Who decides what the future looks like?

jetsons

So this is my first blog post, and I wanted to start with an introduction, however this quickly lead me down a road of thought and contemplation.

I’m going to be writing about technology and its future implications on humanity, focusing on macro-socio-economics. It’s something I find interesting as it’s a complete unknown, we can only join the dots going backwards. The next 5, 10, 20, 100 years are going to have an unprecedented level of technical innovation that will make the previous 20 years, and the 1000 before that pale in comparison.

This is going to have a huge effect on humanity, not only on our day-to-day lives; what jobs we have, how we communicate, how we travel. But also what we expect from life and what we expect from death. The world over.

This lead me to ask the question. What is the future that we want. What does an idealistic lifestyle look like, what is our Utopia? Is it intergalactic, with us living a Jetsons type lifestyle, or is it one of pure recreation, where no one has to have a job.

It will certainly be different for everyone, as we all have different wants, needs and prerogatives in life. But the question I’m really trying to understand is, who has and more importantly who should have the power to decide what we are subjected to in our daily lives. As that will most certainly impact on our perceptions of what we consider to be ‘happiness’.

Mahatma Gandhi famously spoke the words, “You must be the change that you want to see in the world”

I think this is important, as if we look at the current situation of the ‘developed’ world, educational systems remain geared towards route learning, limiting opportunity for self discovery, entrepreneurial thinking and the development of a risk takers attitude and mindset in children and teenagers.

Organisations continue to measure employee value by hours worked as opposed to quality of output and value contributed. We work 10-12 hours a day, 5 days a week, praying for the weekend to come quicker than the last, just so we can have a little time to connect with ourselves and those we care about.

These are all mechanisms that have spun out of regulated structures and thinking models of the industrial revolution, born nearly 300 years ago. This is long enough to have become the fabric of our very own DNA. It’s certainly long enough to have shaped our collective minds to believe that this is what life has to be and the only way it can change is through sheer luck, or that someday it will all be better.

If-I-had-asked-people-what

So maybe as a democracy we aren’t the best qualified for deciding on the future.

But then, who is?

Richard Branson and Desmond Tutu set up a group called the Elders, who represent an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution. They are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity, and the universal human rights we all share.

Then there is the World Economic Forum and their Davos convention held each January, involving over 2,500 of the worlds politicians, business leaders and selected intellectuals. However this has raised the negative connotation, known as ‘Davos Man’ referring to its attendees as the global elite, and their lack of real core understanding on a global level. Even drawing comparisons to the term ‘Masters of the Universe’ attributed to influential financiers on Wall Street.

Will.i.am has even pitched in, calling for ‘new morals, new laws and new codes’ to govern technology. He believes that humans will be pushed to adhere to new responsibilities so there should be laws to protect people and force us to do the right thing.

Thanks to being a huge Elon Musk fanboy, I discovered the Future of Life Institute, whose mission it is to ‘catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges’. And with members like Stephen Hawking, Morgan Freeman and Elon himself having our backs, it seems like we’re in good hands for now. (Can you imagine what the conversation is like after a few Jager Bombs?!)

They recently drafted a document which warned that scientists should seek to head off risks that could wipe out mankind while developing technology such as speech recognition, image analysis, driverless cars, translation and robot motion which could benefit people. The letter warns that without safeguards on intelligent machines, mankind could be heading for a dark future.

Scary stuff.

My train of thought however drew me in this direction:

Money is the lifeblood of any company. To pay for services, tools and staff. It’s impossible to survive for free, never mind innovating and starting a company. They are hard, they require dedication, focus and often other intangible values that are outside of your hands, such as the devious mistress lady luck. But money, buys resources, and resources help not only build product, but also trust and security for a potential partner or customer.

If a VC chooses not to fund a project, then it may not be able to become the vision and product intended.

Many of the great products of the last 10 years almost didn’t make it; Linked In, PayPal and Twitter to name a couple, and how different life would be without these services. What if the internet was set up as a business and not a project by CERN.

Would commerce of gone mainstream on the internet and how that would of affected billions of people around the world, think of Twitters impact not only on live events but the democratisation of speech and allowing anyone to have a voice.

You would like to think its democratic, and the quality of the product rises to the top in a Purple Cow type economy. But these products would never get to market without the backing of funding partners.

So that leads me to ask the question; Are VC’s the new masters of the universe?

Thankfully the cost of developing software is getting lower, as is the cost of hardware manufacturing, thanks to crowdfunding. And as the number of funding options increases with many incumbents now operating innovation departments with ‘domain experience’. (Side point; I hate that word. It alludes to the fact that they know their industry and its future completely, which can be counter productive. Always act like a learner. #rant)

However this also means that VC’s expect more from a prototype/MVP in order to gain early investment, which can discourage people from chasing bigger problems (something Peter Thiel has touched on). I’m a big believer in a capitalist society, but it has to be balanced.

Maybe this is where my point is going, that there needs to be more funding options which allow the best minds to work on the biggest problems in the world. The problems that initially a consensus can agree on. The sort of ideas, people and problems that will define a generation.

Form the bottom of a mountain like that it looks like an incredibly long ascent. But these are the building blocks of humanity, the internet couldn’t of been invented without the invention of the telegraphy, and telegraphy couldn’t of been invented without electricity.

To get to the top of Everest (Utopia), you have to get to basecamp first.

It’s just how do we decide what Utopia is.

I think for now we have enough on our plate with helping to develop the developing world. Bill Gates is doing an incredible job with raising awareness to global issues and areas for development and innovation. Something I hope Pollen will aid, by enabling workers in developing countries to get their salaries paid safer and more cost effectively onto their mobile phones.

Hopefully by providing infrastructure this will then allow them to become entrepreneurs and makers in their own right. As lets be honest 7 billions heads are better than 1.

BW

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