Institutions And The Exponential Gap

Our current linear structures do not translate well to the exponential world in which we live. This will force governments and businesses to address the structural challenges that lie ahead. How these challenges are addressed will either serve as an accelerant for emerging future scenarios, slow them down, or derail them. 

That quote from a post on future structures back in 2015 would find a more receptive audience in 2021. Back then however, it was a position that mostly drew stares. Those structural challenges refer to the institutions that represent the lasting norms that define how we live. These norms are established over time and are so engrained in how society behaves, that it usually takes major catastrophes to change the status quo. In transformative periods, institutions struggle as society transitions from one phase to another. These moments of radical change represent a phase transition. The post-world-war two era represents one such transition. How society handles the transition is crucial, and the next decade is tied closely to the evolution of those Institutions. The challenge is large and best described in this passage from a recent book titled The Exponential Age, written by Azeem Azhar.

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Short Video Describing This Transformative Decade

It was late 2020 prior to the pandemic when I first came across RethinkX and their perspectives on humanity and the coming decade. I echo their thoughts that a pivotal decade lies ahead. They have launched an eight-part video series, with the first one provided below. It is a short two minutes and fifty seconds and well worth a view. Here is an abstract describing the series.

ABSTRACT

Blind to the deeper process of change, humanity has no idea it’s on the brink of epic, existential transformation. Episode 1 of the Rethinking Humanity series by @RethinkX explores how humanity is failing to see its immediate future: a decade of existential transformation, triggered by technologies converging deep in the foundations of our global civilization. We all feel the tremors, but we’re blind to the deeper process of change. Before it’s too late, we must all see the mind-blowing possibility space of the next decade, as well as its catastrophic risks. This is the first of an eight-part series. The Rethinking Humanity video series is based on the book, Rethinking Humanity: Five Foundational Sector Disruptions, the Lifecycle of Civilizations, and the Coming Age of Freedom by James Arbib and Tony Seba, published by RethinkX.

Building Blocks Of The Future Explode In Number

Is it any wonder that leaders are overwhelmed? It’s not just the pace of change, extreme events, or challenges to existing mental models. It is the sheer number of building blocks that currently exist, and those that are emerging. Factor in convergence occurring across these building blocks, and you have a recipe for uncertainty, unpredictability and an overwhelming number of possibilities. It was the book titled The Second Machine Age written by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, where the point was underscored.

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A Different Work Future Requires New Models

A recent article via Linda Lacina is very impactful in these days of uncertainty. A focus on the future is ramping across all sectors, and one of the hottest topics is the future of work. The work discussion is focused on two different time horizons. One is the nearer term implications of the pandemic, labor shortages, automation, an aging society, etc. The other is a longer-term view of what work becomes. In both those conversations, a focus on our human traits and an urgent need to transform education is appropriate. That’s why this article resonated with me.

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Therapeutic Agents That Target Cancer Cells Directly

Two scenarios in our emerging future are healthy life extension and radical life extension. The former extends are healthy lives and the latter pursues immortality. At the heart of both scenarios lies astounding and rapid advances in science and technology. A recent article provides a great example while exploring the possibility of cancerous tumors eliminating themselves. Per the article, a new technology developed by University of Zurich (UZH) researchers enables the body to produce therapeutic agents on demand at the exact location where they are needed.

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Radical Life Extension

At the furthest point of the future scenario curve sits radical life extension. I use this emerging future visual to depict the exploding number of building blocks that combine to shape the future, challenging our ability to track its complexity. Convergence across aspects of science, technology, economic forces, politics, society, our environment, and a growing conversation around ethics, is creating a highly uncertain world. At the heart of the pace dynamic is the exponential progression of science and technology – reflected in the first curve on the visual.

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Multiple Signals Point To The Need For Global Cooperation

The pandemic is demonstrating the extent to which high levels of collaboration are required for deeply interconnected societies to manage—and recover from—complex, exponential systemic crises. The fact that viruses are borderless is just another reason why humans need to invest in dramatically re-tooled principles and mechanisms for global co-operation.

Sanjeev Khagram – Why coronavirus will accelerate the fourth Industrial Revolution

Historically, when society has entered a new era, the world has transformed. I believe we are in the early days of a transition to a new era. A major difference between this era and previous eras is the connectedness of our world. That means managing the transition is more complicated. No one nation or organization can ensure a smooth transition. Much like the accelerating shift to multi-stakeholder ecosystems requires collaboration excellence, the path to a future that enhances human development depends on global cooperation.

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Misinformation Is About To Get Worse

Technology has always been a double-edged sword – after all fire provided light, warmth, and more calories – but it also burned downed villages. When social media first burst onto the scene, I was a big believer in its power to build community, reconnect people, and move us towards democracy 2.0. I was wrong. The destructive side of that sword is winning – and technological advances are about to make that problem worse.

We are mostly all guilty of locking ourselves into echo chambers. Passing along information that supports our views, but is simply false information. The sheer reach of Facebook, when combined with deep fakes and AI-enabled misinformation, makes the destructive potential frightening. A new book that addresses this topic will launch in November. Eric Schmidt, Henry Kissinger, and MIT Dean Daniel Huttenlocher, co-authored “The Age of AI” in an effort to shine a light on both the positive and negative aspects of our AI future. This Article summarizes an interview with Eric Schmidt that describes the book and the issues.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon. A massively important topic that we should all invest the time to understand.

The Profit Paradox

I finished another book and added it to my book library. The Profit Paradox was written by economist Jan Eeckhout and focuses on the decline of competition in the market. This decline, and the resulting dominance of large firms, has contributed to inequality, reduced innovation, and dropped the labor share of the economy.

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Growing and Declining Jobs Over The Next Decade

A recent article provides a glimpse into the fastest growing and declining jobs of the next decade. The visuals captured from the article summarize it well. Not surprisingly, health and wellness, renewable energy, and technology represent the fastest growing job domains. A very hot topic these days along with education.

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Education As The Bridge Between Eras

In the mid-1800s, when operating steam-driven machines required a skilled workforce, education helped the working class emerge from a period of stagnation. Later, high school helped ease the transition from the farm to the factory and office. We find ourselves straddling two eras again. The world economic forum estimates that sixty-five percent of children today will end up in careers that do not exist yet.

Our goal is to double the world’s GDP. That’s a very audacious goal. But education is the only thing that has ever done it in the past. It can jumpstart entire economies

Sebastian Thrun – Chairman and co-founder of Udacity

So here we are again. Education must emerge as the bridge between eras. It must ensure that those educated embody the qualities and competencies essential to life in a society different than our industrial past.

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Futuristic New Cities

I believe the smart city represents the intersection of multiple emerging ecosystems. Energy, transport, water, food, health, and more, could come together to create a more equitable and sustainable future. At least that’s the mission of Telosa. A recent article via Oscar Holland describes the vision of billionaire Marc Lore:

The cleanliness of Tokyo, the diversity of New York and the social services of Stockholm: Billionaire Marc Lore has outlined his vision for a 5-million-person “new city in America” and appointed a world-famous architect to design it.

Oscar Holland – Plans for $400-billion new city in the American desert unveiled

Per the article, the 150,000-acre proposal promises eco-friendly architecture, sustainable energy production and a purportedly drought-resistant water system. It embraces a “15-minute city design” that allows residents to access their workplaces, schools and amenities within a quarter-hour commute of their homes. The brief video describes the vision.

Astounding Levels Of Innovation: Energy

As we move aggressively into this period of great invention, we will increasingly marvel at astounding levels of innovation. Every domain will experience this phenomenon…and it is accelerating. The articles below make the point very clear. The most encouraging piece of these breakthroughs is growing evidence that our world of extraction is shifting ever so slightly to one of creation. Advances in materials science are critical to solving some of the worlds greatest challenges. The energy transition is underway.

Tesla aims to release $25,000 electric car in 2023, likely will not have a steering wheel

This wildly reinvented wind turbine generates five times more energy than its competitors

Experimental chlorine battery holds 6 times more charge than lithium-ion

What if walking around on your wood floors powered your home?

Hydrogen in aviation: how close is it?

Graphene innovation opens doors to low cost, sustainable, sodium-ion batteries

The Building Blocks Of Our Future

In a post from 2019, I described the building blocks that established our modern society. It was convergence across multiple domains that shaped our current world. From the post:

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. 

Frank Diana – Convergence

I captured many of those building blocks in a visual that I use to tell this story (click on the visual to open in a separate window).

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Crewless Cargo Ship with Zero Emissions Launches

A Norwegian company has created what it calls the world’s first zero-emission, autonomous cargo ship. If all goes to plan, the ship will make its first journey between two Norwegian towns before the end of the year, with no crew onboard. Instead, its movements will be monitored from three onshore data control centers.

Rochelle Beighton – World’s first crewless, zero emissions cargo ship will set sail in Norway

That quote from this recent article describes the worlds first fully electric container ship that is also autonomous. The shipping industry currently accounts for between 2.5% and 3% of global greenhouse gases emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization. This zero emissions cargo ship begins the long process of addressing that problem. It is envisioned that it will replace 40,000 truck journeys a year. The crewless feature of this emerging innovation makes the ship more cost effective to operate. Almost every scenario we look at tells the same transition story. In this case, the transition involves humans loading and unloading the ship initially, but eventually transitioning to all operations using autonomous technology.

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3D Printed Smart Homes

When looking into the future, changes to the home may not be the first place you look, yet it will not be spared in this era of transformative change. In fact, the home experience was already changing prior to the pandemic, and in a post-pandemic world, the future home looks different. Other drivers like sustainability and aging in our homes are likely to alter our long-standing views of homes. As an example, a recent article describes a new home that is self-sustaining, autonomous, and 3D Printed. The video provides a glimpse.

Tesla Pursues Humanoid Robots

Move over Sophia you might have company. At Tesla’s AI Day, Elon Musk said the company plans to build a robot in human form, leveraging some of its vehicle technology. The path of humanoid robots much like everything else, will go in two possible directions. Constructively, care robots, companion robots, and those that handle difficult repetitive tasks, help address mounting challenges as well as long-standing ones. On the destructive side, these robots may someday encroach upon those traits that make us distinctly human. Our path forward continues to represent a balancing act. Elon Musk describes his vision in the video below.

Will The Next interaction Frontier Involve The Brain?

In 2017, I explored the various ways that human interaction was likely to change. Two years later, I shared predictions from Ray Kurzweil that included his thoughts on interacting in a world that is increasingly instrumented and machine-oriented. Ray envisions a deep transformation in the way we interact in a machine-oriented society, and that includes thought commands. The possibility of interacting with the world using our brains still feels like science fiction to most. Whether it is moving an object (like the racecar video in my earlier post) or communicating with another human brain-to-brain, it is hard to wrap our minds around that profound a change.

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The Precipice

I just finished another good book. Tony Orb takes us to the precipice in a new book that explores existential risk. He looks at natural risks like asteroids, comets, supervolcanic eruptions, stellar explosions, brightening of our sun, and orbital dynamics. He then explores those risks stemming from human activity (anthropogenic). These include nuclear weapons, climate change, environmental damage, pandemics, unaligned artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and back contamination (from space microbes). The remainder of the book focuses on quantifying risks and safeguarding humanity. I highly recommend the book for those looking well into the future and focused on humanity. I have added the book to my library. Here is the Amazon abstract.

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The Extraction Age Gives Way To The Creation Age

In their book titled Rethinking Humanity, RethinkX Founders Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a transition from an age of extraction to an emerging age of creation. The extraction age began with agriculture and continued through the industrial period. The authors describe the age of extraction as follows:

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