Insights Report – Future Opportunities

This expert panel used Dubai Future Foundation’s ‘The Global 50 Report’ as the framework and guiding document to talk about the opportunities and risks in the next 10-50 years.

  • Dr Heba Chehade, Author of ‘The Global 50 Report’; Foresight Lead, Dubai Future Foundation
  • Bashar Kilani, Managing Director, Accenture; Expert advocate – Digital Future of Healthcare
  • Shukri Eid, General Manager, Gulf, Levant, and Pakistan, IBM; Renowned Tech Expert
  • Huda Shaka, Founder, The Green Urbanista; Expert on Future of Cities & People
  • Akshay Arora, CEO, Euphoria Capital Partners; Euphoria Marketing and Consulting LLC
  • Moderator Hala Bou Alwan, LLB, LLM, Founder & MD, Hala Bou Alwan Consultancy

The Dubai Future Foundation’s Future 50 report has been created to identify current trends and potential future problems by examining key indicators of growth, prosperity, and well-being. Can you explain the rationale behind this?

Dr Heba Chehade: Under the directive issued by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the focus has been placed on long-term growth, well-being, and prosperity. This shift away from looking solely at GDP recognition requires new metrics to measure a country’s overall progress.

The Global 50 report provides a way to analyze future opportunities, such as those related to AI. It factors in potential assumptions and uncertainties that consider a long-term view of up to 50 years. Businesses should consider different possibilities, risks, and challenges when embarking on new endeavors. It is crucial to stay informed and do your research on potential opportunities and risks that may arise in any given context.

Exploring future opportunities in the public sector can be a great decision for venture capital investors over the next ten years. According to 2022 to 2023 reports, two of the most popular areas that were downloaded by organizations were health and societies. It’s these so-called “mega trends” that VCs should keep an eye on as they provide plenty of chances to innovate and invest.

We deemed it important to include the idea that with every opportunity comes potential risks in our report. We discussed them openly and acknowledged their presence, as well as suggested how a business organization might reconcile these opportunities with engaging the risk. Our report also emphasized the importance of having a framework and understanding the vision of an organization within this era of rapid transformation and fluctuating megatrends.

How do you define growth, prosperity, and well-being and the response of cities to incorporate these in future planning?

Huda Shaka: Countries and cities are redefining success by measuring factors such as livability, sustainability, and quality of life to better understand citizens’ reality.

Economist Kate Raworth outlines seven key principles in her book Doughnut Economics for rethinking the world’s economic systems. The seventh principle is “growth agnostic,” meaning to take a neutral stance on growth and strive to ensure prosperity regardless of its size or pace.

Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld[1] put forth the idea that economic policy should not be so focused on growth, but rather on prosperity. She asserted that growth and prosperity do not always go hand in hand; therefore, governments should be more concerned with the well-being of their citizens than with increasing their economic output. This concept challenges what has been accepted as the norm for decades and provides a new avenue for political leaders to pursue.

A prosperous future is dependent on the collective success of society. Strategic planning is necessary to reach this goal. We must focus on making meaningful improvements in the lives of all people. To achieve this aim, we must ask ourselves what steps are necessary.

Cities are now examining how to make a healthier lifestyle a part of day-to-day life. This could involve activities such as walking or biking to work or the mall, instead of going to the gym. Through this approach, people can lead a more active lifestyle with minimal effort.

Research has shown a strong link between food and overall wellness. A recent US study found that living close to amenities such as playgrounds, public spaces, and healthy food outlets had a significant impact on people’s lives. Urban specialties have become more involved in economics and social initiatives due to the population’s time spent in cities.

What are your thoughts about a unified global governance system to create a sustainable future, considering decision-making around investments?

Shukri Eid: Global governance is important for two key reasons. Firstly, it helps to catalyze collaboration between different countries and organizations. Secondly, it facilitates the accountability of those same countries and organizations regarding sustainable goals.

One key challenge is balancing local and national jurisdiction. Many countries may demand this before signing treaties, understanding that they should retain full control.

All stakeholders must come together to challenge prevailing thoughts and consider all perspectives, as decisions are often shaped by short-term considerations or politics.

The consequences of sustainability decisions can affect many people around the world, often disproportionately impacting poorer countries and societies. This raises an important question: what type of governance system would be better equipped to handle this? As suggested in certain reports, we need to consider the future of public sector legitimacy when making policies regarding sustainability and growth.

The report discusses global voting. Even in the case of a single country, the modern representation system we have seeks to solve the issue of widespread voting on all points of our laws and regulations. Nevertheless, today it is technically possible to enable people to vote on each element without being present in person.

We need experienced professionals to make decisions with precision and accuracy when it comes to sustainability, and data from the population is valuable, but experts are also needed.

AI is a potential facilitator of global governance, but the question of who should be held responsible for current environmental harm is a complex debate. The question of who bears the burden of transitioning to clean energy is a tricky one, as it could be those who suffer from poverty and rely on dirty fuels or developed countries able to fund research and development. True progress will come with a multi-faceted answer combining both solutions.

Technology can be used to address complex issues such as sustainability and climate change, but it must be developed with fairness, comprehension, and diversity in mind.

How do you see the report implemented practically or used as a framework to reflect on the future and as a navigation tool in the time like in an era of change?

Bashar Kilani: The report states that there are four assumptions that remain constant. Firstly, it is expected that people will have longer lifespans and better health. Secondly, there will be further advancements in technology. Thirdly, climate change will continue to be a significant issue, and it will contribute to inequality. Finally, various types of inequality will need to be acknowledged and addressed.

The report also explores megatrends in technology to identify five major areas, each with ten opportunities. These areas include healthcare, collaboration, the new society, transformative things, and climate. It’s important to examine these opportunities and understand the data points behind them to predict and identify potential risks.

By using it as a framework and considering what is relevant to your business, personal circumstances, and environment, you can quickly identify the most relevant aspects. Health care and AI collaboration are topics of interest to everyone, and although last year’s discussion on AI may already be outdated, the foundations are still there. If you apply responsible and generative AI, you can use the fundamentals to make good decisions. The report is a valuable tool that covers a broad scope, and it’s recommended that you read it with this in mind.

When we contemplate the future, we must also reconsider how we make investments to give precedence to specific actions, strategies, or plans. Additionally, it is crucial to establish priorities when it comes to investing. What is your perspective on the optimal investment flow that would result in net growth, prosperity, and well-being?

Akshay Arora: Various technologies are being developed globally in response to the flow of NPE investments and private equity investments. While it would be ideal to have a governance and method in place, the sheer scale of this undertaking makes it difficult to implement. Each government is driving its own agenda for growth in its respective nations, which makes a global perspective challenging. However, technology impacts every sector, and it would be useful to go back to a framework such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to gain a better understanding of this complex process.

When considering the base of the pyramid, it is concerning that some estimates suggest there are 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack proper housing. Is it possible to globally invest in a way that addresses this issue through a system of governance? This should be a priority even when investing in technology. While venture capital funds typically have a theme or focus, such as AI or a specific sector, they tend to operate on an individualistic basis for their fund and country.

The question is whether we should focus on developing new materials to provide shelter for people on a large scale or invest in technology that can have a global impact on education. With the COVID pandemic forcing remote learning for many people without the means to do so, it’s important to prioritize prosperity and invest in meeting basic needs and safety needs before moving on to self-actualization. While it’s not necessary to start at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s important to consider the entire hierarchy and develop governance to support it.

Can you explain what is rewilding and can it be viewed as a chance for desert cities in MENA considering all the practical and potential aspects?

Huda Shaka: The concept of “biophilic cities” has just recently become popular in urban design. This idea can be applied regardless of the environment a city is located in. According to the hypothesis of “biophilia,” people have a natural affinity for nature that makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Nature must be considered when creating any cityscape because it appears to be deeply ingrained in our minds, something we cannot ignore or deny.

When discussing how to design biophilic cities, it is important to consider the local context, especially in arid areas. These climates, which are categorized as hyper-arid, super-arid, or semi-arid, can also be found in other places of the world, including China, Australia, and even sections of the United States. Many places in the Arabian Gulf fall under this category. This means that a big portion of our ecosystem receives very little rainfall. Keeping these factors in mind when revitalizing urban design should aid in the creation of cities that truly embrace their biophilic components.

Climate change’s consequences are evident, and while this conclusion is not ideal, it does give an opportunity for towns that have adapted to arid climes. These cities may be able to share their experiences and knowledge with other cities throughout the world. Rewilding has also been used in a variety of other settings.

Rewilding has been used in a variety of climates. Certain precincts in London’s downtown neighbourhoods, for example, have embarked on a rewilding effort. This entails incorporating nature onto building rooftops and progressing beyond the simple visual appeal of plants on a roundabout. Instead, it seeks to foster environments that promote biophilic cities and interactions with nature.

To truly experience all of nature’s wellness benefits, both mental and physical, we must interact with it. Not only appreciating a lovely roundabout from afar, but interacting with our natural world through sight, sound, smell, and feeling. It could be a walk along the ocean, through a field of wildflowers, or farming a little area of land to raise your own food. When evaluating how to best utilize these natural benefits, we must think creatively as well as scientifically.

Can you tell us what the future of work looks like?

Shukri Eid: The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to sever the traditional ties between work and physical location. For the first time, we were able to experiment with virtual collaboration, for reasons of social distancing. This has led to some profound changes; from telehealth appointments where geography is no longer a barrier, all the way to a comprehensive remodelling of how businesses operate.

Job descriptions are now being modified to make it easier to work remotely, rather than sticking to traditional organizational structures and labour divisions. This does not preclude us from interacting with one another. Although far from perfect, this has resulted in a dramatic shift in the way duties are assigned and responsibilities are defined. This will inevitably result in the restructuring of the existing organizational structure, as many people have taken on jobs that will necessitate reorganization.

Though one would be tempted to believe that offices are rapidly becoming open spaces, the concept of what an office should be requires significant revision. Not only has the nature of the workplace changed, but so has its role. With these changes in mind, our own study suggests that open spaces will not always determine what future offices look like.

Today, when services and education are increasingly taking place online, the issue arises: under whose jurisdiction is this going place? Who has certified these individuals? Is it the country in which they reside or the country to which they give services? This simple question has far-reaching implications: who regulates these behaviours, and how does taxation factor in?

Investigating the human component of technology is one area where AI and automation can be quite useful. We call these software robots or digital employees because they can mimic our activities and look for patterns in the flow of information and decision-making across enterprises. Certain processes can be automated as a result, and data mining can find trends in unspoken or unwritten corporate norms and highlight areas where additional automation could be useful.

Recent evidence suggests an emerging pattern of automation taking over certain responsibilities, likely leading to unprecedented disruption. This raises the issue of potential job losses. Generally, the technology industry is optimistic in its assessment, maintaining that new employment opportunities created will outnumber those lost to automation.

It’s vital that we understand the consequences of the report’s assertions surrounding the continuity and perpetuation of inequality. When we move away from traditional forms of employment, even with the promise of a prosperous future due to automation, it will result in work being untethered from the effort. This is what automation is meant to accomplish.

With the advancement of technology, we can now decouple income from labour. Decentralized autonomous organizations are becoming a reality that can follow predetermined rules in the written code. Smart contracts are allowing agents to be deployed autonomously, such as autonomous cars. For example, you could own ten cars that drive around while you sleep. Those vehicles could go to petrol stations to get fuel or bring themselves in for servicing while giving you your share of the earnings at the same time.

Research is being conducted in many countries to explore the possibility of decoupling labour from both location and effort, as well as income from work. What I am referring to is the creation of a form of minimum wage which does not require performing any job to receive compensation. Several initiatives have been undertaken to unite income in this manner.

As we contemplate the concept of well-being, we must not forget that our work environment should be a source of both meaning and purpose. Consequently, the accumulation of wealth has become an inescapable issue. Although it is generally assumed that inequality will stay, I would posit that this assumption is an understatement, as the current situation is likely to deteriorate instead of remaining static.

Artificial Intelligence algorithms have the potential to generate vast amounts of wealth, which may be disproportionately concentrated among a tiny group. This poses concerns for our democracy, as those with fewer economic resources may not be as well-represented. As such, it is worth considering how people from varying socio-economic backgrounds may be able to contribute meaningfully, and what implications this would have on matters like safety and the economy.

The reason cities and countries still compete for talent is that even with the decoupling of location from work, the economic demand for that population remains. When we start to discuss the automation of work, we must also tackle issues like the future of democracy, representation, and wealth concentration. The implications of “future work” go beyond which algorithm will automate which job: there is a much bigger picture concerning prosperity.

Bashar Kilani: It is not a battle of humans against machines, but rather a collaboration between the two; this has been termed augmented intelligence. Accenture recently released a study on Generative Artificial Intelligence, which we believe can help raise the productivity of white-collar employees by 30% by 2025. By using these advanced tools and programs–which can provide data assistance, generate information, and content and automate processes–we can make tremendous strides in increasing overall efficiency.

Today, it is estimated that only around 2% of the total content globally is AI-generated. However, by 2025, this is expected to increase dramatically and reach up to 15%. Such a sharp rise will undeniably have a powerful impact on the way we go about our daily activities. This leads us to the pressing dilemma of responsible AI utilization: how can we guarantee that this technology does not come with pre-existing biases and how can we ensure that the data and identities are maintained securely? Additionally, we must be certain that all decisions made by AI engines are fair and justified; for that, algorithms ought to be carefully designed and properly implemented with suitable data.

The number of connected devices and the data they produce are rapidly growing as we live in the age of big data. But when it comes to cybersecurity, it’s likely that we’ll be working with so-called “Small Data.” This is so because these attacks typically target a small amount of data and only occasionally occur. Algorithms must therefore become even more intelligent if they are to continue protecting our data from hackers effectively and efficiently.

The adoption of generative AI, metaverse, digital twins, and living in two environments has accelerated the workplace of the future, and sustainability is an important topic to discuss.

Are there more focused investments on making clean and renewable energy a priority that will equip us to be better prepared for the future?

Akshay Arora: It will receive a sizable investment because, from the perspective of energy security, it has an impact on entire nations and we are already experiencing the effects of climate change with its diverse effects globally. By 2030, it is predicted that there will be a 40% increase in energy requirements due to increased urbanization. As one of the major 2020 trends, nuclear fusion energy, which has the power of the sun, we were fortunate to invest in this universal theme. A report also mentions this development, and Tri Alpha Energy, a US-based company, is engaged in the commercialization of fusion energy. There are sixteen businesses worldwide that are working on this.

Companies like Chevron, Google, and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund have invested in technologies such as nuclear fusion, AI, clean energy, renewable energy, health care, and education. Three years ago, the report looked at these areas from an investment standpoint for the long-term view.

How will the metaverse shape the future of work?

Shukri Eid: We want to characterize the metaverse as the next stage of the Internet’s development. Consequently, we are transforming the Internet as it exists today from the Internet of Things, where we currently live and work, into the Internet of places and the Internet of ownership. Additionally, I believe that digital twins are the foundation of the metaverse. Thus, we have digital twins for specific locations – a digital twin of a school, a learning environment, a workplace, a factory, a design centre, or a retail establishment.

However, generative AI is smarter, speaks six languages, writes code, and does other things, and can be used to create a digital twin of the user in the virtual world.

Metaverse is not just an extended video conferencing, but rather a way to improve meetings. Augmented reality can be used to complement the flow of data, but this is only a small part of the value generated. There is room for improving meetings, but this is only a small part of the value.

The value of the metaverse lies in its economic system, digital currency, and exchange of value. It will be able to understand complex systems and simulate actions in real-time, making it the next generation of the Internet.

Bashar Kilani: The existence of the metaverse depends on having the necessary infrastructure in place, such as cloud computing, bandwidth, digital ID, and cyber security. Naturally, after that, you create the environment on top of which you will use these enablers. Therefore, the report discusses the convergence of the digital and physical worlds.

What are your thoughts on responsible and ethical AI?

Shukri Eid: Currently, there is no international organization in place to regulate this. Each country is creating its own safeguards. The most important details are that data and algorithms must be fair and good enough to ensure that everyone is treated equally.

The most important details are that ‘explainability’ is essential.  AI systems can generate data, discuss circumstances, and give recommendations, but the decision-maker must be a human. Organizations are adopting responsible AI and metaverse data principles, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual who takes the input from AI and makes the decision.

We don’t know if there are state-level AI development efforts, or where they stand in relation to the generation of generative AI. And whether you can go into more offensive situations to protect that AI program from any other attempts, you start talking about some dark scenarios.

The ethical design and development of AI, I believe, is a whole different domain, and that’s where the risk and opportunity lie in making it collaborative, democratized, and used for the well-being and common good rather than for a competitive advantage.

Deepfake is a major issue of responsible AI and ethics due to its potential to create misleading content. The risk of who defines truth now has to do with which truth is propagated more, as whoever has the power to spread it more will create realities. Perception is reality.