DaVinci Institute – Futurist Speaker DaVinci Institute – Futurist Speaker http://www.futuristspeaker.com DaVinci Institute – Futurist Speaker Thu, 26 May 2016 08:53:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Megaprojects Set to Explode to 24% of Global GDP Within a Decade http://www.futuristspeaker.com/job-opportunities/megaprojects-set-to-explode-to-24-of-global-gdp-within-a-decade/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/job-opportunities/megaprojects-set-to-explode-to-24-of-global-gdp-within-a-decade/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 19:25:06 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=7729 Megaproject 1

Gone are the days where people are impressed by projects costing $10-$50 million or even $100 million. We are witnessing an explosion in the number of $1 billion+ projects with some, like the artificial archipelago being built in Azerbaijan, Turkey’s massive Urban Renewal project in Istanbul, and the new construction of Masjid Al Haram in Saudi Arabia each exceeding $100 billion.

But even these are merely scratching the surface of the extreme megaproject growth that will happen over the next decade, and there are several important reasons why this is happening.

First, we’re seeing a shift in power towards megacities. As people relocate from rural to urban communities and population clusters grow, so does the demand for major infrastructure improvements to help manage the traffic, water, sewage, power, and living strains of these growing economies.

Second, the wages paid for workers building infrastructure projects will improve the local economy to a point where other megaprojects become viable.

Third, as global awareness improves, so does the desire to standout and impress the rest of the world. Megaprojects become a source of national pride and a status symbol for emerging economies.

Fourth, we are moving into an era of technological unemployment where jobs are automated out of existence at an unprecedented level. The demand for new jobs – and these will provide tons of new jobs – will trump most other arguments.

And finally, megaprojects have a way of collateralizing themselves through the sheer size and impact of the project. Even though many will be based on un-provable claims and flawed accounting, the spinoff economies alone will create an overpowering momentum to push them across the finish line.

The growing list of megaprojects include tunnels, bridges, dams, highways, airports, hospitals, skyscrapers, cruise ships, wind farms, offshore oil and gas rigs, aluminum smelters, communications systems, Olympic Games, aerospace missions, particle accelerators, entire new cities, and much more.

In spite of their problems, here’s why the megaproject list will continue to grow and will continue to define the cities and megacities of our future.

$45B Lusail City – Qatar’s largest real estate project, will be home to 200,000 with a scheduled completion date of 2019
$45B Lusail City – Qatar’s largest real estate project, will be home to 200,000 with a scheduled completion date of 2019

Understanding the Value of Megaprojects

According to Global Strategist, Parag Khanna, we are becoming a globally networked civilization because that is exactly what we’re building. All of the world’s defense budgets and military spending taken together total just under $2 trillion per year, but our global infrastructure spending is projected to rise from $3 trillion to $9 trillion per year over the coming decade.

“We have been living off an infrastructure stock meant for a world population of three billion, as our population grows towards nine billion,” says Khanna. “As a rule of thumb, we should spend about $1 trillion dollars on basic infrastructure for every 1 billion people on the planet.”

It’s no surprise that Asia has taken the lead. In 2015, China announced the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which together with a network of other organizations aims to construct a network of iron, silk, and digital roads, stretching from Shanghai to London.

And as all of these megaprojects unfold, we will likely spend more on infrastructure in the next 40 years, than we have in the past 4,000 years.

Video of the following ten megaprojects

Examples of this are easy to find. Ten of the world’s most impressive megaprojects currently in the queue include:

  • Dubai World Central Airport (United Arab Emirates)
  • Songdo International Business District (South Korea)
  • Tokyo-Osaka Maglev Train (Japan)
  • Masdar City (United Arab Emirates)
  • The Grand Canal (Nicaragua)
  • National Trunk Highway System (China)
  • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor [ITER] – Fusion (France)
  • World’s Tallest Building (Azerbaijan)
  • Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (India)
  • King Abdullah Economic City (Saudi Arabia).

According to Bent Flyvbjerg, a management professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, megaprojects currently constitute 8% of global GDP (gross domestic product).

Even though nine out of ten megaprojects experience cost overruns, and most take far longer to build than expected, they represent a crucial piece of today’s global economy.

Flyvbjerg also noted that project leaders have an incentive to overstate income, underestimate costs, and exaggerate future social and economic benefits due to lack of accountability and risk-sharing mechanisms.

But even though things go wrong, people generally don’t care. They don’t care about the poorly calculated cost-benefit statements, squandered money along the way, or the political wrangling necessary to get the green light; they just want something significant to happen in their community.

The benefits of megaprojects can be boiled down to these six points:

  1. Technological Inspiration. Most megaprojects are technically inspiring. Engineers and technologists develop great enthusiasm for working on large and innovative projects, pushing the boundaries for what technology can do.
  2. Source of Jobs. With so many jobs being automated out of existence, megaprojects serve as a catalyst for both the unemployed and the under employed.
  3. Political Accomplishment. Politicians need something they can point to with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  4. Economic Benefits. Business people, trade unions, and workers alike will all reap the rewards from megaprojects.
  5. Community Pride. Everyone loves to tell stories about the big things their community accomplished.
  6. Aesthetic Beauty. Most people appreciate good design when it comes to building, using, and looking at something very large that is also ironically beautiful.

As a rule of thumb, history books don’t spend time memorializing the critics and project-killers, only those who succeed.

Raising the Bar – 64 Next-Generation Megaprojects

It’s easy to look at the world’s top 10 bridges and try to build something bigger, taller, longer, or more artistic than any of the ones currently in existence.

The same thinking applies to creating the next tallest building, largest cruise ship, longest tunnel, most popular theme park, or grandest stadium.

At the same time we seeing a form of blue ocean thinking creeping into the megaproject arena that includes never-been-done-before projects like colonizing Mars, tube transportation networks, floating islands, and underwater cities.

Here are a few megaprojects that have the potential to inspire the world for generations to come:


Will global tube transportation networks be coming to a megacity near you?
Will global tube transportation networks be coming to a megacity near you?

A. Global Infrastructure – All global systems need a point of origin, and the point of origin will typically turn into the global center of knowledge and operation for the industry it creates.

  1. Global Tube Transportation Project – ET3, Hyperloop, or something else.
  2. Whole Earth Automated Postal System – Delivering packages anywhere on earth without ever touching human hands.
  3. Global Wi-Fi Network – Connected anywhere at anytime.
  4. Global Genealogy Systems – For humans, plants, and animals including standards.
  5. Global Ownership Authority – To govern standards and regulations, for personal ownership rights.
  6. Global Privacy Standards – Adoptable by every nation on earth.
  7. Global Ethics Standards – Including courts for oversight.
  8. Electronic Borders – For countries to monitor all the inputs and outputs through their borders.


How long before a real space elevator becomes technically viable?
How long before a real space elevator becomes technically viable?

B. Space Industries – Every major space project has a huge ground support team all hoping to be part of that next great interplanetary mission.

  1. Space resorts
  2. Asteroid mining
  3. Space-based power stations
  4. Space elevator
  5. Colonizing other planets
  6. Traveling faster than the speed of light
  7. Satellite Shooters – To shoot satellites into space
  8. Constellations of Floating Wi-Fi antennas, solar powered planes, floating balloons, cubesats, and more to provide Wi-Fi to the entire world


Architect Richard Moreta Castillo envisions a self-sufficient eco-resort, called Grand Cancun
Architect Richard Moreta Castillo envisions a self-sufficient eco-resort called Grand Cancun

C. Ocean Industries

  1. Floating island resorts
  2. Floating farms – for grains, fruits, vegetables
  3. Open ocean aquaculture mega farms – for raising underwater sea plants and animals
  4. Floating countries
  5. Underwater museums
  6. Underwater arboretums
  7. Ocean wave power generators
  8. Freshwater factories – turning saltwater into freshwater


Imagining the weather command center of the future
Imagining the weather command center of the future

D. Controlling Extreme Weather. We continually find ourselves the victims of forces of nature while it is entirely possible to mitigate the damage of extreme weather.

  1. Controlling hurricanes
  2. Controlling earthquakes
  3. Controlling tornadoes
  4. Controlling hailstorms
  5. Controlling desertification
  6. Controlling draught and famine
  7. Controlling dust storms
  8. Controlling extreme blizzards, rainfall, and flooding


The world’s greatest bridge projects are still on the drawing board
The world’s greatest bridge projects are still on the drawing board

E. Grand Bridge-Tunnel Projects. When it comes to ground transportation we have several massive disconnects in our global transportation network.

  1. Bridge across the Bering Straight – Connecting North America with Asia
  2. Bridge across the Darian Gap – Connecting North and South America
  3. Gibraltar Bridge-Tunnel System – Connecting Europe and Africa
  4. Sweden to Finland Tunnel – Connecting Sweden and Finland.
  5. Korea Japan Friendship Tunnel System – Connecting Japan and Korea
  6. Taiwan Strait Tunnel Project – Connecting China with Taiwan
  7. Saudi-Egypt Causeway – Connecting Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
  8. Sakhalin-Hokkaido Tunnel – Connecting Japan with Russia


$15B Artificial Island – The Pearl, located in Qatar
$15B Artificial Island – The Pearl, located in Qatar

F. Extreme Physics Challenges – Many of the world’s current list of megaprojects include infrastructure, buildings, and cities with no real focus on long-term economies to sustain them. Items on the following list have the potential for creating entire new economies.

  1. Terraforming Planets – Developing the formula for recreating human-friendly earth-like environments on other planets and moons.
  2. Mass Energy Storage – Storing power from one day to the next is still far too inefficient. Think in terms of cities having a 2-week power reserve at all times.
  3. Controlling Gravity – The single greatest force of nature is gravity, yet we know very little about it.
  4. Sending a Probe to the Center of the Earth – We currently know very little about the center of the earth.
  5. Controlling Time – Many possibilities such as manipulating time in short intervals, soas to know something 5-10 minutes before it happens.
  6. Viewing the Past – How can we create a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened decades earlier in actual-size, in holographic form?
  7. Instant Disassembling of Matter – Think in terms of a process where large boulders can be instantly disassembled into a pile of molecules, simply by breaking all the molecular bonds.
  8. Revival of Extinct Species – Too many species have already gone extinct and many more are on the watch list. Extinction revival has the potential of spawning entire new industries.


When the data of the world is at your fingertips
When the data of the world is at your fingertips

G. Extreme Data Megaprojects

  1. The Billion-Cam Video Project – What would it take to get people to connect 1 billion video cameras to the Internet? How will this change the world?
  2. Whole Earth Law Project – Very few countries have their laws posted in a central repository.
  3. World’s First Billion Internet of Things Operating System – Architecting over 1 billion devices talking to each other is a powerful position to be in.
  4. Global Elections – When will we see the first global election with over 500 million people voting from over 50 different countries?
  5. World’s First Billion Sensor Network – What advantages will be created when over 1-billion sensors are tied together?
  6. Global Language Archive – Over 500 languages have less than 10 people currently speaking the language.
  7. World’s First Billion Drone Operating System – Much like cellphones, drones will evolve around a common operating system.
  8. Global Intellectual Property System – Including patents, copyrights, and trademarks.


Can we build a better human?
Can we build a better human?

H. Solving the Human Equation – No person should ever die… ever! If we can fix human aging, repair accidents, cure diseases, and modify deviant behavior, people no longer need to die. As a result, no person should ever die… ever! Is that our goal? And if not, why not?

  1. Curing Cancer
  2. Curing Diabetes
  3. Curing Heart Disease
  4. Curing Suicide
  5. Curing Human Aging
  6. Cloning or Printing Humans
  7. Curing Deviant Behavior
  8. Creating Super Humans
The 790 feet tall statue of Sardar Patel will soon be the tallest in the world
The 790 feet tall statue of Sardar Patel will soon be the tallest in the world

Creating the world’s largest statue

India has started to build the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity. It will be a 790 feet tall tribute to Sardar Patel. By comparison, Crazy Horse Monument in Custer, South Dakota, which has been under construction for nearly 70 years, is only 564 feet tall.

Comparing the largest statues in the world
Comparing the largest statues in the world

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (or just Sardar, which means Chief) was the first Home Minister (the head of the Ministry of Home Affairs) and Deputy Prime Minister of post-independence India from 15 August 1947 to his death in December 15,1950.

Final Thoughts

In the past, megaprojects like the Pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall of China became a lasting testament to human accomplishment simply because of the incredible amounts of human labor involved in the undertaking. But today it’s far more about the size, money, and significance of the project.

As I travel around the world, it’s hard to miss the sheer number of construction projects happening in every major city. If we only read newspaper headlines, it would appear megaprojects are primarily taking place in China and Dubai, but there are hundreds more that haven’t gotten nearly as much attention.

If we do increase our infrastructure spending to $9 trillion per year, as Parag Khanna suggests, megaprojects will rise in importance from roughly 8% of global GDP to close to 24% factoring in all the spinoff economies.

Over the coming decades we will begin the transition to megacity cultures, lifestyles, and economies. Megacities themselves will become more important than the countries they reside in.

With megaproject spending reaching unprecedented levels, any failures will have far reaching implications.

If your city, region, community, or country is not working on its own megaprojects, it will certainly be left behind.


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

Book Tom 1




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Five Tough Questions: The Warsaw School of Economics Interview http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/five-tough-questions-the-warsaw-school-of-economics-interview/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/five-tough-questions-the-warsaw-school-of-economics-interview/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 13:11:21 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=7615 Nine Tough Questions 1

The Warsaw School of Economics is the oldest, most prestigious, and top-ranked business school in Poland. Dr. Piotr Turek received his PhD in Economics there and went on to become a fellow futurist and new media expert in Warsaw where he works as a journalist, lecturer and mobile/web services expert.

In early January, Piotr contacted me and asked if he could interview me for a series of publications in Poland. When I agreed to the interview, I had no idea how tough these questions would be.

An edited version of the interview recently appeared on Futurist of the Year, a site designed to promote the study of futurology in Poland.

Since the answers submitted were more extensive than what they had room for in the magazine, I’ve included the long-form interview here.

Why should we study the future?
Why should we study the future?

1.) Dr. Turek:  In researching people to interview for this article, you instantly jumped out as one of the most respected futurists with deep insights into a variety of topics. Let’s begin with the topic of futurology and what it means to you. Why it is so important to study the future?

Frey: As a Futurist, people often ask me how many of my predictions have come true. I find this to be a rather uncomfortable question. It’s uncomfortable, not because my track record hasn’t been up to par (actually, a high percentage have come true), but because accuracy of predictions is a poor way of measuring the value of a Futurist.

In a world filled with MBAs and number crunchers, there is a constant push to reduce our analog world to digital analytics so we can accurately measure our return on investment.

But not everything is measurable in this way.

Thinking about the future is like a muscle in our brain that rarely gets used. Over time, our brain will atrophy and we lose our ability to think productively about what the future may bring.

At the same time, the world is shifting faster than ever. Our need to know about the future is no longer a luxury; it’s a functional imperative.

With this in mind, here are eight critical values that a Futurist has to offer:

  1. Altered Thinking – The future is constantly being formed in the minds of people around us. Each person’s understanding of what the future holds will influence the decisions they make today. As we alter someone’s vision of the future, we alter the way they make decisions today. My goal is to help individuals and organizations make better, more informed decisions about the future.
  2. Unique Perspective – The future is unknowable, and this is a good thing. Our involvement in the game of life is based on our notion that we as individuals can make a difference. If we somehow remove the mystery of what results our actions will have, we also dismantle our individual drives and motivations for moving forward. That said, the future can be forecast in degrees of probability. By improving our understanding of what the future holds, we dramatically improve the probability with which we can predict the future.
  3. Evidence of Change – Empirically speaking, forecasting the future is not done by staring at tealeaves or reading tarot cards (that is the realm of psychics). Rather, futurists take an interdisciplinary approach and employ a wide range of methods, from the study of cycles, to trend analysis, to scenario planning, to simulations, to back casting. Futurists use data from the past and present, as well as other concepts and methodologies to understand how the present will evolve into probable futures. We also borrow freely from other fields, such as forecasting, chaos theory, complexity science, organization development, systems analysis, and sociology.
  4. Connecting the Dots – Futurists come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. What we have in common is well-researched big-picture-thinking, strong pattern recognition, and innate curiosity. Ideas that are routine in one industry can be revolutionary when they migrate to another, especially when they challenge assumptions and rewrite common knowledge among the rank and file.
  5. Find Your Future Competitive Advantage – French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” The most successful companies don’t just out-compete their rivals, they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world heavily steeped in “me-too” thinking.
  6. Take Control of Change before Change Takes Control of You – Are you changing as fast as the world is? Change is inevitable, but how you deal with change can vary greatly. In a world that never stops changing, great leaders can never stop learning. How do you push yourself as an individual to keep growing and evolving? Does your company push you in the same manner?
  7. The Future is Where Our Children Live – Our desire to leave a legacy is a uniquely human attribute. However, our legacy becomes meaningless if we don’t have new generations of people to pass it on to. To many this may sound like an obvious statement, but to those in the business world, there is a constant battle being waged over the needs of the present vs. the needs of the future. It’s very easy to place short-term profitability ahead of long-term problems.
  8. Every Avalanche begins with the Movement of a Single Snowflake – Our ability to tap into and leverage the power of the future is directly tied to the number of times we think about it. The more we think about the future, the more we expand our understanding of it. And the more we understand the future, the easier it becomes for us to interact with it.
Google's Chief Engineer, Ray Kurzweil, believes machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence by 2029
Google’s Chief Engineer, Ray Kurzweil, believes machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence by 2029

2.) Dr. Turek:  Do you agree with Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that a connection between brain and Internet will take place before 2030, and does this concern you in any way?

Frey: Over the past 30 years, artificial intelligence went through a couple major boom and bust cycles because the algorithms failed to live up to the hype.

Since 2012, a specific machine learning technique called “deep learning” has permeated the AI world, and we’ve made more progress in the past four years than in the preceding 25 years on several key AI problems including image understanding, signal processing, vocal comprehension, and understanding text.

Keep in mind that deep learning still isn’t true AI, the kind of sophisticated and adaptable intelligence humans exhibit, but it’s a giant leap forward on the path to getting there.

Futurists like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil began focusing on the exponential growth of artificial intelligence several decades ago. With ever increasing advancements in areas like nanotech, biotech, chemistry, and bioinformatics, they’ve predicted we will be able to create a race of superhumans with decision-making abilities far beyond our ability to understand them.

Through these early efforts the field of transhumanism was born, referring to a form of superhumans with capabilities far beyond what we can comprehend today.

My sense is that people are far more nuanced and complicated than researchers have ever imagined, and while we’ll create closer facsimiles to human cognition, we’ll never be able to achieve a complete AI mind with inorganic materials.

The “singularity” itself is a bit of a mystery. Some have predicted 2029, and others 2045, but the exact nature of the transformation being predicted is still rather fuzzy around the edges.

Will artificial intelligence become integrally linked to the human mind as in a symbiotic relationship? Will “boosted” humans have the same values, ethics, incentives, and levels of consciousness as people today? Can we also “boost” intelligence in plants and animals?

Some of the differences between a human mind and an artificial one can be found in the emotional value we place on things around us. For example, we may value the softness of a nice pillow because it is comfortable around our head, and while artificial intelligence can duplicate the value, it can’t understand why.

Similarly, artificial intelligence can be designed to take initiative when certain criteria is met, such as cleaning a floor once it is dirty, yet it still can’t grasp the reasoning behind it.

AI cannot intuitively feel anxiety, stress, anger, or fear. Humans can be plagued with hundreds of physical and psychological conditions like insomnia, claustrophobia, kleptomania, xenophobia, or narcolepsy, all of which are considered a flaw in the human condition. But these failures are what make us who we are.

Without failure there can be no motivation for improvement.

Our drive and motivation comes from our own insecurities, and without this wide range of physical and emotional shortcomings, the only initiatives AI will be able to muster will be the well-calculated kind.

At the same time, what’s the point in replicating flawed humans? Our current advantages over machines involve things like adaptability, resourcefulness, our ability to make ethical decisions, and our desire to leave a legacy. But for how much longer?

Over the coming decades the achievements of machine intelligence will continue to hockey-stick its way up the exponential growth curve

However, no breakthrough technology is without its unintended consequences, and this one is no exception.

In our rush to solve all of life’s major problems, and we each have our own utopian image of the good life, our drive for solutions will leapfrog us directly onto the lily pad of perfection. It will be this drive for perfection that will be our undoing.

Ironic as it may sound, perfection is an imperfect concept.

Each of us has been born and raised with all of the foibles and limitations of being human. A typical day involves forgetting where we’ve put our keys, stubbing our toe, getting angry at the wrong person, and dropping a plate full of food. And those are just the little things.

We are indeed intelligent beings, but for all of our limitations, the intelligence we possess doesn’t seem hardly enough.

That said, AI is on the verge of becoming a powerful tool in our lives. In much the same way computers and machines are being leveraged to improve our capabilities today, AI will be integrated into our lives in thousands of different ways.

I love the question that Caltech Professor Kip Thorne likes to ask. “A thousand years from now, what things will be possible, and what things will not?”

Only time will tell.

Will we be able to protect intellectual property in the future?
Will we be able to protect intellectual property in the future?

3.) Dr. Turek:  Over the next 15 years we will run into a number of dicey issues concerning the intellectual property rights of artists and proper payment for their work? What are your thoughts on this?

Frey: Our society places great value on creativity, originality, and discovery. History books are filled with talented people who figured out how to “zig left” when everyone else “zagged right.”

Recently, a company called Qentis unveiled a computer program capable of generating every possible combination of words on a single page, effectively preempting any future copyright claims.

Using a similar system, the company can also generate every possible combination of musical notes on a page giving them a priority claim to every “new” musical score.

Likewise, a software company called Cloem has developed a program capable of linguistically manipulating the claims on a patent filing, substituting keywords with synonyms, reordering steps, and rephrasing core concepts in order to generate tens of thousands of potentially patentable “new” inventions.

In much the same way computers are capable of generating every possible combination of lottery numbers to guarantee a win, patent and copyright trolls will soon have the ability to play their game of “fleecing the innovators” at an entirely new level.

More importantly, it confuses the concept of originality, and compromises the contribution of an individual if a version of every “new” idea already exists.

Naturally there are steps that can be taken to prevent this kind of abuse, like adding video proofs of the creation and statements from witnesses. But once artificial intelligence enters the picture, the deceptions will become even harder to sort out.

How beneficial would a global currency be?
How beneficial would a global currency be?

4.) Dr. Turek:  Do you think we are headed for just one world currency, or maybe none, and we return to exchange goods for barter?

Frey: The future of banking will be mobile, happening on devices we carry in our pockets, built into jewelry, and on our wrists, not in fancy office buildings.

In less than five years, smartphones, watches, and other devices will replace credit/debit cards, wallets, lenders, stockbrokers, and insurance agents.

There is a good chance that we will have a default global currency arise from the cryptocurrency movement.

The primary purpose of a global currency will be to have a stabilizing effect on other currencies. However, it will not operate to the exclusion of others. There needs to be multiple currencies to serve as a form of checks and balances for the global economy.

Over the past few weeks I’ve become enamored with the power of financial friction. This could involve everything from adding a tenth or hundredth of a cent charge to every email sent, social media “likes,” video downloads, views of copyrighted photos, and much more.

Even though it may not seem significant, there is a huge difference between “free” and “0.1 cent.”

Tiny charges, much like the rest of life’s sandpaper, tend to give us clarity between what’s significant and what’s not.

The reason this has become such an important topic today is because transaction costs have plummeted along with the cryptocurrency invention of distributed block chain ledgers, and the possibility of creating “nano-payment” networks is opening the doors to thousands of new fractional payment models.

The traditional way of providing online services like email, news, or uploading photos has been to pass the cost of operating these services on to advertisers.

But that could change.

Over the past decade, micro payment schemes have created successful business models around charges less than $1. As an example, Google’s AdSense charges advertisers as little as a few cents for every click of their ads.

It’s only recently, with the introduction of Blockchain technology, that we’ve been able to consider much smaller charges, even less than a penny.

In the past I’ve been an ardent advocate of simplicity, but over time my thinking has changed. Automation enables complexity, and the intricacy of complexity is what opens the door for unusual new business opportunities.

As a way of expanding our thinking in this area, here are 8 short scenarios with brief explanations.

  1. When it comes to e-books, would you rather pay $7.99 for the entire book or a tenth of a cent for every page you read? With this type of model it would be very easy to run the analytics and determine which chapters, sections, and pages most resonate with readers.
  2. If you received a tenth of a cent for every “like” on Facebook, but also had to pay a tenth of a cent every time you “liked” someone else’s page or photo, would you be making money or losing some at the end of each month? How could this Lilliputian economy be translated in other areas?
  3. For photos with a copyright, whenever someone clicks to expand the image, their account would be debited a tenth of a cent. In this scenario, the owners would be incentivized to having their photos show up everywhere to increase exposure.
  4. As a blog reader, every time you click “continue here,” you would be sending a tenth of a cent, or multiple tenths for every page viewed, to the writer. Would this incentivize more blog writers?
  5. Would you be willing to pay a tenth of a cent for every page you view on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn just to avoid all the ads being directed at you? The amount you pay would be in direct proportion to how much you use these services, but still a relatively small amount.
  6. Should every text message come with the option of paying a tenth of a cent to keep your service ad-free?
  7. When it comes to videos, should a pay-per-play charge of a tenth of a cent be added to every YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Twitch, or Viddy play? Should people posting videos have that option for remuneration?
  8. Similarly, does it make sense to add a tenth of a cent charge for every episode of RadioLab, NPR, Freakonomics, or TED podcasts?
What role do banks play in our future?
What role do banks play in our future?

5.) Dr. Turek:  What kind of banking products and services will be relevant in the future and how do you envision banking to evolve in developing countries between 2020 and 2030?

Frey: There are approximately 2.5 billion people in the world who do not have access to traditional banks, yet nearly half of them have a mobile phone. These phones have enabled some of the poorest economies to leapfrog the wealthier countries because they don’t have to worry about their legacy infrastructure.

As an example, people in Africa are three times more likely to use mobile money as their counterparts in Europe and the U.S.

In fact, nine African nations now have more mobile pay accounts than traditional bank accounts.

Kenya is an example of how mobile money can dramatically transform a country’s economy. In 2006, less than 30% of adults had access to formal financial services. Today, thanks to M-PESA, that figure stands at over 65%.

M-PESA was originally designed as a system to allow microfinance-loan repayments to be made by phone, reducing the costs associated with handling cash and thus making it possible to offer lower interest rates. But after pilot testing it was expanded to become a general money-transfer system.

Launched in 2007 by Safaricom, the country’s largest mobile-network operator, it is now used by over 17 million Kenyans.

One study found that in rural Kenyan households that adopted M-PESA, incomes increased by 5-30%. In addition, the availability of a reliable mobile-payments platform has spawned a host of start-ups in Nairobi.

In 2014, the service processed over $20 billion in transactions, a figure equal to more than 40% of Kenya’s GDP.

The M-PESA experiment has paved the way for fintech startups like Abra in other countries.

Much of the fintech revolution happening in the tech world offers tools for improving the economy of developing countries.

Today there are 2.6 billion smartphone subscribers in the world and that will grow to over 6.1 billion in 2020. Smartphones will replace the need for many of today’s banking services and will open the door to a variety of new payment technologies as well as new banking options.

As an example, where bank transfers today still take two to three days, Bitcoin technology makes it possible to transfer money instantaneously and securely from person to person. This is inspiring startups, like Abra, to offer a more convenient and affordable way to move money.

Abra is the world’s first digital cash peer-to-peer network.

The basic premise behind Abra is that anyone should be able to send money from his or her smartphone to any other person via their phone.

If a user wants to send $5 to a friend, all they need is the recipient’s phone number. If the recipient doesn’t have Abra on their phone, they will receive a text message telling them to install the app.

The app also takes care of currency conversions so that the value is never subject to the fluctuations of the price of Bitcoin or traditional costs in currency exchange.

Abra enables users to store money digitally on their phone, send that money to any phone number in the world and then, using a network of Abra tellers or traditional banks, exchange that digital money for cash. Since all money is stored on the phone, Abra never touches the money.

The only cost for their service comes from funds transferred to traditional bank accounts or converted to cash.

The Abra app currently works with users and banks, in the US and the Philippines, with plans to expand into India and other parts of Asia over the next couple years.

With $436 billion USD in remittances flowing to families in developing countries in 2014, the market opportunity is significant.

Final Thoughts

The people of the world have an “unfinishable mandate” to continually stretch, grow, propagate, and master not only the world around us, but also the entire universe.

The human race is genetically pre-dispositioned to push the envelope, color outside the lines, and reach for things that will forever be unreachable.

As individuals, there will be some who are content to find inner peace and live a minimalist lifestyle. But as a race, we will be driven by a need to make a difference, be admired for our accomplishments, and create moments of triumph in our otherwise pale existence.

We have only taken the first step in a trillion mile journey. The next few steps, in my opinion, will be nothing short of spectacular.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


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Fourteen New Dimensions for Rethinking the Future Cruise Ship Experience http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/fourteen-new-dimensions-for-rethinking-the-future-cruise-ship-experience/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/fourteen-new-dimensions-for-rethinking-the-future-cruise-ship-experience/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 03:49:24 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=7606 My wife Deb and I recently got back from a 10-day Princess Cruise through the Panama Canal, a fabulous experience, but one that could have been greatly enhanced with better technology on the part of the cruise line.

To illustrate this point, on the 2nd day of the cruise we ran into some people who thought it would be great if I could give a talk on the ship. So I sent a message to Susan the cruise director, the lady in charge of all the entertainment on the ship, that I’d be willing to give a talk.

Since there is no cellphone service on the ship (or texting), this involved me writing a note and handing it to someone at the passenger services desk. Two days later I received a phone message that I responded to with a request for a meeting.

Another two days went by and I received another message telling me a couple different times and places where we could meet. I picked the earliest meeting time and managed to catch about 3 minutes of her time. She was very pleasant and cordial and responded favorably to the idea of me giving a talk, and said she’d let me know.

I then followed up with a 3rd handwritten message clarifying that I wasn’t looking for any compensation and suggesting three different titles for my talk.

Keep in mind the main source of information on a ship is a daily bulletin that gets distributed to every cabin in the evening highlighting the next day’s activities. On this cruise line it’s called the Princess Patter.

Finally, on the second to the last day I received a phone message late in the afternoon saying I was approved for giving a talk, but I would have to respond within an hour because the Princess Patter went to press at 5:30 pm.

I didn’t get the message until an hour too late. When I called back I reached Simon, the assistant cruise director, and he apologized for the late notice but since they hadn’t heard back from me my talk was left out of the final day’s agenda.

Whether or not I was given the opportunity to speak on the ship was not important, but the process highlighted some critical fault lines in the industry’s business model. Keep in mind, this exchange involved seven full days of handwritten messages and voice mails, and it all boiled down to a one-hour timeslot that crept up without warning.

Needless to say, person-to-person communications on ships like this has been atrocious, but that is on the verge of changing in a big way. And these changes are opening the door to entirely new business models.

The Great Vacation Debate

Whenever I mention something about lack of cell service or bad Internet on a ship, Deb always responds by telling me that I’m supposed to be on vacation and I shouldn’t be thinking about work.

While I understand the need for “braincations,” and no, being off the grid is not going to kill me, I also know that most of the world is not wired that way.

In fact, the entire cruise industry has been slow to capitalize on the massive market for working vacationers; a market that constitutes the vast majority of today’s leisure crowd.

It’s also an enormous adjustment for hyper-connected families to step onboard and readjust their thinking to work with such primitive communication tools. On ships carrying 2,000+ passengers it’s easy to lose a family member or friend several times a day.

Better communication systems will also shift the market away from the 70-year-old floating-assisted-living model to more active Gen-X and Gen-Y crowds looking to reimagine their lives.

To this end, many cruise lines have already begun the process of equipping their ships with high bandwidth communication systems.

Why is the Internet so Expensive on a Cruise Ship?

Generating a reliable satellite signal to a moving ship is no small task. Not only do cruise lines have to lock on to a constantly moving signal in some of the most remote corners on earth, but they also need sufficient bandwidth to accommodate several thousand passengers at once.

Many already have begun the Wi-Fi upgrade process while others will be installing new equipment later this year. Here are three examples:

  • Royal Caribbean provides high-speed Internet on all of its 25 ships for $20 per day. They also offer a service called VOOM, which allows guests to stream videos and music for an extra $15 a day.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line has also expanded Internet on all 13 of its ships for $29.99 a day, but there’s a catch. The Wi-Fi plan must be purchased for the entire trip, which means Wi-Fi will cost $300 for a 10-day cruise.
  • All of Viking River Cruises’ ships offer complimentary Wi-Fi. Access to a faster service – which is needed for video streaming – is available for $11.95 a day.
What kind of experience would you like to have on your next cruise?
What kind of experience would you like to have on your next cruise?

Fourteen New Dimensions for Tomorrow’s Cruise Experience

Each level of bandwidth improvement comes with a vast new learning curve, one that will require several years to rethink service options.

The lack of Wi-Fi has also created a generational market gap with Gen-X and Millennials less inclined to spend a week or two without Internet.

Yes, cruise ships do offer luxury-class service, food, and entertainment. Some of the newer features like waterslides, robotic bartenders, climbing walls, Jumbotron movies under the stars, and indoor ice arenas all have their appeal, but as with all high dollar experiences, next-generation customers are eager for something new.

Diverse communities create diverse interests and younger people are less interested in old school relaxation and far more interested in being engaged, learning new skills, and adding some new dimension to their lives.

With that in mind, here are fourteen new features, made possible by better connectivity that could easily be added to cruise ships over the coming years:

1.  Makerspaces – Equipped with laser cutters, welders, 3D printers, potters wheels, and jewelry making equipment, a well-furnished makerspace has the potential to radically transform the onboard experience. How-to classes can teach people the fundamentals of using specific pieces of equipment as well as making things they can show to their friends.

2.  Videographer Studios – With smartphones replacing the need for elaborate cameras and editing skills, virtually every passenger has the need to improve their videographer skills. Keep in mind, video posted on social media have the potential to radically amp up the marketing reach of the personal cruise experience.

3.  Video Game Tournament Centers – A 2015 study showed that 42% of Americans play video games at least 3-hours a week with the average age being 35 years old. Not only is it important to have the bandwidth to play online video games, but having a dedicated facility for onboard tournaments will also ensure maximum engagement for a large percentage of today’s young people.

4.  Hacker Spaces and Hacker Classes – Every person connected to the Internet has a different level of proficiency. The online skills needed to be proficient in even rudimentary aspects of the web like word processing, texting, and social media are constantly evolving. Hacker spaces can serve as both training centers and entry points for newbies as well as rich technical environments for more advanced users.

5.  Make Your Own Beer, Wine, and Spirits Distilleries – Micro-breweries, micro-distilleries, and winemaking are quickly becoming part of urban culture and having the facilities to both teach the skills and taste the end product can easily become an engaging feature of every new cruise ship.

6.  “Quantified Self” Center for Personal Analysis – Our ability to accurately measure the inputs and outputs of the human body are increasing exponentially with every new sensor and wearable device added to everyday living. These devices, along with data analytics machines, can be leveraged to provide a hyper-individualized health analysis offering a range of plans for improvement.

7.  New Product Expos – Companies are always seeking new ways to introduce a new line of products. Whether its food products, household gadgets, Internet of Things devices, software, hardware, or something else, people are continually fascinated by cutting edge products. This will open the doors for sponsorship arrangements with companies who otherwise have little connection to the cruise industry.

8.  Floating Garden Centers – Rather than just looking at plants and flowers on a ship, many are interested in learning about the species and how to grow them at home. Ships are well positioned to become working laboratories for aquaponics and hydroponic operations, and a significant percentage of passengers would love to be engaged in this type of experience.

9.  Drone Training Facilities – The emerging field of flying drones has captured the imagination of hobbyists and working professionals alike. Operating without the restrictions of defined airspace and country-to-country restrictions, ship-based drones can be used for entertainment, pilot training, photography, surveillance, remote lighting, drone rescue, and much more.

10. Cannabis Cooking Classes – In much the same way gambling is not legal while ships are docked, the open seas can open the doors to recreational marijuana in much the same ways Colorado and Washington are exploring today. This would open the door to cannabis cooking classes, new types of lounges, alternative health courses, and much more.

11. Escape Rooms – One of the fastest growing team-building exercises and family entertainment are escape rooms and the intricate layers of puzzle pieces and clues teams need to filter through to find a way out. Based on the notion of living through a real life video game experience, participants find themselves challenged in new and exciting ways.

12. Treasure Hunts – The online world provides an entirely new dimension to treasure hunts with physical and virtual clues making the final destination all the more rewarding. Answers or clues can be hidden anywhere on the ship and real-time tracking can provide team members with instant feedback of their progress.

13. Onboard Competitions – With all the new possibilities, a natural extension of these activities will be to stage competitions to uncover the best of the best. Contests can range from drone races, to building makerspace jewelry boxes, wine tasting, beer tasting, best short videos, ship-to-ship video game competitions, and more.

14. Collaborative Work Spaces – For those who don’t have the luxury of being off-grid on their cruise, the quality of workspaces matter. Collaborative environments are natural conversation starters as well as fertile territory for discovering new friends and business contacts.

Much like other cities, cruise ship struggle with managing their waste. But oceans create far more environmental complexities than land-based cities.
Much like other cities, cruise ships struggle with managing their waste, but oceans create far more environmental complexities than land-based cities.

Sustainability as a Competitive Advantage

With mounting pressure from environmental groups, the cruise industry has been working to remedy many of the ecosystem hazards being left in the wake of international waters.

Along with a new generation of highly connected passengers comes a level of transparency and scrutiny the industry may not be prepared for.

With today’s class of cruise ships, a 3,000-passenger ship can generate as much as 210,000 gallons of waste and sewage and 1 million gallons of gray water from showers and drains in a typical week according to the EPA. In addition, there are discharges of bilge water that may contain oil, grease and other contaminants.

The wastes from these “floating cities” pose a threat to fragile ecosystems, to sea life, and even to people enjoying a day at the beach.

While Disney is making the strongest effort to correct these problems, other cruise lines are also making progress. As sensor technology makes pollution issues increasingly transparent, the entire industry will soon be held to new accountability standards as customers continue to “vote with their pocketbooks.”

Final Thoughts

Until now, cruise ships have been operating like upscale third world countries, just now entering Internet age. Their true potential has yet to be discovered in a new digital friendly environment.

From a business standpoint, being on the cutting edge of creating exciting new cruise itineraries is now being counterbalanced with the nuanced opportunities for experiencing the oceans with an increasingly Internet savvy clientele.

In addition to being a floating resort, next generation cruise ships will operate as a working laboratory as companies experiment to unlock the ultimate cruise experience for every one of their passengers.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


















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128 Things that will disappear in the driverless car era http://www.futuristspeaker.com/job-opportunities/128-things-that-will-disappear-in-the-driverless-car-era/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/job-opportunities/128-things-that-will-disappear-in-the-driverless-car-era/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 02:26:53 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=7592 I started writing this column while I was in Manila, Philippines for a talk with UnionBank, one of the most innovative banks I’ve ever come across.

Driving across Manila is often a painful experience with far too many cars locking up all possible arterials, and nowhere near enough money to redesign and build the needed infrastructure. But this is not unique to Manila.

As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve run into equally bad traffic in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seoul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Rome, London, Beijing, and Mumbai. In fact there are literally thousands of cities where bad traffic is a way of life.

Car companies have become very good at selling vehicles but few countries have anticipated them being this good at it.

A recent study by Morgan Stanley showed that the average car is only used 4% of the day, making cars an astonishing waste of resources. If all cars were to be on the road simultaneously, we cannot even imagine the chaos that would ensue.

For these reasons I’ve become enamored with the coming autonomous car era where many of todays problems get solved. However, going through the transition will be anything but smooth.

Making the Transition

There’s a significant difference between a driverless car and a fully autonomous vehicle. We already have a number of vehicles on the road today with driverless features, but that’s only a small step towards the no-steering-wheel type of driverless car many are imagining.

As we move further into the fully autonomous car era, we also need to understand the distinction between “user-operated” and “completely driverless” vehicles. Because of regulatory and insurance issues, user-operated fully autonomous cars will come to market within the next five years, while complete autonomous driverless autos will remain further off.

Even though both Google and Tesla have predicted that fully-autonomous cars, the kind that Elon Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep, and wake up at your destination,” will be available to the public by 2020, that’s not the full story.

First generation vehicles like these will come with a variety of regulator issues and technical problems few can anticipate. But as with all early stage technologies, each of these problems will be dealt with as they arise.

In addition, being available and being commonplace are also many years apart.

While we are entering a game-changing transition period accompanied with a never-ending stream of industry hype, most of the changes listed below will happen after 2030.

Somewhere in the 2030-2035 timeframe we’ll begin to see highways designated as “driverless only,” allowing vehicles that can be switched into driverless mode.

Fleet Ownership and On-Demand Transportation

Imagine stepping out of your house 15 years from now and using your smartphone to summon a driverless vehicle. Within 2-3 minutes a driverless vehicle arrives and whisks you off to work, school, shopping, or wherever you want to go.

A form of on-demand transportation is already happening with companies like Uber and Lyft. If we eliminate the driver, costs will plummet.

Once the technology is perfected, on-demand transportation companies will crop up in most metropolitan areas with large fleets of vehicles poised to meet consumer demand.

As car companies come to grips with a future that has fewer cars in it, they will begin changing their business model. Rather than charging for each vehicle sold, they will partner with fleet managers and charge for every mile the car is driven.

In a move to strengthen their financial position, car companies will begin to reduce the number of dealers, middlemen, and finance costs. This will put large fleet owners in an unusually influential position regarding car design.

Over time, riders will place far more emphasis on features like ingress and egress, riding comfort, and entertainment options, placing far less emphasis on things like car brand, style, color, and efficiency ratings.

Since the idea of fleet ownership and on-demand transportation tend to break down in rural communities, early use cases will spring up first in large metro areas.

How much longer will we have steering wheels?
How much longer will we have steering wheels?

Major Industry-Wide Changes Ahead

Over the coming decades, a number of industry-wide “epiphany moments” will cause business leaders to rethink the true scope of impact.

Early adopters will include Gen Z young people who will never feel the need to get a license and pay for insurance as well as Baby Boomers who don’t want to loose their freedom.

Adding to the early user list will be poor people, both legal and illegal immigrants, folks with DUIs, teenagers too young to drive, the directionally impaired, people who have lost their insurance, and many more.

Keep in mind these are changes that will take place over the next couple decades. In some cases we will see a car industry version of Blockbuster Video where all physical stores disappear. While some will disappear completely, others, like travel agencies, will be reduced to a small fraction of their former self.

Double Checkerboard

Over the years I’ve developed a brainstorming technique called the “checkerboard” as a way to generate new ideas. It’s a very simple technique where I start with eight categories and list eight items in each category, enough to fill all 64 spaces on a checkerboard.

When I’m feeling extra creative, I’ll generate enough ideas to fill two checkerboards – 128 of them.

Below are a number of these lists to help you grasp the sea change ahead in the transportation industry.

Driving Jobs that will Disappear – The job of driving a vehicle is one of the most common jobs in the world today. Most of these will evaporate over the coming decades.

  1. Taxi drivers
  2. Uber & Lyft drivers
  3. Delivery (FedEx, UPS, USPS) jobs
  4. Courier jobs
  5. Bus drivers
  6. Truck drivers
  7. Valet jobs
  8. Chauffeurs and limo drivers

Other Jobs that will Disappear – Along with driving vehicles, the transportation industry has a huge number of supporting roles that will also vanish.

  1. Road construction flag people
  2. Drivers-Ed teachers
  3. Traffic reporters
  4. Traffic analysts
  5. Car licensing and registration
  6. Drivers test people
  7. Rental car agents
  8. Crash testers

Specialty Vehicles – Virtually every vehicle that requires a human operator today will find itself competing with an autonomous version sometime in the future.

  1. Forklift drivers
  2. Lawnmower operators
  3. Snowplow operators
  4. Water truck drivers
  5. Fire truck drivers
  6. Water taxies
  7. Ambulance drivers
  8. Trash truck drivers
Autonomous ag-bots are coming to farmer’s field near you
Autonomous ag-bots are coming to farmer’s field near you

Farm and Equipment Vehicles – Agriculture has continually been on the forefront of innovation. Entering the driverless era will be no exception.

  1. Tractor drivers
  2. Combine operators
  3. Swather operators
  4. Bailer operators
  5. Sprayer operators
  6. Horse trailer drivers
  7. Grain truck operators
  8. Automated fruit harvester operators

Construction Equipment Vehicles – Road construction and repair is a huge industry that will eventually be taken over by unmanned bots and drones.

  1. Crane operators
  2. Road grader operators
  3. Earth movers
  4. Street sweeper operators
  5. Backhoe operators
  6. Trencher operators
  7. Cement truck operators
  8. Fuel truck operators

Car Sales, Finance, & Insurance Industry Positions – As we move from owned to shared vehicles, much of the transportation economy will also disappear.

  1. Auto sales – new and used
  2. Account managers
  3. Auto auctions
  4. Credit managers
  5. Loan underwriters
  6. Insurance agents and sales reps
  7. Insurance claims adjusters
  8. Insurance call center agents

Miscellaneous Jobs to Disappear – We often forget how embedded our transportation culture is in today’s economy. Here are a few more of our soon-to-be-forgotten professions.

  1. Traffic reporters on the news
  2. Sobriety checkpoint people
  3. Auto industry lobbyists
  4. Stoplight installers
  5. Pothole repair people
  6. Emission testers
  7. Road and parking lot stripers
  8. Night repair crews
It’s hard to imagine what the inside of future vehicles will look like
It’s hard to imagine what the inside of future vehicles will look like

Vehicle Features that will Disappear – The inside of cars will look radically different once the driver is removed from the equation.

  1. Steering wheels
  2. Gas pedals
  3. Talking GPS
  4. Dashboards for drivers
  5. Spare tires
  6. License plates
  7. Seatbelts
  8. Odometers

Vehicle Repair – Consumer-Facing Businesses – A significant portion of today’s retail and service industry is related to transportation. These too will begin to fade away.

  1. Roadside assistance
  2. Auto repair shops
  3. Body shops
  4. Tow trucks
  5. Glass repair
  6. Auto locksmiths
  7. Transmission repair shops
  8. Auto part stores

Vehicle Maintenance – There are a number of businesses that keep our cars operational and looking good. These too will dwindle over time.

  1. Gas stations
  2. Car washes
  3. Oil change businesses
  4. Detail shops
  5. Tire shops
  6. Brake shops
  7. Emissions testing
  8. Alignment shops
Even crash test dummies will soon lose their jobs
Even crash test dummies will soon lose their jobs

Driver Related Issues that will Disappear – Because of all the things that can go wrong in today’s congested traffic, many other issues will also disappear.

  1. Road rage
  2. Fender benders
  3. Car theft
  4. Getting lost
  5. Lost cars in parking lots
  6. Driving tests
  7. Traffic stops
  8. Crash test dummies

Parking Related Things – With cars today only being used 4% of the average day, we’ve had to build a massive parking infrastructure to accommodate both the long-term and short-term storage of unused vehicles. These will all lose their importance over time.

  1. Parking lots
  2. Parking garages
  3. Parking tickets
  4. Valet services
  5. Parallel parking
  6. Parking meters
  7. Charging stations
  8. Handicap parking

Courts/Justice System – In an autonomous vehicle era, most police departments will shrink to a fraction of their current size.

  1. Traffic cops
  2. Traffic courts – lawyers, DA, judges
  3. Driver licenses
  4. Patrol cars and officers
  5. DUIs and drunk driving
  6. Sobriety checkpoints
  7. The boot
  8. Road rage school

Highway Related – Future highways will not require near as many safety features.

  1. Traffic jams
  2. Traffic signs
  3. Traffic lanes
  4. Speed zones
  5. Road stripes
  6. Weigh stations
  7. Mile markers
  8. Guardrails

Highway Repair – While we will still need to repair roads in the future, repair activities will no longer be a major impediment to the flow of traffic.

  1. Traffic cones
  2. Road closures
  3. Detours
  4. Stoplights
  5. Pilot cars
  6. Flag people
  7. Merge lanes
  8. Night lights for late night road repair

Traffic Laws – Traffic law has grown to become a significant portion of the justice system penal code.

  1. Speeding tickets
  2. Failing to stop at a stoplight or stop sign
  3. DUIs – driving under the influence
  4. Reckless driving
  5. Driving in the wrong direction
  6. Passing in a no passing zone
  7. Unsafe lane changes
  8. Driver profiling – In our autonomous future, every car will be driven exactly the same way, so ageist, sexist, racist and regional driver prejudices will cease to exist.
Unlocking the road ahead
Unlocking the road ahead

Final Thoughts

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined.

Elon Musk has predicted, over time, that lawmakers will decide that driving a vehicle is far too dangerous for humans, and most people will be outlawed from doing the driving themselves.

Following close behind autonomous vehicles on the ground will be a wide array of autonomous vehicles in the air including flying passenger drones. Even though it will be many years before “droning to work” will become a common form of transportation, we will eventually get there.

Many are already thinking about the systematic loss of jobs coming when drivers are deemed unnecessary. The part that’s receiving far less attention is the huge number of new jobs that will replace the ones going away.

Here is just a quick sampling of

  • In-car “ride experience” designers
  • Operators of fast food drones that will dock with moving cars
  • Traffic flow analysts
  • Traffic system planners, designers, and monitors
  • Automated traffic architects and engineers
  • Driverless operating system engineers
  • Luxury vehicle designers
  • Traffic transitionists and impact minimizers

Car designers today spend the vast majority of their time trying to optimize the driver experience. After all, the driver is the most important part of the ownership equation.

As we enter the “driverless era,” the focus will shift to the passenger experience. Fancy dashboards displaying dazzling amounts of information for the driver will become a thing of the past as riders fuss over on-board movies, music, and massage controls.

Some fleet owners will offer car experiences that are more conversational in nature, pairing socially compatible riders in a way to maximize conversations and improve the social environment. Others will stress the benefits of alone-time, offering a peaceful zen-like experience for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of work-life.

As we navigate our way towards a safer, more efficient society, we still have a few bumpy roads to go down before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As I’ve said many times, driverless cars will change transportation more dramatically than the invention of the automobile itself. I’m hoping this will help you understand why.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything.








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Will Artificial Intelligence Improve Democracy or Destroy It? http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/will-artificial-intelligence-improve-democracy-or-destroy-it/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/will-artificial-intelligence-improve-democracy-or-destroy-it/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 14:48:54 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=7665 AI Democracy 2

There’s a big difference between what a person wants and what they need.

On one hand we need healthy food, a good night’s rest, and decent medical care. But a little voice inside our heads has us craving dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s, an overnight stay at the Ritz Carlton, and a spa weekend at the St. Regis in Aspen to fix whatever is wrong.

The same is true with countries. There’s a big difference between what a country wants and what it needs.

While we may need better roads, schools, and playgrounds, we want others to pay for them. And while we need elected officials who can make the best possible decisions, we tend to vote for candidates who are good looking and make us feel better.

Our wants and needs are vastly different creatures constantly pulling us in opposite directions.

In fact, many of us are addicted to our wants. A drug addict has an unquenchable thirst for drugs, a Facebook addict is always checking their phone, and a sex addict can never get enough.

The irrational mind may live next door to the rational mind, but together they form contradictory arguments inside a rather dysfunctional neighborhood in our own heads.

So how can we possibly make better decisions and create a better world if all we have to work with is defective humans?

Current State of AI (Artificial Intelligence)

There tends to be a lot of confusion between machine learning and artificial intelligence. But in reality, machine learning is the only kind of AI that exists.

At the same time, our understanding of AI is changing. Most of the things we thought of as AI in the past were little more than sophisticated forms of computer programming.

However, along with advances in technology, the latest strategy for AI developers has become, “Don’t model the world, model the mind.”

When AI researchers “modeled the mind,” they created systems capable of learning increasingly complicated things about the world around them.

Since 2012, a specific machine learning technique called “deep learning” has permeated the AI world. Researchers have abandoned the classical programming tricks-style of AI and switched to deep learning, because it works far better than any previous methodologies.

We’ve made more progress in the years since 2012 than in the preceding 25 years on several key AI problems including image understanding, signal processing, vocal comprehension, and understanding text.

Keep in mind that deep learning still isn’t true AI, the kind of sophisticated and adaptable intelligence humans exhibit, but it’s a giant leap forward on the path to getting there.

Naturally this raises a number of philosophical questions:

  • How can flawed humans possibly create un-flawed AI?
  • Is making the so-called “perfect” AI really optimal?
  • Will AI become the great compensator for human deficiencies?
  • Does AI eventually replace our need for other people?

Should we use AI to Create Better Citizens?

One possible step towards integrating artificial intelligence with democracy will be to gamify the interface between people and government with something similar to customer loyalty programs, in this case by gamifying citizenship through a government loyalty program.

A system like this would effectively promote involvement, rewarding people for their role in creating a better functioning society. It would begin by asking questions like:

  • Have you gotten all your shots, finished high school, learned about American history, or served in the military or some similar community service position.
  • How many times have you voted since you were 18?
  • How many government services have you taken advantage of over the past decade?
  • If they sent you a survey asking you to evaluate their performance, did you answer that survey?
  • Have you been asked to serve on a jury? Did you?

Rewards for top citizens could range from things like low interest loans, to lower taxes, free national park passes, less TSA scrutiny at airports, higher credit ratings, and maybe even favorable treatment in the event of a tax audit.

Perhaps the highest ranked citizens could even win a free night stay in the Lincoln bedroom at the Whitehouse.

With the right status, people may receive advance notification and priority rating when applying for certain jobs.

When it comes to jobs, AI will have the ability to determine your optimal career path by analyzing past experiences, inherent skills, and individual preferences, and do it in a far more efficient manner than any system we have today.

How much longer will democracy survive?
How much longer will democracy survive?

8 Reasons Why Democracy is Today’s Best form of Government

Democracy is far from perfect, but when it comes to running a government, it has a number of built-in mechanisms for promoting fairness and participation. Here are some of the reasons why those who advocate democracy view it as today’s best form of government.

  1. Democracy is the great equalizer. It doesn’t favor the rich over the poor, nor the successful over the unsuccessful, nor the healthy over the unhealthy, nor one race over another race, nor one region over another region.
  2. Everyone has a stake, every person can voice their opinion.
  3. It promotes fair and healthy competition allowing the best of the best to stand out.
  4. Democracy promotes participation. Even poor people without formal education, living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and little authority can play a significant role.
  5. It’s self-adjusting. A democracy allows the most pertinent issues to rise to the top.
  6. It diffuses tension by giving people an outlet.
  7. It places human values on a human system. Much like the value of stocks, currency, or collectables, we assign an emotional value to the world around us. Democracy is our system for assigning value to the people we elect or the referendums we vote on.
  8. It both improves and preserves personal pride and dignity.

8 Reasons Why Democracy Still Comes Up Short

There are no perfect systems and in many ways democracy still comes up short.

  1. Democracy is biased towards what we want, not what we need.
  2. Those who are elected are the ones who do the best job of appealing to the median IQ of the voting public. We like to think we’re electing the best and the brightest but we’re not.
  3. It’s a very adversarial system. Rivalries are good to a certain point, but excessive rivalries create a polarizing environment.
  4. Voters are not experts.
  5. Democracy favors the “less busy.” Senior citizens carry an inordinate amount of clout because they have more time to be involved.
  6. Democracy typically works better for those who receive the most benefits.
  7. It favors the “fairest” decision over the “best” decision.
  8. Democracy demands a constantly evolving system for it to function properly. In our increasingly complex society it requires constant monitoring, new kinds of checks and balances, oversights, rules, and limitations to make it function properly.

8 Ways Artificial Intelligence can Improve Democracy

It would be easy to leapfrog our thinking towards a system where AI makes all of our decisions for us, but any process that reduces individual participation will be heavily scrutinized before we learn to trust it, and trust takes time.

Any system that reduces personal involvement will require years of testing before it’s implemented on a large scale. That said, here are a few ways it could greatly improve our processes:

  1. Since AI can understand individual preferences, it can help voters make decisions and, by extension, increase participation.
  2. AI will have the ability to instantly spot fraud and corruption in the system.
  3. With better ways of spotting corruption, AI will pave the way for electronic voting, create more convenience, and enable a wider cross-section of society to participate.
  4. AI will allow voters to “drill down” and get the facts straight on any decision before they make it.
  5. Done correctly, AI will improve the caliber of decisions but will not undermine the role of the individual.
  6. AI has the potential to give voters expanded authority, allowing more issues to come up for community input and public decisions.
  7. AI will have the ability to cancel out negative campaigning, biased reporting, and slanted arguments.
  8. AI has the potential to reduce the cost of campaigning, reduce the reliance on contributors, and reduce political favors in the process.
Will the algorithms that create tomorrow’s artificial intelligence be the same algorithms that govern us in the future?
Will the algorithms that create tomorrow’s artificial intelligence be the same algorithms that govern us in the future?

8 Ways Artificial Intelligence could Destroy Democracy

Keep in mind that improving democracy and destroying it may very well be the same thing.

With AI, we have the potential to automate democracy as well as the entire decision-making process for government. Most likely this will involve a step-by-step process where each new level of automation is tested, refined, and retested before anything is implemented system wide.

Here are eight possible steps towards an automated-AI form of democracy.

  1. AI could easily alter the one-person-one-vote system by adding more value to the votes of those who are better informed, better educated, or more involved.
  2. AI could be set up to instantly trigger new elections whenever public confidence drops below a certain level.
  3. Minor decisions could be automated, and if that works, we could begin to automate more significant ones.
  4. When it comes to justice systems, AI could eventually be used to eliminate judges altogether, and in the process, deliver far more impartial court rulings.
  5. When problems occur, AI could be used to automatically trigger new referendums based on “situational awareness,” riots, protests, and petitions, as well as ebbing and waning levels of public sentiment.
  6. Eventually AI could be used to eliminate scheduled election days completely and replace them with an auto-correction system that triggers election days and election issues as needed.
  7. Taking this line of thinking a few steps further, AI could eliminate elected officials altogether and replace them automated votes by the general population.
  8. As a final step, if every other AI process functions properly, we could eliminate voting altogether in favor of automated consensus system. Since AI already knows how we think, it could register our votes automatically.

Will AI result in an improved form of Democracy or something else?

When it comes to democracy, it’s easy for poor people to vote for more taxes on the rich, but in the U.S., it’s the rich who contribute the most to campaigns, so the two tend to counterbalance each other out.

Many view campaign contributions as a form of corruption, but so far we’ve not found any effective way of funding campaigns without tapping into rich people’s money.

At the same time, machine intelligence has quickly become a playground for creative minds, and even though we’re still a couple steps removed from what experts consider true AI, it has the potential to change our current systems and remove many of the built-in biases.

Over the coming years, enterprising people will try countless experiments to test new approaches for adding thinking systems to our governmental processes.

Final Thoughts

Democracy is destined to change, and with a host of emerging technologies already in the works for rewriting the rulebooks on parliamentary thinking, will soon seem like a very dated form of government.

Words like auto-democracy, democracy AI, and auto-governance will soon enter the public lexicon as we experiment our way towards something better.

But this will not be an easy transition. We will see the strongest resistance over concepts like “what constitutes better?” with many asking “better for whom?”

Will it be better for the working class, better for the business owners, better for families with children, or better for rich and poor alike?

More importantly, how will we know?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything








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Fixing our Insanely Broken Sales Tax System http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/fixing-our-insanely-broken-sales-tax-system/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/fixing-our-insanely-broken-sales-tax-system/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 22:51:56 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=6617 Fixing-Sales-Tax-4At a recent visit to our local hairdresser, my wife and I were informed by the enterprising young lady that she was no longer selling her line of retail hair products. Filling out the monthly sales tax reports had simply become too onerous, and the profits too small to justify the time.

This was not the first time I’d heard of someone “throwing in the towel” on their plans for selling products. Indeed this has become a reoccurring anthem among young entrepreneurs.

At the heart of our failing retail industry is a very broken sales tax system so complicated and confusing that a huge number of would-be merchants are simply choosing to avoid it altogether.

Without national legislation to create any kind of level playing field, individual states have cobbled together a patchwork system requiring some to tax even one-time transactions like garage and bake sales, while others require nothing at all.

Lost in all the sale tax finagling is the opportunity costs imposed by relentless form-filing, accounting requirements, and the stress toll imposed on enterprising merchants willing to attempt this minefield.

However, automation is a great enabler of complexity and the rise of blockchain technology, with its ability to drive transaction cost to something approaching zero, a whole new set of prospects are beginning to emerge.

Using a big picture perspective of the emerging technology landscape, here is my approach for solving our mind-numbingly torturous sales tax system.

Sales Tax History – How we got into this mess!

Most cities in the U.S. are funded through some form of sales tax, a system designed during an entirely different era.

Sale tax is paid by the buyer and collected by the seller, but a slew of new regulations have developed around which transactions are taxable and which ones are not.

At the heart of current problems is a 1992 landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that determined retailers are not required to collect sales tax from shoppers unless they have a physical presence in the state where customers live.

Initially, this ruling applied mainly to catalog companies and home-shopping channels on TV. But it also applied to the rapidly growing online retail industry, giving them a distinct competitive advantage, and consumers an additional reason to change their buying habits.

Local retailers who have invested in their community, who send their kids to local schools and volunteered for local charities, quickly found themselves competing with faceless online companies, most of whom have never set foot in their town. The problem with these uneven sales tax laws is that they create a significant disadvantage to those who are local.

But here is where it gets complicated.

If an online business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office or warehouse, they must collect sales tax from the customers who purchase items in that state. Without a physical presence, no sales tax needs to be collected. That sounds simple enough, until you get into the definition of what constitutes a physical presence.

As an example, after numerous rounds of legislation, Amazon currently collects state sales taxes in 28 states, covering 84% of the U.S. population. However, they still have managed to avoid most city and regional sales tax.

A University of Tennessee study estimated that states lost $23.2 billion in revenue in 2012 because of remote sales.

Sales Tax Today

Sales tax is considered a “pass-through” tax, because the merchant is only “holding” the taxes collected before remitting it to state and local taxing authorities. But there are significant labor and overhead costs associated with tracking and accounting for this money which is sent in either monthly, quarterly or annually depending on gross sales.

Currently 5 states – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon – do not levy any form of sales tax.

The other 45, however, have created over 15,000 taxing jurisdictions, which in turn have generated a mystifying and complex web of taxes that are in a constant state of flux as state and local lawmakers decide which goods and services will be subject to their taxes, and which will not.

The volatility of this system should not be underestimated. One clear example, in November 2015 alone, taxing authorities in 26 states made 257 changes to their sales tax rates and rules.

The Tax Foundation currently singles out Arizona, Louisiana, and Colorado as having the worst sales tax systems in the country. And with Arizona and Louisiana working on changes, that leaves my home state of Colorado as the worst of the worst!

Colorado currently has 294 taxing jurisdictions, including the state itself, various special districts and authorities, metropolitan districts, statutory cities and towns, home rule cities, and counties. These jurisdictions yield a total of 756 areas with different rates and bases.

Add the burgeoning new marijuana industry to the mix and it all becomes an impossible blur.

Setting the Stage

When it comes to sales tax, here’s what everyone get’s wrong. Sales tax is not a location tax, it is a transaction tax. The transaction triggers the tax. The location just determines the amount and who the recipients will be. Without a transaction, there is no tax.

The fact that every community wants to add their own extra piece to the sales tax puzzle, requiring special forms and special rules for compliance, is what has turned it into an impossibly complicated system.

Cities and communities across the country are now in dire straits. Their programs and services were framed around the income streams of more prosperous times. Bad systems, like sales tax, get remarkably worse during a bad economy. But they also create an opportunity.

Enter the Blockchain

The blockchain is the public ledger part of all Bitcoin transactions. Regardless of whether Bitcoin itself survives, the ingenious thinking that led to the technology behind blockchain will.

The financial community has taken notice of blockchain in a big way, with a number of courses now being taught or in process at prominent institutions, including two at MIT, to further its development.

By using cryptography, blockchains allow multiple parties to keep private information private while keeping it publicly auditable; this provides the foundation for multi-party trust.

One of the key advantages is that as risk plummets, the cost per transaction approaches zero.

In much the same way that telephone long distance rates dropped to zero and opened the door for countless new business opportunities, if financial transaction costs drop to zero, we will see an explosion of new retail opportunities. We will move from micropayments to nano-size payments virtually overnight.

In addition to its role in cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology is being used to solve real world problems such as enforcing contracts, providing accountability to partners, or allowing for the verification of real world products.

Proposing a Solution

First, let’s start with the assumption that sales tax must be applied to all retail transactions – period, no exceptions. If we eliminate this one variable, then much of the complex decision-making process currently imposed on retailers is eliminated.

Second, if we agree to split the amount of sales tax evenly between the location of the buyer and the location of the seller, there will no longer be any disagreement over collection and distribution of tax receipts.

Third, as we move into a blockchain era, as money becomes increasingly digital, the actual collection and remittance of sales tax can happen instantly. As money is paid by the seller, sales tax from every transaction can be peeled off and remitted directly to the taxing agency.

As an example, with a $12.00 purchase and 7% sales tax – 4% going to state, 1% going to county, and 2% going to a city – the total charge would be $12.84 with $.48 going directly to the state, $.12 to the county, and $.24 going to the city.

Tiny sales tax payments would be sent instantly, and in the event a refund is issued, the same tiny transactions would happen in reverse.

Even cash transactions could be run through an electronic device and taxes would be instantly remitted from a special account managed by the merchant. Most merchants would be happy to maintain a small balance in a special tax-remittance account in exchange for never having to file sales tax reports ever again.

Rather than continuing to patch our current system where millions of individual retailers bear the responsibility for collecting the sales tax, filling out tax forms, and remitting the money on a monthly basis, literally billions of tiny payments would be made in real time every second of every day. This will eliminate the stress-laden responsibility of relentless accounting, form filing, and updates that happen along the way.

Everything would happen through software, and that software would be super easy to use, free to every merchant, and managed independent of any user group.

The whole intent of this approach is to build a sales tax collection mechanism that is both seamless and nearly invisible to both retailers and customers alike.

Final Thoughts

My intent here is to stimulate a discussion, not to claim all of the answers.

Even though I love to buy things online and have products delivered to my front door like everyone else, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to support my local community. We’re currently saddled with a very bad system and it’s a system problem, not a business or community problem.

Accounting and bookkeeping as an industry tends to thrive in the face of complexity. Each new decision point added to the tax code has been very good for the accounting business, but generally bad for the rest of the economy.

Complexity places an insidious brainpower burden on people, and this translates into a significant toll on society. While it may be unrealistic to eliminate complexity by imposing simplicity, we can at least automate it.

Our future is being shaped by our systems. We now have a golden opportunity to do something amazing, and one critical first step will be to fix sales tax.

Please let me know your thoughts.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future





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Introducing the Futurist Hall of Fame http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/introducing-the-futurist-hall-of-fame/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/introducing-the-futurist-hall-of-fame/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 17:19:28 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=6609 Futurist-Hall-of-Fame-1af

Over the coming months the DaVinci Institute will be unveiling the world’s first Futurist Hall of Fame.

As with other “hall of fame” efforts, this one will be dedicated to drawing attention to those who have contributed the most to our thinking about the future.

To be sure, the first iteration of this Hall of Fame will be meager. It will be a hall with photos and videos not sculptures, homegrown narratives instead of meticulously crafted storylines, and self-guided tours through an online app that we will create in-house.

It will be open to the public during normal business hours, and it will be free.

While we have hopes of growing it into a stand-alone facility with museum-quality displays, our primary focus for now will be to create a respectable starting point along with all of the necessary systems in an organization that will live on into perpetuity.

The initial set of inductees will have one thing in common – they will all be deceased. Once a more formal induction committee and process are in place, many of my esteemed colleagues, alive today, will find their way into the Hall of Fame as well.

We also want to draw attention to the future. Many of today’s technologies, demographic shifts, and political decisions will have dire consequences if we do not do a good job of anticipating and managing their implementation. As our awareness grows, and our technological impact spreads exponentially further, it becomes our responsibility to do an increasingly better job of managing the future.

At the same time, we view this as a celebration of the future. Our future is only as bright as we make it and our efforts to study and analyze the future can put us on the path to a truly brilliant world ahead.

NOTE:  The GoFundMe Campaign for the Futurist Hall of Fame can be found here.

‘Hall of Fame’ History

In 1900 the Hall of Fame for Great Americans was opened at Bronx Community College in New York. This was the first “hall of fame” in the U.S. and was based on an earlier concept, the Walhalla Memorial in Bavaria, Germany, which was started decades earlier but completed around 1900.

Since photography was still a poor quality art form with little archival value, both of these museums featured a series of sculpted busts of important people from Germany and the U.S.

Over time the Hall of Fame for Great Americans included displays for 103 people including the likes of George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, and John Philip Sousa. For a while the term “Hall of Famer” carried greater cachet than “Nobel laureate”

After this auspicious beginning, hundreds of industry-specific halls of fame began to spring up, ranging from Hollywood’s famous Walk of Fame for the movie industry, Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the American Football Hall of Fame, to some rather obscure efforts like the Polka Hall of Fame, Certamen Hall of Fame, and the World Curling Federation Hall of Fame.

In every case, these museums were designed to highlight the best and the brightest and show the importance of each person’s accomplishments.

Common Ground Among Futurists

Studying the future is less of a defined industry than some, but there are a number of key points that futurists hold in common. Even though there are no unifying credentials or rigidly governed associations that define the theories or philosophies every futurist should espouse, several studies reported by the World Future Society have shown a number of shared points of interest and beliefs among the futures community.

Here is a quick overview of twelve of these “common ground” perspectives:

  1. As we improve our thinking about the future, we are better prepared for what lies ahead.
  2. Our understanding of the future directly affects the way we make decisions today.
  3. We are living in unusual times and the concept of “normal” is shifting. What we are going through today is far different than anything in the past.
  4. The ability to improve our understanding of the future requires multiple perspectives, unconventional thinking, and cross-cultural comparisons.
  5. We all participate in creating the future. Futurists generally see their role as liberating the future in every person, and creating enhanced public ownership of our collective future around the world.
  6. Those who study the future are conditioned to think in terms of multiple alternatives, possibilities, and probabilities.
  7. In general, futurists are motivated by change. They are not content merely to describe, predict, or forecast, but want to take an active role in the world as it transforms.
  8. At the heart of future studies is systems thinking. While some are more policy-oriented than others, most believe the work of futurists is to help reshape systems and public policy over the long term.
  9. Futurists are generally practical and pragmatic as they construct long-term perspectives.
  10. Businesses can benefit immensely by embracing futurist perspectives in their long term planning.
  11. We are all drawn to a better future, but the essential ingredients for creating a better future are not obvious, and up to us to discover.
  12. At the heart of a better future is one that is sustainable, preserving the essence of humanity and the environment we live in, inclusive of culture and technology.

Futurist Hall of Fame 2Selecting and Nominating Important Futurists

Since the terms “futurist” and “futurology” have only been around since the 1940’s, with only limited usage until the 1980s, few people before then were considered futurists even though many exhibited the same forward thinking qualities.

As an example, Leonardo da Vinci dedicated over 35,000 words and 500 drawings to the concept of flying even though he lived over 300 year before the first hot air balloon flight and 400 years before the Wright Brothers.

Da Vinci is perhaps the world’s best-known futurist even though few describe him in terms other than artist, inventor, and painter.

Consequently there is a significant difference between having a macro-perspective of those displaying big picture foresight capabilities, and micro-perspective thinking about those more directly affiliated with the futurist community.

With that in mind, here are the people that we’d like your input on, as a starting point, for phase one inductees in the Futurist Hall of Fame.

Keep in mind that we are beginning with people who are no longer alive that displayed unusual talent and insight for thinking about the future.

Please leave your thoughts about those you feel should be included or excluded in the comment section below.

This list is in chronological order by date of birth.

  • 287 BC – Archimedes – Ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer.
  • 1452 – Leonardo da Vinci – Italian visionary best known for his futuristic designs, invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering and much more.
  • 1642 – Isaac Newton – English physicist and mathematician widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time.
  • 1791 – Charles Babbage – British mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer best known for originating the concept of a programmable computer.
  • 1815 – Ada Lovelace – British mathematician and writer who played a significant role in developing Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.
  • 1828 – Jules Verne – French novelist, poet, and playwright best known for his adventure novels – Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days – and his profound influence on the literary genre of science fiction.
  • 1846 – George Westinghouse – American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry focused on alternating current.
  • 1847 – Thomas Edison – American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the electric light bulb.
  • 1847 – Alexander Graham Bell – Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone.
  • 1856 – Nikola Tesla – Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electric system.
  • 1863 – Henry Ford – American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, best known for perfecting the assembly line and mass production as a way of bringing automobile transportation to the masses.
  • 1866 – H. G. Wells – British writer and novelist best known for his visionary science fiction books – The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds.
  • 1867 – Marie Curie – French physicist, chemist, and first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her pioneering research on radioactivity.
  • 1879 – Albert Einstein – German-born theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. Einstein’s work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science.
  • 1895 – Buckminster Fuller – American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor best known for his work on geodesic domes, and popularizing terms such as “Spaceship Earth”, ephemeralization, and synergetic.
  • 1900 – Dennis Gabor – Hungarian-British electrical engineer and physicist, most notable for inventing holography, for which he later received the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • 1901 – Walt Disney – American entrepreneur, cartoonist, animator, voice actor, and film producer best known for creating Disneyland and his visionary thinking about future entertainment.
  • 1903 – George Orwell – British novelist, essayist, and journalist best known for his visionary books – Nineteen Eighty Four, and Animal Farm.
  • 1903 – John von Neumann – Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, computer scientist, and polymath best known for his visionary work on game theory and the Manhattan Project.
  • 1906 – Grace Hopper – American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral best known for her work inventing the computer compiler and developing COBOL, one of the first high-level programming language.
  • 1907 – Robert A. Heinlein – American science fiction writer often referred to as the “dean of science fiction writers.”
  • 1911 – Marshall McLuhan – Canadian professor of English, philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual. His work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory.
  • 1912 – Alan Turing – Pioneering British computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist. Inventor of the “Turing Test.”
  • 1917 – Arthur C. Clarke – British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host. Best known for writing 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • 1918 – Richard Feynman – American theoretical physicist known for his work on quantum mechanics and the theory of quantum electrodynamics. Often referred to as the grandfather of nanotechnology.
  • 1920 – Isaac Asimov – American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his prolific works of science fiction and for his popular science books.
  • 1921 – Gene Roddenberry – American television screenwriter and producer best remembered for creating the original Star Trek television series.
  • 1922 – Herman Kahn – Founder of the Hudson Institute and one of the preeminent futurists of the latter part of the twentieth century. He originally came to prominence as a military strategist and systems theorist while employed at the RAND Corporation.
  • 1924 – Benoît Mandelbrot – Polish-born, French and American mathematician best known as the grandfather of fractal geometry. He also discovered the “Mandelbrot Set” of intricate, never-ending fractal shapes.
  • 1925 – Douglas Engelbart – American engineer and Internet pioneer best known as the inventor of hypertext and the computer mouse.
  • 1928 – Philip K. Dick – American science fiction writer best know for the blockbuster Hollywood movies produced from his scripts – Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor.
  • 1934 – Carl Sagan – American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences.
  • 1942 – Michael Crichton – American best-selling author, physician, producer, director and screenwriter, best known for his work in science fiction, medical fiction, and thriller genres.
  • 1955 – Steve Jobs – American entrepreneur, co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc.

Final Thoughts

Deciding on the first phase of inductees will set the stage for a number of follow-on projects.

Besides asking for your input on the above list, we will be asking key individuals for help to form a long term organization complete with systems and procedures that will keep it operating for centuries to come.

As we are able build out the first phase of the Futurist Hall of Fame, we will keep everyone informed about how this will fit into some of our larger plans for a stand-alone facility.

Please take a moment and let us know your thoughts. Your insights and recommendations are greatly appreciated.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future


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Entering the Era of Super Scalability – The Billion-Benchmark Club http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/entering-the-era-of-super-scalability-the-billion-benchmark-club/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/entering-the-era-of-super-scalability-the-billion-benchmark-club/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 17:47:10 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=6596 Super-Scalability-1It was a monumental event that no one noticed. Just before 1800 the number of people on earth had climbed to what was then believed to be an astronomically large number – 1 billion.

While this was indeed a landmark event, the occasion passed without fanfare. The combination of too few demographers and disjointed communications between countries caused the entire planet to miss the occasion.

Until recently, the word – “billion” – was rarely used outside of scientific circles. With the isolation of country borders, few were thinking about billions of people on earth, only millions in each country.

Even in academia, before the invention of the calculator, working with billions was hard work.

It wasn’t until the 1970s when the concept of globalization started to creep into the vernacular. The Internet hadn’t entered mainstream consciousness yet but telephones, satellites, cable television, and a growing number of air services between countries started making the world a more connected place.

First it was computers, then connected computers, and eventually the World Wide Web that began breaking down the barriers for people and business. The once-rare designation of being a multi-national corporation became as easy as launching a website.

If you haven’t been paying attention, super scalable companies have become the hottest thing in business. While Wall Street is enamored with company values, this is less about the money and more about landmark achievements.

Here are some thoughts on how this will play out over the coming years.

Reaching the 1-Billion Benchmark Club
Reaching the 1-Billion Benchmark Club

Business History – Reaching the 1-Billion Benchmark Club

In a recent interview, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, ”This may sound a little ridiculous to say, but for us, products don’t really get that interesting to turn into businesses until they have about 1 billion people using them.”

As you can see from this timeline, the number of companies, people, and technology breaking into the Billion-Benchmark Club is growing rapidly.

  • 1916 – John D. Rockefeller – With his shares in Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire. In 2015, Forbes Magazine reported that number had grown to 1,826 billionaires worldwide.
  • 1963 – McDonalds – It took McDonalds 23 years to sell their first 1 billion hamburgers.
  • 1968 – Television – First invented in 1927, it took 41 years for the number of TVs to reach 1 billion sold around the world.
  • 1980 – 1 Gig Storage – The race to create the world’s first 1 gig storage device was won by IBM with their 3380 storage device, introduced in June 1980.
  • 2003 – Bicycles – With over 200 years of history, the bicycle industry crossed the 1-billion bicycle mark in 2003.
  • 2005 – Internet – It took the Internet 36 years to reach its first 1 billion users in 2005, but only 5 years more to reach 2 billion.
  • 2007 – Netflix – Starting as a DVD delivery service, Netflix delivered its 1 billionth DVD in Feb 2007.
  • 2010 – Cars – Its estimated that the number of cars in the world broke the 1 billion-car threshold sometime in 2010.
  • 2010 – Google Search – After 12 years of exponential growth, Google reached 1 billion searches a day in 2010.
  • 2010 – YouTube – After only 5 years in business, YouTube averages 2 billion downloads a day in 2010.
  • 2012 – Facebook – 8.5 years after its launch, Facebook reached is first 1-billion users in September 2012.
  • 2012 – Microsoft Office – In 2012, Softpedia announced that Microsoft had officially entered the 1-billion user club for MS Office.
  • 2012 – Psy – Korean pop star Psy was the first to achieve 1 billion downloads on YouTube of his music video “Gangnam Style,” a feat accomplished in 158 days.
  • 2013 – Google Android – The open source software released by Google in 2008 exploded to 1-billion users in June 2013.
  • 2013 – Google Play – The app store for Google grew to include its 1 billionth app in July 2013.
  • 2013 – Android Phones – On September 2013, Google announced that 1 billion Android devices had been activated.
  • 2014 – Mobile Phones – In 2014, worldwide mobile phone subscriptions grew to over 7 billion, penetrating 100% of the global population, even reaching the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • 2015 – Uber – After 5.5 years in business, Uber delivered its 1 billionth ride on December 24, 2015.
  • 2015 – Didi Kuaidi – China’s home grown version of Uber, reached their 1 billionth ride early in 2015 after only 11 months in business.
  • 2015 – Google Chrome – The world’s most popular web browser attracted its 1 billionth use in May 2015.
  • 2016 – Facebook Groups – While it sounds ironic to describe an app with over 1 billion users as relatively unknown, Facebook Groups is exactly that, reaching 1 billion users January 2016.
  • 2016 – What’sApp – The free text-messaging app, owned by Facebook, broke into the billion-user club in Feb 2016.
  • 2016 – Websites – When it comes to the Internet, we will breach the 1-billion website barrier sometime in 2016.
  • 2014 – Gmail – Google’s popular email service reached their 1 billionth user in 2016.
  • 2016 – Apple – In a recent press release, Apple CEO Tim Cook boasted that ”our installed base recently cross a major milestone of one billion active devices.” This covers all Apple products, from MacBooks to iPhones, to Apple Watches, and some users often have multiple devices.
  • 2016 – Adele – Music superstar Adele sets a new record with her music video “Hello” reaching 1 billion downloads on YouTube in just 87 days.

NOTE:  A third of everyone on the Internet uses YouTube every day. YouTube now lists 21 video stars who have reached 1 billion views including Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Mark Ronson, Ellie Goulding, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Wiz Khalifa, Maroon 5, Major Lazer, OneRepublic, LMFAO, and Sia, with several more already in the pipeline to reach 1 billion downloads before the end of 2016.

A Few that Didn’t Make the Cut

The following are popular web properties that have not achieved the status of the Billion Benchmark Club.

  • QQ – 860 million monthly active users. (Chinese messaging app owned by Tencent.)
  • iTunes – 800 million accounts.
  • WeChat – 650 million active users. (Chinese messaging app also owned by Tencent)
  • LinkedIn – 400 million active users
  • Instagram – 400 million active users.
  • Twitter – 320 million active users.
  • Yahoo – Home of Yahoo Mail, Tumblr, and more but no single product has 1-billion users.
  • Weibo – 200 million users. (Popular Chinese social networking app started in 2015)
  • Snapchat – 200 million user base
  • Pinterest – 100 million user base
  • Netflix – It should be noted that even though Netflix is responsible for countless billions of video downloads, they still only have 75 million subscribers.
Defining the laws of super scalability
Defining the laws of super scalability

The Eight Laws of Super Scalability

Those who are looking to launch a super scalable business have a distinctly different frame of reference than those wanting to start something more traditional. This is both a shift in business philosophy and operational mindset of those involved.

Here are eight of the key principals that permeate this type of business thinking.

1. )   Instantly Global:  Whenever a company launches a website, it instantly becomes a global enterprise. Global awareness, followed by global connections, global trust, global users, and eventually, global customers.

2. )   Customer Loyalty First:  Customers come fast when products are free, or when the business is based on tiny profits from a large number of transactions. Customers love companies that aren’t perceived as gouging them.

3.)    The Law of Large Numbers:  The greater the user base, the more valuable the company becomes. Every interaction has value and there is always room for more interactions.

4.)    Startup Speed:  Startups can always move faster, longer, and harder than incumbents.

5.)   User Experience:  Every transaction can be improved, speeded up, or made easier to use. All customer experiences have room for improvement.

6.)    Customer Interactions:  Every business-to-customer relationship can be hyper-individualized to the exact kind of interaction every customer desires.

7.)    Software and Automation are Far More Scalable than People:  Wherever possible, human talent should be replaced by software and automation.

8.)    Customers are More Important than Profit:  In the early startup years, growing a user base is always more important than short-term profit.

Over the coming years, these types of companies will disrupt every existing industry, changing the business landscape tremendously
Over the coming years, these types of companies will disrupt every industry, changing the business landscape tremendously

Final Thoughts

Super scalable companies require a different mantra, ethics, and attitude. Every product will have a different type of growth curve, and every approach a different set of problems to contend with.

As with Uber, if taxis suddenly become 50% cheaper, that frees up a lot of money to fuel other industries. If Netflix cuts cable TV spending in half, that money will be applied to something else.

With 7.3 billion people on earth, even averaging a penny from every person on the planet creates a substantial income stream of $73 million.

It should also be noted that when things go wrong, super-scalability can also turn into super-de-scalability.

The speed with which a company gets created is the same speed with which it be dismantled.

We have only begun to test the waters with super-scalable companies. We have yet to see the zero-to-100-million-users-in-one-week company, but that too is just around the corner.

Over the coming years, these types of companies will disrupt every existing industry, changing the business landscape tremendously.

While it will be scary for some, the number of new opportunities being unleashed will be truly breathtaking.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

Famous Quote Series 5

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How Long Before a Robot Chef Beats an Iron Chef? http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/how-long-before-a-robot-chefs-beats-an-iron-chef/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/how-long-before-a-robot-chefs-beats-an-iron-chef/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2016 17:09:34 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=6574 Man-vs-machine-11Will humans soon be battling for their survival against robots?

Even though this has become a favorite Hollywood theme, the likelihood of that happening is nearly zero. Yes, we will have many clashes with human-controlled robots doing battle with other humans or human-controlled robots, but not without people in the background.

The age-old idea of man vs. machine is far more nuanced and complicated than simply having crazed machines killing people just because that’s what they’ve been programmed to do.

However, if we ask, “Will robots, machines, and software replace many of our workers as we move into a far more competitive man vs. machine era?” – the answer will undoubtedly be yes. But following that with a second question, “How long will it take?” – is far more revealing.

When it comes to autonomous cars, it will be decades before the majority of the world relinquishes keys to their automobiles.

When it comes to passenger drones that quickly fly people from point A to point B, it will again be decades before the majority of the world has access to this kind of technology.

The same goes for machines that build houses, do laundry, and grow food.

We are at the beginning of a very long transition, and our relationship with the hardware, software, and autonomous machines that are about to enter our lives will go through as many shifts and changes as the devices themselves.

At times we will love them, hate them, push them off a cliff and turn around and buy even more of them. The hype cycle of automation will be filled with countless shattered dreams; yet technology will find a way and our humanity will survive in spite of itself.

That said, we will measure our progress with benchmarks of accomplishments. In much the same way as IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat the reigning world chess champion Gary Kasperov in 1997, we will see a number of staged competitions – man-vs-machine showdowns – to ratchet our way into this new period.

Undoubtedly, one competition quickly inching its way to the top of this benchmark bucket list will involve food – the Iron Man Chef vs. the Robot Chef.

Should we view robots as our friends, our enemies, or something else?
Should we view robots as our friends, our enemies, or something else?

Man Vs. Machine History

While only a few of these competitions actually made headline news, man-vs-machine competitions are about to enter their third decade.

NOTE: I’m not intending to show gender bias, but so far there have not been any women involved in these competitions.

  • Checkers – 1995 – In the early 1990s the University of Alberta developed a checker-playing computer program called Chinook. In 1995, Chinook beat British Grandmaster Don Lafferty in a 32 game match. The final score was 1–0 with 31 draws for Chinook over Lafferty.
  • Othello – 1997 – Logistello was a computer program written by Michael Buro that played the game Othello, also known as Reversi. Logistello beat the human world champion Takeshi Murakami six games to none in 1997.
  • Backgammon – 1997 – In 1997 World Backgammon Champion Luigi Villa was defeated in a 7-point match by Hans Berliner’s computer program BKG 9.8. He became the first world champion to be defeated by a software program.
  • Chess – 1997 – IBM staged a history-making competition between World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov and their own chess-playing computer, Deep Blue.
  • Scrabble – 2006 – On November 17, 2006, World Scrabble Champion Jim Kramer competed against “Genius”, a computer Scrabble opponent running the newest version of RealNetworks’ Scrabble. In a three-round “Man v. Machine” match in Seattle, Genius took the initial lead, winning the first game 466 to 419. Kramer came back to win the second game 417 to 406. The deciding, third game came down to the last play, and Kramer won it 442 to 441, taking home the $10,000 prize.
  • Jeopardy – 2011 – IBM staged a similar competition pitting their more human-like computer, Watson, against the two top Jeopardy players of all times, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, with the Watson team walking away with the $1 million prize.
  • Table Tennis – 2014 – The televised match between Germany’s world champion table tennis player, Timo Boll, and the Kuka KR Aglius robot, where the human contender managed to eek out a last second victory over the machine, turned out to be a hoax, a staged event designed around promoting Kuka robots.
  • Go – 2016 – Google’s Deepmind program, AlphaGo, recently crushed the current European Go champion, Fan Hui, five games to nothing.
Moley Robotics robot kitchen
Moley Robotics robot kitchen

Staging an Iron Chef vs. Robot Competition

The original “Iron Chef” cooking show debuted in Japan in 1993. As a timed cooking battle built around a specific theme ingredient, some of the top chefs from “around the world” have competed in the “kitchen stadium” contest to see who’s best.

The popularity of the show in Japan caused versions of the show to spring to life in the U.S., Canada, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, UK, and Australia.

Having a robot chef as a contender will pose a number of unusual complications. While Moley Robotics created the world’s first robotic kitchen and has plans to turn it into consumer product by 2017, there is a big difference between preparing food based on a preset ingredient list and competing against the best chefs in the world.

Cooking is very much a human sport, based on tastes and smells, neither of which are quantifiable from an engineering standpoint. There is no such thing as a periodic table of tastes and smells, at least not yet. Nor is there the digital equivalent of a nose and taste buds, essential pieces of sensory equipment that every human chef is already equipped with.

That means the only way for a robot to compete will be to comb through terabytes of data about human preferences and reverse engineer desirable combinations. While that may be possible, the robot will still be at a disadvantage when it comes to smelling and tasting their way from an average recipe to an extraordinary one.

From more of a big picture perspective, our robot chefs are still a long ways from being able to go to a grocery store or food market and pick out the freshest ingredients. Judging the quality of fruits, vegetables, and cuts of meat are human skills that are hard to reduce to machine algorithms.

Eventually all this will be possible and there are undoubtedly new technologies in the works that will make it happen sooner than later. Yet winning a competition like this is only one step in a million-step journey.

A one-time event does not a trend make!

Final Thoughts

As machine intelligence moves its way up the exponential growth curve, I’m estimating a robot chef will win this type of competition somewhere around 2025.

But before that happens we will see driverless cars beat human drivers in an Indianapolis 500-type race, robotic bricklayers beat human bricklayers in a house-building competition, and robotic jockeys beat human jockeys in a Kentucky Derby-like contest.

Keep in mind that staged competitions like this are a form of marketing. It’s an entertaining event designed to capture the whole world’s attention for the purpose of conveying a message – a marketing message.

The competition is never intended to destroy a sport or somehow wreck a piece of the entertainment industry. Chess and backgammon tournaments are still happening today and Jeopardy is still a money-making TV show. Rather, it’s to prove a point. IBM used it very effectively to prove they were the industry leaders in the area of human-thinking computers.

At the same time, I think IBM got it wrong. With both the 1997 and 2011 events, the event was staged, the computer won, and everyone went back to business as usual. When savvy marketing people are involved, the one-and-done approach leaves tons of opportunity still on the table.

If IBM had lost the first 2-3 rounds of the competition, they could have done a far better job of milking public sympathy and, in the end, it would have seemed like a far greater accomplishment.

As humans, we are still very much in control of our own destiny. If we don’t happen to like the path we’re on, we can always change it… or can we?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything














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Does Social Media have a Polarization Problem? http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/does-social-media-have-a-polarization-problem/ http://www.futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/does-social-media-have-a-polarization-problem/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 04:01:04 +0000 http://www.futuristspeaker.com/?p=6560 Social-Media-Polarization-1Wael Ghonim was a young computer engineer working for Google in Egypt when he became a central figure in the events leading up to the Arab Spring in 2011.

In early 2011, Wael created a Facebook page titled, “A Revolution against Corruption, Injustice and Dictatorship,” and the number of followers quickly mushroomed.

On Jan 14th he posed a question to the 300,000 followers of the page: “The 25th of January is Police Day. It’s a national holiday. If 100,000 of us take to the streets of Cairo, no one is going to stop us. I wonder if we could do it.”

In just a few days, the invitation reached over a million people, and over 100,000 people confirmed attendance, on January 25th, his fellow Egyptians flooded the streets of Cairo, calling for change, breaking down the barrier of fear and announcing a new era.

But then came the consequences.

After a few hours, state police shut down the Internet and all telecommunication lines. They also kidnapped Wael and held him in total isolation for the next 11 days.

Three days after Wael was released, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.

For Wael, this was the most inspiring and empowering moment of his life. It was a time of great hope. Virtually everyone in Egypt lived in a state of euphoria for the 18 days following the Mubarak resignation.

However, their post-revolution euphoria quickly faded as they failed to build consensus about what to do next. The political struggle that followed led to intense polarization and social media only amplified the problem, by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, and hate speech.

As Wael recounted that period of time, “The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, and hate speech. I started to worry about the safety of my family.”

Political divisiveness reached its peak as the two main factions – army supporters and Islamists – took to the streets in the middle of 2013.

Activists like Wael suddenly found themselves caught in the middle feeling helpless. “Both groups wanted you to side with them; you were either with them or against them.”

On July 3, 2013, after three days of protest demanding his resignation, the army stepped in and ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

With social media the power to tear down far exceeds the power to build up!

According to Pew Researchers, the area of common ground in the middle (dark purple) is getting smaller
According to Pew Research, the area of common ground in the middle (dark purple) is getting smaller

Choosing Sides

A recent Pew Study concluded that 39% of consistent conservatives and 30% of consistent liberals tend to drive the vast majority of political discussions. These are the people that talk about politics often, and others turn to them as an authoritative voice of information.

Not surprisingly, as our online awareness increases so does our ideologically consistency. Some of the study’s findings included:

For consistent conservatives…

  • They expressed greater distrust of 24 of the 36 news sources measured in the survey. At the same time, 88% of them trusted Fox News.
  • As Facebook users, they were more likely to narrow their circle of friends to read political opinions that were in line with their own views.
  • A full 66% say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics.

By contrast, consistently liberals:

  • They expressed more trust than distrust for 28 of the 36 news outlets in the survey. For liberals, NPR, PBS and the BBC were the most trusted news sources.
  • They were more likely to block or “defriend” someone on a social network, or end a personal friendship, because of politics.
  • On their Facebook feeds, liberals were more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates.

With minute-by-minute online increased coverage, intimate social circles, and global awareness, arguments become more refined, groups become more consistent in their messaging, and people have an easier time choosing sides.

“With social media the power to tear down far exceeds the power to build up!”

Social Network Limitations

Robin Dunbar, the Oxford professor of evolutionary psychology that had previously concluded that humans could only maintain 150 close friends in their life, has just completed a new study, and that number appears to be dropping.

While the average Facebook user he studied had around 150 friends, he found that they only had 14 friends they considered to be “close” friends and only 4 they would turn to in a time of crisis.

He concluded that most online friendships are only superficial. While extended networks are indeed valuable for things like finding a job, recommending an auto mechanic, discovering a good restaurant, or fun things to do in Aruba, these are not the people you’re going to call and say, “Hey my mom is dying.”

Dunbar further determined that social media doesn’t actually help us expand our circle of friends, but it may help some relationships from dying off entirely

While extensive “friend networks” may give the impression of massive influence, the true nature of this kind of influence tends to be shallow and reinforcing rather than mind-shifting and game-changing.

Will it ever be possible to automatically fact-check every lie, rumor, or whisper campaign posted on social media?
Will it ever be possible to automatically fact-check every lie, rumor, or whisper campaign posted on social media?

Five Critical Issues Behind Social Media’s Polarization Problem

Over the past couple years, Wael has spent considerable time trying to ferret out the root cause behind social media’s polarization problem. Here are the five critical challenges that he feels need to be addressed.

  1. Rumors. On social media we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.
  2. Echo Chambers. On social media, we create our own echo chambers. We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and tend to mute, un-follow, and block everybody else.
  3. Angry Mobs. Online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. It’s as if we forget that the people behind the screens are actually real people and not just avatars.
  4. Hard to Change Opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet, and we are less motivated to change these views, even when new evidence arises.
  5. Broadcasting Over Engagement. Our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.

Final Thoughts

For social media companies, the polarization problem is more than a little obvious. The solution less so.

Broadcasting a message is easy. Cultivating a thoughtful stand takes time, as every engagement requires human effort, personal attention, and emotional commitment, all of which are in short supply.

Was the message ever intended to supersede the messenger?

As humans we tend to be buoyed by sensational headlines, controversy, and matters of life and death. Good headlines come from the extreme edges and anything that can generate fear has a way of captivating our attention.

For many of these reasons we seem to be caught in a centrifuge of mind-spinning commentary as we feel the emotional center for most schools of thought drifting towards the edges.

Is there a way to create an autonomous checks-and-balance system to offset the natural schisms formed by public commentary? Is it possible to mute the whisper campaigns, rumormongers, and echo chambers being triggered by the ideologically correct?

More importantly, do social media companies recognize this as a problem, and are they working on a solution?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


















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