• Melvin Mathews

What macro trends impact the maritime future?

Updated: Jul 22, 2020






As a student of the future, I find myself in uncharted territory. The future appears to be uncertain and yet constantly changing. This unpredictability of the future is fascinating. The future is incredibly dynamic and constantly evolving, as every new discovery, invention, development or change happening around us impacts the trajectory of our future. On this basis, the future is changing in real time, which makes it a really challenging subject to study. The future therefore will most likely never be mastered by anybody undertaking its study, and perhaps they will always remain a perpetual student.


Change is happening in every area, and undoubtedly the pace of change is accelerating. Yet, there are certain trends at the macro level that take much longer to manifest and can be considered more gradual. One such area of change is the interaction between humans and machines or even how different generations adopt technology. Perhaps equally captivating is how as a human race we will interact with each other, socially and politically or how expectations and aspirations of the future generations will dictate how they will solve issues, such as ever-increasing energy demands. There appears to be 4 fundamental trends that we can explore:



Demography

The world population is increasing and therefore there will be more needs and wants. Higher literacy levels & disposable incomes naturally lead to more consumers and therefore the necessity to access more resources will increase. Consequently, we will engage in more trade and thereby causing an increase in demand for transportation. Agriculture has become so highly automated that there is no longer much work in the countryside, making people move to urban centers & cities seeking work. In the western world there is a combination of lower birth rate and an ageing population due to superior medical care, consequentially every year the percentage of retired people is increasing. Most of the developing world on the other hand has more young people either already in the work force or ready to enter it in the next decade.


What however is striking is the generational change in attitudes and aspirations. Baby boomers wanted a steady job to buy a house and car. Gen-X had both growing up, hence talk about quality of life & work life balance. The Millennials arriving after the GenX talk about having a purpose and values. The latest generational wave is developing into democratization of companies and corporations. Social scientists claim 65% of current jobs will no longer exist in 2040. Technology is supposed to enable us, make our life easier but ironically, we are getting busier. When we were hunter-gatherers we only worked on average 2.5 hours a day. Now Millennials prefer the freedom of working whenever and from wherever, (translated by some as 24x7). Self-professed nerds don’t even mind sleeping in the office couch & bean bags, if what they are doing motivates and suits their purpose.



Technology

Different generations view technology differently and therefore use technology differently. When it comes to gadgets, the line between technology used for work & that used for personal use is blurring. Just as you customize the outside of gadgets with assorted colours & shapes, it is now possible to configure the inside based on each one’s user needs. There is a radical move from owning equipment or software or apps outright to leasing them or accessing them aaS (as-a-Service). Tech companies want to change focus from hardware to software, because then they can keep charging a fee into virtual perpetuity.


In the maritime industry the start-up market which is currently about $106 billion is estimated to be $278 billion by 2030. Communication & connectivity is getting cheaper and with connection speeds available today, anything that can be connected will be connected under IoE (Internet-of-Everything). Companies are experimenting with blockchain, 3D printing, drones, robotics, AI, remote & autonomous operation, etc and there are not only working prototypes and in many cases solutions. All companies will have to be technology companies that happen to be providing a specialized service or product. Decisions will more & more be not experience or by gut feeling, but by data driven insights. Over the air updates, upgrades & troubleshooting, maintenance etc will be common place.



Energy

Energy is a topic with significant impact and it is essential to understand why. 1 in every 20 barrels of oil that comes out of the earth is used for maritime transportation. So not just shipping but the entire world literally is propelled by fossil fuels. In fact, for all the rapid advances we have today and luxuries we enjoy, we only have fossil fuels to thank. Now imagine if this status quo is disturbed & energy from renewables gradually take over. There will no longer be any necessity to transport fossil-based energy sources across the globe, for reasons such as, refineries or power plants are running low on inventory. Any energy requirements will most likely be fulfilled locally by renewable energy such as wind and/or solar. Technology such as fuel cells, hydrogen fusion, etc are estimated to be tamed & available by 2030, at the most by 2040. That is when local production will go up and 3D printing is expected to take off. Price of energy is expected to eventually be more stable and predictable. Trade and shipping routes will alter, leading to changes in supply chains and logistics, impacting the dynamics of global economy. The current rules that underpin trade, economics and market may become irrelevant and obsolete.



Politics

We are now considered to be living in a global economy, where each country & region is dependent on each other. This is the reality because there is a part of the world that are net producers & then there are others that are net consumers. There are those with resources & there are those with the factories, technology & skill to convert them to finish products. This has resulted in WTO, ILO, etc that are an outcome of globalization. However, current politics changes all that, there is a now a drive towards regionalism & even nationalism. Hence the reason for the US-China trade war or the demands such as Grexit, Brexit, etc. The current breed of politicians is skilled at fueling this fire. With limited time and information overload, people do not want to do their own research and platforms to disseminate fake news is not helping either. War can change the dynamics in a matter of days or even hours, but even before that the very indication of it can send fuel prices soaring or stock markets crashing. Politics has a huge influence on trade & sentiments.


While social media connects us, it arguably also isolates us. An entire generation is likely to replace us with only virtual interaction. They may perhaps see no need to leave their accommodation when almost everything can be delivered at their door step within minutes.


Are there other macro trends that can be included?



Let me know your thoughts.

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