This Analysis by the Conference Board underscores how the trajectory of COVID-19 and the economic response over the next few months are uncertain. They developed three scenarios for the course of the US economy for the remainder of 2020. Focusing on future scenarios was already a critical imperative given the pace of change; the current pandemic just underscores the point. The analysis authors from the Conference Board are: Bart van Ark, Executive Vice President & Chief Economist, and Erik Lundh, Senior Economist. Here is an executive summary from the report:
In a post back in 2018, I described a phenomenon that contributes to the rapid Acceleration of innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Peter Diamandis coined the term Techno-Philanthropists and compared and contrasted them to the Robber Barons of a different era. Billionaires get a lot of negative press these days – but one thing is clear: their wealth is both accelerating the pace of innovation and addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Stories described by Articles like this one highlight the point.
In his recent Book Peter Diamandis describes why the future is faster than you think. At the heart of this phenomenon is the Acceleration of acceleration. The Convergence of multiple forces is driving this very fast future. As these Intersections occur, that pathway to a very different future opens wide. In the case of acceleration, Mr. Diamandis identifies seven forces that in effect accelerate the current acceleration dynamic. These are:
While the 19th Century belonged to the British, and the 20th Century to the Americans, Parag Khanna believes the 21st Century belongs to Asia. In his recent book The Future is Asian, the author takes us on a journey to Asia’s past. Along the way, we learn about the historical events that shaped Asia, and the role that the western world played in that shaping.
As Mr. Khanna shifts to the present, we learn about the fascinating stories unfolding across Asia – from all corners of the eastern world. From Saudi Arabia, Africa and Australia, to China, Vietnam, Russia, and Korea. The coming together of Asians as a people is a core theme. The author explores the prominent role that Technocracy played in Singapore, and holds it up as a model to be replicated. He compares and contrasts the progress made in the East, to the dysfunction of the West. As we witness the populist outbreak in the west, we see a coming together in the east. As it does so, the Post-War (One and Two) global order defined by the West gives way to a global order increasingly defined by the East.
This recent Article highlights the progress made in brain science, our focus on solving grand world challenges, and the critical need to continue this advancement. The article describes how a paralyzed man using only his brain signals was able to operate, maneuver, and walk in a whole-body robotic exoskeleton. This press release provides more details. The findings could advance efforts to help paralyzed patients drive computers using brain signals alone; “perhaps starting with driving wheelchairs using brain activity instead of joysticks and progressing to developing an exoskeleton for increased mobility,” says Stephan Chabardes, neurosurgeon from the CHU of Grenoble-Alpes, France.
The further Backward you Look, the Further Forward you can See – Winston Churchill
I really like this quote from Winston Churchill. In a previous post on Learning from History, I was trying to say the same thing. One of the key learnings in looking back at our most transformative period (late nineteenth, early twentieth century), was the Convergence that occurred across multiple domains. I had developed a visual to capture a convergence phenomenon that took place over a one hundred year period – some have called this a Special Century. I updated the visual with new content (click the visual to expand). The color scheme shows the convergence that occurred across the business, science, technology, political, societal and economic domains. The red boxes represent the Catalysts that drove this convergence.
Two recent articles highlight the dilemma faced in this era of rapid innovation: the potential to enhance humanity, and the opportunity to diminish it. This article on DeepFakes describes the challenge that society will face as Deepfake video and audio make it impossible to tell the difference between reality and fiction. Audio attacks using convincing forgeries can send stocks plummeting or soaring. How about mimicking a CEO’s voice to request a senior financial officer to transfer money? These are real examples provided by Symantec. This short Video describes the money transfer scenario.
In looking at transformative periods throughout history, it is apparent that Convergence was a critical driver of change. While I am still hopeful of the ultimate convergence across societal, political, environmental, philosophic, economic, and business domains, it is clear that convergence is already occurring in the science and technology domains. This synergistic relationship where advances in one domain fuels rapid advances in the other is the force behind our rapid pace. As we saw in the Poll that looked at the catalysts that drive convergence, it is this rapid pace of innovation that many believe will ultimately drive it. This initial convergence is altering long-held Beliefs and Intuitions – eventually forcing convergence across the other domains.
Two major forces are likely to converge in very unpredictable ways. The road to Abundance, as described by Peter Diamandis, promises to advance our human development in ways we never could have imagined. At the same time, the journey will drive a number of unintended consequences. The intersection of these two forces underscores the importance of focusing on emerging scenarios now, while we have the opportunity to realize the advancements and mitigate the impact of unintended consequences. Let’s use the journey towards food abundance as an example.
Updated results: April 9th, 2019. The response has been great, but I’d like to capture more voices. Please consider taking this very short Poll.
In a recent post on What to Expect in 2019, I launched three focus areas for the coming year. This focus attempts to identify the key drivers of change and the outcomes they enable. The three areas are:
- Convergence is one of the key dynamics I expect/hope to see more of this year. A century ago, convergence across multiple domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. Multiple forces will drive a similar level of convergence in the coming decade.
- The pace of innovation and change is often cited as a key difference between the next revolution and prior ones. This is one of the key catalysts driving change, and I expect it to Accelerate.
- I believe the world will experience a burst of Possibilities enabled by these forces of convergence and acceleration
In a recent post, I asked my readers to help me identify those catalysts that force the actions required to steer our future towards advancing our human development. Feel free to respond to the Poll. The number one response was the rapid pace of innovation. That response supports my own opinion that the pace will ultimately force stakeholders across multiple domains to take action. Much like the Domain Convergence that occurred during our most Transformative Period in History, convergence is required if we are to take the correct path towards human flourishing.
The conversation regarding catalysts that drive human action has been fascinating. This poll initially launched back in February has had a great response – with some great insight. Please take the poll if you have not already.
One of our Lessons from History was the presence of catalysts that drove actions that ultimately shaped our future. The major catalysts of the second revolution were astounding levels of innovation,
World War One, The Great Depression, World War Two, and the eventual democratization of innovation. What catalysts force stakeholder actions that ultimately shape our emerging future? Please help me build on this list and identify the most significant catalysts. Choose all catalysts that you feel will contribute – or add anything that I am missing. For a deeper description of catalysts, please see the lessons from history post.
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?
In 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In their now popular book on The Second Machine Age Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson describe one of the forces behind our accelerating pace. This force could be key to understanding the dynamics of our environment; the number of potentially valuable building blocks is exploding around the world, and the possibilities are multiplying like never before.
It’s been over a year since launching an Online Course focused on a complex and uncertain future. The course takes a Journey through the Looking Glass – a metaphorical expression that means: on the strange side, in the twilight zone, in a strange parallel world. It comes from the Alice and Wonderland literary work of Lewis Carroll, where he explores the strange and mysterious world Alice finds when she steps through a mirror. I have always found this to be a perfect metaphor for our times.
Every time the looking glass has appeared, the world has experienced a Tipping Point. While I firmly believe a tipping point is coming, the impact is likely a question of severity. Some believe that we have survived similar economic transitions in the past, while others disagree:
Byron Reese recently authored a book titled The Fourth Age. I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating look at history, and the focus on possible futures. In looking at the future, Mr. Reese explores the reasons that experts disagree on the path of these possible futures. He asks: why do Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates fear artificial intelligence (AI) and express concern that it may be a threat to humanity’s survival; and yet, why do an equally illustrious group, including Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Ng, and Pedro Domingos, find this viewpoint so far-fetched as to be hardly even worth a rebuttal? The answer as described by the author lies not in what we know – but what we individually belief. This theme throughout the book is an interesting piece of self-reflection. See how you would answer the questions posed by the author.