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A Personal Fork in the Road. If you have seen me speak, you’ll know I’m a passionate person. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I believe passion is the essential ingredient if you want to get into the hearts and minds of any audience. I count myself fortunate that my work has gained a loyal and global audience, and I really enjoy the contacts, conversations and interactions during my speaking tours, and from readers and viewers on-line.
I have always loved and embraced technology, and ever since the first days of the ‘commercial' Internet (ca. 1995) I have been involved in creating new business models that those technologies afford (I suppose this enthusiasm stems from my earlier days as knob-twiddling musician). To date, much of my work has reflected a belief that technology is a positive driver of change and innovation, and that most of the time it leads to a ‘better future’. But following the recent PRISM / NSA affair and the revelations about the abuse of technology and power that are still arising from it, I believe the ‘game' has changed fundamentally.
Where are – and what are – the Ethics? In the past 12 months, my observations and views have been altered in very profound ways. Technology has become so powerful, so fast, so incredibly easy to use, so endearing, so pervasive, so cheap – and thus so amazingly addictive. It is therefore imperative that we all start looking at the other side of the coin and remember that technology has no real ethics, yet the future of humanity will certainly depend on ethics. It is time for a change.
The Story Until Now. As you may know, I have been researching, designing and presenting future scenarios since 1999. During those years I have moved from a solid focus on the music business (truly, the worst place to innovate) via the media, content and advertising industries, to technology and our relationship with the Internet and what I like to call the digital society. More recently I have focussed on the future of business and so-called green futures and sustainability.
A Definitive Next Step. However, it is now clearly time to move on to some very important new topics that I have bundled under the slightly ambitious header of ‘The future of humanity’. This new focus is a consequence of significant changes in society and culture brought about by technological advancements. Globally, we’re seeing the rise of machine intelligence, together with the omni-present ‘big data’ and privacy debates. We see the burgeoning Internet of Things and rise of M2M (machine to machine) communications. Then, there are the rapid advances in nano-technology, robotics, bionics, trans-humanism and the advent of what some call singularity, the appearance of powerful new user interfaces (such as Google Glass and voice / gesture control) and the massive, rapid and global consumerization of IT. Remember that over 5 Billion people will be online by 2020 (download my recent Guide to Disruption for more details on this).
New global challenges are arising exponentially, yet only a few of them are primarily related to monetization, profit, marketing or other default ‘business issues’.
Now that technology has become so powerful, pervasive and addictive (see the cartoon below, via Bonkersworld) we can no longer pretend that all technological advancements are automatically for the joint benefit of people, planet and society. I think that the window of techno-fix thinking and of Silicon-Valley-style technological optimism is closing and that we need to take a much wider view of the world: technology feeds and perpetuates itself but humans need a lot more than clever algorithms to thrive and survive.
Too much of a good thing? Truth be told, I currently do a lot more work on future business scenarios than on anything else, whether it’s for in-house conferences, large events, CEO Summits, board meetings or annual company gatherings. The majority of these assignments are interesting in their own way. They often really challenge me; and the outcome is usually mutually beneficial for both my client network as well as for my own personal growth. My current business (running under the flagship of my company, TheFuturesAgency / TFA) has grown steadily. I now average 60-80 engagements per year, while my associates at TFA also do a lot of work with me or on my behalf. In short, I am privileged and consider myself very lucky to have such a loyal and growing customer base, and my work on ‘the future of media, business and technology’ will continue, but in a much more selective way.
I must follow my true passion and callings, wherever they lead, so as to remain useful, inspiring and relevant. I need to be true to my readers, followers, friends, clients and business partners, as well as the public-at-large. My passion for media, technology and ‘business’ is often still kindled by the right opportunity or context; yet, it is those new topics and challenges that I feel increasingly passionate about.
The Really Big Questions are Coming. When technology makes it suddenly feasible to create and archive complete portfolios of pretty much everyone's entire Internet browsing activity, our emails, our phone records, our purchases, our social media activities and much more, does this new computing power mean we should just tacitly agree to a world where mass-surveillance is the ‘I have nothing to hide' – default and big-data-fueled hyper-marketing is the price we pay for enjoying some free Internet services and platforms?
When humans can be augmented using external or, soon, internal devices such as AR glasses or implants, does that mean we will all need to have these augmentations so that we can keep up with each other in terms of efficiency, speed and productivity? Who will want to be less ‘powerful’ for not being augmented?
Here are some examples of the upcoming ‘Human Futures' topics:
*Note: the inital list posted on Sept 1 turned out to be quite overwhelming, and has now (Sept 3) been shortened quite a bit; for the complete list please go to the 2014 speaking topics page. Thanks!
Human-machine relationships: how will humans cope with increasingly exponential technological change? The coming data-wars: if data is indeed the new oil, should we license the mining and refining of data as well as regulate the digital gas stations, and will big data also require ‘big people' and big ethics? Artificial intelligence futures; how computing moves inside: the coming interface revolutions, and how they will challenge the definition of ‘human'. The future of human rights in an always-on and globally networked society. Mass surveillance versus privacy: why it matters, and what to do about it. The good and the perils of paying with personal data instead of money: is this deal becoming a truly Faustian bargain, or will we see new digital business models that will not rely on data-capturing, sentiment-spying and user-tracking? Humarithms versus algorithms: how to humanize technology (and not automate humans, and the redefinition of privacy in a digital world. Digital obesity and data / connectivity / media over-consumption: issues and solutions. The coming automation of 2 Billion jobs, and the coming shift towards human-only jobs. New business models for humanity: beyond mere GDP: re-defining capitalism? The need for new social contracts and the ‘license to operate': how business must go beyond money and build firms of the future by employing ‘triple bottom line' and ecosystem thinking. Climate change, global warming and the need for dramatic new growth metrics. The power of leap-thinking and going beyond the obvious (how to infuse futurism into your company). The future of education and learning when almost all all knowledge and information becomes on-demand…
If you would like to contribute please use the comment function below or email me directly.
Thanks for reading! Gerd Leonhard, Basel / Switzerland, September 1, 2013
- All the great authors whose books are in my Kindle queue (you can review my public Kindle highlights if you wish) such as Jeremy Rifkin, Jaron Lanier, Yoshai Benkler, Larry Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Paulo Coelho, John Elkington, David Korten, Seth Godin, Stewart Brand, Richard Branson, Alvin Toffler, Ray Kurzweil and Don Tapscott
- Jaron Lanier's latest book “Who owns the Future” which so brilliantly lays out the problems that the networked society is currently encountering
- John Perkins' 2004 book “Confessions of an economic hitman” which often reminded me that I must avoid becoming a ‘futuristic hitman' at all costs 🙂
PS2: a part of this shift is the launch of my new online TV platform, MeetingoftheMinds.tv — you will be hearing more about that:)