Predicting what Whanganui will look like in 30 years is the stuff of clairvoyants. The exponential growth technology has experienced in the past 30 years highlights how drastically different the future could look.
Logan Tutty talked to local business owners and consultants on where they see Whanganui in the future, the role technology will play in the growth of businesses, industries that need to adapt and what industries will emerge as the world develops.
Whanganui's five biggest sectors by GDP are currently manufacturing, healthcare and social assistance, public administration and safety, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and retail trade.
That's according to the latest data from April 2019 from economic development agency Whanganui & Partners.
Local business consultant Russell Bell sees manufacturing as still being a key industry for the town in 2050.
"People will always be making things. In 30 years' time, there will be the impact of artificial intelligence [AI], robotics and automation. So we will still be making things, but we will be doing it differently with different technology."
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Bell said those in task-based roles are likely to be replaced by AI in 30 years' time and individuals will need to be more well-rounded with multiple skills.
"I think AI will replace tasks, rather than jobs."
Bell said those in healthcare, people management roles and creatives will always have a role in society, as a machine can't replicate the emotional side of humans.
Because of Covid-19, we have seen what remote and working from home can be and that the traditional office space may be a thing of the past in 30 years, Bell said.
"Relationships will always be important because they are the fabric of human interaction and fabric of business. A lot of traditional ways of business are going to change. Technology will play a role in that."
Bell said those working with data will have a major role in future.
"Because data is going to be the key to all of this, there will be emerging industries where people are creating frameworks and tools to extract and manipulate data so it is more readily available and usable for people."
Bell said the role agriculture will play in Whanganui in the future, as well as sustainable energy sources, can't be overlooked.
"The one thing Whanganui will need to do to be in a really good position in 2050 is being really effective with the resources and advantages we have and leveraging those to develop new industries.
"The other thing that will be important will also be industries around mitigated climate change, renewable energy and being more sensible with our resources. That will be big in 2050.
"There's a real opportunity for New Zealand to set itself a clean, green place for that and Whanganui can definitely play a part. "
Pacific Helmets technical sales and marketing manager Sam Milson said the way their business is operating is rapidly evolving.
"Five years ago, if you told me some of the stuff we are doing now, I would've laughed at you."
Milson points to the development on the digital side of the business that has changed the way they can plan, create and manufacture their helmets.
"We aren't just talking things like rapid prototyping and 3D printing, but rapid manufacturing.
"In that space, it's gone from being a new future tech to our everyday business."
The continual development of computer-aided design (CAD) software has allowed them to streamline their work, leading to greater efficiency. Milson said the technology is developing swiftly and they now do up to 90 per cent of their work in CAD.
"Going forward, there is going to be far more 'hand-on' CAD work, we are talking about augmented reality design. That is just on trial at the moment.
"Rather than having everything on a screen, actually having it in front of you in a 3D space."
The development in CAD has allowed Pacific Helmets to test their products without producing physical prototypes, saving time and money.
"What we have done and what we do very well is design products for a very specific purpose.
"Before we pay a cent in the development of tooling, we are talking a lot of money for these tools, we already have a very accurate understanding of what the performance is going to be."
Milson said personalisation and customisation, while very expensive at the moment, will become far more accessible as time goes on.
"It's going to come to the point where that is the norm rather than the exception."
While artificial intelligence and autonomous technologies are largely agreed upon as being the next development in manufacturing, Milson doesn't think they will fully supersede humans.
"What I think the change in technology will allow is greater freedoms and better turnover. We are always looking at improvements and that increases productivity, but it never replaces the need for skilled workers. There is always room for the human factor."
Milson said there are some great minds in Whanganui and it is "already a fairly innovative hub for industry".
"It pulls above its weight. There are some very clever people in this town doing some very clever things."
Q-West Boat Builders owner Myles Fothergill reiterated Milson's comments, saying technology is evolving so quickly projects they are working on now could be greatly improved by technologies coming out annually.
"Some of the technologies we are using today weren't available as recently as Christmas."
Fothergill said a boat they are currently working on for Whale Watch Kaikoura will be the "most technologically advanced boat to come out of New Zealand".
"In terms of its ride control systems and its foils. It is the same technology used on America's Cup boats.
"Although that boat is one of the most advanced commercial boats in the world, there is technology where if we were to start building the boat now, less than 12 months after starting it, it would be much a more advanced boat. That's how fast technology is growing."
Fothergill said alternative power systems and hybrid electric systems are developing at the moment, and fully electric boats will be fully accessible in the future.
"As more and more technology is developed around better battery systems and rapid charge systems, those are the key techs being developed to unlock this kind of compulsion.
"Hydrogen will be the ultimate one day, but a number of things need to happen to enable that to be a commercial reality."
The port revitalisation project will be key to Whanganui's future, enabling various businesses to grow and expand, leading to great economic gains for the town, Fothergill said.
"The port today clearly shows five decades of neglect and decay."
Fothergill said the port will directly provide his business an extra 100 jobs, with an estimated 200 additional indirect jobs around the port, with the likes of boat management, licensing, repairs and more.
Fothergill said the development in how quickly and effortlessly we can communicate will only improve.
"If you were going to asking these questions five years ago, I'd be talking about high-speed fibre. Today that has become the norm.
"Moving forward, sometime in the short- to medium-term, fibre will start becoming obsolete because of satellite technology."
Fothergill said "autonomy is going to be a big one" in the next 30 years.
"Particularly if you look at US and China in terms of their military autonomy. We know they have completely autonomous boats, unmanned drones for seemingly forever. They are just insane and that's just what we know. Those technologies will get better and better.
"Self-drive vehicles in the future will play a big part of our lives."
Fothergill said the innovative work of companies like vehicle manufacturer Tesla and tech giant Apple showed how companies are looking far into the future.
"Conversations like these probably not had often enough or taken seriously enough. The way I see it, to be a leader in business you have to have that foresight and vision and make stuff happen."
Patrick McKenna from Patrick's Bookshop says trading has been, and will always be, a key interaction between humans but cash transactions will be a thing of the past.
"They have to. They will keep a track of everything. They tax everything. People will always find a way to trade though. It's the oldest profession in the world. They say prostitution is the oldest profession, but what were prostitutes? Traders."
Living and operating in a Covid-19 environment has possibly shone a light on how business and trading will look in the future, McKenna said.
"A lot of people [I've been talking to] are saying 'I'm not sure I'm going to bother opening again. I'm doing just as well online'.
"But what it will do to the middle of a town ... it will turn it into a ghost town.
"I think they have to dry up. They will become consolidated into malls. That's just coming I can see that. I have a suspicion there will be trees growing in the street and the place will be derelict."
While online shopping allows customers to purchase goods from the comfort of their homes, McKenna said people will want to have that social, trading transaction.
"If you look at the Saturday Markets, people love that. They want that interaction."
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