By the year 2050 the global population is predicted to exceed 9.6 billion . That future is set to be more complex and competitive than ever before, putting immense strain on existing commercial and social systems, as well as dwindling resources.
As population grows, the squeeze on land, food, energy and water will tighten, running the risk of conflict over natural resources, exploitation rights and distribution channels. Governments will also be expected to maintain the same level of everyday services such as schools, hospitals and policing; all in the face of growing demand.
Although the challenges are daunting, digital technology offers a myriad of ways to deal effectively with population growth. There are five major challenges that the world’s increasing population will present over the next 35 years. So how can technology help tackle them?
Food production – getting more from less
We are already seeing conflicts over land use around the world, with bio-fuel crops supplanting food crops, export markets distorting local production patterns and farmland being lost to housing. The resulting pressure on food production has, in the worst cases, led to physical conflict and ethnic cleansing.
The only way to produce enough food from the same land area is to improve productivity dramatically. Expert farming knowledge, combined with IT services, provide the key to this leap forward. By continuously monitoring and analysing metrics such as growth, available light, moisture and nutrients, then responding in real time, farmers can maximise yields while improving crop quality.
Serving citizens better
Local and central government services are under increasing strain as public finances slowly recover from the global downturn. The increase in population will further challenge budgets and emphasise the need to make sure every penny is spent in the most efficient and transparent manner.
Data analytics offers a powerful means of understanding and responding to population patterns and changing needs, allowing services to be more agile and tailored to actual requirements. For example, simple monitors embedded in dustbins can enable more targeted collection, and even form the basis of householder reward schemes. Collecting data from a wide variety of devices in the environment can give authorities a real time picture of needs such as parking, damage to street furniture and usage of public facilities. The data can then be shared with the community, enabling wider participation in the process of setting priorities.
Water where it’s needed
Many of us take access to clean, pure water as a given. But some 750m people lack access to a safe source of water today. Managing water innovatively to make it available in the right places in the right quantities will be essential to both security and economic growth. IT can make a massive difference here, by adding greater responsiveness to highly complex water infrastructure.
For example, Fujitsu is working with the Japanese water industry to monitor plant and systems in real time, with data fed into the cloud for analysis. We are using analytics and augmented reality to guide engineers through complex operations in real time. The result is a higher performing, more predictable and better value water ecosystem that delivers resources to the right places at the right time.
Learning to live the future
The growing support for the benefits of lifelong education and greater awareness of the importance of early years intervention sit uneasily with the current pressures on our education system. IT can help us maximise the use of our resources and deliver more targeted, individualised services. Personal interaction can be supplemented with online access to inspirational, expert tutors. Conferencing systems can enable students around the world to work together, while augmented reality systems offer a great way of teaching practical skills without investing in specialised workshops.
But the education is not just the responsibility of teachers – we need innovation at all levels. If we are to make sure tomorrow’s workers have the right skills to drive business and society forward, organisations must engage more actively throughout the education process, from school curriculum to apprentice programmes and in-work training.
Reinventing business for a busier world
As world population grows and becomes increasingly urbanised, young communities can exploit digital technologies to leapfrog established players and set new standards for efficiency, effectiveness, quality and flexibility.
By digitalising their processes, organisations can take full control of their processes, systems and costs. Their data and applications become dynamic business assets rather than barriers to change. In this dawning era of digital business, it will no longer take months or years – and great cost – to change core systems such as HR, finance or billing. With systems digitally stitched together from component services, each chosen for its performance, fit and cost profiles, the CIO will be able to reconfigure the business by making a few simple changes.
Population growth is a fundamental force with potentially radical effects. We simply can’t achieve what we need to by doing more of the same. Innovation must become a habit and organisations of all kinds must adapt to the evolving reality of limited resources and global competition. IT can help by improving resource efficiency and effectiveness well beyond traditional standards, and balance competition with new forms of collaboration.