It's never more important to gaze into the future than when the world is clutching at straws of hope. When nothing seems to be going right. And when nature and fate both seem to have loads of surprises in store. Each one punkier than the other.
So just as humanity turns to the divine for direction, we turned to some of the best names in their fields to crystal-gaze for Business Today. For deep insights in areas as vital as agriculture and food to economy and manufacturing, even top of the mind concerns such as drug discovery and disaster management.
The galaxy of global and Indian CEOs and specialists who have graced this issue with their foresight includes Charles V. Bergh, CEO, Levi Strauss, who writes about the Future of Apparel; Liam Condon, Member of the Board of Management, Bayer AG and President, Crop Science Division, on the Future of Agriculture; Borje Ekholm, President and CEO, Ericsson, on the Future of Communications; Dr Viral Acharya, former Deputy Governor, RBI, on the Future of the Economy; Suresh Narayanan, CMD, Nestle India, on the Future of Food; Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Biocon, on the Future of Drug Discovery, and Mahesh Palashikar, President & CEO, GE South Asia and Chairman of the Board, GE Power India, on the Future of Manufacturing, just to name a few. Here are some of their gems:
A deglobalising world can keep itself in sync only via communication. So, what is the future of communication? Ericsson's Ekholm writes 5G will unlock the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution - Industry 4.0 - on which competitiveness will be built. Traditional business processes will be re-engineered based on intuitive human-machine interactivity and machines will network, operate and transfer vast amounts of data in milliseconds on highly secure networks.
GE's Palashikar projects that manufacturing will be more data intelligence-driven than ever. Vast amounts of data will translate into insights which will then be applied to optimise operations, cut down time and slash manufacturing costs. Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, 5G, Artificial Intelligence, Additive Manufacturing, Blockchain and Robotics will be at the heart of this vast change.
Data science will transform the Future of Agriculture too, says Bayer's Condon. It will generate opportunities in farming by delivering insights on land, weather, soil, seeds and even markets.
Biocon's Mazumdar-Shaw predicts that drug discovery will not be as prolonged as the current timelines of 10-14 years for a drug and 9-12 years for a vaccine. Ready availability of genetic information coupled with data mining will increase the probability of discovering new drugs faster than ever. Such data models and AI will accelerate vaccine development through 'virtual testing', which will be able to even predict which vaccines will work across what genetic types.
But eventually everything rests on the Future of the Economy. Former RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya reminds us that an inter-dependent, inter-connected world is vital to the growth of the global economy. But that is under threat from de-coupling of global economies via trade wars, economic nationalism and growing disruption in supply chains. He says this will not just delay economic recovery but whether these trends are temporary setbacks to global economy or permanent won't be known until the outcome of US presidential elections later this year.
My gratitude to these star CEOs for agreeing to share their insights in the following pages. Re-invigorate your mind.