chinese.
And the trend looks set to continue, meaning that by 2030, it’s possible that our pension funds will have more exposure to Chinese stocks than the US market. And, in line with increasing dominance from the east, you can also expect the other “BRIC” countries – ie Brazil and Russia – to come to the fore.
Whether Asian centres will usurp the traditional homes of finance in New York and London, remains to be seen however. Financial centres like London and New York “take an awful lot of time to build”, says Blair, adding that he doesnt think that can be taken away in 10 to 15 years.
If there is one certainty over the next couple of years, it is that financial markets will be subject to a wave of regulations. Already, US president Barack Obama has laid down his blueprint for the US banking sector, closely watched by politicians on the other side of the Atlantic. But will such moves actually stick?
Paul Reck, a partner with Deloitte, thinks so. “The shadow of this crisis will loom large, particuarly with regards to over-sight,” he says, adding, “whatever comes of this will last 20 years, it won’t be revisited”.
International co-ordination also looks likely to be here to stay, with the much touted “super regulator” likely to be present in 2030, at least in some form. The issue however, as it has always been, is that regulators won’t fully understand the markets and products which they purport to regulate.
“Politicians aren’t sophisticated enough, they don’t have the courage to step in and make changes that the public seem to want,” says Berry.
Ireland will be caught up in the drive towards stricter oversight, and the days of a “light-touch” regulatory regime will come to an end. “Ireland’s game is up. We have to get it very very clear over what our strategy is. A lax regulatory environment is a nonsense, those days are over,” says Kearney.
Indeed Berry also thinks that a change is necessary. “Ireland needs a more sophisticated financial regulator,” he says.
It seems that in addition to death and taxes, there is another certainty in life – at some stage the financial markets will always mess up. Hot on the heels of the dot.com bubble came the sub-prime crisis, which in turn led to the credit crunch, and experts say it is only a matter of time before the next fiasco hits.
While there is no certainty as to what the crisis of 2030 might entail, as Berry says, there “absolutely” will be another crisis. “History repeats itself in financial markets,” he says adding, “it’s human nature to get excited”.
Blair on the other hand is more sanguine. “It won’t heal quickly, it will live long in peoples memories,” he says, adding that the current economic difficulties are buried in the memories of younger people, who will be running institutions by 2030.
The mighty greenback may have been effectively the world’s currency since the middle of the last century, but will this still be the case in 2030? After a turbulent few years, in which the dollar has consistently weakened as the euro has strengthened, the failure of the US to successfully manage its fiscal policy means that the future of the dollar as the currency of choice is now in doubt.
For Kearney, “the US dollar will, at a slow rate, continue to decline in global importance, to be replaced by the Chinese Renminbi or yuan and the euro”. Reck also thinks the dollar wont survive in its current form, but thinks the currency of the future will be gold-backed.
Berry is not so bullish on the yuan, although he does describe it as a “red card”, given that at some point in the future it may be floated. Instead, he says that the euro will, “most definitely be a very attractive and reliable alternative”.
While new forms of trading such as dark pools have gained stronger footholds over the past number of years, traditional stock exchanges are set to play a greater role going forward. But what does this mean for the Irish Stock Exchange? Pointing to increasing competition and consolidation amongst international exchanges, Kearney is “willing to bet that the ISE as it currently exists won’t be in existence” in 2030.
Berry agrees. “With much regret, I fear the Irish exchange’s days are numbered as either a viable exchange or independent exchange unless it can find a raison d’etre that other exchanges aren’t fulfilling. The low corporate tax has attracted some business in the shape of exchange traded funds ETFs, but otherwise I just can’t see their competitive advantage in the world,” he says.
As Obama takes a hatchet to US banks to prevent them from becoming “too big to fail”, Moriarty says there is likely to be a disaggregation between investment and retail banks going forward.
With consumer brands such as Tesco and Virgin in the UK, having already made forays into the financial services market, it could be that this trend will get bigger over the next 20 years. While Moriarty could see this trend growing, leading to other institutions such as utilities offering basic transaction types of financial services, he is not yet “100 per cent convinced”.
“It depends on what the brand stands for, but I have an open mind as to whether it will develop or not,” he says, while his colleague Reck is also dubious.
Twenty years ago the IFSC was still being seen in some quarters as a foolish political stunt with little chance of success, but where will Ireland’s financial services sector stand in 2030?
For Kearney, the IFSC’s continued success will depend, in part, on how involved the Government wants to be. “It will be up to the Government to work with industry to carve out a future,” says Kearney. “If they don’t invest in it, then it won’t be sustained.”
Moriarty sees opportunities for Chinese and Indian Banks to use Dublin as a base between London/New York, while Blair says: “We’ll end up as a hot-bed in Ireland.”
Citing the recent establishment of Citi’s RD centre as a first step, he says, “Ireland will have built up a position as being brilliant at a number of things, innovating around risk management and compliance.”
Berry thinks Ireland should be known for “entrepreneurial ideas and trading solutions” but isn’t too bullish on Ireland’s ability to attract front-office operations. “It’s hard to think of much innovation in finance that should happen here when most of the skills and talents are found in the large financial centres like London and NY, but crazier things have happened.”
And what about our own beleagured banks? Will they still be around in 20 years? Kearney for one, hopes not. “I don’t see why we need an Irish bank at all,” he says, adding that it would be best if one or both got bought out by international competitor, at least in part.
Of Anglo Irish Bank, he says it was a “big mistake” to save it, and there isn’t “a chance in hell” it will still be around in 20 years. “It should be relegated to the dust bowls of history. It’s a dark period in Irish banking,” he says.