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‘In 20 years time, people who cope in an atmosphere of uncertainty will be the most successful’

We cannot predict the future, but we can simulate it. At the University Open to the City: HSE in Gorky Park project, Deputy Director of the Foresight Centre at the Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) at HSE, Alexander Chulok talked about what we can expect in the next 20 years and how to prepare for it.

We cannot predict the future, but we can simulate it. At the University Open to the City: HSE in Gorky Park project, Deputy Director of the Foresight Centre at the Institute of Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK) at HSE, Alexander Chulok talked about what we can expect in the next 20 years and how to prepare for it.


At the beginning of his lecture, Alexander Chulok asked the audience whether it is possible to predict the future. The answers were varied, but the position which set the tone for the lecture was that we cannot foresee the future or predict it accurately but we can simulate it and imagine various scenarios. This is what the foresight researchers do at HSE, with an arsenal of methods for modelling different variations of what might happen. It is particularly relevant when the constant innovation in technology is bringing major changes — to the transformation of businesses and established chains to create added value.  

The change in economic models, mass information technology, development and penetration of social and other networks in the daily lives of millions of people — everyone has to take these trends into account, whether he decides where to invest money or which desirable profession to choose. The winners (people and countries) are those who are quickest to introduce the newest technology. This means the race for intellectual resources intensifies, in the rush to enter the new economics. The consequences could even lead to changes in the geopolitical situation.

In medicine  a new model for healthcare

Around the world, medicine is moving towards more individualised treatments, disease prevention and human enhancement which implies using a whole new class of technology, bio-compatible implants, the brain-computer interfaces, genome editing, continuous monitoring applications instead of medical check-ups, etc. This opens up essentially new possibilities for humans and presents doctors, society and all of us with new dilemmas. 

Associate Professor Chulok says medical markets are experiencing cardinal changes. If we just take pharmaceuticals, there are some very active new players introducing ICT developments. This will probably lead to new healthcare models with prevention rather than treatment at the centre. Today the market in mobile health (m-Health) — gadgets which continuously monitor a person’s health is valued at 26 billion dollars. In a recent ISSEK trend letter, the application of augmented reality technology to improve the effectiveness of complex surgical operations were noted as one of the fastest growing trends.

Information and Communications Technology

Academics have been talking about ICT in all spheres of the economy and life for decades but today we are witnessing a genuine revolution. The introduction of smart technology to practically all areas of activity  from farming to industry (there are already enterprises which are run without people)  creates huge opportunities for growth in production and opening new businesses and markets.

Several films have shown us the changes ICT will make to our lives in 20 years from now, Transcendence for example, because serious players in this market use cinema to throw up images of technology and gadgets of the future.

Besides economic changes, technology will bring about changes in the social sphere, in our habits and models of everyday consumer behaviour. Imagine a society without newspapers, where people buy what their fridges tell them they’re running out of.

Nanotechnology, energy and transport of the future

Researchers tell us that in 10-15 years we will have table-sized nanofactories able to produce almost any product out of materials to hand in a matter of hours. Molecular self-assembly will become a serious challenge to existing advanced technologies like 3D printing, according to Alexander Chulok.

The lecturer described the energy supplies of the future as autonomous, ecological, and adaptable to the needs of consumers. Energy and transport systems will intellectualise themselves. Humans will live and work in intelligent places, travel in smart cars, order purchases (pizza, flowers, presents) using commercial drones. The net profits in 2014 of world market leader in commercial drones, Chinese company DJI technology were 120 million dollars.

The professions worth training for

Global changes are reflected in education with obsolete areas of work disappearing and new kinds of specialists in demand. Some skills are no longer needed. What would a medical worker do in a system where special devices monitor health? The specialists who will be most in demand according to foresight researchers are designers, specialists in Big Data, 3D printing and genetic engineers. In terms of psychological preparation, the most successful people will be those who can cope with working in an atmosphere of uncertainty.   

All these changes are of a global nature. They affect all countries, and Russians have the opportunity to be creators of groundbreaking technology, not consumers. The country has a dual goal. We need to determine which the areas are where we can compete with researchers in other countries (mathematics, physics, Earth sciences, nanotechnology, atomic energy) and where we need to introduce the best accessible technology, primarily it’s in transport, medicine and energy supplies.

At the end of his lecture, Alexander Chulok invited the audience to draw an individual map of development for themselves in the next 10 years. He believes that it’s the best way to begin with yourself and start to make changes in your life right away.