The "Ism" of Future
Here are some of the key concepts that are widely accepted and respected in the domain of Futurism . We have already covered its basics and why it matters in an earlier post. Essentially, we need to know what lies ahead of us to chalk our paths and paths better today. Here goes :
1) The Law of Accelerating Returns
This is one of the most famous and seminal essays in Futurism. Written in early 2001 at the turn of the century, Ray Kurzweil talks about how we will make 20,000 years worth of progress in the 21st century, given the rate in 2000. This is not because we will suddenly arrive on new paths of progress and subsequent technologies. It is merely an extrapolation of the objective trends and tools that existed at the time.
The reason for this bewildering mismatch in expectations vs. extrapolated reality is the "Law of accelerating returns.” It says that human progress is accelerating exponentially, and that rate itself is increasing exponentially. At the early stages of exponential growth, the graphs and hence the real-life trends seem the same as linear. But now our linear model of progress will have its predictions and expectations crushed as we climb further, along with the graph of human development, which is essentially measured technologically.
2) The Abundance 360- movement - Peter Diamandis, who has often worked closely with Kurzweil, is the founder of the XPrize Foundation. He is the author of the book "Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think" and also hosts Abundance 360 conferences. In his works, he often talks about how our society is moving fast towards times where almost everything is cheap and commoditized. Be it books, media, computing power, energy, transportation, clothes, internet, …you get the point.
The fundamental reason? We are getting exponentially better at producing and leveraging those products. Also, a lot of technological platforms (e.g., access to fast, cheap internet for everyone) that are coming online all at the same time share synergies and increase the utility/effectiveness of others. With more than enough availability of products and services to meet any demand levels, things will be cheap as competitions drive down costs by commoditizing them.
3) The 3rd Industrial Revolution: Social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin lays out a road map to usher in a new economic system in his book of the same name. He puts forward that any Industrial Revolution (IR) is a confluence of technological advancements in 3 pivotal fields - Communications, Energy, and Transport.
For the upcoming 3rd era of this IR, these are - an ultra-fast 5G Communication Internet, a Renewable Energy Internet, and a Driverless Mobility Internet. All of these connected to the Internet of Things, which are embedded across society and the environment. "With the global economy set up for a crisis soon and climate change looming upon us, shifts in political will and popular ideologies will determine how fast we see this coming to maturity. You can check this out for an "executive summary" of the topic
4) The Age of Big Data: Data privacy, protection, and storage are already hot topics for controversy and debate in many social circles. With the proliferation of IoT and access to fast, cheap internet, it's all set to grow exponentially too. With increasing access and democratization of data, people have the power to parse, collect, and visualize data points to form their own opinions.
Websites like Our World In Data are systematically and sincerely collating data for most pressing concerns and popular debates. This phenomenon will work in counter to the selfish propaganda and misinformation propagated by political parties and big corporations. The dynamics of this phenomenon are set to shape global politics and policy changes in the coming decades.
5) Golden Age of Content: We do have to agree to live in the Golden Age of Content with premium and ad-based business models dominating the online consumption industry. The middlemen and distributors are being wiped off across all art forms and revenue streams. As the world's artists and production companies come up with incentive structures and business models while the world’s governments figure out data policies. We have largely unlimited free access to the entire library of world media.
And the best part? The US president has the same TV shows available to him as you have in your dingy hotel room. But it's only a matter of time before those "paywalls'' pop up at every corner of the internet street. Patreon is one company which has started figuring this out even as YouTube is ratcheting up its ads and moving more content to the "walled garden" that is premium access.
6) Information Overload and Ignorance: At the time of writing, there are over 250,000 search results, just on Google Scholar for the mundane topic of a squid's stomach. To say that we are inundated with info in a gross understatement. Thus, it's becoming increasingly harder to filter out the noise from the signal.
Because of our brain's higher sensitivity to negative news and facts than positive, social awareness is often skewed. The wonderful Hans Rosling, through his Gapminder foundation, started "The Ignorance Project " to fill in the factual knowledge based gaps that account for the general public's average worldview.
7) Social Media Ads vs. Public Sentiment - People are increasingly becoming more wary and conscious of the side effects of Social Media. Heck, things get so bad that people robotically hit like on every Insta post in their feed. The shocker? - They do it even if the posts themselves aren't loaded before they move on to the next. Tech "industry insiders," are becoming more outspoken about the shady and fishy practices that are made possible due to the omnipresence and strong network effects of these giant monopolistic corporations.
There is the argument about having the "right intentions" but the "wrong incentives.” Some public figures are less lenient in their discourse about a small group of smart people leveraging loopholes and vulnerable tendencies of the human psyche to better the key metrics for their "product-market fit.”
8) Investigative journalism vs. Politics - The 2016 US elections and Brexit have questionable connotations and fishy backgrounds. Documentaries like The Great Hack that serve to bring to light the underhanded tricks and manipulative tactics used by politicians are gaining traction. FB's Cambridge Analytica scandal has started this movement among journalists who will go to any length to uncover how big tech and politicians are in bed together.
And for a good reason - if we are not careful and strict about ethics here, we may not have a democratic election in any country EVER again. Watch Carole Cadwalladr's TED talk about this that she bravely presented in San Francisco to big tech and political leaDERS. How this plays out in the next few decades will determine the political and tech landscape globally in a significant way.
9) Clickbait Journalism vs Tech - There's another parallel phenomenon currently playing out between media/journalism on one side and leaders, esp of big tech on the other. Titans like Bill Gates and Elon Musk generate a lot of press. And news agencies are strongly incentivized to give clickbait headlines for ad revenues. Often the content itself is poorly characterised, not carefully researched. The arguments are naive, half hearted or downright falso. Not to mention malicious, misinformation campaigns that go hand in hand with lobbying efforts in cases of conflicting interest.
Elon and Balaji Srinivasan have found themselves in the middle of this mess and are pioneering new ideologies that rethink how big media works from ground up. And sure enough, existing big players have taken exception. Online streaming and hosting have already disrupted business models and distribution infra for the "4th pillar of democracy". We might soon live in a world with a completely new paradigm for news and journalism especially including blockchain technology.
10) Shift towards Equity and moving away from Crony Capitalism - People have talked about equality and uniform treatment since ancient Greece. But this can be taken to the extreme. Today, the conversations are gradually evolving and becoming more nuanced when it comes to Status, Wealth and Power. There is recognition and awareness about privilege and lack thereof.There is talk of equal opportunity or equity as opposed to equal results which would decree that all wealth is distributed and there is no social strata. A parallel argument is emerging in the realm of economics and politics about distinguishing capitalism from crony capitalism.
It's a system that awards merit and in essence promotes healthy competition which is a win win for everyone. But corruption and illegal practices are being fought ruthlessly even as it's getting harder and harder to stay ahead of the law. Societies are coming to terms with the idea that modern society is a direct product of the fruits of capitalism and that other systems are fundamentally flawed. To add to this, projects like The Dollar Street are popping up to eliminate prejudice and provide people to really "see" what life in populations around the world is like.
11) Effective and egoistic altruism - Altruism is "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." Effective Altruism (EA) is about using evidence and careful evidence to find out what is the best way to help - and then acting on it. The 3 pillars that form the foundation of this movement are - Most Scalable, Most Solvable and Most Neglected. Putting time, money and effort in the highest ROI activities is the aim.
Egotistic Altruism is an ideology that professes that it’s ok - actually it's in our selfish text to wish that others around us do well. Modern civilization is not a zero sum game where one person winning means the other has to lose. The point is that even if you get a smaller portion of the pie, you will be better off. How? Because one good engineer from Africa can help make your phone cheaper. In the end when a lot of people do well with their lives, the pie will increase in size enough to compensate for the decrease in your share of it.
12) Pseudonymous Gig economy and 80,00 hours - We have passed the times where we can expect to find a job suitable enough to work for our entire lives. 40 hrs*50 weeks*40 years is 80,000 - roughly the time people will spend on work in life. Cancel culture has brought to the forefront the many downsides of living as a public entity. Not to mention the biases and "special treatment" famous people have to go through daily.
Currently, the society, and eventually, the systems seem to be on the road to a pseudonymous culture, when it comes to working. With most of us no longer working in factories and every industry having its own needs, full-time jobs are becoming more inconvenient and inefficient. The shoots to an era where a majority of the workforce works on gigs as freelancers are sprouting up in more developed economies. At the same time, people are becoming more conscious, selective, and diligent about what they work on. Here, initiatives like 80,000 Hours are leading the way to help people make more informed career decisions.
13) Automation, AI, and UBI - The pattern of machines taking over jobs has risen several times in the last couple of centuries. New, and in most cases, "better" jobs emerge, and things remain just fine (if not better). This time, things look to be headed on a path that is different in 2 key ways -the disruption will happen much faster, and not everyone will be positioned equally well to reap its benefits. It’s a challenge to retrain 50-year-old truck drivers who lack another marketable skill or a desire to learn one. It’ll also be so much tougher for a singer to have their voice heard in a sea of "armchair" artists. Rapid advancements in AI will spearhead much of this disruption that is climbing up the economic class chain.
The mechanical world sin "menial jobs: and executives, leaders, and accomplished creative people will be okay. The blue-collar and the lower end of the white-collar jobs are the ones that face an imminent threat. But when robots can add so much productivity, there will be enough to go around for everyone - even those who are not working. The ideas of some kind of Universal Basic Income seems likely in the majority of societies. The biggest challenge? Can one get a living without having to work - will everyone be able to find a sense of purpose and meaning - food for thought as we leave you here. See you soon!