Only days before(!) Donald Trump is inaugurated as POTUS the US Nation Intelligence Council released a public report on the future which underlines their views of the uncertainties which will shape the next 20 years. The timing of the release of an open intelligence report is of course a whole discussion in itself.

What caught my eye was the formulation of the critical uncertainties formulated in the executive summary in the report:

Yet this dreary near future is hardly cast in stone. Whether the next five or 20 years are brighter—or darker—will turn on three choices:

  • How will individuals, groups, and governments renegotiate their expectations of one another to create political order in an era of empowered individuals and rapidly changing economies?
  • To what extent will major state powers, as well as individuals and groups, craft new patterns or architectures of international cooperation and competition?
  • To what extent will governments, groups, and individuals prepare now for multifaceted global issues like climate change and transformative technologies?

If the stability of the last century was built around the Westphalian model as the organizing principle, the dominance of US as the dominant economic and military state and the relative stability and predictability when it comes to the environmental and technological changes it is not the case any more.

In my thinking I have been sketching about how we could perceive what happened in 2016 with this little sketch. At least the sketch will point out to us that we need a new model to understand where we are heading next...

It is not yet finished but may work as a model for a discussion about where we are and what is happening.

The report can be downloaded here.

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"

We are drowning in news about new technologies every day. Technologies that are solving difficult problems as well as opening new possibilities. It is easy to see them as the most powerful forces transforming our world. But we forget one important aspect. We perceive these technologies through the stories of our time. These stories are much more important factors shaping our future than any technology. It is the stories by which we explain ourselves, our situation, our role in the world and our future that determine our thinking decisions.

...continue reading "It is our stories, not technologies, that shape our future"

3D Printed shoe

This is a 3D-printed shoe I recently found search Flickr for images on 3D printing. It is obvious that the quality of 3D printing is rapidly getting better and according to the discussions on the Internet most people seems fascinated of and apparently caught in the race towards higher and higher quality. The problem with this race is that it might draw us down into the technical details of 3D printing rather than into the important implications 3D printing might have in the future.

There are (at least) four aspects that is much more important that product quality to note when thinking about where 3D printing might take us in the future. 3D printing might:

  1. Potentially fill the basic but enormous global needs of relatively simple objects - From a global perspective the greatest need for things is not the need for advanced and complicated things like Stradivarius violins or electron microscopes but more small and mundane things like cogs, wrenches or gaskets that is needed for maintaining or developing the irrigation equipment that is needed for producing food. What 3d printers is on it's way of doing is potentially give the people of the planet the access to the spare parts and daily practical tools that is needed to help themselves and fight poverty.
  2. Redefine the distribution and personalization of products - Since the industrial revolution a product is typically mass produced in a factory and distributed over long distances through a complex web of transportation modes and storages. If 3D printing becomes more widespread production can instead be performed by a local and basically unmanned printer, which also with no extra effort can produce a personalized version in a way which is very complicated to do in a traditional mass production facilities. If this happens large parts of the distribution and production structures will then be bypassed for a long row of small products. A direct consequence for trade regulations is that they will most likely to be obsolete since the current ways of limiting import of products is by border controls wheree customs personal looks for physical objects.
  3. Blur the border between ideas and physical things - Since we have been living in a world of physical things, our thinking, habits and rules are constituted by physical objects. E g society have decided that certain objects are illegal or heavily regulated since they are potentially dangerous if spreading in an uncontrolled way. Guns and certain drug manufacturing equipment are examples of such regulated physical objects. What if everybody everywhere can download or draw and then print out those objects on their personal 3d printer? Should ideas and sketches of illegal physical objects also be illegal? When the border between the physical object and the idea of the physical object blurs, we will have unprecedented and conceptually really difficult challenges.
  4. Break down the current model of factories and value chains - What is becoming possible with 3D printing in the longer perspective is the transformation of one object into another without the need of a factory. That means that if you have an empty plastic bottle you could use a 3D printer to transform it into things like a required spare part, a wrench or a shoe. Or if you have a pair of childrens shoes which becomes too small, why not scan them in a 3D scanner, reuse the material of the old shoes (and maybe add some material from the empty plastic bottle) and print out a pair of identical shoes in a larger size. All without the need of a factory, distribution chain and a shoe store.
Every one of these changes has the potential of radically transform the industrial society into something very different. I think it is worth thinking about the consequences and track the development in this area closely. Especially since most of the 3D printing development currently seems to happen outside all the large corporations.

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.

When I hold lectures and speeches about the future I have recently built the talks around the concept of "transition society" as an framing image. It is really hard not to overemphasize the increasing uncertainty and turbulence during this transition and quite often I get the question about if I really am optimistic about the future, and if that is the case, based on what.

In my answers I almost always refer to the inherent human ability to adapt and recreate the world wherever it seems to break apart. In fact we humans are much better at creating order than we are at maintaining it. It will most likely not be the same order, so for the institutions it will be really turbulent times ahead, but for humanity in general I am confident that new, adequate and probably better structures will emerge.

It is really nice to get scientific backing for ones beliefs so I felt really invigorated when I found this interesting paper by Ruben Durante (RISK, COOPERATION AND THE ECONOMIC ORIGINS OF SOCIAL TRUST: AN EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION) via the Swedish blog Ekonomistas. This article correlates the evolution of trust to historic weather instability over a 500 year period from 1500 to 2000:

I find that regions characterized by higher year-to-year variability in precipitation and temperature display higher levels of trust. Furthermore, variation in social trust is driven by weather patterns during the growing season and by historical rather than recent variability. These results are robust to the inclusion of country fixed-effects, a variety of geographical controls, and regional measures of early political and economic development.

Since trust is the raw material from which social structures are built, when someone scientifically shows that trust grows when environmental uncertainty increases I become even more confident that humanity is going to manage this transition period as well.

2

In an article in the Guardian the other day Georg Monbiot wonders why climate change denial is spreading in spite of what the scientific community states:

A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there’s solid evidence that the world has been warming over the past few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months(1). Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports, suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe that global warming is the result of natural causes (44%) now outnumber those who believe it is caused by human action (41%)(2).

A study by the website Desmogblog shows that the number of internet pages proposing that manmade global warming is a hoax or a lie more than doubled in 2008(3). The Science Museum’s Prove it! exhibition asks online readers to endorse or reject a statement that they’ve seen the evidence and want governments to take action. As of yesterday afternoon, 1006 people had endorsed it and 6110 had rejected it(4). On Amazon.co.uk, books championing climate change denial are currently ranked at 1,2,4,5,7 and 8 in the global warming category(5). Never mind that they’ve been torn to shreds by scientists and reviewers, they are beating the scientific books by miles. What is going on?

[From Monbiot.com » Death Denial]

He notes e g that there is a group of 65+ who seems to be more likely than other to deny that humans are causing climate change. Do their long life experience of technological optimism make them more likely to deny the threat? Or could it be that the accelerated discussion about climate change during the last couple of years have triggered some psychological defense mechanism working against negative stories so we boost our self image and behave like we were immortals?

There is however (at least) one other explanation that Monbiot don't cover. What if we are less and less inclined to believe in what scientists say?

Do we really believe in science anymore?

To me it is evident that people are less and less likely to believe in a scientific truth anymore. There seems to be a megatrend signalling that the emergence of the modern connected man is accompanied by a decreasing belief in truths which is instead replaced by the more pragmatic and quick concept of truthiness - the kind of truths you don't look up in books but search your guts to know if they are true!

Why does this happen? Here are a list of candidates for explaining the phenomenon, which by the way, will not go away any time soon.

  • the modern man (believe he) is more educated, connected and informed which make him or her believe he/she are in a better position to judge for him- or herself thus consequently more critical to truths that comes from authorities
  • increased transparency makes it much more easy to shoot down e g statements from authorities - and we do that constantly by critically swarming everything
  • the speed by which we produce new knowledge is constantly decreasing the half life of knowledge and truths - knowledge and truths becomes obsolete much faster
  • we are leading our daily lives in a fast and complex world with constant contradictions which we have to manage anyway - we have to be pragmatic and focus on what works here and now
  • every one of us is picking our own sources of information and thus perspectives, which causes us to spontaneous flock in clusters where local truths emerges
  • we also see the emergence of post secular insights - that many and the most import questions are not answered by the secular scientific methods

The period when scientific truths were highly celebrated by the many seems to have come to an end. Instead we are entering an age where truths are local, socially constructed, relative and consistency based like they most likely were in e g the middle ages and before.

What about the climate change issue?

It might just be that a certain group of people have come to change their perspective on the issue. If truths are fundamentally socially constructed it might be the explanation to why so many people started to worry about climate change at the same time - it was the tipping point - a state which also might change again when the hivemind is starting to worry about something else.

It is as usual the scientists who believe that their facts have changed the opinion of the people, a belief that might be completely wrong. What really happened was that a large enough group of people having a certain social status (consisting of e g a person named Stern) was starting to state something about climate change when at the same time occurs some dramatic natural disasters.

But the scientists believe that people at last listened to their truths...

Maybe it is on it's place to quote Robert Heinlein: "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal"

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.

200909072259.jpg

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?

200909072300.jpg

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...