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.
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
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.
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: the 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.
A group of billionaires have pledged one billion dollars to fund radical new energy technologies. Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) is an investment fund that aims to accelerate energy innovation and disrupt the energy industry. This Bill Gates brainchild managed to secure a host of high-profile investors, including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, and Michael Bloomberg – and they’ve just announced their First Seven Investments.
Knowledge is the engine that drives human development – and it has been throughout history. Knowledge expanded in the hunter-gatherer days with the invention of fire. In those days, a human obtained all its food by foraging. Although the source of food did not change, fire allowed humans to cook food and consume more calories. The human brain expanded with this caloric increase, and soon we invented language – the first in a series of innovations that drove the growth of knowledge.