“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt
I was always driven by my dreams. Be that the case, when I sat to write this piece, I realized that for the past few years it wasn’t my dreams that shaped my perceptions but frustrations. We tend to think about frustrations in a negative context, yet I try to let it define the outcome of my everyday activates after all frustrations are born out of bad experiences and frictions, and if I am aware of that I can do something about it.
When talking to people, I tend to quote the New York Times from 1920 “a rocket will never be able to leave the earth’s atmosphere.” Just 25 years later that feat was accomplished. The ensuing 50 years brought incremental achievements. It wasn’t that we didn’t succeed in soundly shuttering that prediction but did need to wait for Elon to say “screw it” to understand that leaving the earth’s atmosphere is but a small piece in the puzzle of building a sustainable civilization.
Listening to Carl Sagan talking about the Voyager, I can’t but think why whenever we refer to NASA, the first relation is to the moon landing. I do not, even for a second underestimate the magnitude of the impact of Neil Armstrong’s “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” statement had on humanity. Yet I do feel we capitalized on that as a one-off PR stunt, and from a technology point of view, the moon landing was nothing, but incremental modifications NASA made to rockets so they can land a man on the moon.
The Voyager on the other hand, also sent a manmade object to space, yet the objective was not technological by nature but philosophical – what are we going to do about aliens once we encounter them? How do we push forward to explore the universe while- without refueling- maintaining and still capturing data from an object that continuously increases its distance from earth?
ONLY WHEN WE CONFRONT THE UNKNOWN WE EXCEL BEYOND IMAGINATION
The amount of collaboration needed to pull off the Voyager was unprecedented at that time- and I will argue that even today, that collaboration is unique. The results are amazing. The Voyager left our solar system and continues to explore space. And while my $1K smartphone losses its reception every time I go into a basement, the Voyager is still sending images back to earth.
The Voyager project was never about technology, it was about exploring the unknown, and I believe that only when we confront the unknown- we excel beyond imagination.
What are the fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves when facing yet another unknown? Not in space, but the changing technology is going to enforce on us?
The hidden change.
Humanity is facing an unprecedented change in its perception of reality and in the narratives that defined its existence. Much as past extinctions that pushed the reset button for the entire planet- thus enabling rejuvenation and new creation- humanity is but a touch away from such a reset.
Since the invention of the axe, technology was always the force that paved the way for better and smarter social constructs. From Watt’s steam engine in 1775, sewage systems, elevators, and shipping containers- to screens, smartphones, processing power, and machine learning- it is technology which helps us to push the barriers and build our world. It’s the one function that never stops, it continually changes itself, reinvents and defines new horizons- most, unfortunately, are now beyond our ability to understand.
The industrial revolution wasn’t just a buzzword, it was the compounding accumulative impact of humanity’s maturity and acceptance that met with technology on the same field of understanding and mutual benefits – values. Yes, it bolstered urbanization, innovation, and creativity for many years, yet it is fast approaching a critical peak and is about to leave us facing the unknown, naked from knowledge.
THE IDEAS OF OUR FUTURE ARE NOW ANCHORED IN CODE.
For the past few years, a new breed of technologies is stepping into our arena. Artificial Intelligence, robotics, genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, terotechnology- adjustable reality and the codification of value interactions enable us to reexamine and repurpose every aspect of our existence. From our digital-selves to the cities we live in- from mobility, energy, and communication to new financial models- the ideas of our future are now anchored in code.
The future always required strategic, patient thinking and to be honest, before the 50’s, these were qualities we possessed. Most books, art or movies written and produced had a holistic view of things. They describe a point in time where the world was dominated and powered by technological gadgets, body enhancements, artificial intelligence, autonomous cars, flying cars, cities in the clouds or underwater but most important they investigated the impact of these ideas of society.
WE OUTSOURCED OUR POTENTIAL INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY AND STARTED TO BUILD TECHNOLOGY FOR THE SAKE OF TECHNOLOGY
Sometime around 1983 – 1984 computation power shifted humanity’s focus from imagining to engineering. Suddenly we had machines that could do the things we always did but better and faster and we became addicted to them. We enslaved our minds. We outsourced our potential innovation and creativity and started to build technology for the sake of technology.
We replaced our strategic vision with a tactical search for answers, we have surrounded ourselves with buzzwords like “the 4th industrial revolution,” “IoT,” “smart cities” and more- all while forgetting that technology was meant to be nothing but a means to an end.
Focusing on the means, we are now left behind and unable to see the end. It’s time to rethink life by imagining the potentials and the desired impacts not only from a technological point of view but also incorporating ethics, morality, trust, and education into this equation.
The stupid intelligence
Without a point of reference that is anchored in past experiences, it’s hard to tell the future.
Hawking dismissed the ideas that the existence of the universe can be attributed to a single point in which everything that happened before is meaningless. Yet I cannot ignore the fact that we did evolve from that point of the big bang and we do not carry the heritage of things that existed before that peak.
Throughout the years we have struggled to understand intelligence. Although organic and inorganic matters are both made from the same building blocks we call atoms- we still cannot breathe life to silicon. Maybe, intelligence is the narrative that manifests itself via the bonds and reciprocal relationships in the creation of a self-contained universe. Perhaps it is not a stand-alone “brain” but the fact that that brain is derived from the complexity and context that pushed that brain into existence. We have created beautiful technologies but as we cannot break our “anchored in historical chains” perspectives while searching for life on other planets, we cannot “build” intelligence by merely copying existence into a code, so we are left with machines that operate in the realm of life yet are not alive.
It was not long ago that innovation boomed from the ideas of individualism, self-interest, logic, reputation, and honesty. And by all accounts, life was good. It seemed that we have found the formula for economic growth. But a strange thing happened. Alan Greenspan, in the aftermath of the collapse, said: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organizations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders.”
The bigger mistake was that even so- all data showed almost no growth in productivity, the government sided with the 0’s and 1’s that continued to push numbers to new, unimaginable heights. We assumed that the “room can speak Chinese,” we were dazzled by the output. We had a perfect “distance economy,” and we missed the fact that John Searle’s “Chinese room” experiment (this is the moment where you open a browser and Google John Searle’s “Chinese room”) showcased the simulation of intelligence rather than possession of intelligence.
Let us examine this for a moment. Throughout history, the success of intelligence systems depended on the idea that situations should be driven by their potentials and values are determined via the beneficial reciprocal relationships between the actors that make the system. In Searle’s demonstration- the wished outcome- the connections between the actors, was mechanical and without any reciprocal value.
In the model of the economy, we took this yet one step further- we placed a singular actor to define the inputs, outputs and the value creation mechanisms. At each point of action, there was a different view on the model.
It was not the model itself that failed, it was the way we implemented it.
Awakening – The divided world
The most significant risk we have as a society is not from the unknown, but for the known to fall apart.
For the first time in history (at least the one we can trace back to the big bang) natural evolution had peaked it’s potential- there is no place to go from a biology point of view. Yes, we might be a bit faster and jump a bit higher, but we have reached a point where our organic structure just cannot evolve anymore. Even with genetic modifications- sooner or later- we will hit a limit. It is not only our organic structure that is facing evolutionary ends; our mental abilities are also severely limited. This is also translated from the narratives in which we created the reality around us- from geopolitics and global C-Suites- we managed the world with a limited understanding of the challenges ahead and thereby under-utilize our evolutionary potential in almost every area.
The fundamental building blocks of society can be folded into three domains, mobility, energy, and communication. Traditionally, they always operated with degrees of freedom. Yet, they never applied that to the reciprocal relationships between each other. Today, and because of technological development, these connections can manifest themselves via the codification of the logistic systems that carry the societal interaction models- yet instead of letting this natural process evolve itself- we are confining it to the limited information input/output model of yesteryears society and are therefore leaving ourselves with output patterns from our halcyon days.
When the sovereign knows less about the needs of a free market than the players that must compete in that market- the value creation is twisted by bias. The role of the sovereign is to create a set of societal APIs’ that will define its own operating boundaries and at the same time will be open, so the market can repurpose itself to its own benefits.
Time to change
It is hard to write about changes without talking about politics and leadership. It is said that if you do not accept change yourself, you will be rendered irrelevant and eventually perish.
Change is one of the most laborious processes to swallow- as individuals and moreover as a society that flourishes on the idea that what exists is right and shouldn’t be changed. Thought fixation defines the reciprocal relationships between the various examples that we use to measure success- but they also make us forget that by doing so, we build a wall around our creativity and innovation.
Some may disagree, but facts point to the notion that for the past ten years the global economy as a whole and Silicon Valley, in particular, presented a slow yet constant decreased ability to innovate. Most companies (excluding some well-documented examples) have reached their “golden age,” or in other words, they got old, less observant, full of bloated ego but more importantly-they became fragile. They are stuck in the loop of thought fixation and to ease the pain, they have surrounded themselves with rings and rings of regulations that are anchored in paper-based politics.
The ideas that our knowledge and values are inductive yet must be shaped by the deductive nature of reality- so they can deliver value- is a great way to look at businesses, society and politics operating together. It is not about what was, nor about what will be, but what is.
“Looking into the future, you cannot predict which groups will survive, it’s well known that many advanced groups eventually fade away.” Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859
We live in an unfortunate reality where many leaders have dismissed their responsibility for the future and lost their appetite to think big. These heroes without vision are busy analyzing and planning, while others are building for immortality. Powered by siloed vision- they are fragmenting our reality and creating a new circle of ideological wars.
In the current claimant of blind leadership, we have to distance ourselves from the contradictions that the political situation is placing in front of us and look at change as an opportunity to use our collective mind.
Not to continue on the same path of “things we know that we know” but disconnect from the laziness and fear and build an infrastructure for new business models, new definitions of innovation and most importantly create a mindset, that will encourage the next change.
We need to believe that the best solutions to a problem are not hitting it with everything we have, but by viewing it from all possible angles. If something does not work for its intended purpose, it might work for something completely different — that is the meaning of change.