Is the future a risk or an opportunity?

06 June 2019
Many globally transient phenomena, or megatrends, are currently in progress, ranging from environmental to technological and economic developments. From globalisation to climate change, these trends are making it increasingly difficult to predict the future. Heikki Aittokoski, foreign news reporter of Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, provided insights on this theme at If's Risk Management Day in Helsinki, in March.

“Our era is characterised by exceptionally fast-paced changes. Technological and economic development in particular is astonishing”, says Heikki Aittokoski, an acclaimed foreign news reporter of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest national daily newspaper in Finland.

Aittokoski addressed global megatrends at If's Risk Management Day, which hosts large enterprises. Having acted as a future correspondent for the newspaper, he is familiar with megatrends, travelling in different parts of the world to uncover answers to the central questions about the future that need to be answered.

According to Aittokoski, the speed of change in the future can be outlined by looking at how quickly changes have taken place over the past few decades. “The Internet, smartphones, sharing economy, drones, medical innovations – all these are examples of changes that have occurred in the last few decades”, Aittokoski says.

Aittokoski believes that Silicon Valley is still the technological centre for innovation in the world, which attracts equity injections much more than any other area worldwide.

“However, the question in the air remains: how close is China? There is a fear in the US, that China will overtake this position”, Aittokoski says.

And if we talk about the Silicon Valley, we should also talk about robotisation. People in Silicon Valley believe that we will witness the emergence of interactive robots in the coming decades. Robots will become commonplace in homes, schools, hospitals and streets.

“Bad” globalisation also brings good things

Globalisation is frequently criticised. Aittokoski believes the criticism is often justified.

“As I see it, there are still more winners than losers in globalisation. Globalisation offers financial prosperity for an increasing number of people. The share of the middle class has begun to rise in the peak years of globalisation. A half of the world's population will belong to the middle class in some twenty years”, Aittokoski says.

Similarly, the share of people living in extreme poverty has fallen dramatically, especially in the last few decades. “It is possible that poverty can be overcome altogether in the coming decades”, Aittokoski highlights.

The changing climate

Climate change is a recognised problem that concerns the planet and its entire population. “The forecast for climate change is poor”, Aittokoski states.

“The forecast for climate change is poor”, Aittokoski states.

Aittokoski uses Iceland as an example, where glacial researcher Oddur Sigurðsson states that all glaciers in Iceland will disappear in 200 years. It is predicted that Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, will have lost one fourth of its size by the year 2070.

“If all of the world's nuclear warheads were placed under Vatnajökull and exploded, only one percent of the glacier would melt. Instead of nuclear weapons, glaciers are melting due to climate change”, Aittokoski explains when describing the amount of energy needed for the ice to melt.

Global population trends also involve climate migration. If the world's temperature increases by a few degrees, climate migration will threaten many densely populated areas.

China’s success story

The increase in China's importance in global politics and economy cannot be overlooked. Today, from a global perspective, China cannot be overlooked as a political and economical might.

“The United States has been the world's only super power for a long time, but now China has clearly become a more prominent player. China's national economy has already began to surpass that of the United States and the European Union. "We are living in the century of China”, Aittokoski says.

We are living in the century of China”, Aittokoski says.

It’s important to understand the scale of this growth. An entire city will be built in Malaysia with Chinese money. Simultaneously, the Chinese are also investing in land and ports across Europe.

The rise of China can also be seen in its military power. In 2045, China’s military expenditure will equal that of the United States, totalling some USD 1.3 billion. Comparably, military spending in India and Russia has fallen behind.

What will happen to democracy?

There has been talk about the decay of democracy for a long time. People are less and less interested in politics and there are multiple issues and crises in the world that cannot be solved within the borders of a single state. Examples include financial, political, economic challenges, as well as structural changes in global markets, coupled with an accelerating technological revolution. In Aittokoski's words, “we are facing a cocktail on uncertainties”.

“Who offers easy answers to difficult questions?” Aittokoski asks and answers himself: “Exactly - the populists. The time of uncertainty will continue, so we should prepare for turbulence to continue in the future, as well.”

Aittokoski concludes however that although we have to tackle serious problems in our time, claims about the death of the western way of life are premature.

“Dystopias are fancy but intelligently easy. The Western model has strengths, most importantly in different types of freedom. I don't believe that authoritarian systems can be better and stronger than any Western democracy.”

“The future is not a risk, it is an opportunity”, he summarizes.

Article by

Milla Kauppila