Possibilities


As I reflected on my Thoughts for 2019, three themes stood out. I’ve already written about Convergence and Acceleration, so this post will focus on possibilities. As described recently, I believe the world will experience a Burst of Possibilities enabled by the forces of convergence and acceleration. We should expect these possibilities to multiply in 2019, but realization depends upon multiple factors. One of these factors is a true focus on purpose, posing this question for humanity: how do we harness these possibilities to bring about a better world?

Fourth Revolution Innovation WheelIn arguing the case for purpose-orientation and possibilities, I created this visual that maps future advancements to our areas of well-being (click on visuals to enlarge them). I could create a different one that shows how these same advancements can be used to diminish our well-being. That’s why convergence is the most critical theme among the three. An effective way to think about purpose and possibilities is via the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are among the best-known and most frequently cited societal challenges. I believe we are entering a period of astounding innovation – advancements that have the potential to address these goals.

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Acceleration


As I described in my Thoughts on 2019 post, acceleration is the second major theme for me in 2019. The pace of innovation and change is often cited as a key difference between the next revolution and prior ones. We even came up with a catchy phrase to describe it: exponential progression. How did we come upon the notion that we live in world that is now moving at an exponential versus linear pace? Some explain it with a story; we have entered the second half of the chess board. Ray Kurzweil an American author, inventor, futurist, and director of engineering at Google describes the second half of the chessboard as follows: once you reach the second half of the chessboard, changes are exponential.  Each new square doubling that of the previous. Moore’s Law is said to have entered the second half of the chess board in 2013. A good description of this phenomenon can be found here.

This doubling accelerates the path to innovation. With an endless supply of building blocks fueling rapid value-creating combinations, this effect is amplified. While the window to realize value from innovation has shortened, there is a Rising Speed of Technological Adoption. Jeff Desjardins, Editor-in-Chief of Visual Capitalist, had this to say:


In the modern world, through increased connectivity, instant communication, and established infrastructure systems, new ideas and products can spread at speeds never seen before – and this enables a new product to get in the hands of consumers in the blink of an eye. Why do newer technologies get adopted so quickly? It seems partly because modern tech needs less infrastructure in contrast with the water pipes, cable lines, electricity grids, and telephone wires that had to be installed throughout the 20th century. However, it also says something else about today’s consumers – which is that they are connected, fast-acting, and not afraid to adopt the new technologies that can quickly impact their lives for the better.

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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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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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Techno-Philanthropists Drive Exponential Progression


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.

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