A look into the future – Interview with Sven Gábor Jánszky
Sven Gábor Jánszky is one of Germany’s best-known and most sought-after futurists and heads Europe’s largest trend research institute. In this interview, he takes us on a journey through time to the year 2032 – telling us which major trends will determine our lives over the next decade, why most companies get their planning for the future wrong, and what his own personal hopes for the future are.
(Text by Lisa Wagner)
Hello, Mr. Jánszky! So, what is a futurist – also known as a futurologist, trend researcher, foresight practitioner or horizon scanner?
Futurists research the future, as the name already implies. But it’s important to note that we don’t work with crystal balls or coffee grounds, as it’s a serious scientific discipline. There are degree programmes in futurology, and you can even earn a doctorate in it.
We make forecasts about roughly the next 10 years. This is what can be forecasted because the development of the next few years is based on causal chains in certain fields, with the reasoning being: If this happens today, than that will happen tomorrow.
These causal chains can be identified by conducting interviews with people whose decisions will have more influence on our future than others. These include the heads of strategy or technology at large, market-shaping companies worldwide – but, of course, also politicians. We hold in-depth interviews with these people and synthesise what they predict. Then we present them with these syntheses again, ask them to reassess them, and so on. That is our scientific method, and this is how we work out the likeliest picture of the future.
You make forecasts about the world of tomorrow. What are the most important social and technological trends that will change our world between now and 2032?
We naturally have hundreds of pages of studies on this. But it would be best if I limited myself to discussing the three most important ones:
- There are a whole lot of interesting technologies, but one will be more decisive than the rest: the quantum computer.
A lot of changes are based on the fact that the computing speed of machines is accelerating. Rather than merely continuing, this trend will pick up even more speed as a result of quantum computing.
A lot of people think that quantum computing is science fiction. I have a small group of companies that also includes tech start-ups. One of these start-ups has just been awarded a contract from Germany’s federal government to build the country’s first scalable quantum computer here in Hamburg by 2026. That is technologically possible, and we will do it.
Quantum computers can simulate the most complex situations. Imagine the train movements all over Europe, which involves an enormous amount of data. A human brain and a present-day computer would be overtaxed by this calculation, but a quantum computer can handle it. In Beijing, there are projects that have made congestion disappear in certain pilot areas by predicting the movement of cars.
- The second major trend that will affect Central Europe has nothing to do with technology, but with demographics.
We are heading for a world of full employment. In 2025, there will be 6.5 million fewer people in the German labour market than there were in 2015. The bottom line is that there will be about 5 million unfilled positions.
For anyone with a halfway decent education, this will lead to a situation in which a headhunter is calling them every two weeks. We calculate that 40 per cent of the people contacted will then say: “I’m very happy where I am. Please don’t call me anymore.” Twenty percent of people will be self-employed anyway. And we will call the remaining 40 per cent “project workers”. They will respond positively to calls from these headhunters and be changing jobs all the time. They will jump from company to company, earning more and more money and holding the highest-paid positions.
- Another interesting topic will be health.
There are five major health technologies that will collectively lead our children to have an average life expectancy of 120 years. Genetic analysis will reach the mass market in the next two years. At the moment, an individual analysis costs €400. If the price drops below €100, health insurance companies will be able to pay for it.
Then there is gene repairing. Genetic defects can be literally cut out of our genetic material. This is currently still very expensive. There are only seven therapies, and each of them costs over €1 million. It will take another 30 years until we get to that point where they are affordable. Next would be cell rejuvenation – or, in other words, reversing the ageing process. This already exists, but the process currently costs €1,800. In 10 years, this will be ready for the mass market.
The next catchphrase will be the production of replacement human organs. That will arrive in about 15 years. And then there is medical food, meaning personalised means of nutrition tailored to people’s individual physical needs and deficiencies. By consuming these foods, people will keep themselves permanently healthy. According to our projections, this will be ready for the market in five years.
What will all of this mean for companies? And what can they do to prepare themselves for the future?
But there are also some other companies, such as Google and Amazon. They are looking at what their industry will probably look like in 2032. Then they get an image of the future and ask themselves: “If this is what the future is going to look like, then what would my ideal positioning be? Which products will I need to offer? Who will my customers be? And how much money will I be able to charge?”
But then comes the decisive step. Instead of asking themselves what will happen in the next six months, these companies asks themselves what the last six months of these 10 years will look like. This method is called backcasting. The strategy that emerges is much more tech-oriented. If they know that there will be a quantum computer in Hamburg in five years, then they should start training their employees for it now. Their competitors will be doing it, too.
What would you personally like to see in the future?
I myself launch start-ups with these kinds of people, and I also try to bring my children into contact with them. My wish is that we in Germany do not disengage ourselves from this. Things are going incredibly well for us. We are full and sated. This will be a real challenge for this country. I don’t know how that will work out yet, but you can still wish for things even if you don’t know how to achieve them.
About Sven Gábor Jánszky
Sven Gábor Jánszky (b. 1973) is a German trend researcher, entrepreneur, author and speaker as well as the director of 2b AHEAD, the largest trend research institute in Europe. His books have influenced the strategies of companies in a wide range of industries.