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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  What 2017 has in store
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What 2017 has in store

A reading of the year ahead based on the events of the past few years

Brexit, Donald Trump, demonetisation (in India), melting arctic ice—all of this happened in 2016, a year that also reinforced a hypothesis first articulated in 2015, that earth’s sixth mass extinction (of species) had begun. Photographs by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times; William Philpott/Reuters & Toby Melville/ReutersPremium
Brexit, Donald Trump, demonetisation (in India), melting arctic ice—all of this happened in 2016, a year that also reinforced a hypothesis first articulated in 2015, that earth’s sixth mass extinction (of species) had begun. Photographs by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times; William Philpott/Reuters & Toby Melville/Reuters

Is there more happening now?

Or are we just more aware of all that is happening now?

Brexit, Donald Trump, demonetisation (in India), melting arctic ice—all of this happened in 2016, a year that also reinforced a hypothesis first articulated in 2015, that earth’s sixth mass extinction (of species) had begun.

It was also the year when solar energy became cheaper than that generated from conventional fuels, some Scandinavian countries made a start towards a fossil fuel-less future, artificial intelligence became mainstream (enough for the Economist to run a special report on it), the timeline for the colonization of Mars became shorter, and the possibility of a 100-year life took a step closer to reality.

It was a year that saw universal dissatisfaction with the status quo and the emergence of new technologies (albeit with risks of their own in some cases) that held forth hope of a better future. In short, 2016 will be a hard act to follow, but who knows what 2017 has in store?

If the events of the past few years are any indication, here’s my reading of the year ahead:

One, the general unhappiness that appears to have begun in 2008 will last. Per capita incomes in the so-called first world have stayed the same, or declined, and there’s a growing disillusionment with current economic models and political leadership. Indeed, one of the long-abiding, and usually unsaid, tenets of capitalism that big business will eventually find a solution to most of the world’s pressing problem, is slowly, but surely becoming an anachronism.

Two, perhaps because of that, people are becoming increasingly enamoured by strong (and loud) political leaders with clear, simple and, often, populist and majoritarian messages.

Three, some people are dropping off the mainstream and becoming increasingly radicalized.

Four, the simplicity and popularity of such messages will mean the growing relevance of nuance in debate. It will also mean the continued rise of hyper-nationalism, which bodes ill for both multilateral trade agreements and concerted global action to address the really big issues.

Five, as people increasingly look for curation to navigate the clutter of information, they will become more deeply ensconced in their own filter bubbles.

Six (although it doesn’t require some great ability at forecasting to say this), 2017 will definitely be a worse year for the environment than 2016 was.

Seven, humankind will be a step closer to technological singularity, the point in time when machine intelligence (or superintelligence) overtakes human intelligence. What this means for humankind, we do not know. In 2012, the singularity was supposed to happen in 2040. But that was before deep learning and, over the past few years, artificial intelligence has made rapid strides. In recognizing images and diagnosing some kinds of cancer, machines do a lot better than humans already. There are people (SoftBank Group Corp.’s Masayoshi Son is perhaps the most prominent among them) who believe the singularity could happen as early as 2018.

Eight, gene-editing technologies will go commercial and, like all technologies, start becoming more popular and less expensive over the following decade. Our children could well live to 120, although there’s the question of how they will spend their time (or, more fundamentally, earn their living) in a world where most mundane and routine tasks are done by robots and AI.

Nine, even as solar (and wind) energy continue their inexorable march—projections are that they will be the world’s primary source of energy by 2030, maybe even earlier—they will have to deal with an American presidency that doesn’t really believe in them, apart from continuing to fight entrenched fossil-fuel interests in other parts of the world.

These are the nine macro-trends I see playing out over 2017. No country can be immune to them. Some will drive the trends and take advantage of them. Others will simply experience the fallout.

India, as I have written previously, faces first-, second-, and third-generation problems that it needs to address—and at the same time, it has to deal with open defecation and foeticide, even as it worries about creating a strong manufacturing industry and providing electricity to everyone, and even as it charts its response to some of the macro-trends mentioned in this essay. It has at its helm Narendra Modi, a leader who is not averse to taking big, unexpected decisions and who enjoys enough goodwill among a majority of the country’s 1.25 billion people to make even decisions that entail some amount of hardship for the common man palatable (as seen during demonetisation). And half of India’s population is below the age of 25, hungry for change that can make its tomorrow better.

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Published: 30 Dec 2016, 01:41 AM IST
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