Alun Rhydderch, Co-Founder of the School of International Futures, predicts that more leisure time and less government could lead to airlines becoming spacelines.
We started the 21st century with an Internet obsession. But, the excitement with social media and fear of cyberattack concealed the fact that a revolution in the way we would live our lives was underway.
The data infrastructure provided by the internet has transformed the first half of the this century as powerfully as the railways did the late 19th. The traffic passing through internet routers and servers today make the trade flows of the last century pale into insignificance, in volume, but also in value.
In 2011, W. Brian Arthur foresaw that a “neural layer” of connected devices would overtake the “muscular system” of the physical economy in value within two decades. He called this neural layer the “second economy”. The transition happened, sooner than he imagined.
The goods we need and want are now easily produced using automated, self-improving processes, with minimal energy cost thanks to renewables and the fusion baseload. These goods being easily available and reproducible, their economic value is low and we no longer measure ourselves by them.
In fact, countries no longer measure themselves by their economic weight either. The production and trade of goods used to drive domestic and international politics. You could measure your gross domestic product and find your position in a league table. But, other measures have taken over, the most important being linked to life satisfaction.
This is strange territory for humanity, with less work to do, and a comfortable life. Being a competitive species, we still find ways to score points. Sports, experiences of all kinds we can brag about. We source clothes and kitchenware from niche designers. We decorate and we also create more and more things ourselves, sometimes by hand, usually with designware.
States are different too. People are still attached to a national identity, but their lives do not require much government. The status of doctors, teachers and administrators is high. With people fighting for the jobs, health services and education are good. Computers manage the currencies, resource allocations and citizen dividend distributions. A small team liaises through the United Nations on international matters, but trade processes are automated, and dispute resolution software copes with most disagreements.
Am I painting too rosy a picture? Well, some nations bear historical grudges and occasionally block trade and access to their territory. More importantly, resource scarcities still remain. It can be tempting for the countries owning these resources to demand special terms or form cartels to increase their leverage. Because of the intertwined systems of exchange, however, such actions are usually defused quickly as they lead to automatic reprisals.
The main concern for the future is population levels. Technology breakthroughs have increased the carrying capacity of the planet in terms of food and water, and cities have not become the magnets to the extent that was predicted. But, with people living well past 100 and having more time and money to raise children, it is inevitable that decisions will soon need to be taken.
This has led to a major international programme to provide off-Earth living options. Designs for orbiting colonies are already underway following the opening of the first low Earth orbit hotels, which recently started taking guests and are proving wildly popular.
These are just some of the trends that could be shaping our future world. It will be interesting to see how they also shape the airline industry.