Time for a bold take. There won’t be a fourth COVID wave!
We’re exiting the third wave in South Africa, and (depending on how you count) globally too. Most people seem to be expecting another wave in Dec/Jan. I think there’s at least a 50% chance it won’t happen. (Yeah, that’s only 50%, but higher than many people are guessing).
Why? Because waves are driven by variants. Another wave would need a variant that is substantially more infectious than Delta, and/or evades immunity, and/or there is a massive decline in vaccine effectiveness. Some of those happened with Beta, and then Delta, but there’s no sign yet of a similar variant (early days I know). Historically, though, respiratory pandemics (eg 1918 flu) have 1-2 serious variants and that’s it. Plus, the hurdle for a successful breakout variant grows with every vaccination performed.
So it’sm far from certain but let’s put a stake in the ground 🙂
PS. Get vaccinated. COVID can kill outside waves, and we need to keep that hurdle climbing else a fourth wave is much more likely.
It’s time for some more predictions! Last time I did that (My predictions for the next 10, 20, 30 years) I was, if anything, too conservativeAlthough, the section of “Black Swans” at the bottom was particularly accurate… (and has NOT been edited since it was written).
So here goes! Where do I think common opinion is wrong, especially in South Africa?
Electric vehicles and renewables
By 2030, 40%+ of new cars sold in South Africa will be pure electric, with East Africa (eg Kenya) a bit behind, and West Africa a bit further behind. This seems inevitable when looking at the promises from major Western car companies, and the pace of innovation and falling prices from Chinese car companies.
Due to 1., by 2030 the demand for petrol in South Africa will be falling 3%+ per year; and electricity demand will be growing 1% per year due to electric cars (though it may be falling for other reasons).
Despite decarbonisation of electricity, and the growth of electric cars, the price of electricity in major global markets will NOT rise significantly from today’s levels, and may even fall, due to rapid rollout of solar and other renewables. South Africa is a special case depending on Eskom’s finances.
By 2030, there will be large businesses built on taking advantage of near-free electricity during sunny hours (e.g., bulk hydrogen production), in several global markets.
There will never again be a major (>300MW) coal power station built in South Africa.
Kusile coal power-station will stop operating (or at least have been converted off coal) well before 30 years (2050), despite a design lifetime of 50+ years (around 2070). Which means an even bigger disaster for its return on capital.
Consumer trends over next 10-15 years
The distinction between FMCG company / “brand” (designs and coordinates the manufacture of products, high margins, high marketing spend %, little direct consumer interaction) and retailer (sells products from brands, low margin, high volume, low marketing spend %) will continue to blur in both directions, to an effective spectrum; plus there will be new logistics business models beyond traditional retailers, that aggregate deliveries from multiple other players (i.e., Instacart model evolved further).
Traditional monolithic brands will fragment in favour of increasing numbers of niche brands with more authenticity and story. New “meta-brands” will appear, in the form of structured ranges of endorsements by influencers.
By 2030, 20%+ of “meat-like” products sold in upper-end grocery stores will be plant-based (i.e., non-animal).
By 2035, we will routinely take individualised medical probiotics in order to tune our gut biota, as treatment for a wide variety of complaints.
By 2035, it will be functionally impossible for “legitimate” companies and individuals to use tax havens and financial engineering to pay near-zero taxes on profits or income.
There are fortunes that will still be made in simplifying the payment of paper (or PDF) invoices, using machine learning text recognition to automatically load payment requests via bank apps/APIs. This will happen far faster than we can persuade people to stop using paper-based invoices for billing.
The latest in my once-every-two-years blog posts — oops. Over the New Year, I thought I’d make some predictions for the longer term. I’m looking forward to laughing at them in 2025, 2035 and 2045!
EDIT: some typos fixed
2025 (10 years time)
Physical signatures on paper will start becoming less common, replaced with electronic signatures and third-party document management systems. Over the next few years, security breaches or failures of some of these companies will lead to greater regulation of the industry. The result will eventually look similar to the credit rating agency or stock exchange industries of 2014 – several private companies running businesses in an industry heavily shapen by and working alongside regulatory agencies.
Hipster becomes accepted mainstream, as the desire for possession of mass-produced physical items is increasingly replaced with the quest for experience and “story” via artisanal and niche products. An increasing share of these products are virtual. Provision of these products and services will avoid massive unemployment, despite continuing decline in jobs in many of the careers that provided employment in 2014.
The global call-centre industry will finally peak (at a massive size), as new generations prefer to interact with computers and search for answers online. Content writing for helpdesks and forums will be the new outsourced growth industry, though it will not create as many jobs as the call centre industry.
2035 (20 years time)
As had happened to chess by 2014, computers will be unmistakably better than humans at “hard” AI problems from early 2000s, e.g., face recognition, speech recognition, “discovery” (reading and finding relevant content in huge troves of documents), medical diagnosis. However, AI will not be much closer to human-level consciousness, as we increasingly discover consciousness is not a single brain system, but rather an emergent property of many finely-balanced subsystems in our brains, built by our evolutionary past, that are very hard to abstract away from our brain structure. That is, computers won’t be “conscious” because we discover our “consciousness” is an increasingly slippery and less-generalisable concept than we had imagined.
More than 75% percent of seafood will be farmed rather than wild-caught. The exceptions will be either very high-end (and the target of growing environmentalist critiscism) or low-end. Farmed fish breeds will look and behave increasingly different to their wild ancestors.
The car industry will be in trouble as individual car ownership becomes less common. In advanced economies, shared self-driving cars summoned by smartphone are the default for many people. The only healthy parts of the industry are high-end luxury cars, low-end cars for emerging markets (though massive congestion is pushing public opinion away from car ownership here too), and self-driving electric cars designed for sharing.
Road congestion in advanced economy cities will be much reduced compared to 2014 (as happened to air pollution in these cities in a previous era, e.g., London after 1800s and LA after 1960s). This will be due to reduced private car use, but more so to self-driving cars and much better traffic management (traffic lights, automatic car re-routing).
2045 (30 years time)
CO2 emissions will be steadily falling, with global temperatures on track for a 3.5 degree rise. Agriculture will be steady, thanks to most of the world’s famers using genetically modified crops. Widespread but localised wars and revolutions will have happened, all with political proximate causes but with incidence strongly correlated with areas of greatest climate disruption. Large movements of people will also have occurred, leading to dramatic pro- and anti-immigrant upheavals, but these migrants will be largely described as economic- rather than climate-driven.
The dominant socio-economic issue will no longer be poverty and financial inequality as measued by Gini coefficient and similar, as this will be superseded by inequality in duration and quality of life. Improved medical technology will leave the top 1% with an expected lifetime almost double that of the bottom 50%, and much better quality of life in the meantime. The advantages of expensive biotech will threaten the assumption that all are born equal, as the offspring of the wealthiest gain developmental advantages, and society faces the danger of a biologically entrenched upper class.
The tertiary or “services” sector will employ nearly all workers, with industry following agriculture to become virtually irrelevant in formal employment. Production of physical goods will have followed energy use, to be largely uncorrelated with GDP, as non-physical goods become the bulk of GDP by value. Economists will split services into subsectors, such as traded services (finance, media and content) and non-traded services (hospitality, experiences, personal services).
First steps will be taken to in some countries to ban human drivers on certain roads (e.g., long distance highways), for safety reasons. These will be very controversial, pitting clear evidence of massive reductions in death toll due to self-driving cars, versus people’s right to drive themselves, and the rights of those who don’t yet own self-driving cars.
Black swans (that could make the above invalid)
Global pandemic of an easy to catch, slow to incubate but deadly virus. Might be caused by rogue biotech labs