Can Society Adapt to an Accelerating Pace of Change?


Updated December 15, 2017

Thanks to Parthasarathi V for his thought provoking comment on LinkedIn, and a link to a relevant article from Clay Shirky on the Collapse of Complex Business Models. His comment:

“We are having super abundance of everything – capital, talent, resources. The previously known scarce resources (e.g physical world scarcity, natural resources) are also abundant now thanks to technology. With every abundance there will be new scarcity that will be the point of friction. With every node of regulation we remove to promote innovation, new set of problems will emerge that needs to be regulated otherwise system will collapse.”


I am often asked for my perspective on the societal implications of a rapidly approaching future. More recently, that question has centered on Government and our economic system. My views are somewhat captured by this comment from Phil Tanny – an active participant on my Blog:

“There is a limit to how much social change human beings can successfully manage. What exactly those limits are is unknown, but it seems beyond obvious that our ability to adapt to change is not infinite. Thus, there is a collision coming between the exponential rate of knowledge development and the incremental ability of humans to adapt to the social change generated by the knowledge explosion.”

Said another way, we now live in an exponential world, while the linear nature of humans – and structures that were built for a different era – have not changed. The governance mechanisms of our past -at some level – managed the pace of change. Those mechanisms are gone. I have argued for balance – while others argue for mechanisms that slow the pace of innovation.

My reason for balance lies in this often shared visual representing the two sides of the pace phenomenon. Case in point, at this Health Summit in Washington D.C, the many health challenges that we face as a society were on display. Innovators will one day solve these grand challenges – and I for one do not want to see the pace of realizing these and other societal gains altered. But the concerns that people like Phil Tanny raise are real concerns – and the risk of unintended consequences is very real.

The building blocks to both enhance and/or diminish humanity are there – it’s a question of how we as a society manage this exponential world. Here are my thoughts on the question of Government at the previously mentioned health summit.

 

12 thoughts on “Can Society Adapt to an Accelerating Pace of Change?

  1. Thanks for giving me some air time above the fold Frank. 🙂

    Here’s a hopefully constructive suggestion. I’d love to see you lead an _invitation only_ online discussion forum limited to whoever you feel has useful insights to share on these topics. I’d really like to read an ongoing thoughtful discussion/debate among professional futurists on issues such as you raise above, managing vs. slowing.

    It’s not my goal that everyone agree with me, because that would be as worrisome as any other uniform group think. What I want to see are these issues hashed out from every possible angle, with no assumptions left unchallenged. I’ll be more comfortable when I see futurists arguing in earnest.

    To the question you pose in the title above…

    1) A key concept I’d like to see examined much more closely is that of “existential scale” powers, any technology with the potential to crash civilization. We may be able to adapt to change to a remarkable degree, far beyond what I’ve been assuming. But the emergence of existential scale powers means our adaption needs to be more than impressive, it will need to be perfect. It won’t really matter if we successfully manage 99% of the change if a single existential scale power spins out of control a single time. We need to be thinking this through. It needs to go to the top of the list, and not be just one of a thousand future issues being discussed.

    2) Human psychology may be the key barrier to a successful adaptation to accelerating change. People need to be able to predict their future to some degree. Civilization depends upon great masses of people having faith in their place in the future. I suspect finding that faith will become more difficult as it gets harder and harder to predict what the future will look like. What people are thinking may be even more important than what’s actually happening.

    3) The genetic engineering techniques which will give birth to the medical miracles you want to pursue can also be used to empower our worst instincts. Until we see a way to separate the miracles from the horrors, it seems we have to focus on the scale of the powers the knowledge explosion is generating. There’s always been good and bad potential in every new development, it’s the scale of the emerging powers that seems the central issue to me. We’ve always been able to survive the horrors in the past, rapidly escalating scale suggests that might not always be true.

    Can society adapt to an accelerating pace of change?

    A better question may be…

    Can society _control_ the pace of change? I suspect that learning how to take control of the process is the price tag for the future wonders we dream of.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To expand on the forum idea a bit…

    Perhaps you’ve seen that the Kurzweil site is closing down it’s 20 year old futurist forum at the first of the year. I’ve seen many intellectual type forums that have either folded, or at least been largely abandoned by their owners.

    The problem is with the “almost anybody can say almost anything” publishing model that dominates social media, including forums. While that model can be celebrated for it’s democratic inclusiveness, it’s also a recipe for a race to the lowest common denominator. It’s an appropriate publishing model for many or most topics, but not for intellectual conversations.

    You’ve stated that the job of the futurist is to build awareness. It would be easier to build audience and thus awareness if many leading futurists could be read in one place. Forum software is the best technology for facilitating such a group conversation, if the publishing model used were to be exclusive instead of inclusive.

    Leading such a community requires well honed diplomatic skills. You have that.

    Leading such a community requires credentials, credibility and connections. It seems you have those too.

    Just a thought. Free unsolicited advice from the peanut gallery.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Can society adapt to the following, arguably the most important story in human history?

    Author Robert Hastings is doing fascinating research regarding the interest UFOs are showing in our nuclear weapons. The following from his site (http://www.ufohastings.com/) provides a quick summary….

    “Hastings has interviewed more than 150 military veterans who were involved in various UFO-related incidents at U.S. missile sites, weapons storage facilities, and nuclear bomb test ranges. The events described by these individuals leave little doubt that the U.S. nuclear weapons program is an ongoing source of interest to someone possessing vastly superior technology.”

    The easiest way to learn about this work is probably to view the excellent documentary on Amazon Prime. It’s five hours long if you want lots of details, and the first hour provides a good summary.

    https://www.amazon.com/UFOs-Nukes-Revealed-Expanded-Directors/dp/B075SSQZXT/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1514382192&sr=1-1&keywords=ufos+and+nukes

    There’s also a book available.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1544822197/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1494625819&sr=8-4&keywords=UFOs+%26+Nukes

    Here’s a press event that Hastings and a number of his witnesses did at the National Press Club (90 minutes).

    All the witnesses interviewed by Hastings worked in some way with nuclear weapons, and thus are highly vetted serious professionals with top secret clearances and above. As a group, they are highly credible witnesses which I’m finding impossible to dismiss.

    Can society absorb and adapt to knowledge regarding forms of higher intelligence who are examining and in some cases, tinkering with, American and Russian nuclear stockpiles?

    It seems beyond remarkable how calmly we accept the existence of nuclear weapons. How might this dynamic change if it becomes clear to large numbers of people that we may not actually be in control of the nuclear weapons, and have no way of understanding the motivations of those who may be in control of them?

    The future exponential rate of change futurists rightly address themselves to may not actually be driven by us after all, but by intelligent forces beyond our comprehension.

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  4. While Robert Hastings has done an excellent job of assembling what may be the most credible group of observers ever to make UFO reports, he may have failed to sufficiently examine the bottom line assumption of his work, that everyone should have access to this information. It’s possible that he also has too readily accepted the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which has been discussed on these pages.

    Many would argue that we need to face the facts, however inconvenient they may be. Well, one fact inconvenient to that argument is that human beings appear to have a very strong need for order and authority. That is, we need to feel that someone is in charge and knows what they are doing, and that there is some rule system in place which we can follow towards our goals. We see this in religions, political systems, law, even the atheist’s relationship with reason and science. People are willing to invest in their futures only so long as they feel that their investment has a reasonable chance of paying off, a calculation they make based on their faith in the predictability and reliability of whatever system they are part of.

    What we have faith in can vary considerably, but we’re united in the need to have faith in something.

    I raise Hastings on this blog because he is, with the best of intentions, opening the same can of worms as futurists. Because he is making such an effective case for UFOs, he is opening the door on a vision of reality where there are no predictable rules that we can count on. How are we to respond to higher forms of intelligence taking control of our most powerful weapons? There is no response, no system we can work, no rules we can follow, no path we can travel to regaining control of our destiny.

    Hastings and futurists both bring us face to face with our powerlessness. A radically different thoroughly unpredictable future is coming, and there’s nothing we can really do about it. Higher forms of intelligence over which we have no control whatsoever will do with us whatever they please. The control we feel we have over our destiny is largely an illusion.

    The question we all might be asking is, what happens when this realization sinks in with a critical mass of human beings? What happens when there’s nothing left to have faith in? What happens when it becomes clear that literally anything could happen next?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Frank, email on it’s way to you now. To summarize for any other readers, I have no background or training relevant to the topic of futurism which I’m just beginning to explore, thanks to you.

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  6. Can society adapt to the Pentagon publicly agreeing that UFOs are real, and providing video footage from Navy jets to prove it? Here’s a CNN interview with a high ranking Pentagon official from about ten days ago.

    According to the Pentagon, an aircraft carrier battle group off the Pacific coast was tracking UFOs by radar for a couple of weeks. As you might expect, they have the best radar available given that their lives depend upon it, and they have an unlimited budget. A few jets were vectored towards the UFO, and the pilots also got radar confirmation, visual sighting, and video.

    What makes this news is that it’s the Pentagon breaking the story, and admitting without reservation that UFOs exist. They aren’t claiming that aliens exist, but just unidentified aircraft that display flight characteristics beyond our current understanding of physics.

    That seems to be the current state of UFO understanding. It seems the existence of UFOs has been proven by the sheer number of credible observers, and is now confirmed by military authorities. But what the UFOs actually are is still in the realm of speculation. Many theories, no real facts.

    The event being reported by the Pentagon happened in 2004, so what’s unknown for now (at least to me) is why they are breaking this story now.

    So here’s a test case of our ability to adapt to revolutionary new information. So far it seems people aren’t even that interested, let alone in a panic about it. It could be my pet theories are about to be demolished.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One lesson that might arise from observing our relationship with the new UFO developments could be…

    As the real world becomes less predictable due to accelerating knowledge driven change, our focus may to some degree shift to that which we have some hope of controlling, our inner world.

    So far at least, it appears our culture intends to largely ignore the fact that the U.S. government is now confirming the existence of UFOs, a phenomena typically assumed to be associated with some form of intelligence superior to humans. While the real world implications of this emerging story would seem to be huge beyond calculation, that doesn’t automatically mean we are required to engage such hugeness.

    And it appears we are choosing not to. It appears we are choosing to keep our attention on smaller more comfortable subjects. That is, we are choosing to focus on managing that which we can manage, our _experience_ of the real world. We like to experience the sense of being in control, so we’re sticking with familiar topics which provide that experience.

    It seems likely technology will increasingly facilitate and encourage a psychological shift away from an increasingly unpredictable and thus threatening real world in to “the matrix” of our inner experience. Why should I worry about whether hyper-intelligent aliens want to harvest my organs when I could instead fire up the virtual reality “Holodeck” in my bedroom and in a few clicks be surfing a perfect virtual Hawaiian point break?

    Yes, it’s delusional, but also rational. I can’t do anything about aliens in the real world, but I can do something about the imaginary world unfolding between my ears. By retreating in to virtual reality, I am managing that which I am in a position to manage, I’m controlling that which I still have the power to control. I’m doing what I can do.

    In the end, everything we do in the real world has since the beginning always been about managing our inner experience anyway. If the real world becomes increasingly difficult to manage, and the inner experience becomes increasingly easier to manage, a shift of focus from outer to inner seems the logical outcome.

    So never mind about the UFOs.

    What’s Britney Spears up to these days, does anyone know? Is she going to release another album, or what?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The most interesting aspect of the Pentagon UFO report may be in how it impacts our relationship with authority. That relationship seems crucial to the process of adapting to change, given that it’s natural for us to look to those “in the know” experts when confused or threatened by emerging events.

    The knowledge explosion and resulting social change is being driven largely by the scientific community.

    I’ve coined the phrase “science clergy” to refer to how the relationship of trust we moderns have with scientists seems remarkably like the blind faith relationship we used to have with religious clerics.

    What’s going to happen to that relationship of trust if the existence of UFOs is proven beyond any doubt, say in a cascading series of Pentagon reports? What’s going to happen to our faith in the “science clergy” if we realize that they’ve relentlessly ignored what could be the biggest story in human history? If it turns out that Nobel Prize winners knows less about what becomes a proven UFO phenomena than the wacky UFO nuts with crazy hair, what then?

    This seems an important question because our faith in the future is arguably based largely in our faith in those creating that future, the scientific community.

    If the UFO story explodes in a big way, it may help us aim a critical eye at a relationship that has long been in need of closer inspection.

    I think we’ve been assuming that because science can create impressive technologies like AI, science also has the judgment to know that AI will be on balance a good thing. Is this true? Does one ability automatically prove the other?

    As example, scientists displayed their undisputed technical prowess in the creation of nuclear weapons but now, like the rest of us, they have no idea how to un-create them. The science community washes their hands of this problem by blaming it on the politicians, and then returns to creating new powers.

    It would be a mistake to demonize the science community because they are overwhelming people of good intentions. But if it is proven that UFOs exist, and that scientists arrogantly ignored such a huge issue, perhaps such an inconvenient development will help us refine the critical eye scientists are always telling us we should further develop.

    Maybe scientists really have not the slightest idea whether or not they are leading us towards a better future, and if that’s true, maybe we should be aware of that.

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  9. If UFOs are proven to be real in a manner that receives broad culture wide acceptance, how would such a shift in the group consensus affect our relationship with other seemingly impossible theories?

    I’ve been pondering this as I make my way through documentaries about alien abduction claims. This is more challenging territory than UFO claims because there is really no hard real world evidence, it’s all anecdotal, and thus such claims are reasonably subject to a skeptical review.

    The most credible researchers seem to have concluded that the majority of those claiming to have been abducted are entirely sincere and in good mental health. But that doesn’t really prove anything other than that this is an interesting phenomena, whatever it’s real cause might be.

    I’m bringing this tricky subject up here because some of the most experienced and credible abduction researchers appear to have concluded that alien life forms are in the process of merging with humanity. That is, they are claiming our future is being designed by someone else, that we are quietly becoming someone else.

    This is of course an incredible claim which most of us are understandably and quite reasonably not willing to accept. And then I remind myself, that’s exactly how I used to feel about unidentified flying objects.

    And so now I’m wondering, can we afford to roll our eyes at alien abduction claims and the larger claim of species merger which is arising from that area of research? Can we afford to the repeat the pattern of authoritative denial which has characterized the UFO subject for decades? Should we be giving more attention to seemingly incredible claims which are huge in scope?

    If we are about to watch the ridiculous become the real in the UFO arena, how will that impact our engagement with other supposedly ridiculous claims?

    What’s a subscription to the National Enquirer cost, does anyone know?

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