We are living through one of the greatest inflexion points in history. The three largest forces on the planet—technology, globalisation, and climate change—are all accelerating at once. Every day, going forward we’re going to be asked to dance in a hurricane, set off by these accelerations.
Thank you for being late
Like many others, Friedman was beginning to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the dizzying pace of change. He needed to give himself permission to just slow down; He needed permission to be alone with his thoughts—without having to tweet about them, take a picture of them, or share them with anyone. Reclaiming quietness. Creating space for reflection and thought.
What the hell happened in 2007?
- On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs announced that Apple had reinvented the mobile phone.
- In 2007, storage capacity for computing exploded thanks to the emergence that year of a company called Hadoop, making “big data” possible for all.
- In 2007, development began on an open-source platform for writing and collaborating on software, called GitHub
- In 2007, a micro-blogging company called Twitter was spun off
- In 2007, Google launched Android,
- In 2007, Airbnb was conceived in an apartment in San Francisco.
- In 2007 IBM began building a cognitive computer called Watson
- In 2007, Amazon released something called the Kindle,
- In 2007, Airbnb was conceived in an apartment in San Francisco.
- In 2007, Intel introduced non-silicon materials—
- 2007 was also “the beginning of the clean power revolution and the beginning of an exponential rise in solar energy, wind, biofuels, LED lighting, energy-efficient buildings, and the electrification of vehicles.
- Last but certainly not least, in 2007 the cost of DNA sequencing began to fall dramatically as the biotech industry shifted to new sequencing techniques and platforms, leveraging all the computing and storage power that was just exploding.
Exponential times three
Freedman also read “The second machine age”, but he thinks the Machine today is even more complicated. That’s because it’s not just pure technological change that has hit the second half of the chessboard. It is also two other giant forces: accelerations in globalisation and climate change, population growth, and biodiversity loss—all of which have also been accelerating, as they, too, enter the second halves of their chessboards. These three accelerations are impacting one another—more Moore’s law is driving more globalisation, and more globalisation is driving more climate change, and more Moore’s law is also driving more potential solutions to climate change and a host of other challenges—and at the same time transforming almost every aspect of modern life.
Dislocation is when the whole environment is being altered so quickly that everyone starts to feel they can’t keep up.” That is what is happening now. Indeed, there is a mismatch between the change in the pace of change and our ability to develop the learning systems, training systems, management systems, social safety nets, and government regulations that would enable citizens to get the most out of these accelerations and cushion their worst impacts. This mismatch, as we will see, is at the centre of much of the turmoil roiling politics and society in both developed and developing countries today. It now constitutes probably the most important governance challenge across the globe.
Made me look up “Anticipating 2025” again. The key lesson from that is that the issue is not technical engineering, it is the cultural engineering. Adoption and acceptance. Managing culture lag. Marketing and politics. Even though human beings and societies have steadily adapted to change, on average, the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes. Many of us cannot keep pace anymore. And that is causing us cultural angst. Our societal structures are failing to keep pace with the rate of change. The only adequate response is that we try to increase our society’s ability to adapt
One of the hardest things for the human mind to grasp is the power of exponential growth in anything—what happens when something keeps doubling or tripling or quadrupling over many years and just how big the numbers can get.
If you took Intel’s first-generation microchip from 1971, the 4004, and the latest chip Intel has on the market today, the sixth-generation Intel Core processor, you will see that Intel’s latest chip offers 3,500 times more performance, is 90,000 times more energy efficient, and is about 60,000 times lower in cost. To put it more vividly, Intel engineers did a rough calculation of what would happen had a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as microchips did under Moore’s law.
These are the numbers: Today, that Beetle would be able to go about three hundred thousand miles per hour. It would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and it would cost four cents! Intel engineers also estimated that if automobile fuel efficiency improved at the same rate as Moore’s law, you could roughly speaking, drive a car your whole life on one tank of gasoline.
ASCI needed more computing power than could be delivered by any existing machine. Its response was to commission a computer called ASCI Red, designed to be the first supercomputer to process more than one teraflop. A “flop” is a floating point operation, i.e., a calculation involving numbers which include decimal points … (computationally much more demanding than calculations involving binary ones and zeroes). A teraflop is a trillion such calculations per second. Once Red was up and running at full speed, by 1997, it really was a specimen. Its power was such that it could process 1.8 teraflops. That’s 18 followed by 11 zeros. Red continued to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world until about the end of 2000. I was playing on Red only yesterday—I wasn’t really, but I did have a go on a machine that can process 1.8 teraflops. This Red equivalent is called the PS3 [PlayStation 3]: it was launched by Sony in 2005 and went on sale in 2006.
The day after tomorrow
There is a lot of overlap with “The day after tomorrow” mentioning software eating the world, IoT, the cloud, AI, data storage, genetics, biology, etc. He calls it the supernova. For instance, the power of machines—whether they are computers, robots, cars, handheld phones, tablets, or watches—has crossed a new line. Many are being endowed with all five of the senses that humans have, and a brain to process them. In many cases, machines can now think on their own. But they also have sight—they can recognise and compare images. They have hearing—they can recognise speech. They have voices—they can be tour guides and interpreters and translate from one language to another. They can move and touch things on their own and respond to that touch; they can act as your chauffeur or lift your packages or even manifest the dexterity, via a 3-D printer, to print a whole human organ. Some are even being taught to recognise smells and tastes. And we humans can now summon all of these powers with a single touch, gesture, or spoken word.
All “industries are becoming computable. When an industry becomes computable, it goes through a series of predictable changes: It moves from being digitised to being disrupted to being democratised.” The gap between science fiction and science is getting really narrow now because as soon as someone has that idea and articulates it, it can be manifested in a very short period of time.
We are in “Tomorrowland“. Makers paradise. Today, if you can imagine it, it will happen. It is just a matter of how much it will cost.
The world is more interconnected than ever. Think of the flow of friends through Facebook, the flow of renters through Airbnb, the flow of opinions through Twitter, the flow of e-commerce through Amazon, Tencent, and Alibaba, the flow of crowdfunding through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe, the flow of ideas and instant messages through WhatsApp and WeChat, the flow of peer-to-peer payments and credit through PayPal and Venmo, the flow of pictures through Instagram, the flow of education through Khan Academy, the flow of college courses through MOOCs, the flow of design tools through Autodesk, the flow of music through Apple, Pandora, and Spotify, the flow of video through Netflix, the flow of news through NYTimes.com or BuzzFeed.com, the flow of cloud-based tools through Salesforce, the flow of searches for knowledge through Google, and the flow of raw video through Periscope and Facebook.
The McKinsey Digital Flows study noted that back in 1990, “the total value of global flows of goods, services, and finance amounted to $5 trillion, or 24% of world GDP. There were some 435 million international tourist arrivals, and the public Internet was in its infancy. Fast-forward to 2014: some $30 trillion worth of goods, services, and finance, equivalent to 39% of GDP, was exchanged across the world’s borders. Cross-border bandwidth [terabits per second] has grown 45 times larger since 2005. There is a correlation between countries with high GDP and “high Internet penetration
But maybe we are “overconnected”. Because, all of that, in turn, is vastly amplifying the power of one. What one person—one single, solitary person—can now do constructively and destructively is also being multiplied to a new level. It used to take a person to kill a person; now it is possible to imagine a world where one day one person could kill everyone.
Finding the balance
The challenge is to find the right balance. In too many ways on too many days, we have failed to do that in the big Western industrial democracies over the past decade. Many Americans are feeling overwhelmed these days by globalisation. It Is because we’ve let all the physical technologies driving it (immigration, trade, and digital flows) get way too far ahead of the social technologies (the learning and adapting tools) needed to cushion their impacts and anchor people in healthy communities that can help.
A “black elephant,” is a cross between a “black swan” a rare, low-probability, unanticipated event with enormous ramifications, and “the elephant in the room: a problem that is widely visible to everyone, yet that no one wants to address, even though we absolutely know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences. Currently, there are a herd of environmental black elephants gathering out there, global warming, deforestation, ocean acidification, and mass biodiversity extinction, just to name four.
Which means that Mother Nature has also entered the second half of the chessboard.
- Greenland is losing 287 billion tons of ice per year.
- CO2 is famously entering the atmosphere about 100 times faster than it did when the planet emerged from the most recent ice age, about 12,000 years ago.
- We are now at more than 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere
- The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 35% higher than its peak for the last 800,000 years.
- Sea-levels are higher than they’ve been in 115,000 years, and the rise is accelerating.
- A century of synthetic-fertiliser production has disrupted the earth’s nitrogen cycle more dramatically than any event in 2.5 billion years
- We must maintain around 75% of the Earth’s original forests. We are now down to 62%.
- We should maintain 90 percent of biodiversity. We are down to 84%.
We are a force of nature
We as a species are now a force of, in, and on nature. In little over two generations—or a single lifetime—humanity (or until very recently a small fraction of it) has become a planetary-scale geological force. We have created a world in which human beings have become more godlike than ever before. In the past, only Mother Nature controlled the evolution of the species, and now mankind is inheriting that capability at scale with bio-engineering.
We are running out of spare parts
We are the first generation for whom “later” will be the time when all of Mother Nature’s buffers, spare tires, tricks of the trade, and tools for adapting and bouncing back will be exhausted or breached. It is not that we don’t have the money. To restore a hectare of degraded land will cost between one hundred and three hundred dollars. It now costs the same to destroy the climate or save it. You do the sums. Unfortunately, we cannot rebuild the Greenland ice sheet, the Amazon rainforest, or the Great Barrier Reef. The same is true of the rhinos, macaws, and orang-utans. No 3-D printer will bring them back to life.
What makes this book well worth a read is the reflection on the impact. For example, the high-wage, middle-skilled job has gone the way of Kodak film.
The motivational divide
It talks about the importance of lifelong learning. About the motivational divide. The future will belong to those who have the self-motivation to take advantage of all the free and cheap tools and flows coming out of the supernova. Because so much of the learning will now have to happen long after you have left high school, college, or your parents’ home—not in the discipline of a classroom.
The skills needed
About the importance of talent, skills, tacit know-how, empathy, creativity, strong fundamentals in writing, reading, coding, and math; creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; grit, self-motivation, and lifelong learning habits; and entrepreneurship and improvisation—at every level.
About how you can only be a lifelong employee if you are ready to be a lifelong learner. The trends of mini online courses, or nano-degrees and “expeditionary learning”, creating your own knowledge and inventing your own career.
About the importance of focus as the technology of interruption has outpaced the technology of concentration. No athlete, no scientist, no musician ever got better without focused practice, and there is no program you can download for that. It has to come from within.
About moving from “AI into IA.” turning artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance, intelligent assistants, and intelligent algorithms.
About the need for new organisational structures and speeding up the organisation’s innovation metabolism. Military strategists will tell you that the network is the most empowered organisational form in this period of technological change; classical hierarchies do not optimise in the flat world, but the network does. Networks undermine command-and-control systems—no matter who is on top—while strengthening the voices of whoever is on the bottom to talk back. Which will make trust, culture and social capital the deciding factors for the future.
Each successive generation, a smaller and smaller number of people, is enabled to affect the lives of larger and larger numbers of other people through the application of technology. If you want to break something now at scale, this is your era. Which is why we need to invest in the tools that enable young people to realise their full potential so that we are countering the spread of humiliation, which is the single biggest motivator for people to go out and break things. We need moral innovation.
Biomimicry at scale
The problems are incredibly complex. Peter Hinssen gives a model to think about the day after tomorrow. Freedman has one too. Straight from mother nature herself. Biomimicry at a macro level. Mother Nature is not a living being, but she is a biogeophysical, rationally functioning, complex system of oceans, atmosphere, forests, rivers, soils, plants, and animals that have evolved on Planet Earth since the first hints of life emerged.
That alone makes Mother Nature an important mentor. But she is even more relevant today because we human beings have now built—with our own hands, brains, muscles, computers, and machines—our own complex global system of networks. These networks have become so interconnected, hyperconnected, and interdependent in their complexity that, more than ever, they’ve come to resemble the complexity of the natural world and how its interdependent ecosystems operate.
- Mother Nature believes in lifelong learning; species that don’t keep learning and adapting disappear.
- Mother Nature produces resilience by being relentlessly entrepreneurial—always looking for new niches to exploit and fill and always experimenting
- Mother Nature understands that the best way to evolve and advance the best ideas is to have a large pool of them, and see which ones can adapt to which niches and also serve the whole.
- She understands that nothing enhances the resilience of an ecosystem, or healthy interdependencies, more than a richly diverse cornucopia of plant and animal species, each adapted to the other and to a specific environmental niche. High biodiversity means every niche is filled and playing its part to keep the whole in balance.
- She nests her communities—which are analogous to states, counties, and towns—within a flexible framework that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. That is, she’s built on trillions and trillions of small-scale networks, starting with microorganisms and building into bigger and bigger ecosystems. And when you have trillions of small-scale networks woven together into ecosystems, the overall system is very hard to break. It’s resilient.
- She understands that stability is produced by endless acts of dynamism. She would tell us that there is nothing static about stability. A system that looks static and is static is a system that’s about to die.
- Mother Nature also believes in bankruptcy. She believes individual plants and animals must be allowed to fail for the whole ecosystem to succeed. She has no mercy for her mistakes, for the weak, or for those who can’t adapt to get their seeds, their DNA, into the next generation.
- Mother Nature believes in the vital importance of topsoil—the top layer of soil in which all plants and trees sink their roots and derive their primary nutrients to grow into the world. Read “The hidden half of nature“.
The countries, organisations, cultures, and political systems that will be the most adaptive will be those that consciously choose to mimic Mother Nature’s killer apps for producing resilience and propulsion.
One person can kill everyone
We will be “the first self-endangered species. It used to take a person to kill a person; now it is possible to imagine a world where one day one person could kill everyone. Therefore, properly exercising the powers that have been uniquely placed in the hands of our generation will require a degree of moral innovation—in this age of super-empowered angry men and women, that we have barely begun to explore.
In a world of super-empowered individuals, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that in as many ways as possible we are creating moral contexts and weaving healthy interdependencies that embrace the immigrant, the stranger, and the loner, and inspire more people in more places to want to make things rather than break things. There is no restraint stronger than thinking your friends and family will hate or disrespect you for what you do—and that can be generated only by a community.
The fact is, for our survival as a species, our very notion of “community” has to expand the boundaries of the planet. If Mother Nature is treating us all as one, and if the power of one, the power of machines, and the power of flows can touch all of us at once, then we are a community whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not. And if we are a global community, we have to start to act like one. Interdependency is a moral reality. We need to promote resilience and propulsion in this age of accelerations—innovation in the building of healthy communities. When people feel embedded in a community, they feel “protected, when people feel protected, respected, and connected in a healthy community. It generates enormous trust.
Collaboration and trust
Collaboration moves at the speed of trust. Social capital can be embodied in the smallest and most basic social group, the family, as well as the largest of all groups, the nation, and in all the other groups in between. National governments are just too cumbersome, distant, and, in too many cases, gridlocked to have the agility needed in the age of accelerations. The basic architecture of a resilient and prosperous twenty-first-century society must be a network of healthy communities.
Community development as the job of the future