• Perspectives
  • 14 October 2020

An Exclusive Conversation with Thomas Frey

How do we face, even embrace the uncertainty that lies amid the pandemic and beyond?

As part of our client-exclusive webinar series “Shaping A New Narrative”, we hosted Google’s top-rated Futurist Thomas Frey, who specialises in the systematic exploration of present-day signals to predict possibilities about the future.

Thomas currently serves as Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute which he founded. Prior to this, he spent 15 years at IBM, where he remains the most decorated IBM engineer with over 270 awards.

Below are some excerpts from this visionary who is revolutionising how we should think about the future.

On the idea of “Understanding tomorrow to thrive today”:

“My job as a futurist is to help turn people around, to give them some idea and perspective of what lies ahead. So, the question is: “How does the future get created?” Well, the future gets created in the minds of everybody around us. We all participate in creating the future.

I use this phrase quite a bit: “The future creates the present”. This is the opposite of conventional thinking. Most people think that what we do today is somehow going to create the future. But from a different perspective, the images of the future that we hold in our head, determine our actions today. And this is key: if we change somebody’s vision of the future, we change the way they make decisions today. And that is my goal.”

On COVID-19:

“COVID-19 has been a dark time in human history. Businesses were simply not designed to be shut down and restarted months later. That has taken its toll and we are seeing many breaking points. So many different businesses have not been able to regain traction, either because their supply chains have been disrupted or suddenly there is no demand for their products and services.

The sharing economy, for example, is still struggling. People are not going to big concerts or big events now. There are no parades happening down Main Street, festivals are not happening, comedy clubs are not operating. Movie theatres are pretty much empty if they are open at all. We have not figured out how to make these things happen again.

The idea of contact phobia, of being afraid to be around others, is something that is getting instilled in young people today. This is going to be very pervasive and will have a long ranging effect.

That said, times of great chaos bring about great opportunity, and we are going to see considerable opportunities and experimentation in the months and years ahead.”

On the predictions for the future and what’s trending:

1. Finding meaning and purpose

“We are experiencing the biggest job transition in all of history as people are having the time to sit back and think about things, such as whether they really want to be doing this job or running this business at this time in their lives. They are looking for something with more meaning and purpose, and they are finding this to be the perfect opportunity to shift gears.”

2. Growth sectors

“Some sectors, such as delivery bots, are starting to move exponentially faster. There is suddenly a huge demand for delivery bots and electric vehicle sales are exploding.

Lab grown meat production is moving into full swing and meat production facilities are going to be common by 2025. We are going to start seeing them spring up and take off in a big way.

Working remote is here to stay. In fact, 2020 has become the extreme home makeover as everyone has decided they need to revamp their home in order to work from home.

By 2030, the largest company on the Internet is going to be an education-based company that has not been invented yet, that we have not heard of yet and this will be larger than Google, Facebook or Apple.”

3. Disruptive trends

“The most disruptive technology in history will be driverless technology. This is not just about driving in cars, but also on boats on the water or underwater, and in the air. These autonomous vehicles are going to come in all shapes and forms.

Soon, virtually every major city is going to reach the point of having over 50,000 drones flying overhead on a daily basis. We will then need to have drone command centres, as well as lots of other things to manage that type of traffic. This is also bringing up a lot of talent shortages.

Then, there is digital twin technology. A digital twin is a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity. For example, if you put sensors on a tractor or a turbine in a power plant, you can create a digital replica of that and monitor it from a distance, even from the other side of the world. If something goes wrong, you can order a replacement for it and in fact, you can even start anticipating problems before they happen.

Technology is moving very quickly, and the next phase is to get into remote robotics, which we are already seeing in the surgery world with doctors performing surgeries on patients remotely.

The healthcare industry is transitioning from an industry driven by pharmaceuticals to one driven by data. We are going to start getting into very precise forms of medications and treatments for people, simply because we have the data to work with. A lot of companies now think of the human genome as just another programming language for the human body. So, if we can tweak the human genome in a certain way, we can actually re-programme the human body.

Artificial intelligence will change the world of education. The demands of the future are going to be quite imposing, so the role of education is changing. It is no longer possible to predict the educational needs of business four to five years in advance, so somebody who enters the workforce in 2030 had better plan to reboot their career and reskill themselves many times throughout their working lives. They are going to be shifting careers very often and with artificial intelligence, we are standing on the brink of a revolution that will virtually change every aspect of how people live.”

On “what’s next”

“Our global consciousness has changed: we are looking for a new narrative, and this is a perfect time for a new breed of storytellers to help guide our thinking and pave the way. Our definitions of heroes, success and achievement are all changing. We are seeking new forms of (post-COVID-19) leadership, of decision making, and new ways of setting priorities and getting things done.”



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