This is a recently presented foresight narrative (full text) by PROF DATUK DR ASMA ISMAIL FASc President, Academy of Sciences Malaysia

WE LEARN from history, glean from present insights and forge ahead to the future. The question is what is the future that we desire? The Academy of Sci­ences Malaysia (ASM) embarked on the Envisioning Malaysia in 2050 Foresight initiative way back in 2015. The aim of this flagship study is to look at the big picture of the future we desire and share insights and expert knowledge towards building a strategic vision for Malaysia towards 2050.

In sharing this study with ASEAN partners, we hope that it would pave the path for a fore­sight initiative for the ASEAN region. ASM has been entrusted with the mandate to be a “Thought Leader” in the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) arena and we consider this an immense respon­sibility to our society and nation.

One of the ways the Acad­emy translates this mission into action is by undertaking strategic STI studies that mobilise a wide spectrum of expertise across its network of prominent interna­tional and local linkages.

7 Strategic Studies

The Academy has been focus­ing on the Malaysia 2050 agenda through a compendium of seven strategic studies since 2009. The studies are:

  • Mega Science 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 Studies (2010 – 2016).
  • Emerging Science, Engi­neering and Technology (ESET) (2015-2017)
  • Envisioning Malaysia in 2050 Foresight study (2015-2017)
  • New Economic Opportunities (NEO) study (2016-2017)

Today, two of these studies which are the Envisioning Malay­sia in 2050 Foresight study and Emerging Science, Engineering and Technology (ESET) study will be presented.

The foresight initiative by ASM, brought together for the first time, nine national Think Tanks and institutions to form a Foresight Alliance to carry out the study. This was done to adopt an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to the study. It would be beneficial to form a similar alli­ance at the ASEAN level to do a regional foresight exercise.

The foresight study involved 40 consultation sessions or town­halls with participation of over 2000 plus international and local experts and stakeholders from 400 plus organisations represent­ing the quadruple helix thereby providing input through focus group discussions, interviews and surveys.

This reflects the extensive and inclusive nature of the study. The world is changing rapidly given the challenges of the 21st century like globalisation, digital era, global economic crisis and the disrup­tive technologies.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The 4th Industrial revolution has become a present-day buzz­word. It speaks of a new era of the fusion of the cyber, physical and biological worlds. It fundamentally changes the way we live, work and relate to one another. In the 4th IR, the only certainty is UNCER­TAINTY. Looking at the global front, megatrends such as rapid urbanisation, demographic shifts and technological breakthroughs serve as game changers that would have far-reaching impacts on individuals, society, industries and nations.

At the same time, the world is facing unparalleled risks that need to be mitigated and com­plex challenges that need to be tackled effectively. These include extreme weather events, large -scale involuntary migration, nat­ural disasters, terrorist attacks, data fraud or theft that are among the top five global risks in terms of likelihood as identified by The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey 2016.

Let’s fast forward and look at the projected population growth and needs of the world in 2050. According to the United Nations (UN), the world’s population is expected to grow up to 9.7 billion in 2050.

Demand for Water

A growing world population and increasing economic devel­opment will cause a sharp rise in global demand for water, food and energy, placing further pres­sure on the natural environment. Severe water stress is expected due to a projected 55% increase in water demand. By 2050, it is esti­mated that 60 percent more food will be required to feed the world population.

By 2050, almost 70% of the global population is expected to be living in urban areas with nearly 90 percent of the increase concen­trated in Asia and Africa (UN, 2014). Given the rapid urbanisation rate, sustainable development chal­lenges will be increasingly intense in cities, particularly in the lower middle-income countries where the pace of urbanisation is fastest.

Population Explosion

In 2050, 1.12 billion people are expected to live in poverty. Accord­ing to the UN, the global ageing population i.e. those above 60 years old by 2050 would be around 21 percent that is around 1 in 5 persons. Almost every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population. By 2050, it is projected that the number of older persons (above 60 years of age) in the world will exceed the number of young (below 15 years of age) for the first time in history. This also means the number of students in universities towards 2050 will be getting lesser and lesser.

Bracing for the Future

To prepare for the future, many nations are now strategising their plans towards 2050. This helps shape forward-looking planning and coordination to prepare for the future. In addition, it projects emerging needs, escalating risks and possible outcomes. 2050 vision is also done by other nations and to quote a few:

  • The United Kingdom focusing on Smart & Sustainable Nation
  • Finland focusing on Sustainable Development; and
  • Japan focusing on Society 5.0

As we study their visions, there seem to be common themes that have surfaced and those are sus­tainability and the importance of science, technology and innovation (STI) in driving their future.

Malaysia Today

Moving on from the global out­look, let’s see where Malaysia is today. Many national initiatives such as the National Economic Policy, Vision 2020 and National Transformation Programme, have all been introduced and a positive socioeconomic transformation has come about with a markedly better quality of life. To date, Malaysia has targeted around 225 policy outcomes from 51 active National policies that have a timeline up to 2035. This shows that we do not lack in policy framework but desired impacts and outcomes can only be derived from good implementation.

As a nation, we are commit­ted to becoming a developed nation by the year 2020. Internation­ally, we have pledged to support the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Through the Con­ference of Parties (COP) 21 agreement, we are committed to reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emission intensity (per unit of GDP) to 45 percent by 2030, relative to emissions intensity in 2005.

We have also rolled out our national transformation initia­tive towards 2050 known as TN50, with the aspiration to be amongst the top 20 countries in the world in economy, happiness as well as creativity & innovation. Malaysia’s TN50 aspiration to be among the Top 20 countries in economy, hap­piness, creativity & innovation seems to be a tall order but it is not impossible to achieve.

Towards achieving our desired future, ASM has proposed a vision of a Progressive Malaysia 2050. Before we roll out the vision let us take a look at our history. Granted the past cannot be changed, how­ever, the future is yet within our power. As such, we need to reflect on history and draw upon the wisdom of the past.

ASEAN – Socio geopolitics

The ASEAN region was once connected as a land mass known as Sundaland. When Sundaland experienced sea rise after the Ice Age, communities living there had to invent new ways of communi­cating over water. We became a seafaring people as a result, inventing sea-crossing boats and navigation technologies. As we became separated by water, small states arose that became hubs of human settlement and civilisation.

The prehistoric features of our cultural, civilisational and tech­nological evolution speak of how knowledge was shared and applied through collaboration. Dr David Wood, one of the panellists for the ASEAN 2050 Forum, mentioned that the future is about collabo­ration and that a collaborative economy is our future. However, collaboration is not a new word.

Our forefathers have been practising collaboration and col­laborative economy for a long time. For trade to flourish, they learnt from each other. They may not have had the internet, but they communicated and shared information and best prac­tices. They displayed trust and trustworthiness.

To collaborate is the indig­enous instinct and knowledge of our ASEAN forefathers that we can draw upon to do our foresight.

Malaysia on the March

History has shown that Malay­sia has come a long way. We have had ancient empires followed by many years of colonisation. It is remarkable that Malaysia gained independence through diplomacy. However, a dark moment in our history took place during the 1969 racial riots.

This led to the formulation of Rukun Negara or National Prin­ciples that encapsulate the pillars of identity and unity for every Malaysian. The event also sparked the spirit of treasuring Malaysia’s Harmony. In our quest to describe the proposed vision, we studied 3 landmark documents that were written in different eras by differ­ent great minds.

As we studied the Rukun Negara, Vision 2020 and TN50 we found one consistent word that reflected the forward-thinking spirit of the Nation. And that word is PROGRESSIVE.

As such, the proposed 2050 vision for Malaysia is encapsu­lated as a Progressive Malaysia 2050 that is harmonious, prosper­ous and sustainable.

While the attributes of Pro­gressive Malaysia 2050 are well aligned with the aspirations of the TN50 initiative, the keywords used are more relevant to societal well-being compared to the economic sense.

The Harmony Index

We propose Harmony instead of the happiness index. Peace and harmony are more relevant to Malaysia’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

– We propose Prosperity instead of economic growth to reflect inclu­sivity for all strata of society.

– We propose Sustainability as the end game and that cre­ativity and innovation should be used to enhance sustainability so as to leave a legacy for future generations.

Finding the Right Balance

The key question is: How will Malaysia find the right balance between social harmony, economic growth and sustainability towards 2050?

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia through the foresight alli­ance has identified 9 key drivers for a Progressive Malaysia 2050. The evolution and interplay of these drivers will significantly influence our journey towards a Progressive Malaysia 2050:

  1. Leadership and governance.
  2. Economic growth and equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities.
  3. Education and Training.
  4. STI Capacity and Competency.
  5. People and Values.
  6. Talents
  7. Urbanisation and Rise of Megacities.
  8. Green and Sustainable Practices.
  9. Population and Demographics.

Towards 2050

How will Malaysia’s story unfold towards 2050? To answer this question, four possible sce­narios have been identified for Malaysia in 2050 through this foresight exercise. In addressing future scenarios, Leadership and Governance along with Economic Growth and Equitable Distribution were identified as the two most dominant drivers of change, that is critical in charting Malaysia’s journey towards 2050. The four possible scenarios for Malaysia 2050 are:

Quadrant 1: Trapped in Misery Weak Leadership, Weak Economy

Quadrant 2: Disarrayed in Pros­perity Weak Leadership, Good Economy

Quadrant 3: Contented in Com­placency Good Leadership, Weak Economy

Quadrant 4: Synergised in Harmony Good Leadership, Good Economy

Which scenario Malaysia would find itself in 2050 would be deter­mined by how well we prepare ourselves today. Of course, we all desire to be in the preferred future (Synergised in Harmony) in 2050 and this would be dependent on all Malaysians forging it. Some of the features of the ‘Synergised in Harmony’ preferred future are;

  • A socially cohesive society that is harmonious with pervasive green and sustainable practices.
  • Fuelled by a prosperous economy with equitable wealth distribution.
  • The rise of responsible and proactive Malaysians with strong moral and community values.
  • Malaysia’s model of progress is globally recognised as it upholds the unique heritage, identity and values of the Malaysian people.

95 Emerging Technologies

The first output of the ESET study is Malaysia’s Emerging Tech­nology Timeline towards 2050 that showcases 95 emerging technolo­gies and their interlinkages based on Malaysia’s strengths and needs. The technology tree that comprises of 21 Impactful Emerging Tech­nologies to Elevate Malaysia’s Well-Being, Wealth Creation and Governance. All 21 technologies are marked in red and the out­comes are in blue. As an Academy of Science, we highlight the need to leverage STI towards a Progressive Malaysia 2050 bearing in mind the societal well-being aspect.

This is the reason ASM has also published a separate report on S&T Foresight for Malaysia 2050 that was recently launched. The Emerging Science, Engineer­ing and Technology (ESET) study provided two landmark outputs which offer insights on the possible interplay of emerging technologies in the five technology areas studied (Biotechnology, Digital Technology, Green Technology, Nanotechnology and Neurotechnology) towards a harmonious, prosperous and sus­tainable Malaysia.


The key output of the Foresight study is the Progressive Malaysia 2050 ‘Trends and Attributes Map’. To map our path to the future, we have chosen several megatrends that would most affect the journey: Sustainability; Rapid urbanisation; Virtualisation; Social change; Global shift from West to East, and Disrup­tive Technology. The nine drivers as previously described are depicted as forces that singly or collectively control, guide and lead us to our final destination of being a Progres­sive Malaysia that is Harmonious, Prosperous and Sustainable.

The map has been delineated into three periods:

  • Today: 2015 – 2020
  • Tomorrow: 2021 – 2035
  • Thereafter: 2036 – 2050

Moving inwards is a journey forward in time. We trace the lines according to the nine key drivers of change and bear witness to their evolution and interplay. Serving its purpose as a navigational chart, the map allows us to explore our pos­sible futures and offers us insight into plausible timescales of signifi­cant milestones. By being aware of such information, it can assist us in leveraging future opportunities and mitigating possible risks.

This is a living narrative in which ideas will evolve over time according to changes, developments or trends that take place nationally and glob­ally. The question is how do we get our act together to realise a Pro­gressive Malaysia 2050. We need to undergo a mindset change and this can be done via transformational shifts for the 9 drivers.

Redefining the Landscape

It is imperative, to redefine our landscape based on a bal­anced framework for our preferred future. We need a balance between humanity and technology. Trans­formational shifts must be rooted in Malaysian values and heritage. Our foresight must be people-centric as people are the pulse of transformation.

The vision of Progressive Malay­sia 2050 must be driven by the people who are ultimately the cus­todians of the Nation’s harmony, prosperity and sustainability. For the ASEAN framework, we under­stand that each of us has our own culture and our own heritage. It is not possible to create a one size fits all foresight for ASEAN. The best we can do is to agree to agree and harmonise. Let us concentrate on commonalities rather than our differences for after all diversity is our strength.