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What’s after what’s next?

The upside of disruption

Megatrends shaping 2018 and beyond


Today’s disruption requires both a broader perspective and a narrower focus.

How do you resolve this apparent duality? Where do you start?

We are surrounded by the everyday miracles of smartphones and sensors. We see retailers swept away by the relentless tide of e-commerce. We are so inundated by stories about driverless cars that they seem like old news — years before anybody in the world has even owned one. Change is constant, and we are inured to it.

Disruption requires a wider but more focused point of view

Corporate leaders have not always viewed disruption as a top business challenge. Today, executives and board members recognize disruption as both an opportunity for differentiation and an existential threat.

Responding requires a view that is simultaneously wider and more narrowly focused.

Disruption — from innovative startups and technologies to political events and climate change — is already widening the playing field. They shift market power among competitors, challenge existing business models and approaches, realign trade patterns, reorient supply chains, drive business relocations and more.

Yet, even as disruption demands a broader perspective, it calls for a narrower focus. It necessitates prioritizing and emphasizing the most important challenges in an ever-expanding universe of potentially disruptive trends.

To harness disruption, you need a framework

EY believes that harnessing disruption requires a framework to bring order to the chaos — distinguishing between causes and effects, and prioritizing among a seemingly endless set of disruptive forces.

EY’s framework highlights four distinct kinds of change: primary forces, megatrends, future working worlds & weak signals.

Primary forces

The vast majority of disruption originates in some combination of three primary forces: technology, globalization and demographics. These forces aren’t themselves new; they have been around for centuries or millennia. But they evolve in waves and each new wave is disruptive in different ways. We identify the latest waves occurring in each of the primary forces as: human augmentation (technology), populism (globalization) and aging (demographics).


The interaction between new waves of primary forces engenders new megatrends. We’ve identified seven new megatrends. Some are entirely new topics. Others are new aspects of prior megatrends, brought to the forefront by the continuing evolution of the primary forces. These megatrends include: industry redefined, future of work, super consumer, behavioral design, adaptive regulation, human geography, innovating communities, health reimagined, food by design and molecular economy.

Future working worlds

The effects of these megatrends lead to a broader reshaping of the political and economic landscape, which we analyze through three future working worlds: next global system, renewed social contracts and superfluid markets. The future working worlds are broader in scope and occur on a longer time frame than the megatrends.

Weak signals

Weak signals are waves of primary forces whose biggest impact is further in the future. Their likelihood and the scale and nature of their impact are therefore subject to a greater degree of uncertainty.

The four elements of our framework occur in different time frames, with different levels of uncertainty and different scales of impact. Most significantly for corporate decision-makers, they call for different kinds of responses.

The upside of disruption

To seize the upside of disruption, you need to know where disruption is coming from, where it’s headed and what it means for you. EY’s framework helps you to pick the right baseline for a strategy that can turn downsides into upsides; threats into opportunities.


Uschi Schreiber

Global Vice Chair – Markets and Chair, Global Accounts Committee

Gil Forer

Lead Partner - Digital and Business Disruption, Global Markets EYQ, co-leader

Primary forces

> Evergreen, evolve in waves
> Root causes


> Medium term (3-10 years)
> Cross-sector disruptions
Smart neighbourhoods
Urban mobility ecosystems
Precision health 4.0
Lifestyle as a service
Shopping-buying divergence
Food facts, not fiction

Future working worlds

> Long term (More than 10 years)
> New rules of the game

Primary forces

> Evergreen, evolve in waves
> Root causes


> Medium term (3-10 years)
> Cross-sector disruptions
Smart neighbourhoods
Urban mobility ecosystems
Precision health 4.0
Lifestyle as a service
Shopping-buying divergence
Food facts, not fiction

Future working worlds

> Long term (More than 10 years)
> New rules of the game

Primary forces:

The next waves

The three primary forces of technology, globalization, and demographics that are the root causes of disruption have existed for millennia. 

While they are not new, they evolve in waves — and the interaction between these new waves gives rise to new megatrends.

We focus on one emerging wave for each primary force:

  • ‍The set of technologies that are collectively enabling the era of human augmentation
  • The upsurge in populism that is fueling a backlash against globalization
  • Aging populations that promise to reshape demographics across the world

Technology: the next wave

Human augmentation

Technology has always augmented human capabilities. So far, this has been relatively passive: assisting humans in performing tasks. Now, for the first time, technology will take an active role, working alongside us and directly on our behalf.

The next wave of disruptive technologies is driving this change. They include artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), sensors and blockchain. These breakthroughs are in turn spawning new products and services, such as autonomous vehicles (AVs), drones, robots and wearables.

In assuming more agency, human augmentation technologies will blur the line between humans and machines, realigning societal norms and challenging entrenched perceptions of ourselves.

The combination of AI and human intelligence could also lead to breakthrough discoveries, potentially yielding solutions to some of humanity’s intractable problems.

But to get these individual and societal benefits, we will not only need to broadly share our behaviors and data, but also reframe our relationship with technology. This raises difficult questions about autonomy, identity and privacy.

Companies will need to carefully craft behavioral design of these systems to build customer adoption and loyalty. Governments will need new approaches to regulation to address issues such as algorithmic bias, transparency, consumer safety, inequality impacts and privacy.

What lies beyond could be even more transformative: a convergence of information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology that promises to overhaul the very definition of what it means to be human.


Prianka Srinivasan

EYQ (primary contact for Human augmentation and Weak signals)


What new challenges will drones create for regulators?

Drones for product delivery, surveillance and recreation are poised to transform industries from retail to law enforcement.

Augmented reality glasses

How will brands engage with the AR-empowered super consumer of the future?

AR glasses that superimpose digital information on the physical world could eliminate screens and revolutionize how we live, work and play.

Smart clothes

How will healthcare diagnosis and delivery change when smart clothes replace today’s wearables?

With sensors and circuitry embedded in fabric, smart clothes could reinvent health, contactless payments and more.


Will exoskeletons help human workers compete with robots in manufacturing?

Powered exoskeletons or wearable robots give increased
strength and endurance to the user and could be a game changer for jobs involving physical labor.

Brain-machine interfaces

How are human augmentation technologies such as BMIs challenging existing regulations?

BMIs would directly connect human brains to external devices and could give us superhuman cognitive powers.

Bionic eyes

When bionic eyes provide instant visual access to information, how will they change work?

Artificial or bionic eyes could help the visually impaired, and one day give people superhuman visual powers.


How will nanobots change the role of the physician?

Nano-scale robots injected into the bloodstream could reinvent
healthcare delivery.

Autonomous vehicles

How will autonomous vehicles redefine cityscapes?

Autonomous vehicles will redefine mobility and disrupt industries beyond transportation.

Virtual personal assistants

When virtual assistants make buying decisions, how will companies need to think about branding and marketing?

Voice-based virtual personal assistants will allow more natural interaction with digital services.

Home robots

Will we prefer home robots that look like humans or like machines?

Robots could perform household chores while caring for the elderly and children — freeing us from mundane work and maybe even becoming part of the family.

Virtual reality experiences

What impact will VR have on where and how people work in the future?

Immersive VR experiences digitally simulate experiences, transporting users to new environments.

3D Printing

How will 3D printing disrupt supply chains and business models?

Fusing layers of material to create physical products from digital files, 3D printing could allow products to be manufactured anywhere.

Enterprise robots

When robots become common at work, how will human workers’ roles change?

With enterprise robots becoming cheaper and more capable, they are being deployed in warehouses, hotels and stores.

Globalization: the next wave


Over seven decades, globalization and trade liberalization helped lift more than one billion people out of poverty.

However, in 2016, Brexit and Trump brought populism and anti-globalization to the forefront as globalization and technology have disrupted jobs and strained social contracts.

Globalization and technology have collectively been disrupting jobs for decades. In the absence of adequate corrective measures by companies or governments, this has strained social contracts and deepened economic inequality.

While globalization is a convenient scapegoat, technology is a bigger source of job disruption and inequality. This trend will only accelerate: automation and the future of work could lead to much greater job displacement and income inequality ahead.

For companies, that should be a sobering outlook. So far, voters’ anger has been directed at trade and immigration. If it turns to automation and technology, most corporations would find themselves in the crosshairs.

For corporate leaders, a better path would be to proactively and collaboratively address the underlying sources of discontent.


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)

While globalization has helped lift more than a billion people out of poverty…

Share of population living on less than $1.90 per day


Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators

… it has increased income inequality within nations at every income level

Gini coefficients


High-income countries


Middle-income countries


Low-income countries

Source: EY calculations based on data from UN, Human Development Reports, extracted from EY’s Growing Beyond Borders tool

Voters are turning against globalization, with mixed results

Populist performance score


Source: EY index calculated using media reports about select major elections in 2016 and 2017. The index is based on several factors, including whether the populist movement won or lost, its reshaping of the traditional (left vs. right) political landscape, and its electoral performance relative to expectations and prior performances.

While globalization is the scapegoat,automation could produce more job disruption,with large numbers of jobs vulnerable inemerging markets

Share of jobs potentially at risk from automation


Source: Citi, Technology at Work, v. 2.0 and World Bank, World Development Report (2016) . Chart shows selected emerging markets with jobs potentially at risk from automation.

This could bring populism to more parts of the world.
Employing largely young populations could be challenging in lower-income countries...

Share of population younger than 25

Source: EY calculations based on data from Oxford Economics, extracted from EY’s Growing Beyond Borders tool. Chart shows continents/regions with the highest share of populations younger than 25.

... particularly in regions where unemployment is already high

Unemployment rate



Southern Europe


Middle East


Eastern Europe


Source: EY calculations based on data from Oxford Economics, extracted from EY’s Growing Beyond Borders tool. Chart shows continents/regions with the highest share of populations younger than 25.

Meanwhile, growing refugee flows...

Inflow of refugees (millions)

South America
South Asia
East Africa
Central Africa

Source: EY calculations based on data from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, extracted from EY’s Growing Beyond Borders tool. Chart shows selected regions in which countries have taken in large numbers of refugees or displaced persons.

... could increase intolerance toward immigrants

Tolerance for immigrants  (0 = low, 100 = high)

North Africa
East Asia
Eastern Europe

Source: EY calculations based on data from 2017 Social Progress Index, extracted from EY’s Growing Beyond Borders tool. Chart shows regions with lowest scores for tolerance toward immigrants.

Demographics: the next wave

Engaged aging

Aging populations across much of the world are threatening to overwhelm health care and pension systems.

Tackling the aging challenge — and seizing the latent opportunity it presents — will compel a fundamental change in societal attitudes, public policy and industry innovation. This is a shift that is already underway.

The future of aging is one in which technologies — sensors and apps now and, soon, algorithms, autonomous vehicles and robotic assistants — enable seniors to age independently. Urban planners, policymakers, health care providers and tech companies will need to partner to develop innovative solutions that allow people to age in place.

Societies and individuals would benefit from reframing health not merely as the absence of disease, but as an asset that requires lifelong investment. Every individual could have a unique healthy aging profile that tracks physical/cognitive wellness, social wellness and material wellness.

With a shift this big, getting there is never easy — all the more so in a space as complex as this. Policymakers should align incentives to encourage disparate stakeholders to collaborate and accelerate the pace of innovation.


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)

Physical/cognitive wellness

Breakthrough drugs

New drugs to tackle the diseases of aging.

Advances using AI, big data analytics and genomics could develop drugs that extend not just life span, but health span.

Social wellness

Autonomous vehicles

New technologies and approaches to keep seniors mobile as they age.

Physical/cognitive wellness

Wearables and implantables

Wearables and implantables to track various dimensions of health.

Smart clothes, AR glasses, smart tattoos, implantable sensors and more could track health indicators, alerting seniors or their caregivers as needed.

Material wellness

Behavioral Incentives

Incentives to nudge people to save for retirement.

Incentives based on behavioral economics could address the cognitive biases that inhibit retirement saving.

Physical/cognitive wellness


Avatars to make aging tangible and motivate behavior.

By showing us future versions of ourselves, virtual reality avatars could motivate healthy behaviors today.

Social wellness


Smart homes embedded with sensors to empower seniors to age in place.

Social wellness

Home robots

Robotic caregivers to allow seniors to take care of their needs independently.

Material wellness

Rethinking retirement

New ways of thinking about work and retirement.

With longer “health spans” and a workplace characterized by more gig work and entrepreneurship, seniors may remain actively employed longer.



Industry redefined

Is every industry now your industry?

In the pre-Internet era, the competencies, assets and sets of knowledge necessary to participate in any given industry sector were unique, varying significantly from sector to sector. Hard and fast industry boundaries (and high barriers to entry) arose as a result.

Digital technology melted these boundaries and redefined the notion of discrete industry categories. Traditional industry hierarchies have given way to something more akin to open “nodes” on a network.

With digital fluency and a good value proposition as the keys to participation, a variety of types of companies can converge on the opportunities each node represents. New nodes of opportunity are arising all the time and there are far fewer barriers to entry.

The continuing rise in cross-sector deals reflects this phenomenon. Beyond acquisitions, greater collaboration among different kinds of companies also reflects the changing industry paradigm.

Technology, utilities, telecommunications, automotive, construction, health care and education companies are joining together to make cities “smarter.” Manufacturing, energy, technology and consumer products companies are collaborating to seize the autonomous vehicle opportunity.

As the notion and the reality of industry changes, individual companies require new capabilities to thrive in this environment.

Future competition will be less about company versus company and more about ecosystem versus ecosystem. That will demand a different way of thinking about competition, as well as the ability to qualify and select the right ecosystems in which to participate.


  • As industry walls dissolve, what are the new barriers to entry?
  • As others converge on your industry, what new ecosystems will emerge?
  • When industry walls collapse, will you play offense or defense?
  • How does competition change when your rivals become your collaborators?
  • How are you exploring new business models in light of competitive changes to your industry?
  • How is your organization preparing to engage in more alliances and partnerships?


Future of work

When machines become workers, what is the human role?

When EY first wrote about the future of work in our 2016 Megatrends report, the topic was just starting to attract attention.

Predictions that seemed distant two years ago are entering the real world — from the live-testing of autonomous ridesharing in key cities, to the opening of the world’s first fully automated retail outlet, the Amazon Go store in Seattle.

Our analysis of the future of work now spans these aspects:

  • More than technology. Work is being reinvented, not just by technology, but also by demographic factors (e.g. millennial workers) and cultural drivers.
  • Social contracts and public policy. The changing nature of work is upending social contracts, for example, by widening inequality and undermining aspects of social contracts tied to the employer-employee relationship. This will require new public policy solutions.
  • Learning and education. Preparing workers for the future of work will take a very different approach to education, emphasizing skills over knowledge and lifelong learning over front-loaded educational systems.
  • Corporate response. Perhaps the biggest shift over the last couple of years has been how companies are taking active measures to prepare for the future of work. This includes revamping their approaches to human resources/talent, employee motivation, recruiting, training and skills development.

Much of the content in the other sections of this report flows from the future of work megatrend. What we were talking about when we began this analysis — though we didn’t yet have a name for it — was human augmentation.

Since we were examining technologies that could autonomously perform human work, it was only natural to start by considering their most immediate impact: work.

Two years later, a fuller range of implications is coming into view, from the impact on consumers to human behavior to regulation. The future of work is really about the future of humankind — and we are just starting to understand the breadth of its impact.


  • How will machines and humans partner to do what each of them does best? What can business and governmental leaders do to enable this?
  • How do we teach people to learn how to learn?
  • Do your people have the skills they need to work alongside robots and algorithms?
  • What responsibility do businesses and governments have for preparing workers for the era of automation?
  • What is the future of retirement?


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)


Super consumer

When humans are augmented by AI, who gains most — consumers or brands?

We expect the evolution and interplay of artificial intelligence, machine learning, ubiquitous sensors, smart devices and new computing interfaces to take consumer empowerment to a whole new level — giving rise to tomorrow’s super consumer.

Technology will change the way consumers communicate with markets, companies and each other, as well as how they live. Voice will drive interactions. Machines will augment human decision-making. And access to technology will be ubiquitous.

Today’s consumers want the art of the possible to become the reality of the achievable

Today’s empowered customers already expect their brand experiences to be unified and elegant across all touchpoints. They want to be recognized as individuals, have their likes and dislikes understood and remembered, receive advice perfectly aligned to their interests and receive highly personalized products and services.

They expect technology to help, not hinder, their quest to get what they want, where and when they want it. And the price of a mistake is high.

The path to realizing the super consumer vision has roadblocks

Yet, while consumers’ expectations are high, reality lags behind. Today’s AI is good at performing narrowly defined tasks but less adept at completing generalized intelligence tasks that require human-like reasoning. “Smart” devices and systems on the market cannot interoperate. Quantum computing is immature and cannot presently meet the demand for additional processing power that increased data flows and sophisticated algorithms will require.

The fast pace of change creates other challenges. Consumer interfaces and channels are proliferating. Companies struggle with where to make their investments for the future while executing on the basics today.

The rise of the super consumer will be a worldwide phenomenon, but could play out at different speeds and levels of complexity across the world. Artificial intelligence investment and adoption has increased dramatically in both China and India over the past few years, suggesting that Asia might well lead the way in terms of spawning new super consumers. At the same time, persistent economic inequality and infrastructure disparities across the globe, and within nations themselves, could lead to a class of disempowered consumers who fail to benefit from the AI revolution.

In Europe and the US, concerns about privacy and the ownership of one’s personal data are more than just a rumble. Tomorrow’s consumers may opt to monetize their personal data instead of trading it for free services.

Additionally, empowerment may not look as it does now. With the arrival of the internet, consumers became directors of their own lives while sitting at keyboards and tapping on phones. Some consumers may resist becoming “owned” by one of the emerging AI ecosystems or delegating decisions to these ecosystems. [For more on these behavioral challenges, see Behavioral design.]

Companies must do the work now to close the expectation gap

Rising expectations put the onus on companies to innovate now with tomorrow’s super consumer in mind. Seamless delivery of pleasing experiences across physical and digital realms, as well as disparate channels and devices, is the goal. Reaching the goal will require the right mix of new technology investments, especially those that will yield valuable data on current and prospective consumers.

Beyond determining the right mix of technology investments, companies must also reengineer business processes and operations to achieve a holistic view of the consumer across the entire brand journey. Companies must connect fragmented technologies and data silos as part of this effort. The ecosystem of data providers and agencies that support marketing should also be integrated.

But ultimately, companies that thoughtfully consider what it means to be human in an intelligent machine era will create the brands that attract super consumers.


  • What will it take for intelligent machines to gain the full trust of consumers?
  • Can intelligent machines help consumers make more intelligent decisions?
  • Does trading data for services have to be a zero-sum game?
  • When AI makes the buying decisions, how will you get your brand noticed?
  • What steps will you take today to deliver optimal consumer experiences tomorrow?
  • Do you have a dual strategy—one for today’s customers and one for tomorrow’s customers?


Andrea Potter

EYQ (primary contact for Industry redefined, Super consumer, Molecular economy and Superfluid markets)


Behavioral design

How will insights from psychology improve the partnership between humans and new technologies?

The relationship between design and behavior is increasingly important in the era of human augmentation.

As artificial intelligence, robots and other technologies become increasingly lifelike and enter spaces that have so far been exclusively in the human domain, they will trigger deep-seated human biases. Leaders must attend to the implications of behavioral design for everything from customer engagement to fears about automation to the outcome of elections.

Social and mobile are driving a behavioral revolution

In recent years, two trends have moved the discipline of behavioral economics (which identifies behavioral biases in human economic behavior) from the corridors of academia to mainstream market application.

  1. Many behavior-driven challenges, such as climate change, chronic disease and excessive debt, are becoming increasingly urgent and expensive.
  2. Mobile and social platforms make it possible to measure and guide behaviors in real time. (For more, see Behavioral revolution in our 2016 Megatrends report.)

Human augmentation will supercharge the behavioral revolution

The next wave of technological disruption, human augmentation, will raise this challenge to a whole new level. While mobile and social platforms have been transformative in changing behavior in real-time and real-world conditions, they still rely on human intervention.

Human augmentation technologies promise to change that. AI could enable personalization to a degree never before possible. AVs and future mobility options could drive more efficient use of natural resources. “Digital twin” avatars could show individuals the long-term consequences of their health decisions.

Achieving this vision would deliver significant benefits to society by addressing expensive societal challenges. It would also profit companies by boosting customer engagement and loyalty.

Behavioral design will become a key focus

Getting to this optimistic future will require tremendous focus on behavioral design: designing products, features, interfaces and messaging that account for the cognitive biases that human augmentation technologies are likely to trigger. Behavioral Economics offers some insights for companies:

  • We are predisposed to fear new technologies. Human augmentation is sparking fears about everything from job losses to AV safety to the prospect of self-aware AI that threatens humanity. While every new technology creates some risks, several cognitive biases predispose humans to overestimate such threats.
  • Control is important. The illusion of control bias predisposes us to want to feel that we have control even in situations where we don’t. This aspect of human psychology will become increasingly relevant as human augmentation technologies start acting on our behalf. For instance, AVs could, in theory, enable a complete redesign of automotive cabins to look more like living rooms, but the need for control might instead dictate retaining steering wheels and brake pedals.
  • Lifelike interfaces trigger human psychology. As AI assistants, robots and VR become increasingly lifelike, they could trigger cognitive biases. We have a deep-seated tendency to anthropomorphize (attribute human-like qualities to) inanimate objects. Designers have long used this tendency, for example, with car grills that subtly evoke a human mouth. Robots and AI assistants will take anthropomorphism bias to a whole new level, with implications for user adoption and engagement. Our tendency to anthropomorphize also raises concerns that our behaviors with lifelike machines might influence how we behave with other humans. On issues like this, design may need to be augmented by regulation.

Behavioral design principles for the human augmentation era

We expect these behavioral design principles to become commonplace:

  1. Designing for cognitive biases. Behavioral economics will inform successful design for human augmentation technologies. Marketers could frame these designs by emphasizing what users lose by failing to adopt new technologies (leveraging the bias of loss aversion). Similarly, they could incorporate messaging on adoption rates by others in the community to encourage uptake (social norms).
  2. Differentiating for social contexts. Since users endow anthropomorphic products with human-like attributes, these products exist in specific social contexts. Developers will need to design differently for each context.
  3. Learning based on stages of adoption. Since human augmentation technologies are a new space, companies will continuously adapt designs and incorporate the lessons they learn. Indeed, user biases themselves will change at different stages of the adoption curve. Fears of technology and the need for human control could dissipate with time; designs will adapt. On the other hand, other cognitive biases will become more important with time.


  • Do you understand your customers’ behavioral barriers to adopting innovation?
  • How are you incorporating behavioral design in products, services, interfaces and messaging?
  • How could we design technology to be less addictive and polarizing?
  • Would you trust an autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel or brake pedal?
  • How could augmented and virtual reality nudge our real-world behaviors?


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)


Adaptive regulation

How could regulation be responsive to rapid change and an unknowable future?

Imagine a future in which consumer safety is protected not by monitoring regulatory compliance and penalizing infractions, but by using big data and algorithms to prevent breaches before they can even occur. Imagine regulations that rewrite themselves to keep up with ever-changing market conditions. Imagine regulation conducted jointly by industry and regulators — a collaborative, rather than contentious, exercise. This is where things are headed.

The future of regulation is adaptive.

The reason for this shift is disruptive innovation. On one hand, disruptive technologies and business models are straining existing regulatory approaches and making them unsustainable. On the other, these technologies are creating opportunities to conduct regulation in an entirely new way.

Regulation is a vital part of social contracts

Regulation serves a vital purpose, making it a key part of any social contract. It ostensibly seeks to protect the interests of less powerful constituents (e.g. consumers, workers and small businesses) from the excesses of more powerful institutions.

Disruptive innovation challenges regulatory frameworks. It forces regulators to reconsider and recalibrate the delicate balance that regulations strike between the competing interests of different constituents. And it creates entirely new entities and business models that existing regulations — often written decades earlier — could never have foreseen.

Sharing economy platforms are already challenging regulators

So far, these tensions have been most visible in the sharing economy, where regulators are confronting unprecedented questions. Are drivers on a ridesharing platform contractors or employees? Are they subject to the scores of rights and protections — from minimum wages to retirement savings — that have traditionally been built around the employer-employee relationship? What responsibility do platform companies have for ensuring tax compliance?

Since sharing platforms provide services with a strong local component, these issues are being addressed primarily by city and state regulators. But authorities are also starting to address these issues at a broader level.

Human augmentation will bring these strains to a breaking point

Next, human augmentation technologies will raise bigger and more fundamental regulatory issues, bringing them to the national and international stage, and requiring skills beyond regulators’ traditional competencies.

Autonomous vehicles will require new rules and infrastructure, from air lanes for drones to sensor-embedded highways for driverless trucks. Artificial intelligence will raise a panoply of regulatory challenges, from ethical issues to the certification of transparency and lack of bias in algorithms. Ubiquitous sensors and digital assistants will make privacy and data security concerns even more pressing.

The answer is adaptive regulation

As the pace of disruption keeps increasing, regulators at some point may find themselves creating new regulations that become obsolete almost as soon as they are passed.

We will therefore need to move from adapting regulations to adaptive regulation — a fundamentally different approach that is more nimble and responsive to changing market realities. Instead of regulation of disruptive technologies, it becomes regulation by disruptive technologies.

This move to adaptive regulation is already underway, albeit still in its early days. It involves developing approaches that are open, real-time and dynamic.

  • Open. Inspired by open source software, open data and open government movements argue that government data, created using taxpayer money, is a public good that belongs in the public domain. A growing number of governments, from Singapore to Boston, are now sharing data with the public in machine-readable formats. This has increased transparency and accountability — while enabling an ecosystem of creative third-party apps and websites that provide services well beyond what governments had traditionally delivered. Open regulation would expand these approaches.
  • Real-time. Recent years have seen an explosion of “RegTech” companies that apply technology to automate regulatory reporting and compliance. These approaches have emerged primarily in financial services, where compliance costs skyrocketed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. While RegTech may have emerged to cut costs, its marriage of technology and regulation also paves the way for real-time approaches to regulation. Such methods could be applied more broadly as AI grows increasingly sophisticated and the volume of open, real-time data explodes.
  • Dynamic. In addition to being open and real-time, a truly adaptive regulatory approach would also respond dynamically to changing market conditions.

Applying open data on a large-scale must still allow for companies to protect proprietary or competitive information. Regulators will need to develop safeguards to mitigate the risk of unforeseen outcomes from algorithms that behave and evolve in unpredictable ways.

But the potential benefits are tremendous. Regulation imposes significant costs on businesses and society. Approaches that are both more effective and less expensive should be welcome news for businesses and taxpayers alike.


  • In a world of AI and crowdsourcing, should regulation only be done by regulators?
  • Could regulation become predictive instead of prescriptive?
  • When algorithms manage our lives, who will manage the algorithms?
  • How aligned is regulation in your sector for the disruptions that lie ahead?
  • What new competencies will regulators need to respond to disruption in your sector?
  • How are you engaging in the conversation to develop new regulatory approaches?


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)


Remapping urbanization

How will cities be reshaped by technology and our greatest challenges?

The urbanization of the future could look fundamentally different. Two sets of forces will converge to alter where we build and how we build:

  1. ‍How cities respond to sustainability challenges such as climate change, chronic disease, aging and affordability.
  2. How disruptive technologies that are transforming transportation and reinventing work reshape urban centers.

Sustainability challenges will remake the urban landscape

Climate change and sea-level rise will transform the shape of cities

We often think of climate change in terms of long-term effects: warming temperatures and rising sea levels that will alter the environment and reshape civilization. Already, climate change is increasing the destructiveness of extreme weather events: hurricanes/typhoons, rainstorms, blizzards, forest fires and droughts.

To make cities more resilient to extreme weather, urbanization patterns are starting to shift. Planners are realizing that infrastructure needs to be built differently, with extensive use of permeable pavement and more green spaces in the form of parks, ponds and green roofs. Planners must rethink or relocate urban development in vulnerable locations.

Cities are also starting to plan for the longer-term effects of sea level-rise, which promise to be even more disruptive. A global survey of 350 cities conducted by MIT found that 75% of cities have plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change — but 78% said that a lack of funding for implementation is a significant challenge.

Public health and urbanization have a complex relationship

In some ways, city living can be toxic. Researchers have found that levels of air pollution in Chinese cities are highly correlated with mortality rates. Other studies find that increased urban density — more housing units per square kilometer, greater intersection density, and narrower roads with fewer lanes — is associated with lower levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

To combat chronic disease, urban planners and employers have been taking steps to encourage active urban lifestyles, from city bike programs to employer wellness plans. Meanwhile, smart urban design is empowering seniors to age independently and actively.

Disruptive technologies will reinvent mobility within cities

How people get around cities — for work, or other purposes — shapes the way those cities grow. So profound changes in mobility and work will reshape the future urban landscape.

The future of mobility

Three disruptive technologies — ridesharing platforms, autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) — will collectively transform the future of cities. (We discuss more uncertain future technologies, such as passenger drones and Hyperloop, in the section on weak signals.)

Much as the disruption of the retail sector is leading to the repurposing of shopping malls and warehouses, the future of mobility will spur new uses for roads, traffic lanes, parking garages and more.

  • Ridesharing. The average car sits unused 95% of the time. Even when in use, most cars have underutilized capacity in the form of vacant seats. Ridesharing is squeezing these inefficiencies out of the system by combining data, algorithms and creative business models to deploy transportation assets more efficiently.
  • AVs. An AV, unlike a human-driven vehicle, can remain in operation around the clock, mitigating the 95% underutilization and reducing the need for so many vehicles. This should dramatically lower traffic congestion and reduce the urban footprint devoted to vehicles. However, a future in which transportation is effortlessly available on-demand could spur more sedentary lifestyles, creating public health implications.
  • EVs. EVs might similarly reshape urban infrastructure. Filling and service stations could be repurposed — since EVs need much less servicing than internal combustion vehicles and will likely be recharged at parking spots. EVs would also generate huge public health benefits by reducing pollution, which is one reason why China is pushing their adoption in a big way.

The future of work

Automation and shifts in demographics are shaping the future of work.

The growing popularity of remote work and coworking spaces is challenging the long-standing norm of the traditional office. As more individuals become entrepreneurs and gig workers rather than full-time employees, the need to be located close to an employer will diminish. Augmented and virtual reality promise to further enable virtual work.

Today, proximity to work is one of the biggest factors determining where people live. The increasingly virtual nature of work, combined with the future of mobility, could therefore reduce the pressure to locate in megacities, leading to a more balanced approach to urbanization and development — particularly if policymakers make concerted efforts to bring populations in developing countries online.

This should be good news for both large metropolises straining to grow sustainably and second-tier cities struggling to remain competitive. We explore this further in our Innovating communities megatrend.

The future of cities will be consequently different

Urbanization forecasts often focus on quantity: a future with more cities, more residents and bigger metropolises. But the trends discussed here emphasize that the future is not a linear extrapolation from the past. The interaction of megatrends and primary forces will fundamentally reshape cities, with huge implications for governments, citizens and corporations.


  • How could we rethink urban planning to improve public health?
  • How vulnerable is your city to climate disruption?
  • Will location still matter in a world of remote work and effortless mobility?
  • Is your office location strategy rightsized for climate disruption and remote work?
  • How should your talent strategy adapt to remote work and the future of mobility


Guatam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)


Innovating communities

Is there a big future in small cities?

The majority of humanity will live in cities by 2050. But in what kind of cities?

The conventional urbanization narrative holds that big cities will only get bigger and economic benefits will continue to accrue disproportionately to hotbed regions. Yet, as global megacities and hotbeds begin to experience the limits to growth and the forces of disruption continue to drive change that creates new opportunities for legacy cities and smaller cities.

City limits

A suite of factors — climate disruptions, resource scarcity, pollution, infrastructure gaps and real estate valuations — will challenge the growth projections for the world’s megacities and hotbeds.

This situation has created an outflow of mainly young people seeking lower barriers to entry, lower costs of living and cheaper access to entrepreneurial resources.

At the same time, the high cost of hotbed areas contributes to growing income inequality because many current residents can no longer afford to live and work in these areas. People outside the hotbeds can’t afford to move to those regions to pursue the jobs being created in them.

Disruption and city reinvention

The primary forces of disruption create new opportunities for second-tier and smaller cities beyond the megacities and hotbeds. For legacy cities, changing dynamics are creating new opportunities for revival.

Technologies that democratize and decentralize the tools of innovation, collaboration and production — such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), AR/VR, IoT and AI — open new pathways to developing special knowledge and participating in the global economy from anywhere. If workers can’t come to the jobs, the jobs can come to them.

Disruptive innovation can start anywhere and grow with global teams, whether the members of those teams are in established hotbeds or elsewhere. As a result, companies and investors increasingly look outside of established hotbeds for new opportunities.

A new look at old cities

Legacy cities, successful in a previous industrial revolution but since left behind, offer what megacities and hotbeds lack: excess capacity. Their infrastructure was built out to serve larger populations and larger economies.

Similarly, cultural, civic, health care and educational institutions frequently outshine what you’d expect in a smaller city. Remaining businesses tend to have strong community engagement and advocacy.

The urban design, architecture and neighborhoods that seemed outmoded when people fled old city cores for the suburbs have become valued again as preferences shift toward urban living and work.

Second-tier and smaller cities benefit

Usually anchored by institutions such as universities, hospitals and government, second-tier cities offer some of the dynamism of their larger counterparts at lower cost.

The city as platform for innovation

The city is becoming a platform for innovation, not just in technology but also in public space, infrastructure and financing. Emphasizing co-creation and new forms of public-private collaboration, city development becomes less linear and more about enabling constituents to find the upsides of disruption together.

Legacy and smaller cities, with their smaller sizes and fewer stakeholders, can generate greater agility and social cohesion. Similarly, smaller project sizes and lower day-to-day operational pressures reduce the cost and risk of experimentation. Small communities become the test beds for city innovation.

Business creates both value for money and shared value

Business has an important role to play in catalyzing city transformations. A company that is a large employer, taxpayer and consumer of city services can convene key players and facilitate consensus among different agendas. Companies also bring resources, experience and global networks to the table.

The citizens of legacy and smaller cities are employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders. Helping them seize the upsides of disruption unlocks shared value.

Governments address risks and seize the upsides

For governments at all levels, the concentration of people, wealth and economic activity in megacities brings increased risks, whether resource and climate-related, geopolitical or associated with social equity. Aligning policies to the forces driving toward a more diverse and decentralized cityscape helps to ameliorate these risks while positioning economies to benefit from the upsides of disruption.


  • What is the upside for businesses in catalyzing legacy and small city transformations?
  • Is the high cost of business in hotbed cities worth it?
  • As digital democratizes innovation, in which community should you look for the next great business idea?
  • What happens if talent doesn’t want to be where you are?
  • Is job mobility rather than labor mobility the answer to income inequality?
  • Is a city a place for innovation or a platform for innovation?


John de Yonge

EYQ (primary contact for Food by design and Innovating communities)


Health reimagined

With growing health needs, is digital the best medicine?

There is much to gain from disrupting health care. Aging populations and increasingly sedentary lifestyles have put costs on an unsustainable trajectory. Advances that improve health outcomes and care delivery will generate tremendous benefits, not just for patients, but also for governments and businesses.

This is the promise of health reimagined — the move to an entirely different health paradigm that is predictive, personalized, proactive and participatory. The ubiquity of data and analytics means every company is now a tech company. In the future, companies from every sector will develop products, and increasingly, algorithms to improve individuals’ health. Mobile and other empowering technologies are helping drive this shift, transforming patients into super consumers who demand greater control of their health through new products and services.

The next generation of disruptive technologies will take this further, allowing the fusion of the biological, digital and physical worlds. AI promises to transform everything, from drug R&D to clinical support. Robots have the potential to provide inexpensive, personalized home care at scale, while AVs will enable seniors to maintain active and independent lifestyles. DNA sequencing and gene editing could revolutionize drug development and provide new therapies for many grievous diseases. Blockchain could safeguard the integrity of supply chains and clinical trials.

To realize their full potential, these technologies will need to work seamlessly with each other to harness data located outside the traditional health ecosystem. This need is driving the next phase of the journey: the emergence of health platforms that connect various stakeholders — patients, providers, payers, policymakers and manufacturers — enabling them to combine capabilities and share personalized health data safely and in real time. Initially, these platforms focus on specific diseases; over time, individual platforms will be connected to provide insights across multiple disease areas simultaneously.

As health is reimagined, power will continue to shift to consumers and new entrants. To respond to this shift, companies must adopt agile, data-centric business models to create innovations that meet the demands of consumers and other constituents.


  • How will human augmentation technologies improve care, expand access and lower costs? 
  • How will new technologies and approaches enable us to remain active and independent as we age?
  • How will the move to health reimagined play out in emerging markets — and what could industrialized nations learn from them?
  • How will the move to health care platforms affect your business model?


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)


Food by design

Can innovation align delicious with sustainable, affordable and healthy?

The $5 trillion global food industry is experiencing the cross-currents of disruption.

Food companies deliver mass products from far flung supply chains even as consumers demand local, transparently sourced, personalized foods. Agriculture generates 24% of greenhouse gases, consumes 70% of fresh water and occupies nearly 40% of the global landmass.

Climate change and population growth render this kind of resource consumption increasingly untenable. The diffusion of the modern western diet contributes to a variety of global health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. More people now suffer from obesity than from malnutrition.

Innovations at the intersections of food, biotech, wellness and digital are emerging from these cross-currents to design new ways to eat.

Protein by design looks at ways to sustainably cater to consumer preferences for meat

Animals are an inefficient means of producing protein at a mass scale. It takes 100 calories of feed inputs to produce three calories of beef for human consumption. Beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than plant-based protein sources. Animals are also alive.

Yet people want meat. As the global population grows by 2.5 billion people through 2050 and income growth swells the global middle class, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization expects meat production to double.

Food innovation approaches that cater to the consumer preference for meat rather than trying to change it are disrupting this narrative. One approach focuses on creating vegetable-based meat and dairy substitutes that have the taste and experience of the real thing—but without the caloric inefficiencies and sustainability impacts. Pea proteins, wheat and potatoes are being turned into hamburgers. Oats become yogurt. Mung beans become eggs.

The other approach draws on biotechnology to grow meat, dairy proteins and animal products such as leather in the lab. This cellular agriculture, dubbed clean meat, grows animal cells in a medium of amino acids, sugars, minerals and water, much more efficiently than an animal can, achieving one calorie of output for just three calories of input. Growing animal products in the controlled lab environment avoids the pollution, greenhouse gases, water consumption and sanitary problems of conventional production. Meat can also be grown much closer to demand, cutting short an extended global supply chain.

Rather than pursuing niche vegan markets, the companies developing meat substitutes and clean meat aim squarely for the mainstream market where their products must compete on taste, cost and convenience, not consumer values. Success depends on achieving scale to lower costs and continuing innovation in the product experience.

While the large food companies are invested in processing and distributing meat, they don’t own herds or farms and can adjust nimbly to the consumer’s shifting preferences. The companies raising livestock are most threatened by the emergence of protein by design.

Produce by design looks at smart vertical farming

Consumer preferences, urbanization and technology open the door to bringing farming to cities at significant scale. Digitally enabled vertical farms decouple production from climate, allowing food to be grown close to the source of demand — increasingly, cities — without pesticides or herbicides, meeting consumer preferences for products that are fresh, local, organic and transparent.

While it is difficult to compete against the cost structure of traditional farming, vertical agriculture has a number of countering advantages:

  • ‍Production close to demand, cutting out the transportation expense and many middlemen in the traditional supply chain
  • Consistent supply at predictable prices for local retailers, regardless of global weather
  • Plants custom-grown to meet local tastes
  • Consumers willing to pay a premium for super-fresh, traceable and sustainable food
  • More yield per square meter, with reduced waste and significant carbon and water savings
  • Potential to address food deserts in low income areas
  • Ability to tie production to individual consumer demand through digital applications and supermarket data

Diet by design uses the human biome to determine optimal food choices

Biotech and food converge again in the growing understanding of the role that the human gut biome — the unique set of trillions of microorganisms present in every person’s digestive track — plays in human health. Where we used to know only what foods were generically good for people, through analysis of the biome it is now possible to determine which foods are optimal for you, as an individual.

Taken together, these trends mean that our eating will be personalized, local and increasingly sustainable for human health and the planet. We will feed more with less.


  • How long can we avoid paying the true cost of food?
  • Is it more important to fulfill consumer values or appetites to expand markets for sustainable food?
  • How will vertical urban agriculture change the social and sustainability dynamics of cities?
  • If personalized diets become the key to wellness, what industry is the food business in?
  • How can the global food industry serve one diet at a time?
  • How will food innovation redefine farm work?


John de Yonge

EYQ (primary contact for Food by design and Innovating communities)


Molecular economy

Nature is clean, efficient and distributed. Why not manufacturing?

There is a revolution in the making. In 2017, IBM Research discovered a way to store one bit of digital information in a single atom, a density that would allow the storage of Apple’s entire 26-million-song music catalog on a device the size of a penny. Researchers at the UK’s Durham University used light-activated motorized molecules to drill into cancer cells, destroying them in 60 seconds; animal testing will follow. And Dubai wants to 3D-print 25% of its new buildings by 2030.

In this revolution, physical, digital and biologic systems converge to create clean, efficient and distributed production processes.

Nanotechnology enters its disruptive phase

Technology adoption and diffusion tend to follow a recognizable trajectory. After a period of research, technologies are first harnessed for productivity improvements and incremental innovation. The next phase is one of disruptive innovation. From business model to value chain reinvention, new ways of doing things emerge that overturn the existing order.

Nanotechnology, comprising the various disciplines that incorporate understanding and manipulating matter at the extremely small 1–100 nanometer (nm) length range, is on a similar trajectory.

Our understanding of what happens at the molecular level and our ability to manipulate what we want to happen is increasing. Integrated research across disciplines spanning materials, biology, computing, electronics, mathematics, physics and chemistry signals that nanotechnology is just entering its disruptive phase. What we make and how we make it will change, challenging existing manufacturing paradigms.

Manufacturing looks to nature for inspiration

Bits are the building blocks of digital computing. Atoms are the building blocks of physical matter. They are both assembled by code. Binary code provides executable instructions for computers. DNA carries coded instructions that determine the structure and function of living organisms. In principle, biological principles and information are translatable into computing environments and vice versa.

Human beings have been making things for thousands of years. Nature has been making things for billions of years, developing clean, efficient and distributed methods through the evolutionary process. The disruptive phase of nanotechnology and its applications will mimic the processes of nature while exploiting new and powerful capabilities and tools. And we will make useful and beautiful things by leveraging these knowledge sets.

The search is on for clean and more functional materials

Nature is clean and resource-efficient. Older manufacturing techniques (typically physics-based and reliant on high-temperature processing technologies) can be dirty and wasteful. By exploiting the unique optical, electrical, catalytic, magnetic and chemical properties of matter that take place at the nanoscale, humans can build cleaner materials and production processes.

Molecular manufacturing looks to take efficient production to a whole new level

After years of sophisticated equipment development and investments in process improvement, advanced manufacturing has become highly efficient. The adoption of robotics, machine learning algorithms and virtual factory twins will optimize factories in new ways, making them even more productive.

But what if we could manipulate atoms and molecules to construct larger, more complex objects to atomic precision? This is the dream of molecular manufacturing. Theoretically, bottom-up production could be fast, efficient, cheap and free of defects. At a high level, the concept of molecular manufacturing envisions molecules self-organizing to form larger structures under specific instructions or environmental cues (self-assembly), or through the use of nanoscale tools that hold, position and generate molecules (positional assembly). 

Distributed manufacturing can turn consumers into producers

Natural systems are distributed and self-organizing. From cells to ants to flocks of birds, productive, collective behavior at a global level emerges from the collaboration of agents at the local level. Similarly, technological advances are facilitating a distributed manufacturing paradigm, benefiting existing manufacturers even as they spawn a global maker movement.

Digital technologies plus 3D printing support distributed but coordinated manufacturing, with benefits in the form of shorter supply chains, lower shipping costs, less unsold inventory, local product tailoring and new business models like manufacturing as a service.

At the same time, community-based production is rising in parallel with the decentralization of large manufacturing. Consumers are becoming producers.

The upside of disruption — will nanotechnology become foundational?

The promise of nanotechnology is driving significant investment and focus. However, scientific uncertainty remains, particularly around molecular manufacturing and the ability to scale up some of the most promising research.

At the same time, we are likely entering a multiyear period of nanotechnology-derived disruption, with a variety of new specialty applications coming to market. Even if it takes several decades, the long-term view suggests that a new molecular economy will emerge—one with an impact as great as any of humanity’s prior technology-fueled revolutions.


  • When we can build everything atom by atom, will scarcity become a thing of the past?
  • When smarter factories give you operational visibility, what new opportunities will you see?
  • When parts can be made anywhere, how will you rethink your supply chain?
  • How are you leveraging advanced materials to improve product performance?
  • How are you digitizing your products to extend your connections to customers?


Andrea Potter

EYQ (primary contact for Industry redefined, Super consumer, Molecular economy and Superfluidmarkets)

Future working worlds

The global order

Rebalanced global system

In a hyper-connected, multipolar world, how and where will power congregate?

We are in the early stages of moving to an emerging multipolar global order, governed by different rules, norms, institutions, networks and centers of power.

Globalization and market liberalization have fueled growth, raised living standards and created new economic powerhouses whose rise will reshape the global system in years ahead. The current upswing in populism, whether sustained or not, is unlikely to reverse this trend.

Meanwhile, technology has increased connectivity and created new growth opportunities, such as trade in services and intangibles.

In the coming years, the interplay between the next waves of technology (human augmentation) and demographics (aging) will create new pressures and rebalance economic power across different regions.

First among the new economic powers is China, which is taking a lead role in creating institutions and initiatives that could shape the rules of trade and shift the global balance of power.

China’s ambitions are spawning new institutions and initiatives

The crown jewel of China’s international strategy is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), heralded as the modern-day Silk Road. BRI entails building a vast network of land and sea links across more than 60 countries.

The plan recognizes the massive infrastructure gap in developing economies as an underlying impediment to economic progress.

China has led in founding a new set of international institutions to finance these infrastructure projects in developing economies, such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB). China believes these new institutions can improve the speed of approval and execution of development projects.

Domestically, China is relentlessly focused on innovation, rapidly acquiring western technologies and promoting indigenous innovation to narrow technology gaps. Nowhere is this more evident than in the areas of AI, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

China is also making efforts to increase its soft power. Through nonprofits like the Chinese Cultural Centers and Confucius Institutes, China is promoting its language and culture around the world. In the commercial realm, private companies such as Wanda have heeded the Party’s call to strengthen the country’s soft power by acquiring western media assets in the areas of films, television and movie theaters.

These institutions and initiatives will shape the next global system

As China catches up to the West and moves up the value chain of production, other developing economies will likely take the low- to mid-end work that no longer fits the Chinese economic model.

With China leading the building of the needed infrastructure to enable commerce, developing countries in Central Asia and Africa might more readily attract foreign businesses and investments. Global trade flow will become more complex and integrated as these new sources of production are activated, creating opportunities for companies to rebalance their procurement and manufacturing strategies.

More importantly, China’s emergence as a leading force in global trade means that countries are likely to increasingly work with its institutions, creating a workable alternative to the West’s order.

What will the next global system look like?

Although there are still many unknowns, the next global system will likely be characterized by five attributes:

  • Multiple poles. The next global system will feature neither the ideological death match of the Cold War nor the extreme dominance of one power across economic, military and cultural dimensions. Instead, it will be multipolar, with different countries influential across particular dimensions.
  • New institutions for new realities. The global order will be shaped by new initiatives and institutions such as BRI and AIIB. While building spheres of influence for their sponsoring countries, such efforts will also better reflect changing power dynamics, thereby reducing the potential for conflict.
  • Connectivity. The ascendant powers depend greatly on trade. The new institutions they are founding will champion trade, even as initiatives such as BRI boost physical networks that lead to greater movement of capital and people.
  • Regionally rebalanced. We will likely see a relative shift in focus across regions. For instance, BRI could supercharge growth of developing countries in Central Asia and Africa, much as the US-led global system allowed Japan and several Southeast Asian countries to become economic powerhouses.
  • Diverse norms. The global order will be marked by a uniquely complex mix of connectivity, multipolarity and divergent norms. China has its own rules for organizing the Internet. Russia has different norms for free speech. For companies, navigating this reality will be a complex challenge.


  • Will connectivity democratize prosperity?
  • How will your strategies, policies, talent and networks adapt to a multipolar world?
  • Is your company prepared for a world in which innovation could come from anywhere?
  • How is your global strategy looking beyond China and India to focus on fast-growing economies in Africa and elsewhere?
  • How should the composition of your board and C-suite change in a multipolar world?


Edmund Wong
EYQ (primary contact for Rebalanced global system)

Societies and economies

Renewed social contracts

Will we renew our social contracts through reform — or revolution?

A social contract (also known as a social compact) is the collection of implicit or explicit agreements that enable citizens to live together in civil society. It encompasses everything from the rule of law to regulation to a society’s approach to health care.

These contracts are neither uniform nor static — they vary across societies and over time. All social contracts attempt to provide stability by seeking to balance the needs of citizens and governments, workers and employers, the individual and the collective.

Yet, disruption has been straining long-standing social contracts. The next waves of technology, globalization and demographics promise to take them past the breaking point. New economic realities will demand new solutions and traditional approaches may no longer be viable.

Rising inequality

Economic inequality has steadily become more extreme across most of the world, driven largely by the primary forces of globalization and technology. Developments such as refugee crises and human migration are adding to the strain.

The next waves of disruption promise to drive these conflicts to a breaking point. The future of work and human augmentation could produce a massive displacement of work and workers. Without corrective measures, these trends will compound economic inequality and bring social contracts to the point of collapse.

Collective action challenges

A second trend exacerbates these pressures: collective action challenges. Across the globe, issues such as climate change, chronic disease and excessive debt are becoming increasingly urgent and expensive.

The common thread through these issues is that they require us to act collectively and make short-term sacrifices for our long-term benefit.

However, a number of structural and behavioral barriers — from election cycles to quarterly earnings expectations to universal human biases that overweight the short-term — prevent individuals, companies and policymakers from focusing on our collective, long-term interests.

What will the new social contracts look like?

What will the social contracts of the future look like? As with today’s compacts, we expect different societies to arrive at different solutions for the challenges created by disruption.

Regardless of how they arise and what mix of solutions they enact, the social contracts of the future will follow four principles:

  1. Inclusive. Future social contracts will be more inclusive. For corporations, this means that companies will be accountable not just to shareholders, but to a broader set of stakeholders. Digital disruption has already made information transparent and empowered individuals, trends that will continue with the rise of blockchain and adaptive regulation.
  2. Long-term. Tomorrow’s social contracts will be more aligned around long-term interests and behavior. Incentives, including those based on behavioral economics, will help change this to tackle major collective action challenges.
  3. Market-based. For social contract reforms to be sustainable, it’s critical that they be rooted in the private sector. Social contracts will realign interests so that companies act more inclusively and with a long-term focus, not because of corporate social responsibility initiatives or for public relations benefits, but because doing so is good for the bottom line.
  4. Policy-driven. Governments will play a key role in realigning the interests of private sector actors with the long-term inclusive needs of society. Specifically, new policy measures will bridge gaps and address market failures. Many of these policies will incorporate behavioral economics.

The next social contract also must address issues such as these:

  • Democracy.  For the last century or so, democracy has been a key pillar of social contracts across much of the world. Today, democracy is under attack, a victim of the same forces that are undermining social contracts. The next waves of digital disruption will further this trend, as might the rise of a new global system influenced by different values and norms.
  • Inequality. Sustainable social contracts must address economic inequality. Traditionally, policy solutions have included a combination of progressive taxation and safety net programs. Such mechanisms will continue to be important. But the extent of labor disruption that lies ahead might also require new approaches, including perhaps some form of universal basic income.
  • Learning. Today’s educational systems are fundamentally misaligned with the future of work. We expect to see a long-overdue disruption of education. The social contracts of the future will have a new approach to learning: one that is lifelong, technology-enabled and centered on developing skills instead of imparting knowledge.
  • Regulation. Appropriate regulation is one of the most important mechanisms for balancing the interests of workers, consumers and small business against those of more powerful institutions. Disruption is already straining traditional regulatory paradigms. The social contracts of the future will have to fundamentally rethink regulation. (For more, see Adaptive regulation.)
  • Metrics. The move to the next social contract will need measures of value that are long-term and inclusive. The measures used by companies to track and report their value creation will need to become longer-term and accountable to a broader set of stakeholders. Different frameworks and legal structures (e.g. the benefit corporation, the low-profit limited liability company (L3C) and triple bottom line) will be important for enabling this shift.


  • How will society’s constituents — citizens, governments and businesses — make social contracts more inclusive and long-term?
  • How will societies address income inequality in an era of workplace automation?
  • How will societies replace eroding worker protections and social safety nets in the future of work?
  • What responsibility should businesses have for tackling income inequality?
  • At a time when companies are increasingly vocal on political issues affecting their stakeholders, how are you responding?
  • How are you measuring and reporting value to align with the long-term interests of all your stakeholders?


Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)

Firms and markets

Future working worlds: Superfluid markets

Is frictionless commerce an opportunity to deploy time and capital in more constructive ways?

In physics, superfluids have the unique property of zero viscosity. They flow without friction. Similarly, a new generation of technologies and innovators is bringing us closer to the age of superfluid markets, where traditional frictions and inefficiencies are greatly reduced or even eliminated.

From viscous to fluid to superfluid — a short history of markets

Markets exist to bring together buyers and sellers of goods, services, information, labor and other assets of value. Globalization, technological advances and other forces that emerged during the Industrial Age dispersed markets and made them more complex.

Companies arose, in part, as structures for efficiently coordinating participation in more intricate, costly and far-flung markets. In each industry, a web of intermediaries also emerged to make transacting easier. Over time, market frictions have been steadily receding.

The superfluid market age. 

We have now entered the age of superfluid markets. New technologies are converging to eliminate even more inefficiencies and frictions from markets. The price and performance of computing continues to climb an exponential curve. Data storage capacity in the cloud is virtually infinite. The physical world is being sensed, tagged and linked to the internet. Massive amounts of new data are being generated. Artificial intelligence algorithms are analyzing that data. New market interfaces are arising. Blockchain technology shows promise to establish trust between market participants in a decentralized, encrypted and secure manner.

While we can’t predict exactly what the future will look like, superfluidity will have a profound impact on both markets and companies as we know them today. Here are a few of the ways in which markets and companies could change.

The viscous market age. 

Up until the arrival of the internet, most markets were viscous. Executing buyer-seller transactions was an expensive, slow and opaque process. These frictions were largely related to the lack of information on the part of market actors, as well as information asymmetry that tended to benefit sellers at the expense of buyers. The need to navigate market access spawned multidisciplinary companies with large workforces.

The fluid market age. 

The arrival of the internet and digital commerce introduced a level of fluidity. The internet democratized access to information, reducing information asymmetry. New virtual markets arose, matching buyers and sellers in a more frictionless way. Entire industries were disrupted. For companies, the digitization of business processes from hiring to procurement to sales and marketing greatly reduced the internal coordination costs of participating in markets. As a result, companies began to unbundle, pursuing alternate ways to get work done like outsourcing and co-creating with customers.

How will superfluidity impact markets?

New markets will form, and superfluidity will reinvent existing markets. The collision of real-time communications and IoT will give rise to “stock exchanges” for all kinds of goods, not just commodities. New markets for raising capital (e.g. initial coin offerings) will emerge. The increasing recognition of personal data as a valuable asset will likely lead to new personal data exchanges.

Excess or idle capacity will fade away. Digital intermediaries have already aggregated idle consumer assets such as cars and apartments. This sharing economy model will spread to expensive but underutilized capital equipment — from tractors to MRI machines — owned by businesses.

Markets will become more autonomous. Digitized assets linked to intelligent systems with blockchain as the underlying trust engine could eventually enable fully autonomous markets to flourish. Machines will begin to transact autonomously with other machines as well as directly with people — automatically requesting service, triggering inventory replenishment and bidding for power, among other activities.

Technology leapfrogging will supply “missing markets” in low income, rapid growth economies. Mobile money transfer and payment systems will create new financial markets. The Internet of Things will enable rural electricity markets through the installation of smart solar units managed centrally in off-grid areas and paid for using mobile phones. Blockchain-enabled land registries will enable real estate markets free of corruption and ownership disputes.

How will superfluidity change companies?

With fewer market frictions to manage, companies of the future will be extremely lean. They will be built around teams. These teams will assemble around tasks; employees will no longer be organized by role. Teams will be autonomous, self-driving and supported by intelligent machines.

The percentage of freelance labor will grow as the lifetime employment model fades. Organizations may arise that have no permanent employees.

The platform economy and the “as-a-service” revolution will continue to make it easier and less costly to start up a new business. Entrepreneurs will increasingly be able to leverage a variety of modular, scalable services that give them immediate market access, distribution channels and more.

New technologies will continue to spur new operational efficiencies and increases in productivity. As company activity becomes less and less about managing transactional and other kinds of frictions, the opportunity for a company to compete on efficiency will fade. Instead, a company’s ability to drive innovation that results in new value creation will be the most important determinant of its competitive positioning — and its long-term survival.


  • How will you compete on value when competing on efficiency is no longer an option?
  • What new frictions will arise in your business as the old frictions melt away?
  • Will you make your markets superfluid or will others do it for you?
  • What new technologies and strategies are you deploying to help supply better meet demand?
  • How are you incorporating new computing interfaces (e.g. chatbots, wearables) to interact with customers, suppliers and employees?
  • How can you ensure that the intermediaries in your industry add more value than they extract?


Andrea Potter

EYQ (primary contact for Industry redefined, Super consumer, Molecular economy and Superfluidmarkets)


Weak signals

The primary forces — technology, globalization and demographics — are the root causes of disruption.

Since these primary forces are themselves evergreen, it is their evolution in new waves that creates disruptive megatrends and future working worlds.

Consider how recent waves of technology have created new megatrends. The online and mobile revolutions enabled the super consumer. Now, the next wave of technological disruption — human augmentation — is spawning a new generation of megatrends, such as the future of work and adaptive regulation.

To understand what lies beyond these disruptions — and find the seeds of tomorrow’s megatrends — one needs to identify future primary force waves. To help with this process, we analyze “weak signals”, or waves of primary forces that are farther in the future.

Weak signals are nascent by definition. This means that the nature and magnitude of their impact is relatively unclear. It also means that they are rapidly evolving, with new weak signals emerging along the way.

For these reasons, we explore weak signals on our website rather than in this report. We expect to add new weak signals to our hub over time. Please check back regularly and join the conversation.

To learn more about weak signals, please visit:


Prianka Srinivasan

EYQ (primary contact for Human augmentation and Weak signals)


We wish to thank the following individuals, who provided input in various forms for different sections of the report:

Human augmentation

Gabe Batstone (Contextere), Keith Strier (EY), Nigel Duffy (EY), Patrick Kramer (Digiwell and VivoKey Technologies), Paul Saffo (Stanford University), Terrence Hickey (IBM Services)


Aaron Maniam (Blavatnik School of Government)

Engaged aging

Aaron Maniam (Blavatnik School of Government), Ellen Licking (EY), Pamela Spence (EY)

Industry redefined

Ethan Zuckerman (MIT), Julien Solente (EY), Paul Saffo (Stanford University)

Future of work

Amos Rabin (EY), Sweta Mangal (MUrgency)

Super consumer

Anand Raghuraman (EY), Andrew Cosgrove (EY), Janet Balis (EY), Kristina Rogers (EY), Nicola Kleyn (Gordon Institute of Business Science)

Behavioral design

Beth Altringer (Harvard), Michael Norton (Harvard), Nicola Kleyn (Gordon Institute of Business Science)

Adaptive regulation

Aaron Maniam (Blavatnik School of Government), Alex Viall (Behavox), Doug Arner (University of Hong Kong), George Atalla (EY), Keith Grimes (VR Doctors), Michael Parker (EY), Rebecca Hiscock-Croft (EY) 

Remapping urbanization

Aseem Inam (Cardiff University), Bill Banks (EY), Carlo Ratti (MIT), Ethan Zuckerman (MIT), George Atalla (EY), Henry Stratton (EY), Ivan Rossignol (World Bank), Mark Kaspar (EY), Vineet Gupta (Boston Transportation Department)

Innovating communities

George Atalla (EY), Gordon Feller (Meeting of the Minds), Mark Gustafson (Avista), Markku Markkula (European Committee of the Regions), Peter Williams (IBM), Rodney Harrell (Livable Communities and AARP)

Health reimagined

David Roberts (EY), Ellen Licking (EY), Pamela Spence (EY), Sweta Mangal (MUrgency)

Food by design

Amir Zaidman (The Kitchen FoodTech Hub),  Amos Shtibelman (EY), Andrew Cosgrove (EY), Brad Barbera (Good Food Institute), Bruce Friedrich (Good Food Institute), Eyal Shimoni (Strauss Group), Graham Burr (Parthenon EY), Itay Zetelny (EY), Josh Balk (Humane Society of the U.S. and Hampton Creek), Lihi Segal (DayTwo), Nadav Berger (PeakBridge Partners), Rob Dongoski (EY), Sara Menker (Gro Intelligence), Sepehr Mousavi (Plantagon International)

Molecular economy

Andre Wegner (Authentise), Andrew Caveney (EY), Brent Segal (Lockheed Martin), Frank Thewhisen (EY), John Robinson (EY), Mohit Ahuja (EY), Rick Rundell (Autodesk), Stefan Heck (Nauto), Susanne Schroger (EY)

Rebalanced global system

Albert Park (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Alexandra Rogan (Teneo), Banning Garrett (Singularity University), Ethan Zuckerman (MIT), Jennifer Zhu Scott (Radian), Jim Stavridis (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy), Jon Shames (EY), Kevin Kajiwara (Teneo), Meghan McDonough (Teneo)

Renewed social contracts

Beth Brooke-Marciniak (EY), Ivan Rossignol (World Bank), Markkula Markku (European Committee of the Regions), Thomas Kochan (MIT)

Superfluid markets

Janet Balis (EY), Jennifer Zhu Scott (Radian), Sweta Mangal (MUrgency)

Individuals listed in italics are EYQ Fellows. Chris Meyer of Nerve LLC provided feedback on the entire report.


Uschi Schreiber

Global Vice Chair – Markets and Chair, Global Accounts Committee

Gil Forer

Lead Partner - Digital and Business Disruption, Global Markets EYQ, co-leader

John de Yonge

EYQ (primary contact for Food by design and Innovating communities)

Gautam Jaggi

EYQ (primary contact for Future of work, Behavioral design, Adaptive regulation, Health reimagined, Remapping urbanization, Renewed social contracts, Populism and Aging)

EYQ (primary contact for Rebalanced global system)

Andrea Potter

EYQ (primary contact for Industry redefined, Super consumer, Molecular economy and Superfluidmarkets)

Prianka Srinivasan

EYQ (primary contact for Human augmentation and Weak signals)

Edmund Wong

EYQ (primary contact for Rebalanced global system)

The views expressed in this report are those of EYQ and not necessarily those of the external contributors

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About EYQ

EYQ is EY’s global think tank exploring, “What’s after what’s next?” The companies that survive and thrive during seismic disruption are those that quickly sense and best respond to change. The question “What’s after what’s next?” is key in mastering the tomorrow’s demands while strategizing for challenges beyond the horizon.

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By exploring “What’s after what’s next?” EYQ helps its audiences anticipate the forces shaping our future — empowering them to seize the upside of disruption and build a better working world.

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