|Photo Credit: Expats Portugal Life|
By Edward Mulder
We are entering times of unprecedented change. Not since the Renaissance and the Industrial Age have we seen anything comparable. What is coming will surpass even those revolutions. Every facet of civilization will be impacted.
Change will happen faster than our economic, governance, and cultural institutions can keep pace with, resulting in the collapse of the weakest and great distortion for the stronger and more entrenched. It will be technology vs. technology. What does this mean?
According to Wikipedia, technology is “the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or service or in the accomplishment of objectives …” By this definition, technology extends far beyond what we usually associate it with: gadgets, machines, computers, etc. It also includes economic systems (capitalism and socialism), governance systems (representative democracy and the nation state), and so on. From this perspective, one can see that there are great tensions building between technologies not unlike two tectonic plates grinding past one another where one moves slowly, and the other’s motion accelerates.
The slow moving technology plates representing economics, governance, etc become distorted by the fast moving plates racing past them. As some begin to distort and crumble, they send out shock waves. A good economic example is capitalism. Capitalism, though a slow moving plate, has weathered many storms and has served as the engine that has spawned much of the innovation occurring in the plates racing past. Because of this, few could foresee the distortion whereby capitalism would begin to cannibalize itself via accelerating technological evolution. As companies worldwide seek greater efficiency and profits through ever greater automation and cognition, jobs are lost faster than new ones are created and most people can retrain. And there is more.
Human beings can perform two types of labor: physical, and cognitive. When automation began to replace physical labor, people were able to move for the most part to cognitive labor. It was not easy, but it was doable, and it happened over a long period of time. What happens next as machines begin to replace cognitive labor? There is only one place to go: more complex cognitive labor. Not everyone is capable of this at the speed required for them to do so and there is actually a ceiling: the capacity of the human brain. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see that machine cognition could indeed replace labor as we know it.
Where does modern capitalism go when the consumers it depends on no longer have the income to buy the products it produces? When the attainment of greater efficiency for greater profit leads to reduction in demand for all products?
Capitalism is old technology not adapted to a world of lighting fast innovation and evolution. It is essential to question and rethink our paradigms from the ground up. To think about what kinds of economic technologies are possible and compatible with other fast moving technologies.
First we must realize that all technologies exist in an ecosystem, a context. They arise and evolve based on other types of technologies available at the time. Our present economic and governance technologies were born in an era of slow communications, laborious record keeping, and human computation where automation of physical labor saw the proliferation of hierarchical organizational structures and governance models. Realizing this, it is possible to construct new economic and governance technologies that are based on fast, cheap, global communications, computation, and decentralization. We can begin to use the Internet, mobile computational capacity, artificial intelligence, and decentralization technologies such as P2P and the blockchain to create new technologies.
We can begin to surf the future.