Category Archives: future

Moving Beyond Capitalism?

Before you decide that I am some sort of communist, socialist, or other socially undesirable miscreant, hear me out!

I am a strong believer in what capitalism has provided us. The marriage of invention and capital to unlock and exploit invention  to create products and services has been amazing! I love it!

And I recognize that what I love is not perfect. It fulfills certain functions but it is not the ultimate expression of human creativity. Why not? Because of its externalities. These externalities are becoming more obvious in the digital age, as the mechanisms we rely on through our capital based systems start to break down.

Al Wenger writes about this in “The World After Capital” – and here are two glimpses of his thinking

These problems can be addressed if we recognize them as fixable problems. That requires 2 things. First, it requires a politics that is focused mainly on the future rather than the present and the past. Politicians need to be accountable for the future that political systems create. Second, it requires better channels for discussing the future that we can create. Let’s face it, current media sucks in this regard.

So, let’s get there!

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Feeling Blue? Don’t Fret! The Future is Human!

This quote might get your attention

The one constant in the history of technology is that the future is always more human. So if you expect to cognitive applications (like AI)  simply to reduce labor, you will likely be disappointed. However, if you want to leverage and empower the capabilities of your organization, then the cognitive future may be very bright for you.

Here is an example (from the above link). When ATM machines were introduced, they did stuff that human bank tellers used to do. Logically, you would expect banks to hire fewer tellers, right? Wrong.

there are far more bank tellers today than there were in before ATMs, ironically due to the fact that each branch needs far fewer tellers. Because ATMs drastically reduced the costs to open and run branches, banks began opening up more of them and still needed tellers to do higher level tasks, like opening accounts, giving advice and solving problems.

In other words, advances in tech are more likely to upgrade what people do than replace them.

Hooray for that!

The Monster is Not in the Closet. It May be in Your Head!

As I have gotten older, I have started to think more about how I got to where I am. Not so much in terms of physical things or financial things, but in terms of my learning capacity. What did I learn and when did I learn it? Did I learn what I needed to know? How did I manage it — or not — as the case may be? Do I use what I learn? Does it lead me to new learning or cut off new learning? Lots of questions.

Like most people, I think that I was successful in some ways, and less so in others. That is interesting because if I can identify where I failed, I can verbalize how to improve — myself and others.  That is worth exploring.

One of the sore points in my own learning history has to do with my eyes. At a very early age, I became very near sighted. That started so early that I had no awareness of it My world was a blur, and I had no idea that everyone else around me could see!

Not seeing well caused me problems in first grade when I was assigned a seat way in the back of the class. I could not see the front of the room, but I was used to being in that situation. It did not occur to me to complain. Nor did I identify my poor vision as the reason for my difficulties. I didn’t realize that I had poor vision. BTW, nor was I overly concerned about those difficulties. I accepted that I was a poor learner and that was that.  I barely made it to second grade, but the powers that be crossed their fingers and let me go forward as long as I did remedial reading lessons over the summer.

My dear old dad — who had extraordinarily limited teaching skills — handled that summer chore. But that is a different story.

I was fortunate in the second grade to sit in the front of the room. My grades radically improved. I was told that it was because I was learning how to work, and dear old dad took the credit. I had had an ethical rather than physical challenge and harder work was the cure.  I had to stop being lazy!

I did not feel that I was working harder, though I did have a much better idea of what was going on in class. . But as before, I accepted what I was told. I did not question it, despite the rather obvious evidence about why I was doing better.  I persuaded myself that I was essentially a lazy person who needed a strong push to get anything done.  Learning, of a sort, I suppose. But learning that once again, ignored a huge environmental factor — my poor vision.

As an aside, where did that come from? Was it a genetic inheritance? Did it have something to do with my early environment? Could it have been cured in some way? Interesting questions — and questions that I cannot to this day offer an answer.

My eyes were finally tested when I was in the third grade. I can still recall the disbelief of the technician when I failed to read even the larger letter sequences on the screen. “Are you sure you can’t see that?” I was asked again and again.  I got glasses. Thick ones.  It was a major change, though the new glasses did not make me happy. I thought I looked terrible in them and I didn’t want to wear them. This got much worse when the eye doctor decided that I had a “lazy eye” and prescribed a ridiculous looking eye patch. The experience triggered a bit of stubbornness. If I had to look terrible to learn better, learning was not all that it was cracked up to be! Aha! Once again, a form of learning, but not the sort that was intended by the adults around me. The seeds of rebellion were sewn.

The interesting thing looking back at this scenario is how limited were my abilities to identify an obvious cause of a serious problem and diagnose the various effects of the problem. Why was that so? I had shown in second grade that I was not a total idiot. I could learn. It was something else. I think now it was more that my immediate sense of well being rested less on my own capacities to do things for myself and more that I was doing what I was told to do. I had the vague sense that learning was doing what you were told to do. It was not about seeing more broadly. Nicht gut, but not so unusual in those days.

The result? I learned to become rather clever in class in figuring out what I was expected to do on tests. I passed through grade school and high school and college thinking that this was learning – figuring out how to do well on tests with a minimum of work. I became trapped in a less than optimal learning paradigm. And btw, it was boring. But I did not see an alternative at the time.

It took me quite a while to realize that this was not enlightened And one reason I was so slow was that I got very busy.  As Greg Satell writes

The problem we often run into in our over-optimized, modern world is that we are too quick to discard ideas that we can’t immediately make use of.

Put more colloquially, I was too busy coping with life to think about what affected my capacity to learn to do it better. And the busier I got, the less I looked at myself. The more my identity became a fixed thing. It was me against the world rather than me in the world. Strange but true!

That started to change radically when I began to practice law. I found that when I had to verbalize what I thought was valuable to an audience (for example, a client or a judge), I had to go deeper into why I thought it was valuable. That opened a door to challenging and discarding lots of old assumptions. I became more open and curious about new ideas. Practicing law and later on teaching, enabled me to see reality in new and surprising ways.

Flash forward!

One rather large new idea hit me around six or seven years ago.  It was in the form of a question. What will the future be like? Around that time, many people were doubting whether the 21st century would offer mankind much new value. We had just experienced the 2008 economic meltdown, we had concerns about global warming. There were concerns about resource shortages, pollution, international instability, terrorism, and so on. You get the idea.

My intuition was that our future is essentially a race between mankind’s destructive and value adding capacities. BTW, negotiation expert Bill Ury points out that mankind is very creative in being destructive. So, if Bill is right, we cannot assume that the race will end well. Will we wean ourselves from dangerous stuff by finding better alternatives before the bad stuff does us in? Good question!

As I thought about this, I bumped into the ideas of the economist Carlotta Perez. Professor Perez offers a model that gives a sense of the value of discovery and economic change due to technological revolution. Here she is talking about that model with VC Fred Wilson in an interview that took place in 2011. Check it out! Ask yourself, is there anything to learn here? And if so, can we use it? Does it give us a path forward to learn more? To live better?

BTW, I do not propose that you take Carlotta’s model as gospel. In fact, my main criticism of her presentation is the degree of certainty that she expresses. It is instead to use it as a possible framework to test what you see happening around you over time. Is it consistent with those events? And does it offer value in making choices? Does it help open our eyes? Errr … even if we are as near sighted as I was as a young lad?

Enjoy!

David Cassidy, Meet November

David Cassidy passed on, which gives me a chance to reflect on what he represented for many people. He was a pop star, and perhaps the only major one during a time when pop played second fiddle to rock. Cassidy was in fact, the most famous pop start of that period, the 1970’s.

What was pop all about? It was light entertainment. Just serious enough to claim innocent sincerity, but not too much. It was positive, invigorating, fun. Vox has more to say about Cassidy and pop, but you get the idea.

This year, we saw the release of a very different sort of artistic expression. A film by the name of November. It is based on a book called Rehepapp by Estonian writer Andrus Kivirähk. I would argue that if anything is the opposite of pop, this is it.

… the filmmakers say, “both mythologies look for a miracle; for an ancient force that gives one a soul. This film is about souls – longing for a soul, selling your soul and living without a soul.”

Innocence is lost. Something else takes the stage. It is more serious and more dangerous. My question — does this tell us something about where we are headed?

Here is the trailer

Time for Puerto Rico to Go Solar?

Make no mistake, Puerto Rico has just suffered a disaster of epic proportions via Hurricane Maria. Not only that, but Puerto Ricans have discovered that they will not get sufficient relief from the US feds.

That all sounds like bad news and it is. At the same time, it is the type of news that opens the door to new thinking. After all, at this stage, what have you got to lose?  In the wake of this disaster, Puerto Rico may find a new uniting narrative about how to rebuild.

For example, power is out on the island. It will not be restored for months. Is it time to consider how to use this as an opportunity to re-think how power should be delivered?  Why not? Especially when we are in the midst of a revolution in moving from fossil fuel generated power plants to decentralized solar!

Put it this way. Does it make sense for Puerto Rico to rebuild an antiquated power infrastructure? Or does it make sense for Puerto Rico to embrace a trend that is likely to replace it?

Enter Elon Musk, a dude who has a big stake in making the revolution happen. Musk is pitching to Puerto Rico that his companies can help rebuild its power infrastructure based on solar.

What would you do if this were your decision?

Stay tuned to find out what Puerto Rico does!