This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
We all have a vision of how the future will unfold, but big changes in circumstance require us to re-examine those assumptions. Two years ago, most of us had never used a remote work platform or imagined that vaccines could be developed in months. Today, it’s hard to imagine life without these innovations.
A lot has changed in the past two years. But in my world, people get paid to see past the horizon. We haven’t put COVID-19 behind us yet, but new research offers clear hints of what lies beyond it.
The pandemic has dramatically transformed the way we live, work, shop and play in a matter of months. Notably, it’s altered our perceptions of technology and how it can be harnessed for good. Canadians are clearly uncertain about the future — in a survey KPMG conducted in collaboration with research firm Delvinia, more than 90 percent of respondents said the country needs a more circular economy where fewer resources are wasted. And 83 percent expressed concern about the effects extreme weather, pollution and land use will have on our future food supply.
But Canadians also see the potential in rapid advances that are bringing what used to be the stuff of science fiction closer to reality. As many as 78 percent of those surveyed said “anything is possible” in the near future. And more than three in five said they support medical advances, including changes to their own DNA, to prevent cancer, dementia or another illness.
This survey coincides with a companion report, The Path Ahead, which offers 20 predictions for the coming 20 years.
Its conclusions range from the specific (Goodbye, bank branches) to the grand (Hello, fully connected world). But most involve tangible, big-picture changes in health, clean technology and the future of work. These are opportunities that have the potential to transform our lives at least as thoroughly as the pandemic — but for the better. And if we want to exploit these changes tomorrow, we need to lay the groundwork today.
The entire list can be found here, but I’d like to highlight three of our boldest predictions and what they mean for Canada.
Genomics and other breakthrough health care technologies will reduce mortality, improve quality of life and increase life expectancy within the next two decades. Centennial birthdays will become commonplace as genomic medicine makes it possible to detect, prevent and treat diseases before they happen. Regenerative medicine will revolutionize organ transplantation, while wearable devices such as implanted microchips and brain-computer interfaces will become ubiquitous.
Canada’s health care system already faces demographic pressures; doctors and nurses are retiring as our population is aging, a trend accelerated by the pandemic. These new technologies will increase the efficiency of our system, but we need to fund our system to implement these innovations sustainably while ensuring that we replace and train enough new health care workers to deploy them.
Regulation is set to move from voluntary actions and soft policy initiatives to a more strident approach in coming years. New technologies will help us monitor and manage environmental impact. New policies being urgently discussed today will start to get enforced globally, resulting in cleaner air, water and land. Advanced technologies will help reduce emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere, bringing countries closer to their net-zero goals.
Canadians are an environmentally conscious people, but we are conflicted about the extraction and use of fossil fuels, especially at a time of economic uncertainty. We need to find common ground, strike a balance between traditional and emerging industries, lean into innovative clean technologies and export them in order to prosper.
Cloud-based quantum computing will become available sooner than we think. The ability to analyze enormous amounts of data quickly will bring both cost and time savings as well as transform the field of play for all businesses and industries. We’ve just seen how important those savings can be in the rapid development of new vaccines — the opportunity quantum presents will be immense.
Canada has traditionally been strong in research and development, as evidenced by our role in the development of artificial intelligence. Our challenge will be to help new quantum ventures commercialize their products and ensure that existing industries adopt it quickly to take maximum advantage.
To realize our potential in all these areas, our leaders need to start the conversation and foster the blue-sky thinking. The future is just beyond the horizon.
Armughan Ahmad is the president and managing partner of digital at KPMG Canada.
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