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So, science fiction could have been science fact all along. Making Gene Roddenberry a modern-day Nostradamus for realising the possibility of Star Trek’s warp speed – despite what Einstein said. And if faster than light-speed is now possible and we’re really set to boldly go beyond the stars – what else does the future hold for our planet?

Now, predicting the future is notoriously tricky. Otherwise we’d all be living on the moon or travelling around in hover cars. But there are seismic changes going on around the world, socially, economically and geographically. There’s the rise of China and the emergence of powerhouses like Brazil who are now significantly investing in future powerhouses like Africa.

There are revolutions in communications, healthcare, technology and manufacturing (to name but a few) happening in front of our eyes. And there’s so much new news out there – it’s difficult to keep pace with it all or know where to look first. But here are just three trends that are hotly tipped to make a major impact on our lives.

3D Printing

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So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, the future of manufacturing may never be the same again. 3D printers can create 3D objects complete with moving parts and are set to build everything from scale models of Aston Martin to human tissue and working body parts. The Economist refers to it as the Third Industrial Revolution and it could turn us all into innovators and manufacturers. In fact, it could reverse the First Industrial Revolution with people leaving factories and offices to set up on their own with a 3D printer in their garage. It certainly impressed Stephen Fry when he revealed the Sand Beast on QI.

Robotics

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To be honest we’ve always feared the rise of the robot (Hollywood hasn’t helped) but it’s all seemed a long way off with robots looking impressive, but lacking basic skills such as the ability to walk up stairs. However, the experts have quietly been busy and they are not far away from Isaac Asimov’s future. A team at Harvard has developed a flying insect robot. Robot Rex has been developed with artificial organs. And universities are creating their own robotics labs to meet future demand. With applications from healthcare to manufacturing to the military, the possibilities are endless. And it’s creating such as stir that there’s even a movement to stop killer robots. With robotics and new innovations such as interactive restaurant tables it won’t be long before humans won’t need humans anymore.

Global problems

The planet’s growing population rate is staggering. From 3 to 7 billion people in just over 50 years. And with advances in healthcare and improved economies, more people are going to be born. More people are going to live longer. And more people are going to have a greater appetite for consuming resources. Already 1 billion people go to bed hungry every day. And there are 1 billion people who don’t yet use electricity. Food and energy shortages are huge global challenges that will affect more and more people all over the world. There aren’t any easy answers. And if nuclear is part of the solution – there simply aren’t enough engineers to go round.

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So, what does all this mean* for today’s educators and businesses? Well it will mean* innovation and entrepreneurship courses will grow in demand, especially those that can be studied flexibly while people launch their own business. It will mean* more ‘boot-camp’ training to provide specialist skills in areas where there are skills shortages – such as nuclear engineering. It will mean* that educators and industry will have to work more closely together to make sure that graduates in such fast-moving areas as robotics aren’t out of date before they’ve even started. And they will also come together with other educators, organisations and governments to tackle the world’s problems. There will also be more challenges like Thought For Food that harness the potential of students to tackle global problems. And more companies being judged on their corporate social responsibilities by customers and employees. Business people like Bill Gates are spending lots of time and money to tackle the big issues. And in the future companies may well allow their employees the same time. Google and LinkedIn already offer employees the chance to spend up to 20% of their time on innovative new projects. If companies also offered people the chance to save the world, people might apply in their droves.

In this day and age, the next big thing like Google, Facebook and 3D printing can come from out of nowhere. You need eyes everywhere. Which is what we’re here for. We put the latest trends and different landscapes under the microscope. We help educators and organisations to realise their strengths and what they can become famous for. And we highlight what’s going to be important tomorrow, before it becomes yesterday’s news. So, whatever you want to know more about – just get in touch via our website www.thefutureindex.com and keep in touch on Twitter @futureindex.

In a strange twist, we’ll leave the last word to will.i.am from a story from the fascinating ‘The tomorrow project’:

“Yes we are speeding up technology but we’re also slowing down humanity. There’s no investment in education. Think of how much money it takes to make computers smart. Then think about how much money we haven’t spent on people, we’ve shut off the money. That’s scary. What does their (regular folks) future look like when computers are smarter than them because we’ve invested in computers being smarter than them?”

*All the current indicators suggest that these things will probably happen, but something new may well come from nowhere and disrupt all of these things.

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