The future is not like in the movies

This is the second of the opinion pieces that I’ve been asked to write as part of the Scotsman newspaper 200 year celebration.

It was published in the Scotsman on 3rd August, 2017, but I thought I’d reproduce it here, to keep my writing in one place.

According to a recent report by the Institute for the Future for Dell Technologies, 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. That’s only 13 years away, and yet how can we even begin to imagine what that might look like? The pace of change in my lifetime has been incredible and so many jobs of today didn’t exist when I graduated. Unsurprisingly, many of these are technology related, e.g. mobile phone app developers, but some are surprisingly low tech too, resulting from big changes in the way we live and work. The gig economy doesn’t just refer to delivery drivers; dog walking services are an example of that I couldn’t possibly have imagined when I was a teenager and was expected to take care of our family dog.

There is no doubt that the pace of change is accelerating. My Dad still has his vinyl records from the 50’s, I got my first cassette Walkman in the early 80’s, then later in that decade came CDs (remember them?) and the next big leap in music technology, the iPod, appeared in 2001.

When we look back at the science fiction movies and TV of the 60’s, mobile communication and computers were major features. Can you tell me honesty, if you had a flip-style mobile phone, that you never said ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ when you first got it? The novel 1984, written in 1948, anticipated video surveillance and video calling with TVs that covered a whole wall. Real life took longer to catch up, but now we look back on these authors as being exceptionally prescient. Flip phones, which merely had one function, are already a thing of the past; now we have smart phones, our hand-held computers. I find it hard to believe that the iPhone is only 10 years old, so ubiquitous and essential have smart phones become in our lives. We have electric cars, driverless cars are being developed, but we are still waiting for teleportation. And who doesn’t long for that, when stuck in traffic on the M8?

The dystopian future resulting from the rise of technology, as predicted in the movies, is not inevitable. Robots and computers have already replaced many of our labour intensive jobs but new industries have emerged, employing people in ways we could not have imagined, and creating opportunities to embrace more stimulating occupations. The challenge for us is not technical but societal. When some people struggle to accept a female Dr. Who, how can we minimise inequalities and ensure that people are not left behind in this brave new world?

One thing we do know is that the movies don’t get everything about the future right. So how can we anticipate what the future will really look like and what do we have to do to make sure we can all prepare for the jobs of the future?

In fact, the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. If we look around we can see signals that anticipate how our own lives might be impacted in the next few years. We need to learn how to identify and interpret these signals, applying new technologies and new ways of working to our own businesses. And we need to ensure that our young people are getting the education that they need to create their own futures, well beyond 2030. We need to give them the confidence to know that if they can imagine it, it can be done.


Published by Fiona

Fiona was once a hands-on scientist and still has a curious mind. She combines strategic thinking with an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to make great connections. She also takes photos.

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