We like to say that a resiliency mindset leaves us “ready for anything”—though that’s far easier said than done. Among the most unfathomable yet clearly critical “known unknowns” barreling down the pike is the rapid maturation of robotics. Just yesterday, the first self-driving tractor trailer truck was licensed for testing in highways in Nevada (don’t worry, there’s a driver; but he’s messing with a tablet, so maybe worry a little bit).
Last year, the Pew Research Center canvassed hundreds of tech professionals to get their thoughts on how robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) will change the economic and employment landscape. As befitting a topic that’s so dynamic and unpredictable, their summary report touches on a range of possibilities that echo our diverse Future Forecasts, with the respondents very evenly split between those foreseeing a breakdown (mass unemployment, inequality, and social disruption) and others expressing a Driver’s faith in innovation and breakthroughs; there’s even a touch of relocalization (ala the top row and left column of our RIM) tossed in, with the “hope that the coming changes will be an opportunity to reassess our society’s relationship to employment itself—by returning to a focus on small-scale or artisanal modes of production, or by giving people more time to spend on leisure, self-improvement, or time with loved ones.”
The one (web)page summary features short paragraphs from an array of thinkers, and the whole report could be a worthy Zone 3 task. There’s something for everyone here; but along with the diversity comes this key conclusion:
Point of agreement: Technology is not destiny … we control the future we will inhabit
In the end, a number of these experts took pains to note that none of these potential outcomes—from the most utopian to most dystopian—are etched in stone. Although technological advancement often seems to take on a mind of its own, humans are in control of the political, social, and economic systems that will ultimately determine whether the coming wave of technological change has a positive or negative impact on jobs and employment.
Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, responded, “A technological advance by itself can either be positive or negative for jobs, depending on the social structure as a whole….this is not a technological consequence; rather it’s a political choice.”
Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of the MIT Technology Review, responded, “There’s no economic law that says the jobs eliminated by new technologies will inevitably be replaced by new jobs in new markets… All of this is manageable by states and economies: but it will require wrestling with ideologically fraught solutions, such as a guaranteed minimum income, and a broadening of our social sense of what is valuable work.”
Or, as Stow Boyd of GigaOM Research (RIP) put it, “The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?”
In the scenario section of The Resilient Investor we talk briefly about the “Star Trek future,” where limitless energy, extraordinary but totally integrated tech, and breakthroughs of consciousness allow everyone to follow their highest calling and contribution. The Earth is without war or poverty (we need Klingons for dramatic conflict), racism and sexism are behind us, and benevolent scientists in concert with farmers, ranchers, and industry manage the climate. The dreamers who contemplate this possible future usually consider it hundreds of years in the future. Clearly we haven’t made much progress on transporters—or war, sexism, and racism, for that matter—but lately I’ve been thinking that the Star Trek future may be closer than we think.
An article in The Guardian provocatively titled “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” grabbed my attention recently. More like tickled my brain and scrunched my face into a “Say what?” Here’s the basic idea: robot tech and smart software is advancing rapidly and the time when we can dramatically reduce the need to work is soon upon us. If so, let’s be sure this doesn’t benefit just a few; let’s share it with everyone. The article promises a near-future “where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.” I also have to say that any article mentioning Star Trek, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, and A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al is going to grab me. Let’s unpack what FALC is all about.
Paul Gilding is an Australian writer, corporate consultant, and long-time activist. His book “The Great Disruption” lays out a classic Dualist vision: he sees that avoidance of the climate issue is likely to send our economy veering into the edge of the ditch, but he’s convinced that as push really comes to shove, economic and political forces will refocus and direct their efforts to avert disaster.
Paul Gilding website
Includes an ongoing series of articles tracking current events in the context of the Great Disruption.
Peter Diamandis is the driving force behind the innovation-fueling X-Prize and Singularity University, and a leading writer and speaker on the potential for exponential and unexpected technological and socially/environmentally-beneficial breakthroughs in the years to come. We could easily have included him alongside his oft-colleague Ray Kurzweil as a Driver, but the breadth of his vision, especially in the book Abundance, tips him toward Dreamer-hood.
Two recent Diamandis initiatives are designed for entrepreneurs and impact investors looking to make positive change in the world: Book: Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World Website/network: Abundance360 Book review of Bold: The review’s opening sentences capture the gist of Diamandis’ breakthrough dreams: “Just as an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs that ruled the Earth and made way for small furry mammals, a new wave of planetary disruptions is about to occur. The new asteroid is called ‘exponential technology.’ It is going to wipe out industries in a similar manner to the rock which fell on Earth during the Cretaceous Period.”
James Howard Kuntsler is a widely respected critic of our society’s overshoot and imbalances. His books include reflections of urbanism, place, and, most famously, the disruptions likely to occur in our society as a result of the end of the era of cheap oil, and the repercussions of climate change.
Book: The Long Emergency In The Long Emergency, published by Atlantic Monthly Press, Kunstler looks ahead to the implications of the trends of declining oil production, climate change, and other challenges that shock the system, and sees major implications on every aspect of life.
Video: The Long Emergency This video includes two parts (separate files on YouTube) and features Kunstler discussing Peak Oil and the Long Emergency that lies ahead.
Alexander Green is Chief Investment Strategist at The Oxford Club (a private investment network), and is also also passionate about growing the kinds of wealth that can’t be measured by a calculator or investment statement. He writes regularly at the Beyond Wealth website, and this essay from that series is about as good a summation of the Dealer faith in “muddling through up” that we’ve seen. Read essay.
This fascinating long form article takes a deep dive into the foreseeable and nearly unforeseeable future of earth and humanity, focusing on the work of Nick Bostrom, the director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, a research collective tasked with pondering the long-term fate of human civilisation. Bostrom considers an array of risks on different timescales, from natural mass extinctions via asteroid impact or a supervolcano to technological missteps to our possible interstellar future. Read article.
Amory Lovins is another of our D-type thought leaders that was hard to squeeze into one category. We’ve included him as a Driver because of his lifelong commitment to working with existing corporate and regulatory structures to move toward a more sustainable energy future, but in many ways, he is also a Dreamer, envisioning fundamental changes in social, economic, and energy systems. Still, his sharp focus on how we get there from here is what stands out, and this is the work of those dedicated to pushing our current system into the future. Lovins is the co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which has pioneered innovative new approaches to automobile design, renewable energy, architectural energy efficiency, and many other key topics.
Book and RMI program: Reinventing Fire Amory Lovins’ book Reinventing Fire was published in 2012, and makes a case for a future powered with no need for oil, coal or nuclear energy. The book demonstrates a practical path away from our current fossil-fuel based economy, by integrating transportation, buildings, industry and electricity, combined with new business approaches and strategies. Video: Reinventing Fire A six-minute introduction from Rocky Mountain Institute Video lecture: Reinventing Fire, presented at the 2011 Bioneers Conference.
Video: Winning the Oil Endgame. In this TED talk, based on his recent book by the same name, Amory Lovins lays out his plan to wean the US off oil and to revitalize the economy.
Video: Amory Lovins on a 40 year Plan for Energy. In this talk filmed at TED’s offices, Amory Lovins describes his ideas for how to wean the US off of oil and coal by 2050, in a way that is led by business for profit, without requiring congressional acts. Lovins says the key is to integrate all four energy-using sectors, as well as applying four kinds of innovation.
Book: Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolutions
authored by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins
The concept of Natural Capitalism integrates the “triple bottom line” of profitability, environmental, and social responsibility into a single bottom line with an outcome of increased operational efficiency within businesses and organizations. The book is accessible via this website in free, downloadable chapters.
Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, & deep ecology. She has long been a powerful voice for reconnection with the earth and a reorientation of our society in ways that acknowledge both the losses we have caused (and the pain we feel at that) and the ways that the natural world continues to nourish us. In recent years, she has highlighted the heroic challenge now before us, and encourages us to forge ahead, despite uncertainty about whether we shall succeed in averting global breakdowns.
Book: Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone authored Active Hope with the intention of supporting readers in finding ways to respond to the mess in which our world finds itself. The book provides tools and guides the reader through a transformational process, integrating mythology, psychology, spirituality and a holistic approach to science.
Video: Active Hope This 51 minute video contains footage from a talk by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, discussing their book “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy.” In this 2013 talk, the authors share their thoughts on how and why hope arises through action.
Interview: It Looks Bleak; Big Deal, It Looks Bleak In this interview, Joanna Macy addresses head-on the reality of being alive during the Sixth Great Extinction, and how she continues to live a life of joy while embracing the reality of the crises of our times.