Philippe Bourguignon: Around the world in the year 2050


16 April, 2018


Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change, data, Developing Nations, Philippe Bourguignon


“If we want the ideal, you must first begin by understanding the real.” Those are the words of French politician Jean Jaurès. What does this tell us? That we need to listen to the world before we try to change it.

Today’s world is complex, turbulent, volatile and unpredictable. But while the headlines have never been worse, the reality is that humankind has never actually had it so good. The world is in a more peaceful period than it has ever seen, infant mortality is decreasing, life expectation increasing and poverty is continually in decline.

World data

So, the discord between our headlines and our reality leads to one ultimate concern: could our pessimism become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

When I was a child, my Dad told me repeatedly to stay a child and keep dreaming rather than becoming serious, that my education should not take away my dreams and that it was the only way to stay creative, avoid getting too serious and getting old as a result! 50 years on, I am still dreaming.

One thing about dreams – they require us to also be wide awake at times, and to look at what is happening around us our eyes wide open: what are the facts that will shape the world in the year 2050?

We have at the moment:

1. A new way of thinking. The Gutenberg millennium was the kingdom of the left-hand side of the brain, of reason and logic. In the new millennium, the right-hand side of the brain will prevail, together with intuition and freedom. The consumer society is becoming the information society; our mass society is shifting towards a society of individuals.

2. A world of total transparency. We are living in a “post-Snowden”, “post WikiLeaks” world. We would like to believe that this is not the case, but the notions of privacy and confidentiality have disappeared, or are in the process of doing so. The recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal is further evidence of this.

3. A world in mid-stream. On the one side, we see a very positive trend of huge innovation and technological advancement, and on the other hand, rapid social change and transformation. And this tension is occurring within a complex environment, where many of our traditional structures and assumptions are eroding.

4. A world in acceleration. We live in a high-velocity world. The result is the widespread use of new technologies. There is a general sense that everything is moving faster and faster, that things are sometimes getting away from us.

5. An interdependent world. We live in a world of “systemic connectivity” where everything is connected, economically, geopolitically, societally and environmentally.

6. A world difficult to understand. Interconnectivity increases uncertainty. The complexity, interconnectivity and speed we have engendered in the global landscape transcend our ability to comprehend, model or manage events. Many limitations constrain our ability to interpret complex issues, particularly as we tend to attribute single causes to interconnected events. This is literally overwhelming the capabilities of politicians – and business leaders – to make sensible and well informed decisions…

world in the year 2050, world from space

Beyond those observations, a few certainties for the future:

1. We’re more global, but we’re more unequal. Global growth accelerated in the 10 years before the crisis. But, despite globalisation taking 2 billion people out of poverty, nearly 3 billion people worldwide continue to live below the line, subsisting on less than $2.50 a day. In the United States alone, 45 million citizens, or 1 in every 6 people, are considered living below the poverty line. Additionally, 75% of Americans are living pay cheque to pay cheque, with little or no savings. Despite growth, income disparities are widening – inequality is growing… even more so since the last crisis in 2008.

2. Our boundaries and alliances are being challenged. Key security alliances constructed in the aftermath of WWII are becoming less relevant and flawed by severe structural inadequacies. The authority of the pillars of the global architecture; Bretton Wood institutions, WTO, NATO and even the United Nations, etc. are not as effective as they use to be, nor are those institutions sufficiently representative today. G7 and G20 are attempts to cope with this authority vacuum, but don’t do much better. We have inherited from the time when we lived off the land and industry, with a mind-set and armoury of systems that are now outdated. The notion of organisations based on borders are becoming obsolete.

3. Our emerging and developed nations are converging. 19 of the 30 largest economies will be emerging economies, and collectively they will be bigger than the developed economies, causing global growth to accelerate. We will see more than half of GDP growth over the next 10 years coming from non-OECD countries. My friend Chandran Nair, founder of The Institute of the Future, expresses deep doubt that the dominant western ideas of the past 100 years are lacking as true guides for the future. “Many of the economic development ideas the West believed to be long-held truths and major Western contributions to modernity no longer seem so accurate,” He challenges several myths about development — from the value of the free market and foreign investment to the definition of productivity and the management of large-scale urbanization.

4. We will have 2 billion more people on the planet by 2050. Our 7.5 billion in 2017 will become 9.8 billion by 2050. This will put huge pressure on resources, the climate and immigration. The 2 billion new humans will be from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the relative demographic weight of the population in the richest countries will drop by about 25% to 12% of the total world population.

5. Global warming will take a new shape. Failure to act now will result in damage to property and infrastructure (sea-level rise, floods, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms), lost productivity, mass migration and security threats (an increase in the number of “climate refugees”) and coping costs, as we take expensive steps to reduce carbon emissions thereby reduced associated climate impacts.

6. Technology is turning the world upside down! This is “The Third Wave”: the era when the Internet stops belonging to Internet companies. It is the era in which products will require the Internet, even if the Internet doesn’t define them. It is the era when the term “Internet-enabled” will start to sound as ludicrous as the term “electricity-enabled,” as if either were notable differentiators.

World in the year 2050, fishermen

And last but not least, a number of uncertainties:

1. Our transatlantic partnership is being challenged. America’s interests in Asia are rising while in Europe they are declining. Past and present superpower relations are changing: From Mediterranean powers until the 18th century, to Atlantic powers in the 19th century, we’ve seen a declining Britain and a rising America 150 years ago to a rising China now: the centre of gravity has moved to the Pacific. But, the geopolitical landscape of Asia Pacific is changing dramatically: the new Silk Road Chinese project and the current US administration views on China and Asia and may reverse this trend. The new Silk Road (also known as the Belt and Road Initiative), is set to reopen channels between China and the West: most notably Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe at a time where the US has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). These are two highly significant events compelling most Asian states to reorient their long-held policy. Sixty-two countries will benefit from it with most benefits going to India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, the Philippines and Pakistan. The cost is approx. a trillion dollars, more than seven times that of the Marshall Plan, which the U.S. launched in 1947, spending a hundred and thirty billion, in today’s dollars, on rebuilding postwar Europe. China is boldly striding ahead. Not only has China revived the ancient Silk Road as “the next phase of globalisation”, but it has also proactively set its sights on conquering the latest artificial intelligence technology, taken the lead on climate change and shaping the next world order in its image.

2. How we will collaborate with Machines. Robots are going to take our jobs. Experts believe all jobs will be fully automated in the next 120 years, and that there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years – known as High-Level Machine Intelligence. Governments, employers and educators should be urged to equip people with the skills they will need to work alongside robots, rather than compete with them in the future workplace.
The fundamental design pattern of success with technology is to enable people to do things that were previously impossible. Companies that only use technology to do less by getting rid of people will be surpassed by those who use it to help them to do more and better.

3. What the future of our democracies will look like. Fernando Henrique Cardoso (ex-President of Brazil) said “It is one of the ironies of our age that this deficit of trust in political institutions coexists with the rise of citizens capable of making the choices that shape their lives and influence the future of their societies”. The rise of populism in the West, the rise of China in the East and the spread of peer-driven social media everywhere are prompting a deep rethinking of how democracy works — or doesn’t.

4. How we deal with concepts of ‘Wellness’. The skyrocketing cost of chronic diseases ($47 trillion worldwide over the next 20 years, or 30% of GDP), and a world aging like never before (over 900 million people are now over 60): wellness should no longer be optional. When will the world be ready for Gross National Happiness? There is a positive correlation between how entrepreneurial a society is and its national level of happiness. Research clearly shows that countries that score well in terms of Global Entrepreneurship Development Index (GEDI) also score well in terms of happiness. Also, since 2008, Gallup and Healthways have partnered to understand the well-being of populations. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, takes the concept of quantifying well-being at an individual level and expands it to include communities, states and nations.

So, how do we shape the world in the year 2050? It’s hard to comprehend the world both today and in the future, but we can still act on it and exert influence.

Put simply, through collaboration. Great ideas do not emerge from within a single person or function but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before. When academics, economic and social leaders, entrepreneurs and Politicians connect, get together and collaborate, they fuel change. It is through our connections that we will define our future.

World in the year 2050, women smiling


Philippe Bourguignon

Philippe is OneRagtime’s Godfather, alongside his work as Vice Chairman of Revolution Places, a company that is creating a new model for travel and tourism that promotes and encourages a healthy lifestyle. Philippe is also the Chairman of Primonial, and is the former Chairman and CEO of Club Med, former Chairman and CEO of Euro Disney, former President of AccorHotels Asia/Pacific, and served as the Co-CEO of the Davos-based World Economic Forum in 2003 and 2004.

Watch Philippe giving this report as part of the opening plenary to Hope Global Forums 2018: