This paper first presents a brief overview of the way geotechnical engineering has developed over the last century in association with a number of empirical, analytical and observational approaches. In order to explore the need for fresh perspectives, improvements in existing approaches and the development of new ones, it is necessary to consider the enormous challenges that the engineering profession will face in the foreseeable future due to global developments. These include energy needs, climate change, rising sea levels, rapid increase in population, depletion of resources (water and fossil fuels) and increasing proportion of lands which are ill-suited for development and of foundation sites which are of poor or marginal suitability. Geotechnical engineers must look beyond their narrow specialties and learn to take a holistic perspective in assessing the problems and devising their solutions. Multi-disciplinary approaches, already very desirable for geotechnical engineers, will increasingly become more important and even essential. The widespread adoption and further development of versatile spatial tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) has to be encouraged and accelerated. Increasing consideration has to be given to the consequences of geotechnical solutions for the environment and for related issues of sustainability. During the last fifty years the emphasis for outcomes of analysis in many problems has changed from assessment of the values of the conventional ‘factor of safety’ to the assessment of ‘reliability’ under conditions of uncertainty. Wider dissemination of the concepts of failure susceptibility within a probabilistic framework is important. Qualitative and quantitative methods for the assessment and management of geotechnical hazard and risk must be developed further and applied in a systematic manner. Relevant definitions of terms must be further refined considering different contexts and situations. Acceptable and tolerable levels of hazard and risk must be explored further. Future developments in some selected areas of geotechnical engineering are considered briefly. The paper also considers the adequacy or otherwise of education and training approaches for geotechnical engineers and explores the avenues of progress.