A POSITIVE VISION FOR 2020: the confluence of information technology with T&D

Phillip E. Nelson, Ph.D. and Teri-E Belf, MA,CAGS, MCC


This article presents an optimistic vision of humankind emerging in the year 2016 and progressing to the year 2020 and beyond. With the Global Megacrisis coming, simultaneous enhancements of Information Technology (IT) will assist us to acclimate and thrive during the process. Through technological advancements via the Internet and in training and allied professions, we are evolving into a global brain network. The outcome -a global heart and spirit. This positive vision is based upon projections and speculations by renowned futurists and the authors’ familiarity with the field of Training and Development (T&D).


The Global Megacrisis presents us with danger and opportunity. This state of affairs, according to Halal and Marien, happens when several crises converge and cascade causing additional stressors. At this time we are faced with financial implosions, environmental degradation and accelerating global warming; Scarcity of resources tend to cause wars. Environmental disasters have caused migration of major populations. Akin to a chain of falling dominoes, humankind, unfamiliar with how to deal with and cope with these challenges tends to blunder and collapse.  Do we have the ability to act wisely this time?

Fortunately, exponentially accelerating IT will evolve just in time to enable us to resolve the Megacrisis and rapidly evolve beyond it. By 2020, we could see a collaborative, synergistic global economy, transformed institutions and evolving new sources of wisdom, solutions and energy. At the mid-point, about 2015, an IT-driven, accelerating global economic boom will start to evolve the global economy and culture. After that, our evolved global culture will proceed with surprising suddenness, eventually creating something like a unified global brain, heart and Spirit.

Ray Kurzweil estimates that exponentially accelerating IT will catalyze the acceleration of most other technologies. Instead of a lead-time of 200 years for an idea to go into widespread use, it now takes 5 years to become a best seller. Keeping up with technological advances is essential.

TechCast, one of the top two technology forecasting systems on the Internet, forecasts that by 2020, thirty specific major new technologies will be in wide global use. In order to adeptly navigate new products, technologies and markets, organizations and professional fields such as T&D must include technology forecasts in their strategic planning process.

The synergy of these breakthrough technologies will trigger the evolution of an advanced global economy and civilization with collaborative tools and shared intelligence to address the Global Megacrisis. Our prophecy has an optimistic horizon.  


Intriguing innovative technological inventions will increase in availability and use and new ones will appear. By 2015, global access, virtual education and holographic video conferencing will be the norm in industrialized nations. By 2016, similar to our human assistants, we will have a technological version that can scan our environment, perform routine tasks and, upon our command, negotiate win-wins. Welcome your Digital Assistant.

On the heels of that innovation another technological feat will be available to direct and utilize the capabilities and resources of the digital assistant. This companion digital helper contains software and processes to gather information about your business, other businesses and the entire business-world. Welcome your Digital Self.

By 2016 we will be better informed, better forewarned and better prepared because we will have our digital helpers.

In the same year, the Intelligent Interface (also known as conversational interface) will automatically translate and thereby dissolve cultural barriers. Creative individuals across the world will be easily able to collaborate to find and create solutions without a language barrier.  Natural communities of interest will temporarily override cultural differences.   Major companies like Apple®, Intel®, Google and Microsoft® have intelligent interfaces and Digital Assistants in queue. The race to market has begun.


Digital Assistants 

Your Digital Assistant will be programmed to be in perpetual scanning mode to retrieve technological advances and market shifts that might impact your performance and career direction. For example, scans might search training and career ladder databases in your organization. Additionally your Digital Assistant will have the capability to access the organization’s long-range plans, goals and strategies, annual initiatives, up-to-date vacancies and salaries. The knowledge base of your Digital Assistant will include your organization’s standards of performance and methods of monitoring and evaluation.

The Digital Assistant’s job description will include the following and more:

– Collect relevant data and organize it according to how an individual, a group or team or organization chooses to receive and process information. You will be able to retrieve this information in ways meaningful to you.

– Provide information from market scans, projections and databases both inside and outside the organization including worldwide economic trends. 

– Scan to retrieve technological advances that impact an organization’s direction. 

– House an organized collection of best practices.

Digital Selves

John Smart, the futurist who predicts the emergence of the digital self, describes your Digital Self as a mirror of you, created from the intersection of artificial intelligence, natural language processing and Business Intelligence (BI). BI, now in the hands of corporations, will downsize to individuals and your sphere of the world. This technological mirror will house information about you (programmed by you) such as mission in life, values, key beliefs, learning style, skills, interests, wishes, plans, dreams and desires. Smart asserts that it will serve as your mentor, planner, advocate and negotiator.  Later in this article you will read how your Digital Self can access and use the best “just in time” training tailored to your individual learning style.

Business Intelligence will provide the Digital Self with information on business inputs, processing and outputs. Examples of BI that the Digital Self will find useful include:

– Suppliers – supply chain, responsiveness and quality measures.

– Customers – evolving needs and demands.

– Competition – forecasts, products and plans.

– Internal organizational – processing, capabilities, resilience and plans.

The Digital Self’s job description will include at least the following:

– Maintain a record of your life purpose, values, career plans, key qualities, competencies, strengths and interests, opportunities congruent with your visions, and so on.

– Maintain an executive dashboard that can earmark patterns of problems and opportunities using BI data.

– Advise on career choices and best options.

– Negotiate on your behalf (only if you so delegate) with other employees, your supervisor, team members, suppliers, customers, prospective employers, human resources, and all other stakeholders in your life. Negotiation might happen with the Digital Selves of others.

– Determine the best fit for you, in career advancement or career stability.

– Take the initiative to keep your supervisor or team leader or colleagues informed, in the mode in which you inform it that they would want to receive it.

– Alert you to strategic changes in your company’s direction that may impact your position.

– Offer options for communication with others while preserving your values and honoring theirs as well.

Jump into the Future

The year is 2016 and certain technological advances are in full swing. Digital helpers abound everywhere and this example sheds light on how you use them.

You have been experiencing stress on your job lately and wonder whether a career move or perhaps another position might be timely. Even though you have been in this leadership position, you are still not experiencing the feelings of satisfaction you had hoped for when you accepted the position about 18 months ago. Your mid-year performance evaluation is coming up and you want to be prepared with questions and a game plan.

You ask your Digital Self how you can improve performance and regain a sense of meaningfulness on your job so that stress would decrease. Your Self suggests training in leadership communication skills. This seems like a good approach. Your Digital Self asks your Digital Assistant to research whether these sorts of programs have been approved and you receive an instant positive report. Your supervisor hinted this would be useful at a staff meeting a few months ago, although it was not formally mandated on your last review.

Your Digital Self scans your learning preference style, values, background, former courses you have taken, long-term career goals, performance reviews (including prior positions), and the amount of funding still available to you in this fiscal year. At the same time your Digital Assistant researches what programs are available within the next 2 months. Your Digital Self checks your calendar and stores information about viable possibilities.

Three recommendations surface and your Digital Self does an analysis and informs you of the best match for you and your needs, taking into account your life style. For example, you are a strongly dominant visual learner, like to use concepts and metaphors, a mother of three who needs to stay within 1 hour driving distance of home, and need to be available when your partner is away on an upcoming business trip. 

You delay action because you want your Digital Self to provide you with more specific information about your communication behavior patterns. 

During the next two weeks, your Digital Assistant lights up when certain challenges arise that effect you. Your Digital Self, alerted to your training request, begins to see a pattern emerging that specifically pinpoints your issue as one that involves how you give feedback to employees. Your assertive style is inconsistent with that of the styles of others in leadership positions. Your style is overly directive, almost dictatorial, and your vocal volume too loud. You give the impression of being angry, even when giving staff neutral feedback for improvement. It appears you are falling below the required minimum organizational standard on selected communication skills, in this case, giving feedback.

Now you have enough data to take the initiative to sign up for a training program. In the meantime, your Digital Self has updated your Digital Assistant, about the shift in the focus for training, i.e., giving feedback instead of communication in general. A new search ensued. With new options, you make your selection and ask your Digital Assistant to sign you up, inform accounting to budget for the event, and let your supervisor know.  

You know that the training program you selected will be tailored to your learning style and preferences.

By 2015, any training package can be automatically and easily adapted to one’s learning style and preferences. Your Digital Self knows you well as you have already answered questions and demonstrated your preferred learning behaviors such as whether you:

– Prefer learning in a group or individually. 

– Like to experience something or hear about it first before practicing. 

– Use visualization techniques. 

– Learn by seeing similarities in patterns or the differences. 

– Want to be acknowledged for successes along the way or at the end.


External technological advancements will require organizations to review plans frequently. This impacts training plans and directives. Whereas a training department may have a shifting priorities and schedules, individualized training is still possible due to individualized, just-in-time, on-line training and virtual training. Evaluation and feedback from program participants, along with the pros and cons of a particular program, will be continually added to the T&D database so each employee’s Digital Assistant can use this updated information.

As new technology emerges, new customers, suppliers and stakeholders will emerge. With new data, your Digital Self will generate new career roadmaps.

Training curriculum developers will use automated programs to accelerate release of new training programs to handle rapid adaptations to technological and organizational accelerating change. Curriculum developers in T&D will access these programs and submit them to HR and T&D for inclusion in training databases. As needed, updated training options will be made available to Digital Assistants so Digital Selves can have current information.  

By 2016 choices for training will only require a manager’s oversight. Your Digital Self will have negotiated with your manager’s Digital Self to obtain approval. You may also delegate to your Digital Self to take the initiative to keep your manager informed.

By 2016 Digital Assistants will replace 30% of routine monotonous chores. Surely few people will long for the good old days of monotonous routine work. 

In summary, what do we gain? By 2020, the accelerating rate of change will require organizations to be very agile and choose the most advanced, tested, reliable IT alongside training to keep them on the leading edge.

On an individual level, agility and responsiveness is also mandatory. Our gifts, strengths, expertise and talents will have an exciting environment in which to thrive. We will have the time and freedom to: 1) be more creative, 2) more frequently access intuition and inner wisdom, 3) experience deeper more meaningful connections with people and – 4) just be. 

Our vision encompasses people living more of their human potential with greater fulfillment. This vision we hold and invite, implore you to share.


Halal, W. & Marien, M. (2009, December). Global MegaCrisis Survey: Four Scenarios on a Pessimism-Optimism Axis Analysis. [Online]. Available: http://www.techcast.org/hot-issues-global-warming.aspx?IssueID=15&ID=14   

Halal, W. (1995-2011). TechCast: Information Technology. [Online]. Available: http://www.techcast.org/TrategicAnalysis2.aspx?FieldID=22

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity Is Near: when humans transcend biology. Viking Penguin Inc. 

Smart, J. (Mar 2010). Dice NextTech. (SLIDES) The Digital Self: When Social Media Get Personal. [Online]. Available:  http://accelerating.org/slides.html 

Smart, J. (2004—2008). Human Performance Enhancement in 2032: A Scenario for Military Planners. Section B2, Personality Capture/Digital Twin/Cybertwin. [Online]. Available:  


Phillip E. Nelson    pzxnelson@gmail.com

Phillip E. Nelson, Ph.D., a member of Mensa and graduate of West Point, has over fifteen years experience in Federal service as a management trainer and Organization Development consultant focusing on IT driven change and Socio-technical work system design.  He enjoys co-creating focused synergy and fun while facilitating creative project teams. As a long-term member of the World Future Society he applies his futurist interests writing articles and serving as one of the TechCast experts.

Teri-E Belf    coach@belf.org

Teri-E Belf is a purposeful and inspiring coaching leader, trainer, mentor and coach with 32 years in the coaching field and 18 years HRD and T&D management experience. Her current passions include directing Success Unlimited Network® that has a global ICF-accredited coach training and certification program including annual coaching education retreats, and offering workshops to empower and retreats to support women through Wrinkle Wisdom, weaving women into the fabric of world wisdom and honoring women as sages.