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The futurist: Six massive global trends


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(Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.)

In 1964, and open letter was drafted and sent to President Johnson, warning him of the coming Triple Revolution.

The letter was composed and signed by 35 members of the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution,” which include luminaries like Nobel Chemist, Linus Pauling; civil rights activist, Tom Hayden; and Swedish Nobel Economist, Gunnar Myrdal.

The letter focused on three revolutions taking place at the time:

  1. Cybernation Revolution – increasing automation
  2. Weaponry Revolution – mutually assured destruction
  3. Human Rights Revolution – growing civil unrest

While the letter talked about all three issues, it focused primarily on the Cybernation Revolution where they predicted that machines would cause massive new unemployment:

“A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.”

Of particular interest to me was the work of one of the signers, Robert Theobald, a futurist who had written extensively on the economics of abundance and his advocacy of a Basic Income Guarantee. These are the same topics being discussed by those today who fear massive technological unemployment in the years ahead.

Even though this 1964 warning of a Triple Revolution registered little more than a tiny blip on the radar screen of history, computers have dramatically changed the jobs landscape as well as the skills required to perform those jobs.

Today we are seeing many voice similar concerns about technological unemployment, where computers, robots, and machines are automating our jobs out of existence. In fact, some have gone so far as to call this the “robot jobs Armageddon.”

So is this time truly different? Here are six overarching shifts in the world that are causing many to say, “Yes, this time may really be different!”

Six Massive Global Trends

As we survey the trends landscape, there are literally hundreds of significant trends affecting us in one way or another. But if we sort through the ones that pose a fundamental shift to employment, six of them tend to rise above the rest.

1.) Declining Birthrates

Britain’s Telegraph recently published an article with the headline, “South Koreans will be ‘extinct’ by 2750 if nothing is done to halt the nation’s falling fertility rate.” With a fertility rate of 1.19 children per woman, Korea now ranks as the lowest in the world.

India, China, Japan and Brazil all have massively declining fertility rate, part of a global trend towards negative population growth. Yet the media and many educated Americans have missed this major development entirely, instead sticking to erroneous perceptions that global population will continue to drive everything from environmental degradation and immigration to food and resource scarcity.

Here are a few of the latest fertility rates, according to the World Bank, in major countries around the world. Keep in mind the replacement rate is 2.1 for a population to stay at its current level.

  • U.S. – 1.93
  • Chile (1.85)
  • Brazil (1.81)
  • Thailand (1.56)
  • France (2.0)
  • Norway (1.95)
  • Sweden (1.98)
  • Russia (1.60)
  • Japan (1.43)
  • U.K. (1.91)
  • India (2.48)
  • China (1.69)

With the exception of India, the major population centers of the world all are destined for negative population growth.

Yes, the world population is still growing, fueled primarily by people living longer and high fertility rates in Africa. But even Africa is predicted to slip into negative growth rates over time.

The most significant challenge is the long lead-time needed to move in the other direction. Since raising a child takes about 20 years to go from infant to productive adult, any major improvements here wouldn’t show up until somewhere between 2035-2040.

Even though many are rooting for zero population growth for environmental reasons, the struggles ahead related to managing systems with a growing imbalance between young people and old people, will not be easy.

2.) Exponential Industries

In some ways exponential industries as a great way to compensate for our declining workforce.

Exponentialism is the science behind digital technologies far-reaching influence on innovation. The exponential cost-performance of the three basic building blocks of our digital world – computing power, storage, and bandwidth – have started to affect vertically every other business, sending jolts of performance opportunities through these industries.

This type of change is most disruptive when two or more technologies “interact and combine” in ways that “coalesce into open platforms and ecosystems.” Think in terms of the intersection between AI (artificial intelligence) and quantum computing, or changes to synthetic biology when it’s amplified by 3D printing.

Exponential innovations are rapidly crossing boundaries we could never imagine in the past, and as a result, our language and terminology has begun to blur. At the same time, it’s already touching staid old industries like financial services.

Mixing AI and natural language processing (NLP) with shopping, work, and social characteristics, we have the potential to develop far a more dynamic credit rating systems, facilitating far more efficient ways to match lenders and borrowers. This will mean new industries will explode from zero-to-operational in a matter of hours rather than months or years.

Exponential industries are confusing, thought provoking, and mysterious all at the same time because they have the potential to spawn massive change in a short period of time, often with little forewarning.

3.) Our Growing Levels of Awareness

The Internet is building our awareness in ways we can’t yet assign metrics to. The number of photos we see in an average month, the amount of information we consume, the amount of time we spend interacting with digital personas, avatars, and entertainment are all part of our growing awareness of the people, places, and things that will all be part of our future.

Every 60 seconds there are over:

  • 2 million Google searches
  • 205 million emails sent
  • 900 new websites created
  • 2.5 million new Facebook likes
  • $102,000 spent on Amazon
  • 152,000 new photos uploaded to Facebook
  • 3.4 million YouTube video views
  • 200,000 new Tweets on Twitter

Along with all this activity comes a user mindset that is increasingly aware of millions of tiny information fragments that guide our decision-making, our ability to adapt, and our ability to function in our increasingly fluid work environments.

Awareness will become a key part of our employability in the future.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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