DAVID NEES

Creating new worlds, one story at a time

Tag: civilization

Disruption is our Future

I came across this article one year ago by Robert M. Goldman, MD, PhD; World Chairman-International Medical Commission; Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board-A4M; Co-Founder & Chairman –World Academy of Anti-aging Medicine; President Emeritus-National Academy of Sports Medicine; Chairman-U.S. Sports Academy’s Board of Visitors.

He is, obviously, a man of many accomplishments.  His article chronicles some of the astounding and rapid changes we have already lived though in the past twenty years and some which are coming soon.  Predictions are dicey things to make; you rarely get them right. One thing is certain however, change and disruption are now a regular part of our world.

FUTURE PREDICTIONS: 

“In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs. Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age.

Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.
Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.

Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain. Watson already helps nurses diagnosing cancer, 4 times more accurate than human nurses. Facebook now has pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. By 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans.

Autonomous Cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. [ed. note: we’ve already beaten that timeline.] Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver’s license and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for that. We can transform former parking space into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.

“Most car companies may become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. I spoke to a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi; they are completely terrified of Tesla.

Insurance Companies will have massive trouble because without accidents, the insurance will become 100x cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.

Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighborhood.

Electric cars won’t become mainstream until 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electric. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can only now see the impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar will drop so much that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025.

Cheap Water; “With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter. We don’t have scarce water in most places, we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if anyone can have as much clean water as he wants, for nearly no cost.

Health: There will be companies that will build a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and you breathe into it. It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease. It will be cheap, so in a few years everyone on this planet will have access to world class medicine, nearly for free.

3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large number of spare parts they used to have in the past.

“At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they already 3D printed a complete 6-storey office building. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.

Business Opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to go in, ask yourself: “in the future, do you think we will have that?” and if the answer is yes, how can you make that happen sooner? If it doesn’t work with your phone, forget the idea. And any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed in to failure in the 21st century.

Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.” [emphasis added] Robotics combined with AI is proving to accelerate the change.

Agriculture: There will be a $100 agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in 3rd world countries can then become managers of their field instead of working all days on their fields. Agroponics will need much less water. The first Petri dish produced veal is now available and will be cheaper than cow-produced veal in 2018. Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces is used for cows. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore. There are several startups that will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labeled as “alternative protein source” (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).

“There is an app called “moodies” which can already tell in which mood you are. Until 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where it’s being displayed when they are telling the truth and when not.

Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the default reserve currency.

Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years, now it’s 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than one year increase per year. So we all might live for a long, long time, probably way more than 100.

Education: The cheapest smart phones are already at $10 in Africa and Asia. Until 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smart phone. That means, everyone has the same access to world class education.”

Thoughts on Post Apocalyptic Literature

Post apocalyptic (PA) literature is an interesting genre in which to write.  Modern examples of this genre go back to the thirties through the fifties with Brave New World, 1984, Alas Babylon, The Earth Abides and others.  They are the grandparents of the modern tale.

The interesting element for a writer is that the world as we know it is stripped away.  The author can insert whatever he/she wants.  In this respect, the genre is a form of science fiction where the author has a free rein to create his/her own worlds, even though fantastic, non-existent, elements may not be a part of the story.

The challenge for the author is to not stop at describing the details of the destruction and chronicling the protagonist’s reactions to the apocalyptic event, but to go deeper; to examine what happens to society when its supports are stripped away.

In western society we live (as does the whole developed world) in a web of dependency.  That web supports the smooth functioning of our large suburban and urban areas, allowing people to live in close proximity with a modicum of privacy, and an amazing level of cleanliness, hygiene and health.  This all happens so smoothly and behind the scenes that most of us are oblivious to the unseen support systems and workers that sustain the marvel that is a modern city and its suburbs.  In the nineteenth century everyone was more connected to the systems needed for humans to survive:  growing and preserving food, making clothes, making shelter, repairing tools and self defense.  Today we can be ignorant of such skills and still function quite well.

Take the modern grocery store for example.  It is a marvel of just-in-time inventory containing a bewildering array of choices, many fresh, seemingly always available for you to put in your cart.  The economics consist of very low profit margins but very high turnover rates (how many times the whole inventory is turned—sold and replaced).  Due to those high turnover rates and the demands of freshness, the average grocery store has only a three day supply of food on hand.  That is why you see empty shelves when a snowstorm is coming.

Now, insert some apocalyptic event and have transportation cease.  Just to make things more interesting, have all communications cease (as with an EMP attack as I postulated in my novel).  Now the cities become centers of starvation, panic and mayhem.

One reader asked why writers in this genre seem to always describe civilization becoming violent, going so bad when structure and authority break down.  What lies behind the question may be a belief in the perfectibility of humans; that we are essentially good in nature and this goodness can come out just as easily as the bad side of our nature.

It seems to me that history doesn’t support this idea.  A review shows civilizations arising and suppressing some of humanity’s bad traits, but only through the pressure of laws and regulations backed with force and punishment that keeps everyone in line.  Take that control away and anarchy breaks out.  Consider utopian societies; they attempt to establish groups that can achieve harmony.  Most are driven by the belief in the perfectibility of humans.  But, as C.S. Lewis put it, they form, thrive and then it all seems to go wrong.  Greed, lust, aggression assert themselves, a “strongman” emerges and they slip into some form of totalitarianism.

Groups organized around religious doctrine, which establishes a uniformity of view and purpose, a monoculture so to speak, seem to last the longest, but they generally become stagnant, not evolving and growing in intellectual or material achievements.

This is all no surprise for those of the Christian faith.  The Christian believes that humans are “fallen” creatures and so need the help of God to attain their true (original) nature, which probably cannot be realized in this lifetime.  They do not expect perfectibility and recognize the futility of trying to achieve it through human means alone.

The secularist retains a belief in the perfectibility of humans (we can be better) in spite of the overwhelming evidence of history.  Great efforts are put into society’s structures (many to good effect), but they keep coming up short of the goal in the end.  Still the effort goes on.  Back in the sixties, Lyndon Johnson, set up a group of programs called “The Great Society”.  He was going to win the war in Vietnam and the war on poverty.  He accomplished neither, but we still spend billions and even trillions on the legacy programs that he created to eliminate poverty.

Personally I think politics can only put band-aids on society’s ills; it is only triage.  Society cannot be fundamentally fixed or healed until people’s hearts are changed.  Politics cannot do that.  Maybe only God can; I’ll leave that your judgment.

So for the novelist, the PA genre allows one to dig through the collapse, when the thin veneer of civilization breaks down, cracks and falls away.  The theme of breakdown and collapse evidences the writer’s assumptions that humans are not perfectible, or have not yet achieved it.  Our baser instincts come to the fore and have to be dealt with by the protagonist.

Bad people thrive because they are used to operating outside of the structure of laws.  They are practiced in taking advantage of their fellow human beings and do not shy from violence to achieve their ends.  They are well equipped for anarchy.

A writer’s challenge and enjoyment is to describe this conflict, showing how those deeper tendencies, the “fallen” side of our natures, come to the front and how we have to defend against those who give into them and then learn how to create space that allows for the “better” parts of our natures to emerge.  In short, we must begin to erect the “structure” of civilization through which people can again begin to flourish.

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