PS21 Event Writeup “Imagining the World in 2030”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The newest event of PS21’s 2030 series saw a panel of experts in tech, policy, defence, economics and more to discuss what the world would look like by 2030. Hosted by Juju’s Bar and Stage and in cooperation with Young Professionals in Policy, the discussion ranged from the changing impact of technology to rise in extremism, economic and social divisions and the importance of diversity.

Paola Subacchi, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, stressed the importance of equality, as well as the need for sustainable and inclusive growth as part of a broader and progressive agenda. Subacchi saw the world today at a turning point, with the rise of emerging economies and technological revolution creating a range of new opportunities but also dangers.

Gurjinder Dhaliwal from Young Professionals in Foreign Policy reflected on YPFP’s mission statement, which saw a shift to amplify voices of the next generation, bringing with it more autonomy. Dhaliwal hoped to see a future of greater democratisation of information but saw obstacles in a lack of vision and ideas. Dhaliwal highlighted the reality that change does not happen automatically but that it requires practical policies to bring about social change and equality. He also reflected on the lack of big political ideas from the political mainstream.

Julia Ebner, Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, specialising in far right and Islamist extremism, took up Dhaliwal’s thought on “winning the battle of ideas”. According to Ebner, the current generation grew up after 9/11, amid talk of a war between the West and Islam. This idea was dangerous with far right counter-cultures exploiting it to take advantage of frustrations with mainstream ideas. Ebner warned fringe groups had the ability to create the impression online that they were more widespread than in reality, making the media more receptive towards their ideas and ultimately reaching more people.

Former British Army officer and cyber security specialist Harry Porteous saw warfare becoming increasingly technological, altering its character but not its fundamental nature. Recent examples included cheap, off-the-shelf drones employed by militants in Northern Iraq and Syria. These capabilities were no longer limited to states. Porteous predicted such ‘human-on tech’ conflict would be followed by ‘tech-on-tech’ combat, likely first in a maritime environment in the form of unmanned vehicles. Speaking on Russia, Porteous highlighted that Russia had the same means and accessibility to tech as the UK but was prepared to go further and faster.

Catalina Butnaru from Women in AI called for accuracy in understanding technology, particularly citing the need to distinguish between machine or automated intelligence and common-sense, self-aware intelligent systems. AI, she said, was not conscious and lacked both awareness and common sense, relying only on algorithms, data, and human intervention. The nature of jobs and employment would change drastically, she said, but existing levels of job automation suggests computers will not be able to take over entirely. Companies should slowly incorporate AI into current jobs, she said, using it to augment, not displace jobs. Two key components of this transition were building in user interface levers for adequate AI adoption amongst digitally literate workers, and helping the remaining workforce develop complex cognitive skills needed to make the most of AI-driven systems at work.

Hedge fund portfolio manager Subhajeet Parida saw democracies increasingly challenged through a range of hybrid structures within them. Access to opportunities across the world remained very varied, he said, creating its own economic and political strains. Reflecting on the adoption of technology in his own sector, Parida said banking had leapt ahead in some areas but more cautiously in others, sometimes without a coherent strategy. The emergence of Blockchain could bring about a further raft of changes in a large number of sectors, he said, potentially including news and publishing as the world sought new solutions to fake news and other problems.

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