While it’s impossible to know exactly what the world will look like twenty or thirty years from now, it’s clear that digitalisation and associated technologies represent a significant ‘fork in the road’.

Working with experts from all over the world, we’ve sketched out three distinct worlds illustrating three very different digital futures. In all these potential worlds there is a strong technical dimension and a strong human dimension. 

The future is moulded by how these elements fit together and drive each other – how technology interacts with social, market and legal drivers and the actions of individuals, businesses and governments. In reality, elements of the three worlds are likely to co-exist – both across the world, and within individual communities and governments.

The truth is that drivers have already been unleashed which could shape the world in ways we cannot yet predict but which we can explore. Just as technologies like the printing press, telegraph and internal combustion engine changed the world, so new technologies coming onstream look set to do the same.

By stretching how we all think about the digital future, people can be in a better position to make resilient choices today for a world in which digital technology will be increasingly important.

The choices we all make, the way we work together or compete, and how we apply technology will shape the quality of all our lives.

In this, the human dimension will undoubtedly be as important as code.

You can explore the three worlds for yourself by following the links below.

DIGITAL ISLANDS

digital islands

Digital Islands explores a world which fragments, in part, as a consequence of digitalisation and new technologies. It’s a future in which populist political approaches are enabled by digital media, but techno-scepticism and resistance to new technology also become widespread. There is a resurgence in local and national identities as well as traditional values – and greater focus is put on face-to-face interaction and privacy. Algorithmically-derived insights may complement human decision-making but it’s flesh-and-blood people who always make the final decisions. As a result of a backlash against globalisation, the world is once again made up of a kaleidoscope of different states – some successful, some not so – which struggle to see past their own interests and rarely cooperate for the ‘common good’. It is a digital world primarily shaped by local, public actions and interventions by government.

OPEN PLATFORMS

open platflorm

The Open Platforms world explores the transition – albeit bumpy – to a world characterised by global digital connectivity and a renewal of internationalist values. It’s a future where people increasingly delegate their day-to-day lives to algorithms and where, as social interaction becomes ever more digital and virtual, traditional social structures weaken. Technological advances lead to an economic boom – one where jobs are increasingly computational rather than manual – although the fruits of the boom aren’t always perceived to be fairly distributed. Social tensions eventually lead to additional regulation, but the backbone of international digital architecture is already in place. Ultimately, the digital world is largely shaped in the coming years by business and public actions, with government influence in the digital arena only becoming prominent late in the day.

COMPLY AND PROSPER

comply and prosper

Comply and Prosper is a world in which people choose stability and prosperity over privacy and freedom – where personal data is used to assess and determine individuals’ abilities, health and education, and people are both rewarded and sanctioned for the way they live their lives. Despite the concerns of a vocal minority, ‘digital autocracy’ becomes accepted as an effective and orderly way of managing society. By the 2030s, government has aligned with major technology corporations in an increasing number of countries to take significant control of digital platforms – indeed, in extreme cases, participation in those platforms becomes mandatory. It’s a world where people are a little richer and safer but where they’ve also consented to having less privacy and becoming more restricted. The digital world has been largely shaped by government and business actions.