Matthias Horx Futurist

Interview for a Slovenian Paper

October 2017, Portorož

  • It seems that in the last few years the world has been going through major changes. Political changes that few years ago would seem impossible (such as Trump becoming president, Brexit...), major technological changes, financial changes... What kind of world can we expect in five, ten years?

    The question shows the psychological effect in human beings that we call “present time vanity”. EVERY time seems for the people living in it to be the most dangerous, exciting and dramatic time. Our parents or grandparents perceived their era in the same way, and they were probably right. This idea spoils our souls – who wants to live in boring and “normal” times?

    But can you tell me when the world did not go through tough changes and turbulences? Lets look at the facts: Globalization and the vast growth of media channels makes change, crisis and problems even more visible. Every turbulence, every war, every flood or earthquake now reaches our prefrontal cortex with dramatic pictures and headlines. This gives us the impression of a superturbulent world. But in fact there are also a lot of very reliable stabile trends.

    A lot of things are quite continuous. Look at the constant growth of the world economy. It's around 3 percent, with only short interruptions of the financial crisis. The number of very poor people worldwide is coming down very fast, we are living on an ever more middle-class-planet. Wars have not increased, even if we have a de-stabilisation of the middle east and nasty tribal wars in Africa, most of the planet has decided for peace. Phenomenons like Trump and malicious nationalism are probably examinations of the past in the present – there are always regressions in complex systems, that happens in individuals, families and societies. But the will, in the end, creates new progress. Elif Shafak, a Turkish poet, said recently in a TED-Talk: “From populists we will learn democracy, from isolationists the sense of global solidarity, from tribalists the beauty of cosmopolitanism. Crisis is a part of the human endeavour, and we should accept this.

  • Forecasts say, that in a few years robots will be taking over our jobs. And not just blue collar jobs, management jobs as well. Are we prepared for these changes? And how to get ready for this type of world?

    Forecasts in a hyper-media society don´t describe the future, they describe fears and projections of inner insecurities. We as humans are sometimes not quite sure about our own abilities. We have a kind of inferiority complex about machines. And then we imagine robots with human faces and superhuman abilities. That makes a good horror show!

    In fact robots or machines ALWAYS eat up jobs. Since the beginning of industrial revolutions they do. But new markets of work and services develop, with new demands, new offers and new value creations. This is the core complexity evolution of human societies. In the most automatized countries in the world, Canada, Japan and Germany unemployment is at its lowest ever. More people than ever work, also a lot of women, who stayed at home in former times. The new jobs are always more than the old ones, they are more diverse and less routinised. I bet for that in ten years time we have more jobs, more professions, more paid work than ever – and everybody will still be horribly scared about robots...

  • A McKinsey research showed that robots could take over a quarter of the work that executive directors do and that around of a third of their work could be automated. Is that actually a possibility? And when could it become a reality?

    What does McKinsey want to sell? Consulting for rationalization and expert systems. If I want to sell these things, it is very useful to make predictions like these. But let me tell you a counterstory: Automatisation takes away routines and gives us freedom for creativity. We will have less accountants, but more therapists, which treat fear and try to make people happier. We have less people in mechanized agriculture but more bio farms and bio restaurants. We will have less industrial grind and more interaction between people. We will get a huge “emotional industry”, where communication, healing and empathy, entertainment and experiences are created. Can we ever delegate that to machines? No, only in bad science fiction plots!

  • What kind of world of business can we expect in 20 and 30 years’ time?

    It will be, of course, much more networked, less focussed on products and “things”, more “systemic”. Cars will be part of a big lending and using scheme. Clothes are partly not bought, but leased. You are laughing? My family and myself have leased our jeans for years, and we send them back to the producer when they get old and ugly, and they are completely recycled (see the brand MUD from the Netherlands). A lot of intermediary functions will be of course vanish. Banks will not be so important any more. “Responsive Innovation” will be very important – listening to the real needs of people and adapting your business all the time.

  • Are businesses ready for a new type of labor force? Are they looking to the future or are they too focused on short term results and goals?

    There are a lot of questions, where the answer is already included. This is one of them. The answer is no. But business is an evolutionary process. Who can´t change and anticipate change, will die out. That was always the case in the history of markets and innovation. We call this “creative destruction”, and it’s the evolutionary law.

  • Driverless cars are being produced and developed. Amazon, Google, Apple and more companies have developed virtual assistants, artificial intelligence is coming to the forefront. Are we starting to live out the science fiction from 20, 30 years ago? Or is the technology too fast for us (meaning we have not quite adapted, opened up to it yet)?

    There is one basic rule in the future and in the universe: Wonders are coming, just a little bit later. We are already travelling with automatic driving vehicles, without really noticing. Pilots are 95 percent of the time only monitoring their computers that fly the planes. The most train drivers don't drive the train very much. So in the end automatic driving will come, but it will prove not to be too spectacular. I am driving a Tesla, which has autonomous driving level 2, which allows me to act a bit different in the driver's seat. On most motorways I don't need to touch the steering wheel all the time. I can concentrate on audio books and in traffic jams I can write mails or read the newspaper.

    In some years level 3 will be quite common, that means I can do writing work in the car. It will take another 10 to 15 years before complete automatic driving is available, and at this time we will only shortly wonder, why we used up so much time with boring steering wheels. That is the second rule of the future and the universe: When you have reached wonders, they seem quite normal. “Artificial Intelligence” will not have teeth and claws, it will just assist us in daily routines an help us to create more reliable and sustainable systems, from cities to health to traffic.

  • What innovation, new development are you most looking forward to? And what scares you?

    Nothing scares me very much, because as a futurist since 30 years I experienced that a lot of dystopias and fearful predictions did not come true. Getting older, I come back a little bit to my childhood visions. Going to Mars with Elon Musks “Big F****** Rocket” would be a very exciting experience, especially when you´re not on board. What sometimes scares me a bit, is the stubborn tendency of people, to create hysterias out of fears, and trash the future with negative and un-constructive feelings. If you look into the internet you sometimes have the feeling that mankind is becoming a little bit mad. The old primate seems sometimes to need a mental upgrade; he is too quickly overwhelmed by magic “terror tales” and Trump-like grumpiness.


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