city-1057678_1280The cities of the planet are growing in both numbers and influence. United Nations predicts that in 2050 about 66% of the human population on this planet will not live in rural but in urban areas. Comparing this to 30% in 1950 the global rate by which the cities are growing is amazing. In Sweden, where I live, the urbanized part of the population today is 86% and is predicted to rise to 90% in 2050 i e 9 out of 10 people are soon living in cities in Sweden. For a country which was late into the industrialization and urbanization game this shift is quite extraordinary even if it currently being dwarfed by many fast urbanizing countries outside the West.

...continue reading "The City – the mother of all sharing platforms"

What is Blockchain and what are the possible consequences for the future?
Blockchain is the key innovation behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and have lately come in focus almost everywhere. Blockchain itself can be described as a technology with the ability to displace the need for other (e g human, legal, governmental…) layers of trust between any numbers of globally distributed endnodes. We can compare it to how e-mail and messaging is displacing the need for mailmen and postal services. Or putting it another way: it is a global distributed platform for implementing algorithm based trust relations.

Ok, but what does all this mean for the world in the longer term?

...continue reading "The possible long term potential of Blockchain"

On October 11 Thomas L. Friedman, author of widely selling books like The Lexus and the Olive Tree, The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded as well as a NY Times columnist wrote a massively referred and tweeted column by the name Something’s Happening Here, which he started off by:

When you see spontaneous social protests erupting from Tunisia to Tel Aviv to Wall Street, it’s clear that something is happening globally that needs defining. There are two unified theories out there that intrigue me. One says this is the start of “The Great Disruption.” The other says that this is all part of “The Big Shift.” You decide.

And ends with:

So there you have it: Two master narratives — one threat-based, one opportunity-based, but both involving seismic changes. Gilding is actually an optimist at heart. He believes that while the Great Disruption is inevitable, humanity is best in a crisis, and, once it all hits, we will rise to the occasion and produce transformational economic and social change (using tools of the Big Shift). Hagel is also an optimist. He knows the Great Disruption may be barreling down on us, but he believes that the Big Shift has also created a world where more people than ever have the tools, talents and potential to head it off. My heart is with Hagel, but my head says that you ignore Gilding at your peril.

You decide.

Since I have been following and been talking about the future based on the underlying driving forces that lead up to this development for many years now, I couldn't agree more to about the relevance of these narratives. But I think Friedman makes a mistake when he thinks just one of these two narratives about "The Great Disruption " and "The Big Shift" are right. To me these two theories actually describes two driving forces that play out simultaneously , which both will have huge ramifications on our society. Because of this model I call our society which now lives through this the transition society.

This is a compressed version of a slide I usually show in order to talk about how these forces are related to each other. As you can see here I think of the impact as a transition phase where one s-curve shaped development is replaced, being succeeded or eventually melted together with another development in form of an s-curve. As we know from ecological systems, the outcome from such a transition is highly uncertain, and I think we should think about our future in the same way.

This way of visualizing the future is of course highly abstract and theoretical, but is nevertheless one of the few ways I have found to visualize the complex development of what we see happening around us. One argument for this S-curve/transition model is that it would also explain the transients and rapid swings we see today and which is a normal effect in the observation of phase transitions in e g  physics, chemistry and biology.

Courtesy of Agecom Bahia (Creative Commons license)

We can talk about scenario planning in order to see, understand and manage uncertainty on a longer term planning level but when it comes running the daily business the result of the process i e how we design companies and structures will be the crucial point for the future.

I am again talking about the need to redesign society and businesses and build resilient and shock-managing institutions, rather than slim, lean, efficient and just-in-time structures. Or maybe they can be slim, lean, efficient and just-in-time, but ONLY of these properties are helping organizations to be better at managing dramatic and sudden changes. Otherwise this mental heritage (or garbage) of efficiency and just-in-time thinking from an obsolete industrial age will lead to a certain death when the grim reaper of unexpected shocks or changes comes to take his tribute.

One sign of change comes from Toyota who seems to maintain it's thought leader position when it comes to taking the next level of industrial development into the area of resilience...

Based on the terrible experience of the Japanese earthquake Toyota are now aiming at change their manufacturing and supplier structures with these three steps:

  1. Standardizing parts - so Japanese automakers could share components manufactured in different locations
  2. Increase supplier inventories - so the outsourced delivery of components will be able to deliver parts longer and not so fast be victims of sudden shortages of material
  3. Making each region independent - i e procurement of components are local so a disaster somewhere would not affect production overseas

This is really interesting but it is worth noting it is just a part of the solution and just from the perspective of the manufacturing plant. There are much more and deeper work to do in order to make the whole value process around the automotive industry resilient and future ready.

But from a longer term strategic perspective, taking this path, or rather being forced to go down it, could turn out to be as important for the long term future success of Japanese auto manufacturers, as the collective Japanese decision to decrease fuel consumption was in the 1980:s.

Are the Japanese again using their problems and tragedies in order to improve before everybody else does?

Read more in Reuter article.

It is a bit weird that it is much more easy to write things in the unstructured and undemanding link stream i e my Tumblr feed, than to write things here. I will try to change that...

For some time I have been thinking about the role of destruction in change processes. That lead me e g to reread Asimov's Foundation, which I referred to some time ago in this blog.

One of the "natural laws" of civilizational collapse is that there seems to be a causal relation between a civilizational collapse and knowledge destruction. For example when Rome or the Mayan civilization fell, the whole people (which of course didn't die off and disappear) rather quickly also lost much of their knowledge and skills. Everything from mathematical, engineering and astronomical knowledge to a long row of artistic skills and more advanced farming skills seems to have quickly deteriorated and disappeared as a direct consequence of the fall a common organization.

It is obvious that there is a causal explanation that knowledge destruction could lead to societal collapse, but I am not asking that. My question concern the opposite direction of that causal link: why knowledge destruction follows societal collapse.

Maybe it is obvious to you, but to me this is really a riddle. Why does this happen and what mechanisms are in play here? Why can't e g a small group of people harbor key pieces of the knowledge and continue to develop it?

When watching a video of a recent and very interesting and insightful talk by Dr Anders Sandberg about Cloud Superintelligence, one possible piece of that puzzle suddenly fell into place. He showed in a clear way why many average people, connected to each other, can create extraordinary results even if there is quite a lot of noise in the system. He basically states that there is a direct relation between the number of individuals communicating to each other and collective group intelligence.

The purpose of his talk is to explain why the cloud is actually creating superintelligence, which we can see in e g wikipedia, but by going that path he also explains how and why communicating groups is achieving better results. And that there is a knee on the curve when the communicating groups are too small and don't achieve the same level of result.

To me this suggests that the major, and perhaps only, important factor for explaining the loss of knowledge due to societal collapse is that larger groups of people is being scattered into many smaller communicating groups, which, just because they consists of a smaller number of communicating individuals, is losing a lot of their collaborative group intelligence. As a consequence they probably take much worse collaborative decisions when it e g comes to electing leaders, who to collaborate with or how to use the available resources in the best way.

Watch Anders' talk for yourself and listen to his explanation:

Another consequence of this concerns, if it is true, not the past, but the future and not just that we are on our way to create a Collaborative Superintelligence: modern communication technology (read "the Internet") might for the first time in history provide us with a capacity to, even if our societies are structurally collapsing, continue communication in sufficiently large groups, which in turn most likely will let us maintain our knowledge and collaborative IQ.

I e IF we succeed in protecting our global communication infrastructure from the defenders of national security (which most often mean their own position of power)...

If anyone is interested in the theories why civilizations fall I can recommend the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and of course the important book about group intelligence: Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

Don Tapscott, is stating the paradigmatic effect of Internet on the whole society in this short and radical movie. He states that:

  • The web is creating a global infrastructure for collaboration (which leads to disruption and confusion)
  • As a result, all of our institutions have come to the end of their life-cycle
  • The current recession is a crucial punctuation point in human history - the point where we said that we need to reset, the point where the industrial economy has finally run out of gas
  • This paradigm shift is creating a crisis of leadership
  • The Digital Natives are inheriting this situation - and they think very differently
  • Kids are now the authority on many issues
  • We have 40 years to re-industrialize the planet

[From MediaFuturist: Don Tapscott: Anybody that thinks we come out of this recession and get back to business as usual is deeply mistaken]

I think he is sort of right and I basically argue something similar, but I try to avoid his mistake of attribute everything to just the Internet. Internet is a really important driving force that shapes a lot of things right now, but both the end of the industrial era and the new challenges we see today is a result of many other important driving forces as well.

But it is a brilliantly short and crispy video with a message:

Sometimes a single word can spark a whole new set of thoughts. That is what the term neoteny did to me in the beginning of the summer.

So, you don't know what neoteny is? Neither did I until an acquaintance explained the term to me when talking about dogs and how they have evolved in relation to humans.

En Wikipedia you can read this:

Neoteny (pronounced /niːˈɒtɨniː/), also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles (a kind of pedomorphosis), and is a subject studied in the field ofdevelopmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal or organism is slowed or delayed (alternatively, seen as a dilation of biological time). Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. The Englishword neoteny is borrowed from the German Neotenie, the latter constructed from the Greek νέος (young) and τείνειν (tend to). The standard adjectival form is "neotenous"[2], although "neotenic" is often used.

In short: Neoteny is an evolutionary phenomenon describing when adults are showing juvenile properties, usually physical changes due to natural selection, where juvenile properties is showing up in adults and seems to give an evolutionary advantage of some kind. Traditional examples are hairlessness, cuteness and some other pedomorphic properties which seems to be regarded as attractive and either increase sexual reproduction or reduce risk to be killed.

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Domesticated dogs, and especially small lapdogs, are the standard examples of this phenomenon. Probably because it is obvious that many lapdogs more resembles eternal puppies, but also because their behavioral development seems to be stopped in a juvenile state by us humans who act as their eternal parents.

Humans show these kind of changes as well and biologists use to refer to our hairlessness and the now almost general lactose intolerance neotenous changes.

In recent years it is also suggested that behavioral and other psychological changes, like e g delayed maturity, might basically be aspects of the same phenomenon. This is called psychological neoteny and is discussed by Bruce Charlton, a british psychologist. He argues that the phenomenon of delayed maturity (psychological neoteny) is helping people with maintaining the childish naiveté and creativity longer in a world that keeps changing and defies planning. This is however a teleological explanation which if it is right (if he succeed in getting his causal chain right...) just explain things at a micro level. An argument against Bruce Charlton is of course, that this can't be a evolutionary phenomenon since it doesn't follow as a consequence of natural selection.

Why does this strange phenomenon of neoteny occur here and there in nature? Some theories suggests that it is a way for nature to back about of a evolutionary path. Maybe it is some kind of backtracking in order to try to fix some design flaws with this particular branch, assuming it to have the general properties right? Just some kind of minor adjustment - a scrambling some of the minor properties. Maybe it is one of evolutions economic principles, which is tried first, before some more brutal fitness test is forced to cut off the whole branch as failed?

Regardless it seems to be signaling a mismatch between a species and it's environment.

What is so interesting about this phenomenon of neoteny when we talk about the future of humanity?

Basically two things:

  1. Neoteny might be interpreted as a way for nature to back out of an evolutionary path
  2. Humans is showing clear signs of an accelerating neoteny when it comes to psychological behavior - if we grow up at all, we do it much later than we did just 50 years ago

Could it be the case that the general psychological behavioral trend of resistance to leave adolescence we see in the Western world, and which is rapidly spreading across the globe, is a neotenous phenomenon with far reaching evolutionary consequences?

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If it really is a deeply rooted and evolution based reaction, which is triggered by the situation we experience around us, it will most likely continue for some time and will have consequences. What is even more interesting for me as a futurist is that it might also be a prodrome for some other larger evolutionary effects which awaits around the corner.

Is the delayed maturity of humans telling us something really important about the evolutionary status of humanity?

When searching for others who have written about neoteny I of course found a blog post by David Brin, who seemed to have been interested in the concept some time in 1995, maybe as research for a book...

What about the future of the automotive industry? It doesn't look good from an American (or Swedish) horizon, but where is all this going and how are we going to transport ourselves tomorrow??

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Yesterday I held a speech at a local conference of entrepreneurship. As usual I talked about scenario planning and it's virtues of creating a better understanding of the business environment, especially when it comes to understanding the underlying driving forces shaping the environment as well as assessing the critical uncertainties of how these will play out.

I also met a former colleague from Volvo and we started to discuss the state of the automotive industry. Suddenly I found myself retelling some of the ideas about the future of the car industry and mobility I spoke about at Volvo almost 10 years ago. Thoughts I had a problem getting people to grasp then... but maybe something has happened since? These are a new remix version of what went on in our minds then, and what is occuring inside in my head these days.

Three futures of personal mobility

Today's car industry is since long stuck in a mature and until recently slowly, but now rapidly braking market. The key reason for this have been, and still is, the unwillingness/inability to reinvent the concept of the car to something else than a increasingly complex, functionality loaded, emotional, status-boosting and expensive entity.

A number of driving forces in the business environment coincide to create the business situation where this reinvention is absolutely necessary:

  • overall diminishing economic growth due the approaching maturity of the industrial markets slowly decrease the customers available money
  • the urbanization continues which
    - decrease the need for a car in daily life
    - increase the cost of land and thus the cost for owning/parking a car
    - increase the awareness of the air pollution as a problem
    - increase the traffic congestions
    - increase the number of people who have a different economic situation with an uneven income that is dependent on projects, cultural consumption and other idea driven short activities
  • increasing global awareness of the climate situation
  • increasing/uncertain cost of energy
  • people are experience, meaning and identity driven in a different way than before which makes them more discontinuous and unpredictable in their behavior and choices

A certain indicator of this development is the continuous increase in the use of bicycles and small personal motorized vehicles (e g mopeds) in modern cities. The situation have since 10+ years become more and more critical so the problem isn't new. What is starting to occur is that the automotive industry is running out of both buffered resources and there is still no signs of proactive ideas.

What we now can be almost certain of, judging from the period from the different crisis from 1972 until the present, is that the ideas and innovations with a potential to change the situation will not come from inside the automotive industry itself. But where will they come from?

Two major long term driving forces shaping the future entrepreneurial landscape seems to be:

Simpler functions are are on the rise, not increasingly complex services - In the area of Internet and Web 2.0 we seems to have found a really important insight, which is slowly finding its way to other areas. When decreasing the complexity in an offer, as well as the process paying for it, the potential for rapid success through a high market penetration seems much better. The important advantage is that you can still be rational and efficient on the inside without having to internalize the understanding of complex and continuously changing customer behavior. Reducing complexity in an offer means that there is a better chance of finding a more natural interface between customer logic and production logic. A really important achievement in an increasingly complex and transparent world. This means basically that instead of trying to increase the service content in order to increase the value of a service, many of the successful companies are actually doing the opposite and reducing the width of the service, but instead excel in providing a simplistic but high quality function with global reach.

The rise of low end and distributed innovation - Increasing abilities of innovation among the other 4 billion people is changing the focus of innovation from exclusive and advanced top end innovation, which describe the majority of development in the West, to inclusive low end innovation for the masses, which is what seems to emerge elsewhere. Companies are slowly starting to realize that in the low end of innovation lies both the future for the rest of the world, but also a pretty huge untapped market. One really interesting effect of this is that a lot of our advanced western innovations, which are adapted to our situation, will be re-innovated in other parts of the world and under completely different circumstances and cost pressure. And when people realize that great many of these new innovations solves basically the same problem as we have here, but to a fraction of the cost, we are going to import these in great quantities in about the same fashion we today import a lot of produced goods from the rest of the world.

We can talk about the last one in more general ways as the rise of mass-collaboration, mass-amateurization and mass-innovation as well, but for my purpose here this description level suits me.

Another development that could be mentioned here is the Open Source/Open Content/Open X development, but as I see it is just a way of organizing innovation which of course will have a huge impact on how the different innovations will be developed, but will make less of an impact on how the future of personal mobility will develop.

If we consider these driving forces as important, but yet uncertain in how the might impact the automotive industry, how will they play out. What might happen??

Scenario 1 - The car (industry) is slowing down - to crash

The legal system is reinforcing the inertia in the western traditional industrial mindset when it comes to change how we transport ourselves. In the rest of the world a vast palette of new low cost transport technologies are seeing the dawn of light. Many of them builds on the bicycle and different kinds of individual vehicles propelled by solar powered electricity. We in the west shows again that we are simply unable to adopt innovations coming from outside of our own ranks.

Due to no alternative working transportation solutions, people in the western cities are being forced to increasingly use their bicycles and public transportation systems. One reason is that many of them will not even own a car. This development will reveal a number of problems with our current city planning when it comes to both managing bicycles as well as public transportation.

The automotive industry will continue it's slide downward and will basically crash. Maybe some of the leftovers will be reconfigured to smaller companies selling their increasingly expensive cars in the rural and niche markets that will remain.

Scenario 2 - The low end reinvention of the car - "The car is dead! Long live the car!!"

In this scenario the car is reinvented through the innovation powers that rise among the other 4 billion. Instead of an expensive car that is intelligent and safe, the new car is small and comes in many (but smaller) varieties. Some of them will more resemble a concealed moped with place for one person, while others will have room for both a family and a few bags. The main point is that these vehicles are both light, simple and cheap to buy and drive. They will most likely also be very rugged to survive in a crowded city as well as adapted to small parking areas by being foldable in different ways.

The automotive industry at last realize that if the want to survive in the market of mobility, the will have to enter the new emerging market by buying moped manufacturers and invest in different innovation models and market in the developing world. It means that they will radically widen their view of what a vehicle is and by using what is left of their financial muscle they will have maybe have enough resources to invest in the development of these new cars. It will be bad, but they will at least have a plan and an industry to compete in!

Scenario 3 - Personal mobility is reinvented - mobility as function

In this world the concept of mobility is changed from being based on vehicles, on to other ways of moving people and goods. By taking the perspective of how functions (rather than products or services) can solve the problem of urban and trans-urban mobility in more efficient ways, the breakthrough comes from a completely other direction. Instead a vast numbers of new public transportation innovations see the light of day. Old science fiction ideas like moving sidewalks and different kinds of light and continuous train-like systems are being experimented with in different places.

Suddenly people understand that one of the major competitors to today's car manufacturers are companies like Otis, who have the advantage that they understand how to transport people both horizontally and vertically. By getting rid of the mental connection between mobility and owning/driving a vehicle and regard mobility as a function new possibilities of transportation is opened up.

Traditional car manufacturers realize that they have to engage in the development of transportation systems rather than vehicles. Cars will not disappear but will have a smaller market share and will be thought of as an urban complement to the integrated city system.

Kevin Kelly say something like this in the speech:

"The Internet's development is really amazing, but strangely enough, we are not amazed?"

Do we really understand what is going on?

The last time I wrote about Kevin Kelly in this forum was when he had been writing an interesting article in Wired about the future of Internet in 2005, 10 years after the year 1995 when Netscape went public – a pivotal year in computing and as I am arguing in human organization. When he spoke at TED last year he actually talked about the same subject but now called "Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web". Now it is a far better story, but it is essentially the same idea.

I encourage you to see this, but as fascinated you may be think of this:

Technology change is, if it is diffused to a certain level, an unstoppable transformational force. The relation between the different stages is of course very complex and usually nonlinearly directed in both ways. It is usually very difficult to predict what specific effects these transformation will have, but once the process have started, some effects are inevitable. This is especially true with technologies which change the way which individuals communicate, because it changes some of the fundamental capacities we have as humans, the ability to communicate, view ourselves and organize ourselves. The way we communicate basically constitutes what it is to be human. It follows a simple and elementary line of thought:

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The problem why we don't see these changes immediately is that it takes some time to diffuse a technology or a set of technologies into our behavior so that it transforms e g our institutions and other structures. But that doesn't mean it is not happening.

A way to try to understand the different stages in which technologically induced change happens is to see the sequence of cause and effect over time:

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When looking at Google and eBay I use to say that what we used to call Internet in the 1990:s (that is Web 1.0) is now changing the world at an economical level. The next step for that technology is soon the political/regulatory level. And then we have Web 2.0 and social computing as a new level of technology, not even talking about the Internet of Things when we connect billions of artifacts over the globe and let them talk between themselves.

Kelly naturally and wisely stops short of the post-technical changes in his speech, because it is enough to be flabbergasted about the Internet development in it's own terms – in technical terms by which we are used to talk about machines like computers. Enjoy!