Posts Tagged ‘future’

Virtual reality as an “empathy machine” and force for good?

Virtual reality.  For those of us who still enjoy THIS world, the idea of opening the floodgates of truly immersive virtual reality can seem like the ultimate triumph of the screen-mediated life, an abandonment of the core virtues of human relationship.  If computers have sucked us further down the rabbit hole than TVs, then won’t these new systems—covering our eyes and ears, even stimulating our vestibular responses—create even more separation between us?  Not necessarily, say a slew of folks who are tracking this nearly-inevitable and soon-to-arrive evolution of computer technology.  Check out this collection of videos and articles from SingularityHUB, all of which explore the ways that more immersive virtual reality interfaces could actually increase our empathy and engagement, rather than leading to atrophy of these core aspects of being human.  The promise here starts with recent studies on “mirror neurons” and goes on to ways that empathy-sparking VR could deepen journalism and enliven civic engagement.  A real mind-bender for any of us with lingering Luddite tendencies.

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What Atwood’s “Everything Change” can mean for you

There’s been a fair amount of online buzz this week about a longform essay from Margaret Atwood, “It’s Not Climate Change—It’s Everything Change.” It begins with a short think piece she wrote in 2009, offering some semi-plausible visions of a post-oil world, but the real meat of the piece is what follows.  For the bulk of the essay, Atwood explores how much our society’s engagement with climate, and with change itself, has shifted since 2009.  Especially interesting are a couple of other writers that she summarizes, both of whom also posted companion pieces on Medium, where Atwood’s piece appeared. Taken as a whole, the essay and responses make for a rich reflection on our times, one that combines stark realism about the entrenched nature of the current system with a good dash of hope founded on the ways that human societies have evolved in the past.  Here’s our distillation of what they have to say, and some thoughts on how these rich perspectives can inform your own approach to the life planning practice that we call resilient investing.

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Coming to terms with the Anthropocene

Once again, Andy Revkin has put together a fantastic in-depth post that can be enjoyed either as a quick overview of a complex topic or as the portal to digging into a wealth of primary sources.  This time he’s back on the question of the anthropocene—the posited new epoch in earth’s evolution that’s marked by the primary influence of humanity.  He presents what is perhaps the best point-counterpoint summary I’ve yet seen on the fundamental question underlying anthropocene thinking: can there be a “good” human age, or is this era inherently one of ecological and social decline? This really comes down to whether one has faith in humanity’s ability to forge a new balance with the earth’s natural systems.  And of course, the answer you carry forward will be a fundamental shaper of your overall world view and your approach to life and to resilient investing.

Revkin shares extended excerpts from two talks at a recent Breakthrough Institute Dialogue,

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The world really is getting better

With the climate crisis capturing most of our attention, it’s all to easy to overlook the ways that the world really has been getting better over the past 25 years.  This recent Vox chart-cicle will perk you up.  Most striking are the rapid drops in extreme poverty and  hunger: undernourishment in developing countries is about half of what it was in 1990.  And perhaps the most exciting trend is the expansion of education in sub-Saharan Africa, where 80% of kids are now enrolled in school; I’m convinced that this new reservoir of education will spawn some transformative world leaders in the decades ahead.  The future may still be in the balance, but all of this adds a few good-sized weights to the “muddle through up” side of the scale.  Go see all 11 charts at Vox, or click through here for a couple more of our favorites.

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What if it really is too late?

Much of what we share here is coverage of projects, research, and news that’s relatively encouraging—ideas and actions that might spur your own constructive engagement in these challenging times.  Recently, we’ve shared evolutionary/breakthrough techno-optimist visions, close-to-home/tangible in-the-dirt initiatives, and muddling-up/market-based optimism about carbon.  But hovering there in the background, as it has been with increasing intensity for at least a couple of decades, is the specter of questions that many of us can’t quite bear to face: Did we wait too long for any of this to make a real difference?  Is catastrophic climate change now baked into the system?  Have economic elites stubbornly steered the ship onto insurmountable shoals of social inequity and ecological overshoot? What if it really is too late?

Addressing this possibility has been among the hardest parts of putting together our book and this ongoing chronicle of resilient investing resources.  But we, too, have grappled with the darker questions, and have to some degree prepared ourselves, at least internally, for the possibility that we are indeed in the early stages of a significant societal and/or ecological decline.  None of the four of us who put the book together are ready to abandon ship,

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Gilding: The End (of fossil fuels) is Nigh

The stubborn inertia of our political and energy systems in the face of stark climate change realities has been the great frustration of the past decade (or three), and is at the root of the discouragement and despair that’s growing in many of us.  Our society seems intent on waiting too long to act.  But Paul Gilding has become a leading voice for an alternate view, one that sees the past decade as prelude to a tipping point we can embrace rather than dread.  His book, The Great Disruption, laid out his view that when push came to shove with climate change, the market and the big-monied economic elites would spur a WWII-scale refocus of the economy toward carbon-neutral energy.  For the past couple of years, he’s updated the book’s themes with fresh analysis every few months, based on the latest global developments.  He’s now convinced that 2015 is the year that the “Dam of Denial” breaks, and his latest missive offers further encouragement that the long-sought disruptions are at hand:

For over a hundred years, energy markets have been defined by physical resources, supplied in large volumes by large, slow moving companies developing long life assets in the context of slow moving shifts in markets. The new emerging energy system of renewables and storage is a “technology” business, more akin to information and communications technology, where prices keep falling, quality keeps rising, change is rapid and market disruption is normal and constant.

If you haven’t tuned into Gilding before, this is a great place to start.  The new piece includes links to several of his key articles over the past two years, and will likely leave you feeling a tad—or a lot—more optimistic about our prospects.  Read on here for a few more nuggets from this most recent article:

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Riding the exponential finance wave

One of the challenging—and fun!—parts of being a resilient investor is staying abreast of the relentless river of innovation that courses through so many aspects of our lives these days.  None of us can really take it all in, but hopefully we each have areas we follow more closely, areas of expertise that inform and guide us.  It’s good to take the time to scan “headlines from the future” in other realms as well. One of our favorite sources for radically evolutionary news is Singularity University; their site (and feed or weekly email) is especially relevant to the Driver and Dreamer future forecast types among us.  This week, they featured a series of posts from a conference on “Exponential Finance” that they cosponsored with CNBC.  It’s all as mind-opening and exciting as we’ve come to expect from Singularity, and well worth a few minutes of your time as part of your continuing education, so you won’t be caught unaware by the this cresting wave that will be rolling on in not too far in the future.  

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How to thrive in the pressures of the “breakthrough decade”

John Elkington, the long-time sustainability champion who coined the term “triple bottom line,” has released an intriguing—dare we even say entertaining?—new treatise on how companies and individuals can adapt to survive and thrive in the face of today’s growing confluence of social, environmental, and economic pressures.

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Future forecasting remains fraught, fascinating

Our book has some fun mocking the self-assurred pronouncements of televised pundits, and also pushes our readers to seriously confront their own blinkered views of what may be coming in the decades to come.  The fundamental message of The Resilient Investor is that no matter what you see as most likely, these times of rapid change and unpredictability require a broader diversification of our time and attention, so you’ll to be “ready for anything.”  This can sometimes come across as preparing for the worst (we’ll have a post on this misconception soon), but staying poised to take advantage of new opportunities is surely the more exciting part of the equation.

A series of recent articles caught our eye in this regard.  First up, a couple of quickies from Peter Diamandis, one that looked back at eight exponential changes we’ve seen over the past ten years (e.g., in 2005, YouTube first appeared and driverless cars were just twinkles in DARPA’s eye), and another that spells out eight even more disruptive changes that he sees in the coming decade (including 8 billion people being online and a financial revolution driven by the blockchain protocol that fueled Bitcoin).

Going a tad deeper was a Huffington piece featuring few paragraphs each from seven top futurists.  What are they seeing in their crystal balls that might shape the world in ways we’ll want to be ready to respond to? Many focus on health care, where computing, sensing, and AI advancements are combining to create some huge leaps. Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

“By 2025, 3D printers will print clothing at very low cost. There will be many free open source designs, but people will still spend money to download clothing files from the latest hot designer just as people spend money today for eBooks, music and movies despite all of the free material available. 3D printers will print human organs using modified stem cells with the patient’s own DNA providing an inexhaustible supply of organs and no rejection issues. We will be also able to repair damaged organs with reprogrammed stem cells, for example a heart damaged from a heart attack. 3D printers will print inexpensive modules to snap together a house or an office building, lego style.”

“Predictive medicine transforms health care. Early diagnosis of disease with medical devices that sniff our breath, and free DNA sequencing that predicts our future health will be common. Personalized genetic medicine will prevent disease, saving lives and billions in lost productivity. . . . Apps designed by medical professionals will provide efficient real-time feedback, tackle chronic conditions at a much earlier stage, and help to improve the lifestyles and life outcomes of communities in the developed and developing world.”

“The technologies aren’t the most important bit—although they are super cool. It’s what society does with them, and right now it’s institutional change that’s the sticking point. What you really want to look at, in my opinion, is new ways of organizing ourselves.”

 

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How fiction fuels the future

One of the more memorable and fun brainstorming sessions for our book zeroed in on famous books and movies that illustrate our four primary future scenarios.  Yet we found that while there are plenty of stories of breakdown (Mad Max, the current zombie craze), breakthrough (Star Trek), and muddling down (Hunger Games), there are very few tales casting light on how we might find our way into a more balanced world and society from where we are now.  Project Hieroglyph aims to do something about that.  PS Magazine’s brief review captures its essence:

As Neal Stephenson puts it, science fiction “supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place,” producing icons that serve as “hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on which everyone agrees.” Science fiction is a way to craft big, compelling visions that will get people working on building the future.

While the stories in this initial volume are a mixed bag, the impulse is an important one.  The Project’s website hosts interviews with authors and discussions on the stories, and background on the emerging science featured in many of them.  The site of its institutional home, ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination is also rife with related news and videos–for example, a recent post highlighting anthologies from the Tomorrow Project, which feature writing from young authors, age 13-25.

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Ready for Anything: an in-depth Resilient Investor interview

The C-Realm podcast recently featured a 45-minute interview with our very own Hal Brill; the host really “gets” what we’re trying to do with The Resilient Investor, and the interview offers one of the most in-depth explorations of its themes, and of Hal’s unusual life path toward this work.  As the teaser suggests:

In a future marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, investors need to overhaul their risk management toolkit. . . Being ready for anything means a lot more than just having your money in the right investments.

You can stream the show or download it here.

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Kids today…changing the investment world!

We were inspired by a recent “open letter” written by Liesel Pritzker Simmons, a young Millennial who was sick and tired of hearing the oldsters bemoaning her generation’s listless ways.  She reminds the financial industry that the great wealth transfer that left baby boomers better off than any previous generation is about to bestow even larger estates on her generation, to the tune of $30 trillion in North America alone, and points to a report from Impact Assets titled, The Millennial Perspective: Understanding Preferences of the New Asset Owners.

But Liesel has her own bugle to sound and we found her core themes to be music to our ears:

  • Stop talking about trade-offs. Like many in my generation, I want to do good and do well; I want profit with purpose. We don’t have to settle for one or the other. I know Milton Friedman didn’t think it was possible. Spoiler alert: Milton Friedman is not our idol.
  • We want to create value, real value. I want my investments to help improve livelihoods for communities. I want to help improve the land we live on. I want to help reduce waste or carbon emissions. Sustainable, long-term financial return can only be generated by improving social or environmental value, not extracting it.
  • We have to broaden our definition of risk. Investors like me are not satisfied with the traditional definition of risk – standard deviation and variability of returns. I think that is way too narrow. Hopefully, we will still be alive in 50 years, and that smog-filled, diabetes-riddled world we are creating sounds awfully expensive to me, regardless of how much my portfolio outperformed its benchmarks in Q3 2014. When we decide not to price in the negative impacts of our investments today, we are creating more risk (that someone will have to pay for) down the road.

And most importantly, let’s finally acknowledge that every investment we make has an impact on the world around us. Let’s make it a good one!

A broader definition of wealth, looking beyond limited views of risk, embracing the effects our choices have on the world—that sounds to us like another resilient investor in the making!

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