Pizza Hut recently made a splash when it announced it had a drone deliver a pizza to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Clearly aimed at generating publicity, the stunt drives home a powerful point–global markets once considered unreachable are now within reach. In Pizza Hut’s case, the company is serious about growing its presence in Africa, but soon even small and medium-sized businesses will need to get serious about developing their global presence if they wish to remain competitive because five trends are about to throw globalization into hyper-drive.
#1. Simple Math: Between today and 2050, the world’s population is estimated to grow by approximately three billion people for a total of roughly 10 billion. To help put this massive new market in perspective, imagine that the additional populace will be the equivalent of adding three new countries the current size of China, India and United States–combined. Moreover, much of this growth will be highly concentrated. A current estimate is that 70 percent of all future growth will take place in just 440 cities. The time to begin familiarizing yourself with cities such as Tianjin, Lusaka, and Dhaka, among others, is now.
#2. Hyper-Connectivity: By 2020, 70 percent of the world’s population will possess smartphones. By 2025, a combination of high-altitude balloons, solar-powered drones, and affordable satellites will deliver high-speed Internet access to everyone in the world, and by 2030, over a trillion physical devices will connect to the Internet. The confluence of these three trends means that almost everyone in the world will be no more than a click of a mouse or a push of a button away.
#3. I Can Hear You, Now: They may even literally be just a shout away. Imagine being able to speak to anyone, anywhere in the world despite the language barrier. It’d open up a world of opportunity, right? Well, soon, you won’t need to imagine this future, you’ll be living in it. Voice translation technology is already interpreting the world’s major languages with an efficiency rate of 95 percent, and it will soon approach 100 percent. By 2020, even the world’s more obscure and challenging languages will fall to the power of advanced computing power and artificial intelligence. Throw in continued progress in virtual reality and things are sure to get more interesting because business owners will be able to have “face-to-face” conversations with potential clients without ever having to set foot in a foreign airport.
#4. Personal Power: This past spring, the United Kingdom announced that wind power is now competitive (without subsidies) with conventional fossil fuels. Germany powered the entire country with renewable energy for a single day. And India announced that solar energy is now more affordable than coal. The net impact of these developments is that millions and eventually billions of people will soon have access to clean, affordable energy. This energy will power local industries and allow foreign economies to flourish. In turn, millions of new economically empowered individuals will see their purchasing power increase manifesting in increased demand for foreign goods and services.
#5. Digital Infrastructure: Over the past decade and a half, the digitization of music and books has disrupted the publishing and recording industries, but it pales in comparison to what is coming. Soon, higher education–in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)–will be digitized. Next, tax and financial records, as well as legal and real estate contracts will be digitized by Blockchain. And eventually, physical goods will be converted into digital bits only to be reconverted into actual products via 3D printers. Each technology–MOOCs, Blockchain, and 3D printers–will facilitate global commerce in powerful ways. The former will educate millions of people; the second will promote international trade, and the latter will open up the entire world to a myriad of physical goods.
Imagine a small manufacturing company in rural North America selling a digital file of, say, a farm implement to a client in sub-Saharan Africa via a secure and instantaneous transaction. Sound unlikely? Perhaps, but my guess is that a pizza company delivering a piping hot pizza to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro via a drone would have sounded equally implausible just five years ago.
The world is changing. It is going global fast. The time to prepare for this future is now.
Jack Uldrich is a leading global futurist and the author of 11 books, including Foresight 2020: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow.