On Friday, April 13, 2029, a massive asteroid called Apophis will pass within 31,200 kilometres of Earth, and will shine brightly enough to view with the naked eye.

Named by the astronomers who discovered it in 2004 for the villain in Stargate, the Canadian-American military science adventure television series (who was in turn named for the Egyptian mythological demon serpent of darkness), Apophis was initially feared to be on a collision course with our planet. This sent NASA and other institutions around the world scrambling to gather data on its orbit.

Scientists’ latest reassuring consensus is that the hurtling monolith will be nothing more than an interesting sight in the night sky, and its near-miss is likely to underscore the vital importance of accurate and precise predictions.

Forecasters whose focus is more terrestrial offer us glimpses of what kind of world Apophis will fly over in 2029 - and yes, it will have more robots.

How we’ll be working and investing

We've all heard that technology and automation will disrupt the labour market in the future. This report from PwC provides a more nuanced look by imagining four scenarios of the state of work by 2030, set against the long-term trends of technological innovation, demographic changes, urbanisation, shifts in global economic power and resource scarcity. While slightly gloomy on the prospects for work (spoiler alert: if you want a job in 10 years' time, make sure you are good at things robots are not, such as leadership and emotional intelligence), it’s a thought-provoking piece and recommended reading for anyone interested in the future of employment and education.

Investment Firm of the Future, by the CFA Institute, is an interactive report exploring the issues that are set to materially affect the landscape of the investment management industry over the next decade and beyond.

The World Economic Forum takes a deep dive into how artificial intelligence could transform the financial services ecosystem in years to come, cutting through both the exuberance and the fear.

If you’re looking into how advances in robotics, automation and AI will shape the world to come, then this report from Deloitte has almost everything you need. The study found that senior executives are aware of the transformative power of new technologies, but aren’t sure how to use them.

Global workplaces are becoming more diverse, and it is to everyone’s advantage if this trend continues, according to a paper by Invesco. While diversity was once seen mainly as an aim in achieving social justice, they say it is now widely recognised as a source of competitive advantage that can underpin a meritocracy and benefit a business and its stakeholders.

ESG investing, which has already grown from a niche theme to a vital strategic component of most asset allocators and business decision makers, is expected to take on even more significance in the coming decade as countries try to achieve the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to eradicate poverty and inequalities and tackle climate change. This report from KPMG discusses trends and their implications for asset managers, to suggest what the investment management industry might look like in 2030.

Tracking the trends of the planet and its inhabitants

Euromonitor has identified 20 of the most influential megatrends to shape the world by 2030 with the focus on eight trends with the greatest impact on industries and consumers.

The US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds looks at the biggest trends that are likely to impact society, healthcare, government and resources in the coming decade.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that Earth is undergoing some climate changes, though they’re still debating the extent of the impact, as well as the causes - and how to best get ahead of these changes while there’s still time. Digital Technology and Environment: Using the digital transition to accelerate the ecological transition is a collaborative white paper from the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), the Next generation internet foundation (FING), GreenIT.fr and WWF France, that proposes using digital technology to put more ecologically sustainable policies in place.

The World Economic Forum gathers experts before their Davos shindig for two days of crystal-ball gazing, and offers a treasure trove of content for those who can't attend the main conference in person, with recorded sessions and articles elaborating on topics such as infrastructure in 2030 and the globalisation of knowledge, as well as interviews with some key attendees.

In Feeding the Future: How Innovation and Shifting Consumer Preferences Can Help Feed a Growing Planet, Citi analysts lay forth a plan to meet the world’s food needs, as the global population rises from about 7 billion people in 2018 to 9-10 billion in the coming three decades.

This infographic from the OECD looks at the impact the next decade will have on population, natural resources, climate change, globalisation, governments, economies and society.

As the global network of air travel grows, the world will continue to ‘shrink,’ as formerly distant places become more accessible. This academic paper examines the impact of international long-distance flights on the allocation of economic activity - and the conclusion is that links by links by air don’t always translate into actual connections. Global air routes ‘helped the Shanghais of the world achieve convergence, but also increased the distance between them and the Vientianes.’

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who made his name with The End of History, has now zeroed in on the identity politics that arises from groups marginalized by factors such as income disparity and other social stigmas, as they seek to remedy their disadvantages. In his book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment as well as in a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, he describes how these forces risk further dividing and alienating groups of people.

The BBC takes a more light-hearted look at the future by wondering what we’ll be wearing in 10 years’ time - everything from Apps integrated into clothes, emotion-sensing pieces and technology-based items that adapt to the environment, to spray-on clothing, bio-organic materials, and plants genetically modified to grow fabrics.

Debt looms as a risk

Given the current bull market is 10 years old, some kind of recession is likely in the next 10 years, though exactly when and why remains a mystery for now. If you're worried that such a long bull market has made you too complacent, take a quick look at the US Debt Clock for a cold reality check on the state of US public finances in real time. It's oddly hypnotic watching the counter for national debt increase by tens of thousands of dollars every second.

Debt is the chief concern of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, of Black Swan fame, in this video interview with Bloomberg. Taleb argues that the world is suffering from the same debt disease that caused the last crisis - debt has not been reduced, but simply moved from consumers and housing to corporate balance sheets and government. He believes the system is more fragile now than it was in 2007.

One of the more comprehensive long-term outlooks is this one from JP Morgan. At over 100 pages, it's not a quick read. But in keeping with the above themes, it includes some compelling essays on the nature of future recessions and the upward drift in government debt since the financial crisis.

Avoiding the pitfalls of prediction

The Internet is littered with past forecasts to which time has not been kind. We can't resist an opportunity to remind Bill Gates of one of his pronouncements in 1981 (though he later denied saying it): ‘No one will need more than 637KB of memory for a personal computer. 640KB ought to be enough for anybody.’

But prediction is a tricky business, and hindsight bias makes the eventual turn of events look obvious when it was far from certain beforehand. For an insight into avoiding the pitfalls of prediction and the techniques of some of the world’s best forecasters, we recommend the book Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner. It breaks down a 2005 study that found that forecasts from supposed experts were no more accurate than random chance, and that ordinary members of the public have proved to be more prescient forecasters than government officials with access to classified information. Fortunately, the art of forecasting can be taught, and the authors show how thinking probabilistically, and the ability to change course and admit errors, are key to hitting the bull’s-eye with future estimates.

For students of techniques for using data in decision-making, Forecasting: Principles and Practice by Rob Hyndman and George Athanasopolous is a useful textbook on the science of seeing the future.

Dystopian themes prevail in films and fiction set in 2029

For a depiction of more future forecasts from years past, we recommend the Back to the Future trilogy of films. In the 1980s the writers correctly predicted that by 2015 video conferencing, tablets and drones would be the norm. Flying DeLorean cars are still a pipe dream.

For some odd reason, 2029 frequently figures in both fiction and film, with dystopian themes most prevalent.

The year 1984 fortunately didn’t resemble anything depicted in George Orwell’s classic novel of that name, but it did bring us The Terminator, the first of five man-versus-machine films about a cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to kill the future mother of a man who will one day lead the Human Resistance against AI.

On the bookshelf, Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 explores the aftershocks of an economically devastating US sovereign debt default on four generations of a once-prosperous American family.

In Plum Rains, Andromeda Romano-Lax takes us to 2029 Tokyo, an automated, mostly childless city where a Filipina nurse looking after a Japanese centenarian fears she’s slowly losing her job to the latest model of social robot engineered to be an ideal human companion as well as a competent caregiver.

No mention of 2029 would be complete without a nod to Ghost in the Shell, the Japanese manga franchise set in that year. Kodansha published the original manga in 1989-1991, and animated features followed. A 2017 live-action movie is now remembered mostly for casting a white actress to play cyborg superagent Major Motoko Kusanagi - an ironic twist for a series that explores the nature of identity and consciousness as humans and machines become more entwined.

Armed with ‘weapons of reason’

Being able to accurately predict future events does not make you immune to their impact, though knowledge usually helps. Marcus Aurelius, who, as Roman Emperor, was at one time the most powerful person on earth, considered this point in his Meditations, saying: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Earth’s inhabitants will have their chance to put these ‘weapons of reason’ to the test when they face whatever challenges 2029 brings - that is, unless scientists have tragically miscalculated Apophis’ trajectory, and then all bets are off.

Highly recommended list

Lisa Twaronite

Lisa Twaronite