The next theme is automation, which is now driven by a combination of robotics, artificial intelligence and sensors that improve productivity. It is already well established in many supply chains to ensure faster delivery times, reduce costs and improve the customer experience.
Drones, autonomous vehicles and 3D printing should make supply chains more resilient and localised. Drones may make last-mile delivery cheaper and distribution by automated vehicle may be faster, aided by cleaner, hydrogen-powered heavy-goods vehicles. And with only 5 per cent of warehouses currently fully automated, automation has a role there and in digital factories, farms and commercial transport.
However, augmenting warehouses with technology may replace manual human labour, and there are cybersecurity impacts in automation. And while 3D manufacturing might reduce carbon dioxide emissions in many industries, it could impact jobs, tax and trade flows.
Experiential events or transactions – whether music, newspapers, payments, social interaction and education – have moved from physical to digital. The transition has been very disruptive for businesses, including retailers.
Future trends will likely focus on building interactions between retailers and consumers while shopping: expect to see greater personalisation driven by artificial intelligence technologies.
But the next wave of virtualisation may involve experiences, through virtual or augmented-reality headsets, then glasses. While this might impact business travel, property and entertainment venues, it might destroy the digital-screen market.
Digital health has lagged behind the other themes, but with the world ageing, healthcare costs rising and a shortage of doctors, there is growing scope for telemedicine and other futuristic preventative healthcare such as genomic medicine.
But again there are implications. Could telemedicine leave parts of the population behind? Is all health automation good? And does bespoke medicine like genome sequencing raise questions of bias, privacy and discrimination?