Convergence


As I described in my Thoughts on 2019 post, convergence is one of the key dynamics I expect/hope to see more of this year. A century ago, a convergence across domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. As Robert J. Gordon describes, the special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what Mr. Gordon calls the great inventions. The great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being. In his view, the economic revolution of 1870-1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because many of its achievements could only happen once. What makes this century so special, is that these inventions altered what until then, was a life lived in misery. I captured the advancements made during that period using an Innovation Wheel to map them to our areas of well-being (click on visuals in this post to open in a separate window).

Second Revolution Innovation Wheel

A look at history is very instructive, as several dynamics from that period have the potential to emerge once again – the biggest being the opportunity for convergence. In this context, convergence refers to a virtuous cycle where events in one domain spur action in another. The great inventions (electricity, telephone, and internal combustion engine) were clustered together at the end of the 19th century, forming a virtuous cycle that drove a period of astounding innovation. This innovation cycle continued well into the 20th century – a dynamic that could be emerging again. Yet, science and technology are simply two domains that converged during the special century. The others were the economy, business, politics, and a broader set of societal issues. What enabled this convergence and created the most dramatic improvement in human development? There were several key catalysts.

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The Future of Retail


The National Retail Federation (NRF) kicked off it’s annual event this week, and with it comes an opportunity to consider the future of retail and the type of changes we might expect. Colleagues at Tata Consultancy Services (Kevin Mulcahy, Bill Quinn, and April Harris) pulled together their thoughts ahead of the event. You can explore the future of Retail via this Article, and/or the short video below.

What to Expect in 2019


With the start of a new year, the traditional focus on predictions has begun. Prognosticators do so at their own peril – as this New Yorker Article clearly articulates. It seems that in 1968,  the Foreign Policy Association (formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations), celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like in fifty years. Well, here we are fifty years later, and if history is any guide, futurists have very little credibility. Although predictions these days may be even more difficult given our complex systems are progressing and scaling at an unprecedented rate, a macro-level focus can provide an ability to scan beyond the horizon. So rather than attempt to predict, here are my 2019 thoughts on several macro-level forces.

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Learning from History


When presenting a story of possible futures, I always start with a short journey through the past. The past represents a possible window to the future. Major events throughout history have brought out the best and the worst of humanity. Leaders have emerged in the most difficult of times – and tyrants have as well. A recent book by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge explores the history of Capitalism in America. Robert J. Gordon took a similar journey in his highly acclaimed book titled The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Whereas the authors of Capitalism in America explore the full American journey, Mr. Gordon focuses on what he considers a special century: 1870-1970. Both books highlight the astounding innovation that occurred in the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. These innovations improved our standard of living, while the major societal forces of that era (World War One, The Great Depression, and World War Two) presented many challenges.   Continue reading

A Moral Machine


The dialog surrounding artificial intelligence and ethics is amplifying. As society continues this rapid progression towards an automated future, the role of ethics becomes increasingly important. After painting a picture of several possible futures for an audience, I would ask this question: Is this a society that you want to live in. This discussion was captured in a post on Technology and Ethics, along with a poll to capture my readers thoughts on this same question (please take the poll to keep the dialog moving). 

This question underscores the need to proactively manage the path towards these possible futures – and the discussion surrounding ethics plays a critical role. Enter initiatives like Moral Machine from MIT. As described by their website, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace. The moral machine provides a platform for building a crowd-sourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas. Given the challenges of coding an ambiguous set of morals and ethics into machines, crowdsourcing makes great sense. So visit the Moral Machine platform and add your voice to the conversation.

 

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order – Summary


I just finished a fantastic book on artificial intelligence and the evolutionary path of China and the U.S.. Author Kai-Fu Lee inspires, as he focuses on the astounding capabilities of AI, and the one thing that only humans can provide; love. The journey includes the author’s own brush with mortality, and proposes a path forward: Book of The Week - AI Superpowersthe synthesis on which we must build our shared future is AI’s ability to think, coupled with a human’s ability to love. He believes this synergy harnesses the undeniable power of artificial intelligence to generate prosperity, while also embracing our essential humanity. His hope for our future lies both in this new synergy between artificial intelligence and the human heart, and an AI-fueled age of abundance that fosters love and compassion in our societies.

I recommend reading this book from cover to cover. In the meantime, here is a summary organized by several key themes.

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