Three futurists—a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer and a Millennial—discuss the vision captured by Prudential’s “The 80-Year-Old Millennial” study.
By Adam Hunter
Fifty years ago, Philip K. Dick’s landmark sci-fi novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” envisioned a 21st century of androids, flying cars and space colonies. What happened? Sure, we have Android phones, but what about our flying cars?
Clearly, the predictions of one generation don’t always come true for the next. However, three futurists with the Futures Practice at Kantar Consulting—a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer and a Millennial—say that the year 2068 envisioned by Millennials and visionaries in tech, transportation, education, entrepreneurship and aging as part of Prudential’s “The 80-Year-Old Millennial” study represents a considerable shift from the prophecies of prior generations. A recurring theme of social, technological and economic disruption has powerful implications for us today.
So what do Millennials predict for their future? And what do Kantar’s futurists think?
A workplace of one
The prediction: The rise of the “gig economy,” examined in a Prudential study last year, is a glimpse of the workplace to come, Millennials say. Laborers in 2068 are more likely to “swipe right” for gigs and freelance work than hold down the traditional 9-to-5.
What the futurists say: “The nature of the workforce has changed pretty dramatically and it’s easy to see why Millennials expect that trajectory to continue, but I’m a little reluctant to buy into that,” says Casey Ferrell, a Gen Xer and vice president for Kantar. “What is interesting is that the gig economy, the small business of one, may create opportunities for financial services companies, if those companies can scale their products and services to serve those potential customers.”
Education outside the classroom
The prediction: The changed structure of the workforce—and skyrocketing cost of higher education—means that in 2068, traditional four-year colleges are a thing of the past. Instead, online courses and apprenticeships are the way to get ahead.
What the futurists say: “Millennials who are parents are particularly nervous about the education system,” says Aarti Asrani, a Millennial and analyst for Kantar. “They say, ‘That’s probably not going to prepare my child adequately for the workforce that’s going to emerge in the future.’”
Technology that knows what you need
The prediction: Millennials are far more optimistic about advancements in personal technology. People can 3D print at home most of the products they need. Almost all possessions are digitally connected, though instead of touchscreens, devices anticipate their owner’s desires.
What the futurists say: “More and more we think that people will be moving from screens where you have to input things and more toward sensors, where your environment will be able to understand what your wants and needs are,” says Gayle Davey, a Boomer and senior vice president with Kantar. “That’s a very interesting space to think about when moving into the future for Millennials.”
“There’s a big appetite among younger consumers for technology that’s predictive,” Ferrell says. “For older consumers, that can have a strong creepiness factor. Part of the reason why that’s true is that algorithmic programming was not a feature of technology that Boomers or Gen Xers grew up on.”
Humanity in a world of virtual reality
The prediction: Robotic assistants help with daily chores and self-driving vehicles rule the roadways. People often develop emotional ties with the robots that serve them, while virtual reality allows us to see, hear and even virtually touch people anywhere in the world as if they were sitting next to us. But people still crave real human connection.
What the futurists say: “People always have this image of Millennials as extremely dependent on tech and using tech to solve everything in their lives, but we don’t want to lose control completely,” Asrani says. “Millennials say that face-to-face interactions are going to become rarer, but more valuable. They need to have some sort of human, in-real-life interactions in order to feel satisfied.”
Ferrell says it’s important that we continue to guide technology, rather than technology guiding us.
“The thing that Millennials are most bullish on when it comes to what technology does is the degree in which it connects them to other people,” Ferrell says. “In that regard, it becomes a tool for addressing some of those social changes that are also going to unfold and shape the future.”
Healthcare in a pill
The prediction: Healthcare is primarily focused on proactive prevention—like a pill to stave off the common cold—rather than reactive diagnosis. Common cancers are curable, babies get customized vaccines at birth based on their DNA.
What the futurists say: “When you try and imagine the future, you ask, ‘What are some of the problems we can’t solve today that technology may solve 30 to 40 years from now?’” Ferrell says. “One has to imagine the holy grail: when, not if, we cure cancer.”
Still, people will prefer doctors over an artificial intelligence assistant when making a diagnosis.
“Millennials are looking forward to technological advances in health care, but that actual caregiving part, that has to remain human,” Asrani says.
Retirement for the 80-year-old Millennial’s golden years
The prediction: The biggest fear—shared by nearly 80 percent of Millennials—is that while people will live longer, a comfortable retirement will no longer exist.
What the futurists say: Ferrell believes that the frustrated aspirations of the Millennial generation may actually bloom into a creative renaissance during their traditional retirement years.
“There’s a very real possibility that the chasing of one’s personal dreams and passions manifests itself later in life, when the macroeconomic cards turn in their favor, or after they accumulate that wealth to be able to do those things,” Ferrell notes.
Asrani says that while her Millennial generation’s future is still being written, she’s confident they will find a way, as past generations have, to succeed despite the obstacles.
“The majority of the life I remember has been post-2008, and it has been unpredictable one year after the next,” she says. “That’s how my generation thinks about the future. We need to be prepared for anything and everything to be disrupted. Now more than ever it’s our turn to think about how we want to disrupt things and make the world the place where we want to live.”
As for flying cars? Well, Uber recently announced plans for flying taxis are in the works—so the future may be here before you know it.