I am long-term optimistic about the transformation of manufacturing and distribution over the next five decades. Production, distribution, utilization and consumption will become fully integrated systems. By sharing data, optimized resources and personalization, goods providers and consumers will become fully integrated: one never-ending feedback and improving loop that is customized to the needs of an end-consumer. What has been a b2b2c world will become an accelerating c2b loop. Businesses and the end use buyer will have direct (yet likely fully virtual) relationships wherever they are around the globe, regardless of their proximity to one another. This will fundamentally transform the way businesses interact with their customers—and even the nature of work itself.
At first, in the next decade, I fear, we will see some pain. Climate change and economic insecurity will force a re-imagining of relationships between companies, nations states, capital and workers. The role of the worker, their rights and skills will impact the transformation in unknown ways.
Then, when technology and the way society decides to relate to it advances sufficiently, there will be a period of remarkable progress—as health technology and production efficiency unlocks a new age of creativity and prosperity. The benefits of this technology age will be more evenly distributed than in previous eras, as the costs of data collection and the ability to use AI become more accessible and inclusive
Caplan is president, North America B2B, Alibaba Group.