In this seminal paper, we address many of the major challenges facing businesses and their stakeholders in the coming Digital Age, raising awareness of the threats and opportunities technology presents across the key pillars of society. Societal structures developed to enable the Industrial Age are failing to adequately address the seismic shifts of an exponentially advancing Digital Age. In today’s globalized world, corporate lifespans are rapidly shortening, the value of traditional human labor is depreciating, and coordinated political movements can reshape national governments in mere weeks. Awareness and action are required, if societies’ fabric is not to fray perilously.
Societal structures developed to enable the Industrial Age are failing to adequately address the seismic shifts of an exponentially advancing Digital Age. In today’s globalized world, corporate lifespans are rapidly shortening, the value of traditional human labor is depreciating, and coordinated political movements can reshape national governments in mere weeks. These realities confront a range of public and private stakeholders with a stark dilemma: how much longer can 20th century policies, taxation systems, economic models, laws and public services continue to remain effective before crumbling under the rapid advancement of the Digital Age? Is there a better way to redesign them to address the new challenges of this Age?
While many areas of societal infrastructure stand to benefit from reevaluations by such stakeholders, this paper examines 11 key pillars that require particularly urgent attention:
Pillar 1: Economics – Economic models implemented to date have been experiments in the efficacy of various sets of principles, under continually changing conditions. There is clarity to some degree, which principles have worked better to date than others. The Digital Age, which creates a whole new set of externalities, and a fungible digital economy, is yet another dynamic context which requires a rethink of current principles.
Pillar 2: Politics & policy – Political systems of the 20th century are showing their age, as voter opinion becomes increasingly polarized and digital platforms serve as hubs for coordination of dynamically shifting identity politics. These Digital Age political realities demand new systems of public representation and policymaking.
Pillar 3: Finance & investment – Outdated investment models are being challenged by business model disruption, political volatility and low growth outside a few sectors. The Digital Age will further exacerbate pressures in global financial flows and investible assets, instigating a reevaluation of long-held assumptions about financial risks and opportunities.
Pillar 4: Governance & ethics – Exclusively profit-driven entities are proving unfit for the Digital Age, in which companies are increasingly expected to take into account broader societal impact and ethical considerations. Public and private governance is transforming to reflect these expanded accountabilities.
Pillar 5: Legal system – Bodies of legislation developed in the preceding Industrial Revolution are proving inadequate for addressing structural labor shifts, and emerging data and intellectual property boundaries. New legal frameworks are rapidly becoming necessary in an age of massive, cross- border, digital assets.
Pillar 6: Taxation system – Taxation networks developed in the post-World War II era have failed to address the unfolding economic realities of global digital platforms. This Digital-Age marketplace requires new thinking about how digital data, income and geographical attribution is taxed.
Pillar 7: Pension system – The prior century’s pension systems are proving inadequate for sustaining generations of workers in view of longer lifespans, number of working years and job turnover with multiple gaps. As the Digital Age exacerbates each of these trends, a structural shift in thinking about pensions is urgently needed.
Pillar 8: Future of work – Employment systems developed in a pre-digital world are failing to take account changing definitions of the workplace, employment patterns and the speed with which the Digital Age can automate entire categories of work. This dynamic requires new thinking in envisioning the largely automated workforce of the future.
Pillar 9: Healthcare – The Digital Age is shepherding in a paradigm shift in healthcare, in terms of environmental, lifestyle and genetic insights, with incipient cost and quality implications. Systems developed based on 19th century processes, diagnoses and incentives are quickly becoming outdated, expensive and inefficient.
Pillar 10: Education – Schooling infrastructures designed to train children for factory labor are obsolescing as the Digital Age demands distinctly different skillsets. Corporates and governments now face the challenge of supporting educational environments that provide the most useful skillsets for tomorrow’s workforce and citizens.
Pillar 11: Culture & psychology – Traditional social institutions developed across previous centuries are proving unsatisfying for billions of people worldwide. The Digital Age requires innovative approaches to providing intelligence, meaning and structure in a rapidly-changing global culture.
All 11 pillars addressed in this paper represent key areas where stakeholders can take immediate action to signal and support the development of a sustainable Digital-Age society.
Collaborations between key stakeholders and the cross fertilization of ideas across pillars, framed by a collective vision and commitment to long term sustainability, is key to meaningful insights and solutions. A dystopian future is a possibility, as is a prosperous Digital Age, where brilliant advancements are put in service of a well-balanced, thriving society.
We invite leaders to join us in shaping such a bright future. Please connect with us to get involved in developing scenarios and solutions for a sustainable Society2050.