What does our global future look like?
Here at the World Economic Forum the world’s political and business leaders are encouraged to take time out from their immediate problems, and to think about the future. But because they are political and business leaders – because they have day jobs in other words – setting such concerns aside isn’t always easy.
So I have been pleasantly surprised at the mood in Davos, which has been fairly upbeat so far. In spite of the present volatility in the world’s financial markets people are looking ahead to the future with some optimism.
The whole idea of this annual meeting is to look to the long term – at the big trends and the big decisions which could make life better for people in the future.
Much of this is about big data – or the ability to marshal, order and process data to gain new insights into behaviours and to make the world a happier and less wasteful place.
Uber and driverless cars will impact more than just commute time
The Cities of the Future session, for example, used data to take a look at how driverless cars could revolutionise city living and urban design over the next few years.
By mapping and tracking the car journeys of New York taxi cabs, it was found that journeys to, from and within the city could be reduced by up to 40 percent each day if people shared their cabs. And existing technology such as UberPool enables people to do exactly that. Imagine the impact of that reduction in congestion – not only the environmental impact but also the boost to the standard of families who can spend more time together, and less time stuck in traffic.
Urban design is informed by lifestyles
Now armed with this knowledge we can look a bit further out at what this means for urban design. How should parking garages be planned if demand for them might fall off in the next few years? Architects need to design them as adaptable spaces, so they can still serve a useful purpose when the cars stop coming. They need to be designed as adaptable and versatile spaces, with sufficient ceiling heights and lower floors so they can be turned into living spaces or offices.
And all of this is made possible by the smart use of data: collected, analysed and applied to address a real problem in today’s cities.
Of course it also requires a change in people’s behaviours and expectations.
One delegate said New Yorkers would never share cabs. They all hate each other, he said.
We will see.