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VISIONS OF THE FUTURE

An alien professor from a planet far, far away might observe us and say:”Now here’s a situation worth watching. The people of Earth have reached a point where they could destroy themselves. Amazingly, they have numerous business schools, but no school for survival".

James Martin: The Meaning of the 21st Century

The goal is not to predict the future, but to imagine a future made possible by changes in technology, life style, work style, regulation, global geopolitics and the like.

And there are as many viable futures as there are imaginative firms that can understand deeply the dynamics at work right now which hold opportunities to become the author of the new.

For the future is not what will happen; the future is what is happening. The present and the future do not abut each other, neatly divided between the five-year plan and the great unknown beyond. Rather they are intertwined.

Every company is in the process of becoming – of becoming an anachronism, irrelevant to the future, or of becoming the harbinger of the future.

Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad: Competing for the Future

OUR FUTURE IN THE 21ST CENTURY

There is no shortage of futurologists making predictions about the 21st Century. The challenge is to identify those who have a good record of accurate forecasting, and who are recognised as knowledgeable in their subject. This chapter summarises the predictions of three people who are leaders in their respective spheres of interest:

Dr Raymond Kurzweil, inventor, entrepreneur, futurist and author of the book “The Age of Spiritual Machines: When computers exceed human intelligence”; >> More

Professor Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York and author of the book “Visions: How science will revolutionize the 21st century and beyond”; >>More

Dr. James Martin founded the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation and the 21st Century School at the University of Oxford. He is author of the book “Meaning of the 21st Century: a vital blueprint for ensuring our future”. >>More

ACCELERATING RATE OF CHANGE

The rate of technological change is unprecedented. Raymond Kurzweil, who is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of artificial intelligence, challenges conventional thinking about the rate of change, and the consequences for humankind in the 21st century. In his essay“The Law of Accelerating Returns” he writes:

“An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.

Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.The implications include the merger of biological and non-biological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light. “

Note: "The Singularity" is a phrase borrowed from the astrophysics of black holes. The phrase has varied meanings; as used by Raymond Kurzweil, it refers to the idea that accelerating technology will lead to superhuman machine intelligence that will soon exceed human intelligence, probably by the year 2030. The results on the other side of the "event horizon," they say, are unpredictable.

In the first paragraph of his essay “The Law of Accelerating Returns”, Kurzweil explains why most people are likely to resist his vision of the future:

“The future is widely misunderstood. Our forebears expected the future to be pretty much like their present, which had been pretty much like their past. Although exponential trends did exist a thousand years ago, they were at that very early stage where an exponential trend is so flat that it looks like no trend at all. So their lack of expectations was largely fulfilled. Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.”

For further information and opinions about the accelerating rate of change and its possible consequences, click on >>More

DRIVERS OF CHANGE

Change is a continuous process – there is no start or end point, and no-one can be certain what the outcome of any change will be. Change inevitably brings uncertainty, and this uncertainty is often given as a reason for doing nothing – waiting until change has happened – by which time it is often too late to adapt to the new conditions. But change also brings opportunities and, by anticipating and seizing these opportunities, we can improve our working conditions and improve the quality of our lives.

Sustainability

One of the main drivers of change is the need to secure sustainability in the face of global warming and other threats to life on this planet. Dr James Martin writes in the preface to his book: “The 21st century is an extraordinary time – a century of extremes. We can create much grander civilisations or we could trigger a new dark age”.

The next  pages present extracts from his book “The Meaning of the 21st Century” which summarise the major global problems which the world is experiencing and the global challenges we will have to face in the coming years, starting now.

James Martin: Extracts from “The Meaning of the 21st Century”

Evolution on earth has been in nature’s hands. Now, suddenly, it is largely in human hands.

MEGA-PROBLEMS FOR LIFE ON EARTH

  1. Global Warming
    Global warming will lead to severe climate change. Unless stopped, it will upset the balance control mechanisms of planet Earth
  2. Excessive Population Growth
    World population may grow to 8.9 billion people, with a growing demand for consumer goods and carbon-based energy, far exceeding what the planet can handle.
  3. Water Shortages
    Rivers and aquifers are drying up. Many farmers will not have the water essential for food growing. There will be wars over water.
  4. Destruction of Life in the Oceans
    Only 10% of edible fish remain in the ocean, and this percentage is rapidly declining.
  5. Mass-Famine in Ill-Organised Countries
    Farm production is declining. Grain will rise in cost. This will harm the poorest countries.
  6. The Spread of Deserts
    Soil is being eroded. Deserts are spreading in areas that used to have good soil and grassland.
  7. Pandemics
    AIDS is continuing to spread. Infectious pandemics could spread at unstoppable rates, as they have in the past, but now with the capability to kill enormous numbers of people.
  8. Extreme Poverty
    2 to 3 billion people live in conditions of extreme poverty, with lack of sanitation. The difference between rich and poor is becoming ever more extreme.
  9. Growth of Shanty Cities
    Shanty towns (Shanty cities) with extreme violence and poverty are growing in many parts of the world. Youth there have no hope.
  10. Unstoppable Global Migrations
    Large numbers of people are leaving the poorest countries and shanty cities, wanting to find a life in countries with opportunities. Migrations will become extreme if we have severe climate change.
  11. Non-State Actors with Extreme Weapons
    Nuclear or biological weapons are becoming easier to build by terrorist organisations, political groups or individuals, who are not acting for a given state.
  12. Violent Religious Extremism
    Religious extremism and jihads may become widespread, leading to large numbers of suicide terrorists and religious war between Muslims and Christians.
  13. Runaway Computer Intelligence
    Computers will acquire the capability to increase their own intelligence until a chain reaction happens of machines becoming more intelligent at electronic speed.
  14. War That Could End Civilisation
    A global war like World War 1 or II, conducted with today’s vast number of nuclear weapons and new biological weapons, could end civilisation
  15. Risks to Homo Sapiens’ Existence
    We are heading in the direction of scientific experiments (described by Lord Martin Rees) that have a low probability of wiping out Homo Sapiens. The combination of risks gives a relatively high probability of not surviving the century.
  16. A New Dark Age
    A global cocktail of intolerable poverty and outrageous wealth, starvation, mass terrorism with nuclear/biological weapons, deliberate pandemics and religious insanity might plunge humanity into a world-wide pattern of unending hatred and violence – a new Dark Age.

All of these mega-problems are interconnected and all are multinational. Most of the problems are the consequences of bad management and absence of foresight. Many different factors have to be brought into play to deal with the problems, as is the case in the management of corporations.

If we understand this century and learn how to play its very complex game, our future will be magnificent. If we get it wrong, we could be plunge into a new type of Dark Age.

In the chapter titled ”The Awesome Meaning of the 21st Century”,James Martin reviews seventeen major challenges which humankind must undertake to secure the future of life on earth. In his words:”

“We live on a beautiful but totally isolated world. We won’t find a world that can replace it. At the beginning of the 21st century, we are trashing this world, and we are gaining the power to destroy civilisation. We have the intelligence to manage planet Earth well and, to a large extent, correct the damage we have done. We need to do so fairly quickly because the capability for destruction is growing fast. We need to make the planet work well with an excessive population.”

Extract from James Martin’s book:“The Meaning of the 21st Century”

“If we are to survive, we have to learn how to manage this situation. We need to put in place rules, protocols, methodologies, codes of behaviour, cultural facilities, means of governance, treaties and institutions of many types that will help us to cooperate and thrive on planet Earth.”

2IST CENTURY CHALLENGES

Challenge 1 – The Earth: The 21st Century Transition must be a change from wrecking the planet to healing the planet. >>More

Challenge 2 – Poverty: The moral challenge of our time is to eliminate extreme poverty. >>More

Challenge 3 – Population: The goal of improving lifestyles equates to the goal of lowering population, currently set to rise by 2.5 billion. >> More

Challenge 4 – Lifestyles: Most people (almost 9 billion) will eventually want to participate in the affluence of the planet.This cannot happen with 20th Century lifestyles.>>More

Challenge 5 – War: All-out war in the 21st Century could end everything. We have to absolutely prevent war between nations with arsenals of mass destruction. >>More

Challenge 6 – Globalism: Globalism is here to stay. The right balance between what is global and what is local needs to be achieved.>>More

Challenge 7 –The Biosphere: We are losing species of plants and creatures at a shocking rate. Global management of the biosphere is essential, through computer-inventoried knowledge of all species. >>More

Challenge 8 – Terrorism: Weapons of mass destruction will become progressively less expensive. Above all, it is vital to remove the reasons why people want to become terrorists. >>More

Challenge 9 – Creativity: The technology of the future will lead to an era of extreme creativity.  Young people everywhere should participate in the excitement of this creativity. >>More

Challenge 10 – Disease: It is now possible in a cheap laboratory to modify the genes of a pathogen so as to create one that is new to nature. Nature then lacks the protective mechanisms which have evolved over billions of years. We must build appropriate defences.>>More

Challenge 11 – Human Potential: A tragedy of human kind today is that most people fall outrageously short of their potential. A goal of the 21st century should be to reverse that and focus on how to develop the capability latent in everybody. >>More

Challenge 12 – The Singularity: Computer intelligence that is quite different from human intelligence will feed on itself, becoming more intelligent at a rapidly accelerating rate, until there is a chain reaction of computer intelligence which we refer to as the Singularity. Humanity needs to discover how to avoid being sucked into a situation that is totally out of control and harmful. >>More

Challenge 13 – Existential Risks: The 21st Century is the first in which events could happen that terminate homo sapiens. These are referred to as existential risks. We should regard any risk to our existence as totally unacceptable, and take whatever action is necessary to bring the probability of extinction to zero. >>More

Challenge 14 – Transhumanism: This is the first century in which we will be able to radically change human beings. Technology will enable us to live longer, learn more and have interesting prostheses. We need to understand where changes to homo sapiens can be made without net-negative consequences. >>More

Challenge 15 – Advance Civilisation: The 21st century will experience a major increase in real wealth. Sooner or later, machines will do most of the work. What we do with our leisure will be a huge issue. What we should be asking ourselves now is: “What could truly magnificent civilisations be like at the end of the century?” >>More

Challenge 16 – Gaia: We must learn to live within our planet’s means, and do so quickly. The 21st century must put the science in place to regulate human behaviour to live at peace with Gaia. This will be essential for future centuries. >>More

Challenge 17 – The Skills/Wisdom Gap: Deep wisdom about the meaning of the 21st century will be essential. Science and technology are accelerating furiously, but wisdom is not. >>More

Science and Technology

Science and technology are other important drivers of change which are shaping the future and confronting the world with risks, threats and new opportunities. Professor Michio Kaku has identified Matter, Life and The Mind as being the three elements which form the pillars of modern science. His book “Visions” and the following extracts from his BBC Television series are informed by interviews with over 150 scientists in the previous ten years.

Professor Michio Kaku: From “Vision of the Future” BBC TV Series

The Intelligence Revolution (1 of 3)

  • Exponential growth of computer intelligence
    • 1960: IBM 1401 weighed 4 tons, cost £ million, speed 4000 cps
    • 2007: Mobile phone, cost £50, speed 1 billion cps (300,000 x faster)
    • By 2020, a chip of today’s computer power will cost about 1p (scrap paper value)
    • Moore’s Law: Computer power doubles every 18 months
  • Evolution of computing – Paul Soffo, Technology Forecaster, Stanford University
    • 1980’s: decade of the microprocessor and personal computers
    • 1990’s: decade of networked computers, symbolised by the www
    • 2000’s: ubiquitous computing, embedded, invisible, e.g. phones, pills
    • Future: ubiquitous intelligence combined with the internet, e.g.
      • spectacles with chip playing films downloaded from the internet
      • clothing constantly monitoring the body condition
      • tele-immersion (1)
  • From Machine Intelligence to Intelligent Machines
    • Robots: able to think, assess the environment and make decisions
    • MIT: combining computer science with neuro science, e.g replicating                                             how the brain recognises objects
  • Optimistic and pessimistic view of machines with super intelligence
    • Optimist: Machines will be gentle and treat humans like pets
    • Pessimist: Machines will not be so gentle and treat humans like food
  • Choice about human intelligence
    • As machines become more like humans, so humans may become more like machines
    • Example of what’s already happening:
      • At the Cleveland clinic in Ohio, using Deep Brain Stimulation by implanting electrodes in the brain
      • Possible applications include: Chronic Depression, Alzheimer's, Epilepsy, Tourette's, Autism and Severe Acquired Brain Injury
      • Can be used not just to repair the brain but also to augment it.

(1) Tele-immersion is a technology to be implemented with Internet2 that will enable users in different geographic locations to come together in a simulated environment to interact. Users will feel like they are actually looking, talking, and meeting with each other face-to-face in the same room. This is achieved using computers that recognize the presence and movements of individuals and objects, tracking those individuals and images, and reconstructing them onto one stereo-immersive surface.

To view the video "The Intelligence Revolution", click on: www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4_ExHIFEjg

“Visions of the Future” BBC TV

The Biotech Revolution (2 of 3)

  • Biomolecular Revolution – the ability to manipulate life at the most fundamental level
    • to grow human organs
    • to change our genetic heritage
    • to enhance our abilities
    • to shape the evolution of mankind
  • The Genome Project: 1000+ Researchers from 6 Nations
    • started in 1990 and completed in 2005
    • Dr Francis Collins, Director, stated: “Biology is now a quantitive digital science, leading to medical mastery”
    • able to diagnose medical failure and provide more control over health
    • through medical screening able to map out our medical journey and risk
    • personal DNA profile on a disc provides “Owner’s Manual” of our body
  • Regenerative medicine – enables repair of damage to own body
    • will enable us to repair damage to own body
    • transplants with organs grown from own body stem cells, so no rejection
    • already been done with organs such as bladders
    • significant impact on lifespan and quality of life
  • MIT research into ageing
    • calorie restriction slows down ageing in rodents
    • this process now appears to have a genetic basis
    • raises the possibility of significant increase in human lifespan
  • Memory enhancement
    • already proven in animals and should in future be available to people
    • similar genetic engineering for physical enhancement
  • From scientific discovery to scientific mastery
    • possibility of humans to become first species to take control of their own evolution
    • our choice how we shall become
    • great possibilities, but also great responsibilities
    • need to engage in democratic debate

 To view the Video " The Biotech Revolution", click: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i5qRsunpJ0

“Visions of the Future” BBC TV Series

 

The Quantum Revolution (3 of 3)

  • Quantum theory and the atom
    • Insight into the atomic world comes from the quantum theory
    • In quantum theory, the laws of conventional physics do not apply, e.g.
      • matter can appear and disappear
      • matter can be in an infinite number of places at any one time
    • Atoms are the building blocks of everything we see.  If you understand the atom, you understand the universe

    • Now we not only understand atoms, we can control them – pick them up, move them around, and manipulate them

    • We are therefore on the brink of being able to control our physical world

  • Mastery of Matter – examples and implications
    • Atomic-scale machines to revolutionise medicine
    • Invisibility through creation of metamaterials
    • Teleportation to overcome obstacles of travel and distance
    • Nuclear fusion for clean, safe, efficient and abundant energy
    • Cheap space travel through nanotechnology
  • Nanotechnology - Redesigning matter on an atom-by-atom basis
    • Material from nanotubes - super light and strong
    • Modified plant protein molecules as an energy source
    • Nano robots for health maintenance and repair
    • Holy Grail of Personal Fabrication Machines
  • Opportunities and Threats
    • Potential to do great good or great damage, by design or accident
    • Self-replicating systems: “You’d better know where the off-switch is”
    • For every move, there must be a countermove

For further information about James Martin, Michio Kaku and Ray Kurzweil, and their ideas about the future, go to the Links to Videos in Appendix B at the end of this document.

To view the video “The Quantum Revolution”, click http://youtube.com/watch?v=qN5iv5nuaN0

SUMMARY OF DRIVERS OF CHANGE

Science and Technology

The work being done in the field of Science and Technology is a significant driver of change..Under this heading we can include developments in communications, such as the internet and the world wide web; medicine, including gene therapy and stem cell applications; and manufacturing, with the advances being made in the use of robotics.

Sustainability

The past few years has seen sustainability rise quickly up the agenda for government, corporations and individuals. Legislation has been driving changes in waste management. The dangers of global warming, now more widely recognised, have driven government and industry to take action to change to clean and renewable energy. The international concern for protecting the planet is driving people and corporations to change their ways.

For further information and opinions about Sustainability, click on >>More

Politics

Government can help or hinder a nation’s ability to adapt successfully to change through its policy on taxation, public spending and investment priorities, its monetary policy and the legislation which it introduces. For example, much new employment legislation has been introduce in the past decade, designed to encourage more flexible working and retirement practices, and to extend working life as part of a solution to the ageing population and pension costs.

Economics

The economy is another driver of change, and in particular the impact of commercial competition. Levels of consumer debt, currency inflation, level of employment and a country’s Gross National Product all affect the choices available to people when faced with change. The trend towards free trade and tariff reductions, although often held back temporarily by political forces, has encouraged the growth of globalisation.

Society

The values and behaviour of our society also change, defining what is acceptable and what is fair and just. Priorities also change, sometimes as the result of increasing wealth or through the influence of the media. The drive for corporate social responsibility has brought about change in the way that businesses relate to the communities in which they operate: at the same time, employers are being forced to pay more attention to their employees’ opinions and their demands for an acceptable work/life balance.

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