July 12, 2013

You’ve Arrived at the Future – Get Comfortable and Enjoy Your Stay


Note: this post needs to be read with an open mind. Proceed at your own risk.

The world has changed dramatically in the past 10 years – we’ve heard this over and over again and everybody unanimously agrees. There’s no doubt that the emergence of the information age in the last 25 years has profoundly changed the way we live, work and play.

I’m a child of the 90’s – tamagotchis, mood rings, Encarta, Ace of Base tracks and Nokia brick phones were all part and parcel of growing up. Life was a little slower and less connected, but that was OK. I got my first computer when I was 5 years old, so in this sense most of my life has been connected to the information age. Kids born at the turn of the millennium are now becoming teenagers, and access to social media and the web is all they know. The interesting thing about the human brain is that, while being the most malleable structure in the universe, it struggles to comprehend things outside the scope of its own existence. These kids simply will not understand life without smart-phones, always-on access to the sum total of mankind’s accumulated knowledge and instant access to over 1 billion people on social networks. This, obviously, is tremendously impactful on the development and growth of the new generation – one that the older generation simply will not understand. Its interesting that the exponential pace of technology and innovation shows no means of stopping, so the next generation after this one will appear even more foreign to “the rest of us”.

What does this actually mean? I believe we’ve already reached the point where the growth of technology has outpaced our ability to understand and keep up with it. Its not some dystopian steam-punk future where AI rules the world, but it is increasingly scary to see how the lines between man and machine are blurring faster than we can keep track of. The logical progression of PC’s to smart phones, to eventually wearable computing and even internal microchips points to a very interesting future. We are going to have a lot of responsibility to uphold as we “merge” with machines and the overall web, essentially becoming sensory inputs via our own perceptive experience to a global machine network. Not that that’s a bad thing, but the future is definitely not boring.

What does the future look like? Well, the future has actually already caught up to us – we just haven’t realized it since the integration is just so effortless. Brains are extremely malleable, after all. Imagine I told someone in 1950 that:

  • I carry a device that has an instant connection to billions of people on the planet
  • I can say something that can be seen and heard by as many people as are willing to listen, in real-time, anywhere in the world
  • I have the answer to practically any (easily) answereable question within seconds, and instant access to practically every book ever published
  • I have access to the sum total of humanity’s knowledge, (almost) for free, at any time and virtually anywhere I go

It sounds pretty crazy when you step back and really think about this and how powerful it is. No wonder we have governments worldwide trying to bar and control access to the most remarkable invention we’ve ever made.

Here are the changes I see happening, both right now and in the near future as technology spreads and further integrates with our daily lives:

Decentralization of power and resources
Right now, most of the world’s resources are centralized to a few very powerful individuals and organizations. The great leveler that is technology will result in resources being decentralized, as self-sustaining micro-communities spring up in urbanized areas.

Mass commoditization of digital goods, and eventually physical goods
Let’s be honest, the war against piracy has failed. People expect content and information to be free, even though they are more than willing to fork out a lot of money for the experiences around information – an example of music show tickets springs to mind. If I wanted to, I have “free” access to almost any song, movie and book ever made. I have free access to news and information, to learning resources, and to virtually any type of virtual content out there. This results in a commoditization that drives prices to the bottom, giving everybody free and fair access to these resources. As a consequence, business models will have to evolve around this. Even more interesting, I see a future where 3D printing will be accessible in every modern home – resulting in the commodization of physical goods which will also drive prices down. There will still be high quality bespoke branded items, but access to basic goods for modern living will be commoditized to the point that basic living resource scarcity will be a thing of the past.

Emergent behaviour, represented as the “Internet brain”
Emergent behaviour is often referenced in ant colonies, where a single “dumb” ant is often unaware of the movement of the entire colony, and the colony itself almost becomes a stand-alone organism with life-like attributes. We are already seeing this emerge in people and their use of the Internet. The Internet seems to linger on a single major “thought” at a time – for example a viral video is released and many people unanimously share and discuss it, essentially forming an “Internet thought” that appears as a glimpse and disappears just as quickly. There may be other emergent behaviour that arises in the future that we may not be immediately aware of, but our studies of simpler colonies shows that this behaviour is typically beneficial for the whole – so we can rest assured. A little far out there, but fascinating to think about.

Blurred lines between the definition of man and machine, and the conscious and non-conscious
What is consciousness? This perennial question will only become more difficult to answer in the years ahead as man and machine become more intertwined. If you follow the natural progression of the integration of technology with humanity, its not too difficult to see a future where we are all hooked up directly to the web via the electrical signals in our brains, essentially forming sensory and information output extensions to a core organism that is the Internet. Again, a little far fetched but I don’t think its impossible to see this happening.

Dissolution of pyramidal heirarchies, in favour of weighted networks
Unanimous access to trusted information will result in the dissolution of the corporate ladder, the chain of command, and the pyramid of communication. Weighted networks will be the result, where people are essentially nodes connected to anyone, and their “weighting” is dependent on how trustworthy they are, how creative they are, how intelligent they are etc. The thought leaders of today will become the trusted interconnected nodes of tomorrow, so to speak.

Waning governmental industry body influence

Another result of decentralized, unbiased access to information is that governments will have increasingly less power and control over citizens. Its not to say this will result in anarchy and chaos – quite the opposite actually, I believe citizens will be empowered to do the right things for the good of their local communities.

Reduced dependance on money as an asset class
We have seen the introduction of Bitcoin into the global economy, but in many ways it is still too early for a digital currency. It has, however, ignited the idea that we need a change in the global financial system. It’s existence has led to many amazing technological breakthroughs and discoveries, but it has also enslaved people and nations into tremendous crippling debt. I see the financial system as a crutch that we have used to develop the world to a certain level of living. Once this level is achieved for all the citizens on the planet, this crutch can be removed as it will no longer be necessary. The currency of the future is based on trust. Combine this with the commoditization of the digital and physical worlds, and money becomes increasingly less important as an asset class.

The world as a sharing economy
I snap a picture of a beautiful sunset, and share it to Facebook. Any of my connections can see this inspiring moment in real-time and have a glimpse of my experience. Sharing has always been an important socio-cultural factor in smaller communities, and technology allows us to share anything we want with the world at any time. The open-source movement has also paved the way for this – one can share their source code with the world, and anybody can improve and build upon it for the greater good. Sharing is deeply tied to man’s need to create – our creative side, which has been linked to the divine in many cultures, will have no bounds as we are able to create and share almost anything for the world stage.

A shift of life focus towards self-actualization
What happens when you have access to everything you want at any time? Do you become a husk of a human being, gorging on the feasts of limitless information and resources? I don’t think so – I think the next logical step is the self actualization and empowerment of human beings to become the best they can be at whatever they choose to do. We are already seeing this emerge in the amazing content being created by people in their spare time – videos on Youtube showing their unique talents, Kickstarter projects that change the world, and creative projects that show new ways of thinking.

A shifting of focus towards compassion
I truly believe that alongside self-actualization comes compassion. The greed and competitiveness of mankind has also been a necessary crutch for its development, but there will come an age where this will no longer be needed. People want to self-actualize, but they naturally want to self-actualize others at the same time without always realizing it. We live in a global eco-system of people inter-dependent on each other, and must realize that compassionate action is the route forward to ensure happy balanced lives for everyone.

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Cyril Naicker July 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I loved this piece, thoughtfully put together and although its about the future and technology it has a heart element that people can relate to. Thank you Mike for a great blog entry.

  2. Mike July 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks Cyril, I really appreciate the feedback.

  3. Sefton July 15, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Interesting article. You didn’t mention information overload. How are the kids of today coping? Are they developing filtering techniques that us older folk don’t have, or is there going to be a shortage of shrinks in the near future?

  4. Mike July 15, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Sefton, that’s a really good point that I didn’t touch on in this post. I’d love to do a case study one day to see how the younger generation manages so much information at their disposal – I’m sure their brains develop unique filtering techniques to cope with the volume.

    My concern is also along the lines of information production, not consumption – in the sense that many people don’t understand that what they publish online is essentially permanent and can always be referenced in the future by employers, partners, competitors etc. The future presidents of tomorrow are kids using social media right now, and posting content that may or may not be above board.

  5. teamgloria February 26, 2014 at 5:21 am

    Mike

    Great piece.

    Truly.

    *wavingfromlosangeles*

    _teamgloria

  6. twitter.com January 22, 2016 at 2:02 am

    Thanks for finally writing about > Youve Arrived at the Future – Get Comfortable and Enjoy
    Your Stay | Mike Wronski < Loved it!

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