What if…?

One of the many milestones in a teenager’s life is passing a driving test that allows you to drive a car on your own. Ask most adults and they will tell you that the first time they drove a car on their own was the most incredible feeling of independence and freedom – one of the enduring memories of growing up.

Most of you will experience this feeling but most children currently under the age of 8 may never. The reason for this statement is not that they are not good enough to drive, it is simply that the driving scenario will change and there is a very real chance that in ten years’ time, the number of driverless cars will take over the number of those controlled by human beings. This is a scary scenario because it is so different from our current experience.

Let us stop for a minute and imagine a world of driverless cars. You would not own a vehicle at all but call one up from your phone when you needed it. The size of the vehicle would depend on your need. Not that different from Uber at the moment. It would be cheaper because there wouldn’t be a driver to pay but then the driver would be out of work so a social problem may have been created. The number of accidents would be reduced because human error is responsible for 80% or more of accidents. The taxi industry would reinvent itself and no-one would be able to moan about poor driving by a much maligned taxi service! Car repair shops would go out of business, hospitals would cut down admissions drastically and we would live longer with greater pressure on the environment.

There would be no need for traffic lights or traffic police but there would be a need for cyber police to prevent hacking causing chaos to the system. These driverless cars would probably be electric as well which changes the face of the petroleum industry – no more garages as we know them. Charging stations that take too long to charge an electric car would be replaced by solar charging using cells infused into the bodywork of the car so it charges while it drives or else the road itself absorbs solar energy and transfers that energy to the vehicle through the wheels. All of this will be controlled by a machine, a computer that follows instructions given to it from your phone (until the advancement of artificial intelligence takes over!)

Not only is the transportation industry going to change but so too will many professions who have always been people dependent. This future gazing is an interesting exercise and one that allows your mind to wander through the realms of possibility. My generation did not imagine the current technology except perhaps in science fiction movies and now it is a reality. Your generation cannot just sit back and wait for change – you have to prepare yourselves for it.

One way you need to prepare is to think differently. You need to ask yourself “what if” questions a lot. If you want to be a doctor one day, what skills will a doctor in the year 2025 need? My friends for example who became doctors in 1982 had to learn to play video games! Many operations these days are done using robots or technology that requires the kind of skills used operating a games console.

Will there be teachers in 30 years’ time? Will there even be schools? Can learning not be done online individually through video chat or collaboratively in massive chatrooms using virtual reality that allows you to feel as if you are actually there? The future is exciting and scary I suppose because we don’t know what will change. All we know is that it will change. Which brings me to the points I wish to make today about change.

Firstly – start thinking about the future and let your mind wander. Think about your personal lives and how they may be affected. Be innovative and who knows – you may be the one who changes the future and the way we think about something.

Secondly – be open to change but be wary of compromise. This needs explanation. You need to be receptive to change and cannot pretend it won’t happen. Free your mind and let go sometimes of things in the past that were good and relevant then but not so now. However, certain constants remain and shouldn’t be compromised. These constants are usually ethics, morals, values and the skills you learn. I have said to you many times that the content of what you learn is not nearly as important as the skills you learn while covering that content. Jack Ma, head of Alibaba, spoke at Davos recently about how people will be competing with machines in the future and that we need to teach our children what machines cannot do – values, independent thought, team work, caring for others. Skills such as music, writing, art, playing sport and so on.

Lastly – have a positive attitude about the future. There will be change and change itself is uncomfortable. That change may make your lives better if you are open to it and embrace it so don’t simply shut down things because they haven’t been done before or didn’t happen when you were smaller. Not everything about the future will be good and not everything about the past is bad but a positive attitude to looking at both will go a long way to making your lives better.