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¿Por qué los negocios necesitan un código de ética para el uso de la tecnología?

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Why businesses need a code of ethics for use of technology

The use of powerful technologies is increasing in firms of every size as prices falls and access becomes easier – particularly using online Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. These can make high functionality software applications and services available to even the smallest of firms for a relatively affordable monthly fee – thus enabling them to compete with larger and better resourced players. Many are exploiting the transformative potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud storage, big data, the internet of things (IoT), wearable devices, and blockchain. The goals are typically to enable new offerings, enhance service, maximise efficiency, cut costs, and improve marketing and sales effectiveness.

These technologies raise new ethical questions; notions of privacy and ownership are being challenged; questions arise over who owns customer data and how it can be used; what licence do we have to aggregate, analyse and interpret information gleaned from hundreds, thousands or millions of customer interactions? Informed consent processes are becoming necessary; and ideas on what constitutes harm and fair use are being called into question. These challenges are arising across industry value chains, so no one is surprised to see businesses develop digital codes to ensure employees, clients and partners know they are operating within acceptable ethical standards. Those in organisational and functional leadership roles are in key positions to instigate and steer the ethical discourse to enable each company to form its code.

Technological Upheaval

There are many potential ethical questions being raised around new technologies. The ubiquity of the IoT may raise concerns about the extent to which employee behaviour can be monitored; is the amount of food staff consume something the company could or should monitor? Should company’s aggregate and analyse data from employees’ wearable health trackers – is such wellness monitoring beneficial or invasive? Brain scanning technology is already in place to monitor employee concentration, is this appropriate or invasive? Is tracking health and mental activity a natural extension of monitoring productivity? Powerful technologies are no longer simply mechanical tools, they are increasingly redefining the nature and scope of employees’ work and their relationship with the employer. Hence it is critical for those in leadership to set the tone around the use of technology and data. What is commercially sensible may seem ethically questionable – challenging the boundaries of privacy and sensitivity. Just because we can, does it mean we should?

Public Dialogue

With an accelerating pace of digital disruption across society, critical ethical questions are moving up the public agenda faster. For example, 2016 has seen intense public debate around fair presentation of information on social media, the rise of the ‘post truth’ society and the employment implications of AI. Corporations cannot sit on the sidelines in these discussions. In some senses, there is no template to follow; there is no gold standard or global consensus over what is considered ethical. Businesses must engage in continual public and professional dialogue to determine what is permissible, what is acceptable and what would be best for shareholders, employees and customers.

Regular discourse highlights emerging issues and potential solutions. For example, if unbridled monitoring of employees’ health trackers is generally considered invasive, informed consent systems can be adopted with clear options defined for employees. Choices can be agreed with staff on the extent of monitoring, with clearly defined employee opt out clauses.

As business leaders, we must stay abreast of technological progress and engage with the questions being raised by the technologies, other organisations’ choices and societal responses. This engagement can help inform choice – providing alternative scenarios and ideas that drive our own ethical guidelines.

Compliance and Consistency

A clear internal view of what is considered ethically permissible is vital for any organisation. Once ethical frameworks have been established, these guiding principles must become cornerstones of strategic policy with regular monitoring of adherence. To be effective, the guiding principles must underpin subsequent actions consistently. Conformance with digital ethics cannot be a grey area or easily bypassed because of commercial considerations. Alongside driving home the message in regular communications and public statements, leaders need to demonstrate case examples of clear choices that have been made or rejected because of digital ethics. Corrective measures must be clear and applied consistently when these guidelines are bypassed.

Leading the Way

The necessity to form codes of digital ethics will increase, and the next 3-5 years will see widespread adoption – with some firms losing out where they don’t meet customers’ ethical expectations. In a world where the public discourse is almost impossible to control, CEOs must lead the way in ensuring their firms adopt and hold themselves to the highest standards of digital ethical behaviour and respond accordingly when gaps in the framework emerge. As the world becomes increasingly digital, and it becomes harder to distinguish our offerings from the competitors, who we are being and what we stand for will be become critical differentiators.

El papel de la academia frente a la corrupción

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El papel de la academia frente a la corrupción

De la universidad también depende acabar con ese fenómeno y superar la idea de que ‘todo se vale’. En este mundo atravesado por retos complejos, las humanidades no pueden ser excluidas de las aulas ni del debate público.
Doctor en Filosofía y especialista en filosofía del humanismo, de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Profesor de la Universidad Eafit.
06 de agosto 2017 , 10:19 p.m.
Múltiples escándalos y corruptelas en innumerables países evidencian que el mundo se encuentra hoy ante una crisis moral de grandes proporciones y, además, no se insinúan salidas en el horizonte.
En el nivel público, intervenciones electorales soterradas, presidentes y ministros destituidos, macroescándalos en el deporte mundial, cuestionamientos a casi todos los presidentes suramericanos y al estadounidense, para no hablar de países verdaderamente inviables por asaltos personalistas al Estado como Venezuela o Siria.

En el plano privado (que afecta también a lo público), los escándalos de Odebrecht, las exportaciones brasileñas de carne descompuesta, la alteración de los medidores
de gases contaminantes de los vehículos alemanes, los papeles de Panamá, los corruptos tentáculos de la compañía de aguas de la Comunidad de Madrid, entre muchos otros.
¿Qué penas podrían recibir congresistas mencionados en caso Odebrecht?

 Estos escándalos tenían otros nombres en la década anterior: recuérdense WorldCom, Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco y Global Crossing, Parmalat, Vivendi, Chiquita Brands, Xerox y, un poco más recientemente, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns y Merrill Lynch en la tan publicitada crisis estadounidense de las hipotecas ‘subprime’ en 2008, que tantos efectos perversos generó en todo el mundo.

Colombia no se queda atrás en materia de corrupción y exhibe casos como el ya citado Odebrecht, los de Interbolsa, Fondo Premium, Factor Group, Electricaribe, 
Saludcoop, Friogán, Petrotiger, Reficar, Termocandelaria, Bioenergy, Inassa (Triple A y Metroaguas), Elite, Estraval, TYPSA –con los juegos nacionales de Ibagué–. También encontramos los casos de los ‘carruseles’ de contratos de Bogotá, La Guajira, Chocó y Córdoba, y los carteles de precios (cementos, pañales, cuadernos escolares, papel higiénico, azúcar), para mencionar solo los más sonados.

Algo debe andar mal en la cultura para que en gran parte del planeta se presenten tantos comportamientos ilícitos

Algo debe andar mal en la cultura para que en gran parte del planeta se presenten tantos comportamientos ilícitos del mismo corte; algo no debe marchar bien con las ideologías e ideales que mueven a la humanidad.

Alguna vez, en un congreso internacional, escuché decir a un profesor canadiense algo así como que nunca el mundo había tenido tantos profesionales diplomados (sobre todo en especialidades administrativas), pero que nunca antes tampoco había estado tan mal manejado.

¿Será entonces que un cierto sustrato ideológico y moral de nuestra educación actual, en particular la profesional, está, en primer lugar, legitimando una especie de “todo se vale y contra todos”, y, en segundo término, invadiendo profusamente los campos del conocimiento y de la acción humana?

Filosofías que rigen el mundo

Existen dos grandes idearios que hoy comandan el mundo y determinan, en consecuencia, el tipo de investigación que hacemos y la orientación de la educación que impartimos.

Se refieren a grandes cosmovisiones en lo científico y en lo económico a las que se acogen consciente o inconscientemente los educadores y sus instituciones,incluyendo el Ministerio de Educación y otras entidades como Colciencias, donde surgen los grandes lineamentos y orientaciones que los educadores deben adoptar en su labor.

Debemos buscar en la epistemología (o filosofía de la ciencia) y en la filosofía de la educación el primer ideario y ese sustrato del que hablábamos arriba que, quizás por su carácter implícito, no ha sido abiertamente identificado y denunciado.

Los medios masivos regularmente hacen su tarea de comunicar y denunciar los negociados e ilícitos, pero develar lo que se mueve en las correntías subterráneas de la sociedad cuando esos fenómenos se vuelven tan recurrentes no ha sido tradicionalmente su papel.

Muchos filósofos disidentes de la gran euforia por los logros de la ciencia y el progreso han puesto el dedo en la llaga por la forma como el conocimiento, en particular el de las ciencias sociales, se elabora y enseña.

Podría decirse que la constante de sus críticas es que tanto científicos como educadores se han acogido a un modelo de investigación basado en el abstraccionismo científico (o positivismo), una orientación epistemológica que poco se preocupa por la pertinencia del conocimiento de las realidades concretas de cada sociedad, y pretende más bien conformarse con las metodologías matemáticas y de precisión de las ciencias naturales y exactas.

En consecuencia, la producción de conocimiento, lo mismo que su impartición, se ocupa más de cosas como la explicación causal o la relación causa-efecto
 (el cómo se produce un fenómeno) y menos por el sentido que el fenómeno tiene (el qué, el porqué, la razón de ser) dentro de un contexto cultural o en una sociedad.

Edgar Morin diría que ese conocimiento en abstracto deja por fuera sus “conexiones y solidaridades” con otras esferas de lo social y con la totalidad.

Por lo tanto, los profesionales educados casi exclusivamente bajo esa orientación no forman en su mente un vínculo consciente, realista y responsable entre su carrera y el mundo social en el que la ejercen. No construyen elementos que les ayuden a conectar su saber con la sociedad y, por tanto, ignoran la complejidad y diversidad de dimensiones que la integran y que se afectan por la acción de los agentes sociales.

El segundo ideario que nos rige tiene que ver con el discurso económico que promueve casi religiosamente la globalización y que se impone por múltiples vías a la soberanía de los países.

Se trata del discurso del neoliberalismo, basado en su fondo en la desinstitucionalización, es decir, en el imperativo de que haya menos Estado y que este, además, controle y grave mínimamente la circulación de mercancías y servicios entre países.

En función de esto, los servicios esenciales de salud, vivienda, educación, cultura, diversión, infraestructura, servicios públicos, entre otros, deben operar bajo las exigencias de la libre oferta y demanda y generar, además, beneficios privados. En suma, esta ideología persigue la privatización de lo público.

El mensaje que esta arrasadora ideología envía a la formación profesional es que lo único que realmente importa en la educación es el desarrollo de capacidades de transacción para que toda interacción profesional sea ejercida como mercantil.

Todo, en este sentido, deberá apuntar a que cualquier relación humana pueda asimilarse a una relación de compraventa que debe producir beneficios económicos.

Esta concepción de la educación afecta la integridad ética e intelectual del profesional, pues moldea sus valores en torno al individualismo y al éxito personal

Esta concepción de la educación afecta la integridad ética e intelectual del profesional, pues moldea y focaliza sus valores en torno al individualismo y al éxito personal. El entorno social y natural no se constituye en un referente significativo dentro de las finalidades de su acción.

En el centro de este discurso está el mercado como rector indiscutible de las relaciones y transacciones humanas. 
Un mercado autónomo, sin injerencia del Estado, que de manera impersonal ‘decide’ sobre todos los aspectos de la vida social con base solamente en criterios de competitividad, rentabilidad y eficiencia.

Al respecto, Zygmunt Bauman decía: “Somos dolorosamente conscientes de que, sin control alguno, los mercados que se guían únicamente por el criterio de la rentabilidad conducen a catástrofes económicas y sociales”.

De los fines y de los medios

Esa desconexión entre educación y vida social opera en la realidad reduciendo a lo estrictamente económico los fines que se trazan los individuos, las empresas y las instituciones. Como consecuencia, estos actores acomodan o dimensionan los medios, es decir, los conocimientos, los métodos y los procesos, al tenor de esos fines estrechos.

En virtud del afán economicista que se apoderó de la sociedad, las profesiones se centran en metas o fines de orden exclusivamente cuantitativo y económico como la maximización de los ingresos o las utilidades, el posicionamiento en algún ranquin de competitividad, eficiencia o innovación.

Como consecuencia, los conocimientos que se imparten en las aulas se limitan a los medios puramente instrumentales (procedimientos, fórmulas, técnicas, modelos) que mejor sirvan al logro de esas metas cuantitativas.

A propósito de esa reducción de miras, Martha Nussbaum nos recuerda la frase de Tagore: “El hombre moral, el hombre íntegro, está cediendo cada vez más espacio, casi sin saberlo (…) al hombre comercial, al hombre limitado a un solo fin”.

Los profesionales formados con esa pobreza de miras y esa miopía de fines y medios no contarán con los conocimientos ni los criterios para prever, más allá de las metas cuantitativas que se trazaron, los eventuales efectos perversos de sus decisiones y acciones sobre la sociedad y el medioambiente.

Serán, además, sujetos propicios a la corrupción, pues la aprobación y presión sociales con respecto al enriquecimiento, la optimización o la maximización como fines a ultranza legitiman la laxitud moral de los medios para lograrlos.

¿Cómo sería, entonces, una educación profesional éticamente conectada? ¿Existe la posibilidad de que quienes diseñan y dirigen el currículo profesional, que regularmente tienen a su vez una formación marcadamente técnica o funcional (y que hoy dirigen facultades, departamentos académicos, programas, grupos de investigación, revistas, etc.), se abran a una nueva comprensión de su tarea?

En primer término, la universidad debe erigirse en guardiana de los fines de la sociedad y no debe responder acríticamente a las demandas de los actores sociales si tales demandas no corresponden a ideales de integridad e inclusión. La universidad está llamada a problematizar y cambiar esas grandes ideologías que hoy atrapan al mundo y lo empujan a una carrera loca por el economicismo y el éxito individual.

En segundo lugar, la enseñanza de las humanidades constituye la mejor forma de comprensión del hombre y su vínculo social en todos sus espacios de actuación. Es solo que –como lo expresé en este mismo medio en un artículo titulado ‘La nuestra, una educación de saberes desintegrados’– “abogo por unas humanidades pertinentes, problematizadoras y social y ambientalmente comprometidas”.

Obviamente es necesario estudiar las humanidades como disciplinas autónomas, pero sería preferible, para la formación de profesionales, si adicionalmente las humanidades se ponen al servicio de la comprensión de los fenómenos humanos en y desde las organizaciones y las instituciones, no instrumentalizándolas para el logro de la eficiencia, sino sirviéndose de ellas para comprender al hombre y su acción. Es precisa, además, una postura crítica con respecto a las profesiones y disciplinas objeto de la formación.

Las humanidades serían, pues, el vehículo de problematización entre los medios y los fines –en particular sobre la pertinencia y el tenor humanista de estos últimos– y ayudarían a que los profesionales en formación establecieran una conexión consciente y responsable entre su profesión y la sociedad.

A modo de conclusión, podría decirse que formar profesionales éticamente conectados, más que aprender teorías, técnicas e instrumentos (que son también importantes), implica asegurar la apropiación de criterios asociados a la aplicación de tales instrumentos y teorías.

Podríamos entender estos criterios como referentes claros en la interpretación, la decisión y la acción del profesional. Y estos solo se construyen en la resonancia del conocimiento técnico-científico con la realidad social integralmente considerada.

En un mundo atravesado por problemas y retos cada vez más complejos y acuciantes como el calentamiento global, el terrorismo, los desplazamientos masivos, la corrupción, las catástrofes humanitarias, los autoritarismos, el desmoronamiento de las democracias, entre tantos otros, las humanidades no pueden ser excluidas de las aulas ni del debate público.

Doctor en Filosofía y especialista en filosofía del humanismo, de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Profesor de la Universidad Eafit.

24 predicciones para el año 3000

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24 Predictions for the Year 3000 by David Pearce

In response to the Quora question Looking 1000 years into the future and assuming the human race is doing well, what will society be like?David Pearce wrote:

The history of futurology to date makes sobering reading. Prophecies tend to reveal more about the emotional and intellectual limitations of the author than the future. […]
But here goes…

Year 3000

1) Superhuman bliss.

Mastery of our reward circuitry promises a future of superhuman bliss – gradients of genetically engineered well-being orders of magnitude richer than today’s “peak experiences”.

2) Eternal youth.

More strictly, indefinitely extended youth and effectively unlimited lifespans. Transhumans, humans and their nonhuman animal companions don’t grow old and perish. Automated off-world backups allow restoration and “respawning” in case of catastrophic accidents. “Aging” exists only in the medical archives.
SENS Research Foundation – Wikipedia

3) Full-spectrum superintelligences.

A flourishing ecology of sentient nonbiological quantum computers, hyperintelligent digital zombies and full-spectrum transhuman “cyborgs” has radiated across the Solar System. Neurochipping makes superintelligence all-pervasive. The universe seems inherently friendly: ubiquitous AI underpins the illusion that reality conspires to help us.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies – Wikipedia
Artificial Intelligence @ MIRI
Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence

4) Immersive VR.

“Magic” rules. “Augmented reality” of earlier centuries has been largely superseded by hyperreal virtual worlds with laws, dimensions, avatars and narrative structures wildly different from ancestral consensus reality. Selection pressure in the basement makes complete escape into virtual paradises infeasible. For the most part, infrastructure maintenance in basement reality has been delegated to zombie AI.
Augmented reality – Wikipedia
Virtual reality – Wikipedia

5) Transhuman psychedelia / novel state spaces of consciousness.

Analogues of cognition, volition and emotion as conceived by humans have been selectively retained, though with a richer phenomenology than our thin logico-linguistic thought. Other fundamental categories of mind have been discovered via genetic tinkering and pharmacological experiment. Such novel faculties are intelligently harnessed in the transhuman CNS. However, the ordinary waking consciousness of Darwinian life has been replaced by state-spaces of mind physiologically inconceivable to Homo sapiens. Gene-editing tools have opened up modes of consciousness that make the weirdest human DMT trip akin to watching paint dry. These disparate states-spaces of consciousness do share one property: they are generically blissful. “Bad trips” as undergone by human psychonauts are physically impossible because in the year 3000 the molecular signature of experience below “hedonic zero” is missing.
Qualia Computing

6) Supersentience / ultra-high intensity experience.

The intensity of everyday experience surpasses today’s human imagination. Size doesn’t matter to digital data-processing, but bigger brains with reprogrammed, net-enabled neurons and richer synaptic connectivity can exceed the maximum sentience of small, simple, solipsistic mind-brains shackled by the constraints of the human birth-canal. The theoretical upper limits to phenomenally bound mega-minds, and the ultimate intensity of experience, remain unclear. Intuitively, humans have a dimmer-switch model of consciousness – with e.g. ants and worms subsisting with minimal consciousness and humans at the pinnacle of the Great Chain of Being. Yet Darwinian humans may resemble sleepwalkers compared to our fourth-millennium successors. Today we say we’re “awake”, but mankind doesn’t understand what “posthuman intensity of experience” really means.
What earthly animal comes closest to human levels of sentience?

7) Reversible mind-melding.

Early in the twenty-first century, perhaps the only people who know what it’s like even partially to share a mind are the conjoined Hogan sisters. Tatiana and Krista Hogan share a thalamic bridge. Even mirror-touch synaesthetes can’t literally experience the pains and pleasures of other sentient beings. But in the year 3000, cross-species mind-melding technologies – for instance, sophisticated analogues of reversible thalamic bridges – and digital analogs of telepathy have led to a revolution in both ethics and decision-theoretic rationality.
Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?
Mirror-touch synesthesia – Wikipedia
Ecstasy : Utopian Pharmacology

8) The Anti-Speciesist Revolution / worldwide veganism/invitrotarianism.

Factory-farms, slaughterhouses and other Darwinian crimes against sentience have passed into the dustbin of history. Omnipresent AI cares for the vulnerable via “high-tech Jainism”. The Anti-Speciesist Revolution has made arbitrary prejudice against other sentient beings on grounds of species membership as perversely unthinkable as discrimination on grounds of ethnic group. Sentience is valued more than sapience, the prerogative of classical digital zombies (“robots”).
What is High-tech Jainism?
The Antispeciesist Revolution
‘Speciesism: Why It Is Wrong and the Implications of Rejecting It’

9) Programmable biospheres.

Sentient beings help rather than harm each other. The successors of today’s primitive CRISPR genome-editing and synthetic gene drive technologies have reworked the global ecosystem. Darwinian life was nasty, brutish and short. Extreme violence and useless suffering were endemic. In the year 3000, fertility regulation via cross-species immunocontraception has replaced predation, starvation and disease to regulate ecologically sustainable population sizes in utopian “wildlife parks”. The free-living descendants of “charismatic mega-fauna” graze happily with neo-dinosaurs, self-replicating nanobots, and newly minted exotica in surreal garden of edens. Every cubic metre of the biosphere is accessible to benign supervision – “nanny AI” for humble minds who haven’t been neurochipped for superintelligence. Other idyllic biospheres in the Solar System have been programmed from scratch.
CRISPR – Wikipedia
Genetically designing a happy biosphere
Our Biotech Future

10) The formalism of the TOE is known.
(details omitteddoes Quora support LaTeX?)

Dirac recognised the superposition principle as the fundamental principle of quantum mechanics. Wavefunction monists believe the superposition principle holds the key to reality itself. However – barring the epoch-making discovery of a cosmic Rosetta stone – the implications of some of the more interesting solutions of the master equation for subjective experience are still unknown.
Theory of everything – Wikipedia
M-theory – Wikipedia
Why does the universe exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? The Wave Function: Essays on the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics (9780199790548): Alyssa Ney, David Z Albert: Books

11) The Hard Problem of consciousness is solved.

The Hard Problem of consciousness was long reckoned insoluble. The Standard Model in physics from which (almost) all else springs was a bit of a mess but stunningly empirically successful at sub-Planckian energy regimes. How could physicalism and the ontological unity of science be reconciled with the existence, classically impossible binding, causal-functional efficacy and diverse palette of phenomenal experience? Mankind’s best theory of the world was inconsistent with one’s own existence, a significant shortcoming. However, all classical- and quantum-mind conjectures with predictive power had been empirically falsified by 3000 – with one exception.
Physicalism – Wikipedia
Quantum Darwinism – Wikipedia
Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Hard problem of consciousness – Wikipedia
Integrated information theory – Wikipedia
Principia Qualia
Dualism – Wikipedia
New mysterianism – Wikipedia
Quantum mind – Wikipedia

[Which theory is most promising? As with the TOE, you’ll forgive me for skipping the details. In any case, my ideas are probably too idiosyncratic to be of wider interest, but for anyone curious: What is the Quantum Mind?]

12) The Meaning of Life resolved.

Everyday life is charged with a profound sense of meaning and significance. Everyone feels valuable and valued. Contrast the way twenty-first century depressives typically found life empty, absurd or meaningless; and how even “healthy” normals were sometimes racked by existential angst. Or conversely, compare how people with bipolar disorder experienced megalomania and messianic delusions when uncontrollably manic. Hyperthymic civilization in the year 3000 records no such pathologies of mind or deficits in meaning. Genetically preprogrammed gradients of invincible bliss ensure that all sentient beings find life self-intimatingly valuable. Transhumans love themselves, love life, and love each other.

13) Beautiful new emotions.

Nasty human emotions have been retired – with or without the recruitment of functional analogs to play their former computational role. Novel emotions have been biologically synthesised and their “raw feels” encephalised and integrated into the CNS. All emotion is beautiful. The pleasure axis has replaced the pleasure-pain axis as the engine of civilised life.
An information-theoretic perspective on life in Heaven

14) Effectively unlimited material abundance / molecular nanotechnology.

Status goods long persisted in basement reality, as did relics of the cash nexus on the blockchain. Yet in a world where both computational resources and the substrates of pure bliss aren’t rationed, such ugly evolutionary hangovers first withered, then died.
Blockchain – Wikipedia

15) Posthuman aesthetics / superhuman beauty.

The molecular signatures of aesthetic experience have been identified, purified and overexpressed. Life is saturated with superhuman beauty. What passed for “Great Art” in the Darwinian era is no more impressive than year 2000 humans might judge, say, a child’s painting by numbers or Paleolithic daubings and early caveporn. Nonetheless, critical discernment is retained. Transhumans are blissful but not “blissed out” – or not all of them at any rate.
Art – Wikipedia

16) Gender transformation.

Like gills or a tail, “gender” in the human sense is a thing of the past. We might call some transhuman minds hyper-masculine (the “ultrahigh AQ” hyper-systematisers), others hyperfeminine (“ultralow AQ” hyper-empathisers), but transhuman cognitive styles transcend such crude dichotomies, and can be shifted almost at will via embedded AI. Many transhumans are asexual, others pan-sexual, a few hypersexual, others just sexually inquisitive. “The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit”, said Nietzsche – which leads to (17).

Object Sexuality – Wikipedia
Empathizing & Systematizing Theory – Wikipedia

17) Physical superhealth.

In 3000, everyone feels physically and psychologically “better than well”. Darwinian pathologies of the flesh such as fatigue, the “leaden paralysis” of chronic depressives, and bodily malaise of any kind are inconceivable. The (comparatively) benign “low pain” alleles of the SCN9A gene that replaced their nastier ancestral cousins have been superseded by AI-based nociception with optional manual overrides. Multi-sensory bodily “superpowers” are the norm. Everyone loves their body-images in virtual and basement reality alike. Morphological freedom is effectively unbounded. Awesome robolovers, nights of superhuman sensual passion, 48-hour whole-body orgasms, and sexual practices that might raise eyebrows among prudish Darwinians have multiplied. Yet life isn’t a perpetual orgy. Academic subcultures pursue analogues of Mill’s “higher pleasures”. Paradise engineering has become a rigorous discipline. That said, a lot of transhumans are hedonists who essentially want to have superhuman fun. And why not?

18) World government.

Routine policy decisions in basement reality have been offloaded to ultra-intelligent zombie AI. The quasi-psychopathic relationships of Darwinian life – not least the zero-sum primate status-games of the African savannah – are ancient history. Some conflict-resolution procedures previously off-loaded to AI have been superseded by diplomatic “mind-melds”. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Our descendants have windows into each other’s souls, so to speak.

19) Historical amnesia.

The world’s last experience below “hedonic zero” marked a major evolutionary transition in the evolutionary development of life. In 3000, the nature of sub-zero states below Sidgwick’s “natural watershed” isn’t understood except by analogy: some kind of phase transition in consciousness below life’s lowest hedonic floor – a hedonic floor that is being genetically ratcheted upwards as life becomes ever more wonderful. Transhumans are hyper-empathetic. They get off on each other’s joys. Yet paradoxically, transhuman mental superhealth depends on biological immunity to true comprehension of the nasty stuff elsewhere in the universal wavefunction that even mature superintelligence is impotent to change. Maybe the nature of e.g. Darwinian life, and the minds of malaise-ridden primitives in inaccessible Everett branches, doesn’t seem any more interesting than we find books on the Dark Ages. Negative utilitarianism, if it were conceivable, might be viewed as a depressive psychosis. “Life is suffering”, said Gautama Buddha, but fourth millennials feel in the roots of their being that Life is bliss.
Invincible ignorance? Perhaps.
Negative Utilitarianism – Wikipedia

20) Super-spirituality.

A tough one to predict. But neuroscience can soon identify the molecular signatures of spiritual experience, refine them, and massively amplify their molecular substrates. Perhaps some fourth millennials enjoy lifelong spiritual ecstasies beyond the mystical epiphanies of temporal-lobe epileptics. Secular rationalists don’t know what we’re missing.

21) The Reproductive Revolution.
Reproduction is uncommon in a post-aging society. Most transhumans originate as extra-uterine “designer babies”. The reckless genetic experimentation of sexual reproduction had long seemed irresponsible. Old habits still died hard. By year 3000, the genetic crapshoot of Darwinian life has finally been replaced by precision-engineered sentience. Early critics of “eugenics” and a “Brave New World” have discovered by experience that a “triple S” civilisation of superhappiness, superlongevity and superintelligence isn’t as bad as they supposed.

22) Globish (“English Plus”).

Automated real-time translation has been superseded by a common tongue – Globish – spoken, written or “telepathically” communicated. Partial translation manuals for mutually alien state-spaces of consciousness exist, but – as twentieth century Kuhnians would have put it – such state-spaces tend to be incommensurable and their concepts state-specific. Compare how poorly lucid dreamers can communicate with “awake” humans. Many Darwinian terms and concepts are effectively obsolete. In their place, active transhumanist vocabularies of millions of words are common. “Basic Globish” is used for communication with humble minds, i.e. human and nonhuman animals who haven’t been fully uplifted.
Incommensurability – SEoP
Uplift (science_fiction) – Wikipedia

23) Plans for Galactic colonization.

Terraforming and 3D-bioprinting of post-Darwinian life on nearby solar systems is proceeding apace. Vacant ecological niches tend to get filled. In earlier centuries, a synthesis of cryonics, crude reward pathway enhancements and immersive VR software, combined with revolutionary breakthroughs in rocket propulsion, led to the launch of primitive manned starships. Several are still starbound. Some transhuman utilitarian ethicists and policy-makers favour creating a utilitronium shockwave beyond the pale of civilisation to convert matter and energy into pure pleasure. Year 3000 bioconservatives focus on promoting life animated by gradients of superintelligent bliss. Yet no one objects to pure “hedonium” replacing unprogrammed matter.
Interstellar Travel – Wikipedia
Utilitarianism – Wikipedia

24) The momentous “unknown unknown”.

If you read a text and the author’s last words are “and then I woke up”, everything you’ve read must be interpreted in a new light – semantic holism with a vengeance. By the year 3000, some earth-shattering revelation may have changed everything – some fundamental background assumption of earlier centuries has been overturned that might not have been explicitly represented in our conceptual scheme. If it exists, then I’ve no inkling what this “unknown unknown” might be, unless it lies hidden in the untapped subjective properties of matter and energy. Christian readers might interject “The Second Coming”. Learning the Simulation Hypothesis were true would be a secular example of such a revelation. Some believers in an AI “Intelligence Explosion” speak delphically of “The Singularity”. Whatever – Shakespeare made the point more poetically, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

As it stands, yes, (24) is almost vacuous. Yet compare how the philosophers of classical antiquity who came closest to recognising their predicament weren’t intellectual titans like Plato or Aristotle, but instead the radical sceptics. The sceptics guessed they were ignorant in ways that transcended the capacity of their conceptual scheme to articulate. By the lights of the fourth millennium, what I’m writing, and what you’re reading, may be stultified by something that humans don’t know and can’t express.
Ancient Skepticism – SEoP


OK, twenty-four predictions! Successful prophets tend to locate salvation or doom within the credible lifetime of their intended audience. The questioner asks about life in the year 3000 rather than, say, a Kurzweilian 2045. In my view, everyone reading this text will grow old and die before the predictions of this answer are realised or confounded – with one possible complication.

Opt-out cryonics and opt-in cryothanasia are feasible long before the conquest of aging. Visiting grandpa in the cryonics facility can turn death into an event in life. I’m not convinced that posthuman superintelligence will reckon that Darwinian malware should be revived in any shape or form. Yet if you want to wake up one morning in posthuman paradise – and I do see the appeal – then options exist:

p.s. I’m curious about the credence (if any) the reader would assign to the scenarios listed here.

Entrevista alertando que estamos en la era de la tecnología inteligente

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“Ya estamos en la era de la tecnología inteligente”

Fernando Ortega Alertó que los Estados deben invertir más en tecnología y educación. 

Fernando Ortega es uno de los mayores especialistas en economías del futuro de América Latina. Asegura que ya estamos en la Cuarta Revolución Industrial y en la Era de la Tecnología Inteligente. Llegó a Bolivia invitado por la Universidad Privada Franz Tamayo (Unifranz) en el marco del foro internacional sobre Jóvenes y Empleo que organizó las Naciones Unidas y el programa Siembra Juventud. Destacó que los países de la región están rezagados en sus sistemas educativos, científicos y tecnológicos para enganchar con una sociedad de cambios acelerados que demandan nuevas capacidades y ofertas de consumo.

 ¿Cuáles son las claves de la nueva economía global?
Estamos viviendo la cuarta revolución industrial. Es lo que, técnicamente, llamamos la Era de la Tecnología Consciente. El punto de inflexión se dio en 2011, dado que en ese año ocurrieron dos hechos fundamentales para esta transformación. Uno popular y otro técnico. El primero ocurrió durante el programa de concurso sobre cultura general que se dio en la televisión estadounidense llamado Jeopardy! Todas las semanas acuden cientos de personas a tratar de responder preguntas sobre arte, ciencia, política, geografía, historia, deportes, cine y música. Aquel año, los ejecutivos de IBM propusieron a los productores del programa hacer una competencia Hombre vs. Máquina. Enfrentaron, entonces, la supercomputadora Watson sin conexión a internet; es decir, disco duro contra el cerebro de los dos humanos más ganadores del concurso. Aceptaron la propuesta. Un millón de dólares era el premio. ¿Quién cree que ganó? No ganaron los genios, sino la máquina. Era la primera vez que una máquina superaba al hombre en un concurso abierto. Ya había ocurrido en 1998 cuando otra supercomputadora, la Deep Blue, también de IBM, había superado a Gary Kaspárov, campeón mundial de ajedrez. Pero se trataba de un juego con reglas simples y que podía ser fácilmente programable. En este caso se trataba de un concurso de conocimiento con preguntas con doble sentido, con adivinanzas. Entonces, la máquina fue capaz de discriminar todas estas posibilidades, tener respuestas coherentes, y entender el lenguaje natural, igual que los humanos.

La tecnología comienza a superar al ser humano… 
El segundo hecho fundamental es el surgimiento, en 2011, de la primera generación de computadoras cuánticas comerciales. Este es el nuevo paradigma de la computación. Ya no se trabaja con el sistema binario, 0-1, sino por vectores. Es decir, pueden tener un valor 0-1, o cualquier valor, dado que es un vector, con lo cual se multiplican miles de veces las capacidades de procesamiento de datos. Estamos frente a una nueva revolución tecnológica. En 2013 se lanzó la segunda generación de computadoras cuánticas y recientemente la cuarta generación de este tipo de equipos. Esto implica un cambio muy drástico con respecto a lo que hoy tenemos por conocido. La Era de la Información ya murió, duró desde la primera PC en 1974 hasta 2011; es decir, unos 30 años.

¿Qué consecuencias tiene esta realidad?
La revolución de la tecnología consciente plantea un cambio total de los paradigmas. El mundo, como lo conocemos ahora, ya no será el mismo. Pensar que la inteligencia artificial nunca va a superar la inteligencia humana es falso. De aquí a 2030 se espera que ocurra la “singularidad tecnológica”; es decir, el momento en que la inteligencia artificial equipara las capacidades de la inteligencia humana. Las grandes corporaciones incorporarán en su directorio a un dispositivo de inteligencia artificial. Ese será el hito de este cambio trascendental. Votará con su propio criterio y dirá que esto debería hacerse. Ya verán los humanos si lo siguen o no lo siguen. Antes fue el test de Turing, ahora vamos más allá de eso.

Esto conllevará a que muchos oficios serán desplazados por las máquinas…
Hasta este momento, todas las revoluciones anteriores, la Revolución del Vapor, la Electricidad y de la Informática, lo que hicieron fue generar más empleo. Más crecimiento, más empleo. Ahora, será al revés. Más crecimiento, menos empleo. Porque lo que se va a buscar es productividad y, en ese sentido, las máquinas ganan a los seres humanos. La máquina no tiene vacaciones, no tiene ocho horas de restricción a su trabajo, no sale con licencias de embarazo ni de enfermedad, ni tiene beneficios sociales, no tiene que ir a visitar al colegio el Día del Padre o de la Madre. Las máquinas trabajan 24 horas, 365 días al año y, entonces, aumentarán la productividad de forma sideral.

¿Y a qué nos vamos a dedicar los seres humanos?
Allí viene el siguiente paradigma. La principal fuente de ingresos de las familias hoy es el empleo, es el trabajo. Por eso tenemos el ‘trabajo digno’ y los conceptos laborales que manejan la OIT y las organizaciones no gubernamentales. Hagamos un poco de teoría económica. ¿Cuál es la base del sistema capitalista? El consumo. Si hay consumo, hay oferta. Si hay oferta, tenemos producción y las empresas. Pero para que haya consumo necesitamos un ingreso. La principal fuente de ingreso hasta este momento ha sido el empleo. En el futuro, por la sustitución del empleo por las máquinas, la crisis de empleo va a ser terrible. Entonces surge el nuevo paradigma: UBI (Universal Basic Income). El Ingreso Básico Universal. Todo ciudadano al cumplir los 18 años va a recibir un sueldo del Estado sin trabajar. Eso le debería cubrir los gastos básicos. Si quiere ganar más, deberá trabajar. Pero que se la busque a través del autoempleo o que desarrolle capacidades para que sea de los pocos humanos que tengan contratos dependientes. Esto funciona en economías desarrolladas y ordenadas donde la informalidad es mínima. Pero no se aplica en países como los nuestros. En América Latina la informalidad va entre un 60 y 70%, por lo tanto la presión tributaria es muy baja, un 14 o 17% del PBI. Pese a todo, Canadá y algunos países nórdicos están comenzando a armar sus UBI, lo cual es una solución donde todos ganan. Desde la izquierda hasta la derecha, todo el mundo estará feliz. Desde la izquierda dirán, se logró el socialismo. Los de la derecha dirán que va a seguir funcionando la maquinaria capitalista porque la gente va a tener que consumir. Puede sonar políticamente incorrecto, pero esta será una solución que no la vieron ni Marx ni Engels ni Lenin. Al socialismo se va a llegar por la tecnología, no por la lucha de clases.

Entonces, ¿hay esperanza?
Eso ocurrirá en los países de-sarrollados. Aquí tenemos problemas serios sin resolver todavía. Sobre eso tenemos mucha gente que está desfasada pensando en los paradigmas anteriores. Muchos hablan del Bono Demográfico y dicen que América Latina tiene un momento especial porque va a tener una gran población de jóvenes. Vamos a tener jóvenes sí, pero ¿vamos a tener capacidad de emplearlos? Y no ven el crecimiento de los Ni-ni, que ni trabajan ni estudian.
Estas son las señales que ya nos indican el problema que vamos a tener. Estos chicos van a entrar al mercado laboral en un momento en que ya no se va a demandar gente.
Se las tienen que buscar ellos solos, el autoempleo y el emprendedurismo.
Pero hay que pensarlo muy rápidamente, porque cada año ingresan millones de jóvenes al mercado laboral en América Latina y esta es una bomba social incontenible.

¿Qué debilidades tiene América Latina?
Tenemos, en primer lugar, un serio problema de capacidad de generación de conocimiento. Esto va desde la educación en todos sus niveles, pero también tenemos un problema de retención de nuestros talentos. Nuestra gente se va a otros países desarrollados. Nuestros chicos más promisorios se van. Y nosotros hacemos el papel de tontos. Ahí están los concursos de Google, Facebook o Intel sobre innovación, donde hacen un screaning (escaneo) de todas las ideas brillantes de los chicos. Entonces eligen a la crema y nata del conocimiento local, a los que les ofrecen ir a Silicon Valley para implementar sus ideas. Cuál es el problema. Economía de escala. Si a China tú le quitas 100.000 talentosos no le pasa nada. En China se gradúa medio millón de ingenieros todos los años. Si le sacamos 1.000 talentosos a América Latina, y la cosa se complica. Educar sí, pero también retenerlos y atraer nuevos talentos de otros países para que aporten al desarrollo científico y tecnológico de nuestros países.
Lamentablemente lo que les podemos ofrecer es muy poco por la falta de financiamiento, por la inseguridad creciente en nuestras ciudades y falta de condiciones para otorgar una calidad de vida adecuada. Lo otro es la brecha de infraestructura. Déficit que viene de atrás y que necesitamos generar para adelante. En octubre, Corea del Sur lanza Internet 5-G (5 gigas por segundo) y la cobertura de Internet 4-G en América Latina recién se está desplegando.


El papel de la Visión en el diseño

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The Role of Visioning in Design

from ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health’ D.C. Wahl 2006

Visioning is more than painting an idealistic picture of the future — it is a process of evaluating present conditions, identifying problem areas, and bringing about a community wide consensus on how to overcome existing problems and manage change. By learning about its strengths and weaknesses, a community can decide what it wants to be, and then develop a plan that will guide decisions towards that vision. … Having a shared vision allows a community to focus its diverse energies and avoid conflicts in the present as well as the future. — Sandler, 2000, p.216

The essence of the design process is to envision novel solutions in order to meet certain real or perceived needs and express a certain intention through novel interactions and relationships.While science tends to focus on how the world is and how it came to be — an essentially backward looking activity that may venture to predict the outcome of experiments based on abstract linear extrapolations from past observations — design tends to focus on how the world could be in the future and proposes feasible pathways to create such a future.

Design is essentially forward looking, it envisions possible and desirable futures and offers strategies for their material and immaterial implementation (see also chapter one).[This is an excerpt from my 2006PhD Thesis in ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health: A Holistic/Integral Approach to Complexity and Sustainability’.]

In 2005, the UK Design Council published a report on Sustainability & Design. The report admitted the urgent need to re-contextualise design theory and practice in a more holistic and encompassing way that acknowledges the complexity of challenges associated with creating a sustainable society. It identified a wide range of specific skills that are important for designers in the 21st century. This thesis has addressed almost all the skills mentioned in the report, for example: the need for trans-disciplinarity, multiple perspectives, eco-literacy, dialogue and communication, sensitivity to different scales and the need to reconsider environmental ethics.

After interviewing a wide range of people engaged in mainstream product design as well as a number of sustainable product designers, the authors of the Design Council report offered the following summary of essential design skills (see Box 6.1). The ability to vision is the last but certainly not the least important skill on their list.

Any design strategy is useless if there is no clear vision of where that strategy is supposed to take us. The process of creating a collective and trans-disciplinary vision for a future of human, societal, ecosystem and planetary health will emerge as the central means of catalysing the transformation towards a sustainable human civilization during the 21st century. This process will define the quality of life and meaningful existence of current and future generations.

The process of collective visioning based on an integration of multiple perspectives will be central to the creation of locally adapted sustainable communities that cooperate locally, regionally and globally in order to meet true human needs for everyone and within the biophysical limits of local ecosystems and the global biosphere. It is through this community based process of life-long learning and dynamic adaptation of our guiding visions that design will be able to act as trans-disciplinary and trans-epistemological integrator and facilitator (see also chapter one).

This image is not in the 2006 PhD thesis this excerpt is taken from. It is from a recent Transition Design course with Terry Irwin, Cameron Tonkinwise and Gideon Kossoff (from Carnegie Mellon School of Design and the University of New South Wales). The graphic (source) illustrates well how we can work with preferable, probable, plausible and possible futures. Visioning is about preferable futures and design can make them probable.

“Visioning processes provide a mechanism whereby diverse interests are brought together to develop and reach agreement on a common, preferred vision for the future of an area and/or community” (Baxter & Fraser, 1994). Visioning is therefore centrally important for a community-based approach to designing humanity’s appropriate participation in natural process.

… the transition towards sustainability in its everyday dimension, can be described as follows: in a short period billions of people must redefine their life projects. Although differing greatly, the new directions they can and will want to take have a common vector — one which should take us in all our diversity towards a sustainable future. — Manzini & Jegou, 2003

The intention to increase human and planetary health, as the prerequisite for long-term sustainability, describes the common vector that unites the diversity of locally and regionally adapted human communities and societies behind the common goal of sustaining the continued evolution of life and consciousness through turning the vision of a sustainable human civilization into reality.

While the now increasingly outdated goals that motivated conventional science during the past three hundred years were chasing after the impossible utopia of total prediction and control of nature, the new sciences and the emerging natural design movement are motivated by improving and informing humanity’s appropriate and sustainable participation in natural process. This is an attainable utopia, a vision that we can turn into reality!

The central shift is one from prediction through abstract and linear models based on quantities and dualistic reasoning, to a more comprehensive envisioning of a future of appropriate participation in natural process based on multiple perspectives and epistemologies. By acknowledging the validity of contributions made by various perspectives, the latter approach transcends and includes the former! Jonathan Ball, in his PhD thesis entitled Bioregions and Future State Visioning, provides a very succinct explanation of the difference between prediction and visioning:

There are several ways of looking at the future but two methods predominate. The first is by prediction and the second is ‘visioning’. Prediction is, perforce, based on extrapolation of past trends. Through this process the future can only be viewed as though along a corridor of constraining possibilities. The corridor might widen along its length but the process of prediction is essentially a restrictive one. Visioning, on the other hand, is a process that begins with the desired future state and then looks backwards to the present (building a new corridor between the states). Visioning is a tool that, under various guises, has been developed by the business community to help corporate planning. The present state can be a difficult barrier to what could be — the future state (Stewart, 1993). Therefore, visioning is radically different from conventional futurology which is predictive, prophetic and tends to offer pictures of exaggerated optimism or pessimism. — McRae, 1994, in Ball, 1999, pp.62–63

Victor Margolin believes: “As an art of conception and planning, design occupies a strategic position between the sphere of dispositional ethics and the sphere of social change. This is its power.” He argues: “Design is the activity that generates plans, projects, and products. It produces tangible results that can serve as demonstrations of, or arguments for, how we might live” (Margolin, 2002, p.88). Design is the process of envisioning and creating our collective future.

It is important to understand that in the process of creating a vision of a sustainable community, society, and civilization we should not be restricted by what may be perceived as insurmountable obstacles to achieving that vision. The initial formulation of a vision has to be idealistic, creative, poetic, aesthetic, ethical, intuitive and imaginative. Rational reasoning from a particular perspective should not restrict the integrative and participatory process of creating the initial vision.

First, the best-case scenario, the ‘have our cake and eat it’ option, the win-win-win optimal future state has to be clearly described and en-visioned. This creates a collective goal desirable to everyone and therefore provides the basis for engaging the participation of diverse stakeholders in the long-term process of turning such a vision into reality through appropriate design.

Baxter and Fraser see the value of creating a vision in the way it connects the future and the present. First, a vision helps us to put our current behaviour into context and perspective, and second, it “catalyses new actions and partnerships in order to move the community or organization towards the future it wants” (1994, p.4). They identify six main characteristics of visioning which make it a uniquely useful process. These are summarized in the table below(see Table 6.1).

Only by honouring the entire breadth of diverse intellectual and cultural perspectives and by acknowledging the important, valid and meaningful contributions of complementary — but possibly contradictory — epistemologies can we hope to create a meaningful and inspiring vision that has the power to motivate all of humanity to engage in the transformation towards a sustainable human civilization.

The scientific, materialistic perspective that, through the emerging holistic sciences, is increasingly acknowledging fundamental interconnectedness, interdependence and unpredictability, provides important insights about the dynamics of complex systems like societies, ecosystems and the biosphere. Ecology and complexity theory can help us to participate appropriately in natural process.

However subtler modes of consciousness, that are aware of our participatory and co- creative involvement in both the material and immaterial dimensions of reality, are also important informants of such a vision. Any globally and locally inspiring and meaningful vision, by definition, will have to include contributions from diverse spiritual, ethical, psychological, cultural and aesthetic, as well as scientific points of view.

The globally transformative vision of a sustainable human civilization has to be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate healthy expressions of an enormous diversity of material and immaterial (internal and external) perspectives. At the same time it has to establish a realistic, socially and ecologically literate consensus about how to proceed in order to implement this collective global vision through the action of empowered and locally adapted communities everywhere.

The vision of a sustainable human civilization must be meaningful enough to be desired by everyone. So much so, that it motivates all global citizens to engage in local, regional, and global cooperation in driving the long-term process of turning this vision into reality.

Jonathan Ball’s doctoral research reviewed a variety of different approaches to creating community based visions and developed a conceptual framework for applying environmental visioning to land-use planning and bioregional design. Ball (1999) identified a number of common characteristics and steps of visioning as a tool for designing meaningful and desired futures intentionally. The Table below (see Table 6.2) shows a summary of three related but differently focussed approaches to the visioning process, as provided by Jonathan Ball.

This multiple and complementary perspective on the appropriate steps that should be applied within a successful visioning exercise provides a more integral understanding of visioning as a potentially powerful tool for sustainable design. The Box below summarizes five common characteristics for the design and realization of successful visions as proposed by Jonathan Ball (see Box 6.2).

The global vision of a sustainable human civilization will motivate and be composed of a wide diversity of regional and local, community-based, visions. Empowered local communities will be the active agents of change that will implement sustainability through appropriate participation in natural process. Such communities will act collectively at the appropriate scale of local adaptation to ecosystems and regional self-reliance and sustainability, and simultaneously cooperate internally and externally in the process of facilitating the realization of this vision locally and globally.

Alan Sandler emphasizes the inherent potential for the visioning process to act as a driver for transformation towards sustainable practices. A community-based, inclusive and participatory approach “in which members share their personal vision and shape them into a shared vision providing energy, coherence and direction for the communities’ diverse programs and services.” Sandler defines vision as “an idea or image of a desirable future which captures the commitment, energy and imagination of key people in working towards its realization” (Sandler, 2000, p.218). The Box below summarizes a set of “tips for vision building” compiled by Alan Sandler (see Box 6.3).

Throughout this thesis, I have repeatedly emphasized the important role of an actively engaged and socially and ecologically literate citizenship in the community based process of creating locally adapted, sustainable communities. Working towards the realization of an inspiring and desirable vision motivates such active engagement.

The process of visioning is, on the one hand, an effective way to engage the whole community and its diverse stakeholders in the process of defining what a desirable and sustainable future would look like. On the other hand, attempting to realize a vision provides the basis for the continuous learning process that informs the community about the appropriateness of the strategies it chooses to implement the collective vision.

An effective vision has to be clear, inclusive, and desirable enough to inspire widespread participation in its implementation and at the same time flexible and adaptable enough to be able to respond appropriately to new insights and environmental or technological change. Adam Kahane emphasizes:

A problem that is generatively complex cannot be solved with a prepackaged solution from the past. A solution has to be worked out as the situation unfolds, through a creative, emergent, generative process. — Kahane, 2004, p.101

There have been a variety of distinct but complementary approaches to working with the visionary aspects of the design and planning process within more or less inclusive communities. Scenario planning, as described by Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View (Schwartz, 1991), future workshops (see Jungk & Müllert, 1987), and future search (Weisbord & Janoff, 1995) are worth exploring in this context. Baxter and Fraser (1994) discuss the differences between visioning and forecasting or scenario planning in more detail. The scope of this thesis does not allow me to enter deeper into these issues, which will provide points of departure for future research.

The actual methodologies that can facilitate successful visioning as well as the flexible and adaptive implementation of established visions through widespread and appropriate participation are clearly of central importance in the transformation towards sustainability. Chapter one already emphasized this through the discussion of the role of trans-disciplinary design dialogue and tools like non-violent communication, mediation and consensus decision making. The Spiral Dynamics approach offers one methodology for helping people to cooperate despite differences in their dominant worldview or value system (see chapter one).

In Solving tough problems, Adam Kahane, a founding partner of ‘Generon Consulting’ and the ‘Global Leadership Initiative’ offers a variety of tangible examples of how such trans- disciplinary, inclusive and participatory design processes are already being employed to find appropriate solution (see Kahane, 2004). He emphasizes the importance of personal openness to change, learning and new and transformative insights.

There is a story about a man who wanted to change the world. He tried as hard as he could, but really did not accomplish anything. So he thought that instead he should just try to change his country, but he had no success with that either. Then he tried to change his city and then his neighbourhood, still unsuccessfully. Then he thought he could at least change his family, but failed again. So he decided to change himself. Then a surprising thing happened. As he changed himself, his family changed too. And as his family changed, his neighbourhood changed. As his neighbourhood changed, his city changed. As his city changed, his country changed, and as his country changed, the world changed. — Kahane, 2004, p.131

The anatomy of change is holarchical, with changes on each level affecting changes on all other levels. In order to affect change effectively we have to begin with ourselves. Like Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, who developed Spiral Dynamics (see Beck & Cowan, 1996), Adam Kahane contributed to the peaceful transition from South Africa’s apartheid regime to a democratically elected government through facilitating conciliatory workshops that helped to shape a collective vision for the future.

Kahane asks the important questions: “How can we solve our tough problems without resorting to force? How can we overcome the apartheid syndrome in our homes, workplaces, communities and countries, and globally? How can we heal our world’s gaping wounds?” (Kahane, 2004, p.129). How can we participate in salutogenesis?

The answer lies in collectively engaging in trans-disciplinary and trans-epistemological dialogue that allows us to see issues from various points of view and therefore allows us to integrate different kinds of knowledge into a more collective, inclusive and integral wisdom that can guide appropriate participation and inform the process of turning the vision of a sustainable human civilization into reality.

Kahane proposes: “We have to shift from down-loading and debating to reflective and generative dialogue. We have to chose an open way over a closed way.” He believes that when we make “this simple, practical shift in how we perform these most basic social actions — talking and listening — we unlock our most complex, stuck problem situations. We create miracles” (Kahane, 2004, p.129).

Such miracles, based on trans-disciplinary and trans-epistemological dialogue, are necessary in order to create the attainable utopia of a sustainable human civilization. The Box below summarizes a number of suggestions made by Kahane about how we can facilitate the dialogue about tough problems (see Box 6.4). In chapter one, I proposed that the creation of a sustainable future for humanity is the ‘wicked problem of design’ in the 21st century. The list below offers advice on how each one of us can participate in the process of offering appropriate solutions to this wickedly complex problem.

The ability to participate in such a way in collective decision making processes and collaborative problem solving should be nurtured and practiced in all formal and informal education. It is a crucially important skill for responsible citizens in the 21st century.

Kahane (2004) describes and contrasts a ‘closed way’ of trying to solve problems from within a limited perspective and resisting any other approach, and an ‘open way’ of creating solutions to tough problems by acknowledging their full complexity and by integrating multiple perspectives. The latter creates and informs the vision of a sustainable human civilization.

Every one of us gets to choose, in every encounter every day, which world we will contribute to bringing into reality. When we chose the closed way, we participate in creating a world filled with force and fear. When we choose on open way, we participate in creating another, better world. — Kahane, 2004, p.32

Many different formulations of what a sustainable human civilization may look like will have to be proposed in order to provide a broad basis for the dialogue by which we can establish a basic consensus about how to proceed at the local, regional, national and global scale.

A scale-linking conceptual framework that allows us to integrate diverse issues and address issues in different ways on different scales will hopefully facilitate and structure trans- disciplinary dialogue. Just as the map of value-systems and worldviews provided by Spiral Dynamics allows us to give validity to a variety of different perspectives, salutogenesis and health describe the most fundamental intentionality and goal of sustainability.

I believe we can accomplish great and profitable things within a new conceptual framework: one that values our legacy, honours diversity, and feeds ecosystems and societies … It is time for designs that are creative, abundant, prosperous, and intelligent from the start.

— William McDonough (in Hargroves & Smith, 2005)

I will use the remainder of this exploration of the role of vision in design to introduce a variety of different formulations of hopeful visions of sustainability and the strategies of appropriate participation they propose. By setting these different visions side by side, just like I have set the different approaches to sustainable and ecological design side by side, I hope to open a space in which underlying patterns become clear and a multi-facetted vision of a sustainable human civilization and the appropriate pathways towards that vision can emerge.

The Australian sociologist Ted Trainer has suggested that we need to shift from a society of consumers to a society of conservers. In his opinion, a sustainable society would distinguish itself through much greater self-sufficiency at the community and regional scale; people would live more simply, but have a higher quality of life; they would cooperate to create more equitable and participatory communities, and they would need to create a new economic system. He also recognizes that for this shift to occur, a fundamental reorientation and change of value system is needed (Trainer, 1995, pp.9–15). To illustrate his vision, Trainer compiled an instructive list of design characteristics that would guide the creation and re-design of settlements in such a conserver society (see Box 6.5).

In the recent 30 year up-date of the seminally influential book Limits to Growth, its authors explain: “Visioning means imagining, at first generally and then with increasing specificity, what you really want … not want someone has taught you to want, and not what you have learned to be willing to settle for.” They propose: “Vision, when widely shared and firmly kept in sight, does bring into being new systems” (Meadows et al., 2005, p.272).

Within the limits of space, time, materials, and energy, visionary human intentions can bring forth not only new information, new feedback loops, new behaviour, new knowledge, and new technology, but also new institutions, new physical structures, and new powers within human beings (Meadows et al., 2005, p.273).

Meadows et al. conclude that “a sustainable world can never be fully realised until it is widely envisioned.” They emphasise: “The vision must be built up by many people before it is complete and compelling” (Meadows et al., 2005, p.273). The Box below summarizes how Meadows et al. suggest we may begin the process of envisioning a sustainable society (see Box 6.6).

Their proposed vision revisits many of the issues discussed in this thesis. My intention has been to provide the reader with a trans-disciplinary synthesis of a wider vision that is already emerging along with the emergence of the natural design movement. Planners, designers, politicians, economists, scientists, philosophers, social activists, educators, and business people everywhere have already begun the long process of defining the vision of a sustainable and therefore equitable future for everyone — a future of human and planetary health.

In putting the different but already existing formulations of such a vision side by side, I have demonstrated that there is a significant amount of overlap between the goals and solutions proposed within the different disciplines. From within each discipline, different pieces of the bigger puzzle are added. Each one of them strengthens the overall vision and the various contributions mutually reinforce each other in the creation of a synergetic and powerful ‘leitmotiv’ for turning the vision of a sustainable human society into reality.

Whether we take responsibility or not, we can’t but participate in the creation of the world around us through our attitudes, actions and designs. Our dreams and aspirations, every interaction we participate in, everything we think, say and do exerts a creative power on the world around us and as the world changes in accordance, so do we.

We are continuously in danger of imprisoning ourselves in the walls of our own mental constructs, our guiding stories and ‘scientific theories.’ We collectively create the living and transforming myth of who we are in relation to each other, the community of life, the planet and the universe and this myth becomes our reality. Such is the power of meta-design!

Design is the expression of intentionality through interaction and relationships. Intentionality forms through our processes of meaning making, our value systems and the worldviews we employ. The basis of sustainability is to become conscious of this and choose appropriate participation in this creative process instead of reinforcing unsustainable patterns through our daily actions, while referring responsibility to somebody else.

True, long-term sustainability is possible only if more and more people become fully conscious of our individual and collective creative powers and assume responsibility for their own participation in the process of sustainability, through cooperation with the community of life. Awareness of our fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence with all of life spawns the realization that we cannot maintain human, community, or societal health without maintaining the health of ecosystems and the planet as a whole.

Thomas Greco Jr. beautifully expressed the enormous potential this insight has for individual and community empowerment. His vision of human potential is reproduced in the Box below (see Box 6.7).

What Greco describes is a realization that more and more people are having everyday. It is in this realization that true sustainability can take root. But the process of transformation can only be sustained if we begin to act in accordance with our insights.

At the international level there have been a number of previous attempts to formulate visions of a sustainable future. In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the adoption of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (see Bloom 2004, pp.253–260 for a reproduction). In 1986, the World Health Organization published the ‘Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion’ (see Brown et al., 2005, pp.101–105). In June 1992, after a conference in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations published a ‘Declaration on Environment and Development’ (see Brown et al., 2005, pp.112–117 for a reproduction). This was followed by the publication and international adoption of ‘Agenda 21’ as a blueprint for a social, economic,and environmental sustainability [since this thesis was published in 2006 the SDGs and Agenda 2030 were launched in 2015 as a continuation of the UN sustainable development commitment].

The most widely inclusive and comprehensive document of this kind that has been published to date was developed over almost a decade of worldwide consultation and dialogue through the support of the ‘Green Cross’, founded by Michael Gorbachov and the ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’ (UNESCO). The Earth Charter, was published in 2000, and is structured around the following basic principles: respect and care for the community of life; ecological integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence, and peace (see ).

Since its publication the vision of global sustainability, equity, justice and peace formulated in the Earth Charter has been adopted by an increasing number of national and international organizations. It will hopefully provide a basis for fruitful discussion about the necessary local, regional, national, and international dialogues about how to effectively implement such a vision of a sustainable human civilization.

Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life. — The Earth Charter, in Jack-Todd, 2005, p.131

The multi-facetted challenges that humanity is facing at the beginning of the third millennium are sending a clear signal: business as usual is no longer an option. The world will change even more drastically during the 21st century than it has done during the 20th century. If we allow this change to be driven by narrowly conceived economic and national interests and disregard global interconnectedness and interdependences as well as our reliance on the planet’s ecological life- support systems, we will do so at an unprecedented cost in the lives of humans and other species with whom we are co-inhabiting this fragile planet.

In 1991, Ralph Metzner, a psychologist at the California Institute of Integral Studies, published an article entitled ‘The Emerging Ecological Worldview’ in Resurgence. Metzner tried to formulate the major changes in worldview and humanity’s way of participating in natural process that will be associated with the transition towards an ‘ecological age’ and a sustainable human civilization. The Table below summarizes his vision (see Table 6.3).

The ecological worldview formulated by Metzner should not be understood as a dualistic opposite to the dominant worldview of the industrial age, rather as an expression of a necessary and healthy evolution of humanity towards a more holistic or integral consciousness that is able to embrace multiple perspectives. Beyond such an ecological worldview lies the integration of old and new modes of consciousness in what might be called an integral or holistic worldview able to transcend and include what came before (see also chapter one).

In 2000, John Todd was invited by the Schumacher Society UK to give the annual Schumacher lecture in Bristol. The title of his presentation was ‘Ecological Design in the 21st Century.’ He ended his speech with a formulation of a vision that will hopefully inspire all global citizens to engage in the design of our collective future:

I have learned that it is possible to design with Nature. I have also learned that, through ecological design, it is theoretically possible to have a high civilization using only one tenth of the world’s resources that industrial societies use today. We can reduce the negative human footprint by ninety percent and thrive as a culture. We do not have to destroy the Earth. Ecological design allows us to link human life support systems in a symbiotic way to the rest of the biosphere. Nature, or Gaia, can regain her wilderness and the air, water, and lands can be free of our poisons. That is the vision. That is the possibility.

— John Todd, 2000, p.3

[This is an excerpt from my 2006 PhD Thesis in ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health: A Holistic/Integral Approach to Complexity and Sustainability’. This research and 10 years of experience as an educator, consultant, activist, and expert in whole systems design and transformative innovation have led me to publish Designing Regenerative Cultures in May 2016.]

 Go to the profile of Daniel Christian Wahl
  • Daniel Christian Wahl

    Glocal educator, activist and consultant, generalized in whole systems design and transformative innovation for regenenerative culturese


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    The Uninhabitable Earth

    Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.


    Fossils by Heartless Machine

    In the jungles of Costa Rica, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent, simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out.

     9:00 pm

    I. ‘Doomsday’

    Peering beyond scientific reticence.

    It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

    Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

    Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

    The Doomsday vault is fine, for now: The structure has been secured and the seeds are safe. But treating the episode as a parable of impending flooding missed the more important news. Until recently, permafrost was not a major concern of climate scientists, because, as the name suggests, it was soil that stayed permanently frozen. But Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.

    Maybe you know that already — there are alarming stories in the news every day, like those, last month, that seemed to suggest satellite data showed the globe warming since 1998 more than twice as fast as scientists had thought (in fact, the underlying story was considerably less alarming than the headlines). Or the news from Antarctica this past May, when a crack in an ice shelf grew 11 miles in six days, then kept going; the break now has just three miles to go — by the time you read this, it may already have met the open water, where it will drop into the sea one of the biggest icebergs ever, a process known poetically as “calving.”

    But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough. Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was; the fact that the country is dominated by a group of technocrats who believe any problem can be solved and an opposing culture that doesn’t even see warming as a problem worth addressing; the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering speculative warnings; the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects now of warming from decades past; our uncertainty about uncertainty, which the climate writer Naomi Oreskes in particular has suggested stops us from preparing as though anything worse than a median outcome were even possible; the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere; the smallness (two degrees) and largeness (1.8 trillion tons) and abstractness (400 parts per million) of the numbers; the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve; the altogether incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own annihilation; simple fear. But aversion arising from fear is a form of denial, too.

    In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.

    The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. Two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. Now two degrees is our goal, per the Paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues serial reports, often called the “gold standard” of climate research; the most recent one projects us to hit four degrees of warming by the beginning of the next century, should we stay the present course. But that’s just a median projection. The upper end of the probability curve runs as high as eight degrees — and the authors still haven’t figured out how to deal with that permafrost melt. The IPCC reports also don’t fully account for the albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years. The last time the planet was even four degrees warmer, Peter Brannen points out in The Ends of the World, his new history of the planet’s major extinction events, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher.*

    The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating. This is what Stephen Hawking had in mind when he said, this spring, that the species needs to colonize other planets in the next century to survive, and what drove Elon Musk, last month, to unveil his plans to build a Mars habitat in 40 to 100 years. These are nonspecialists, of course, and probably as inclined to irrational panic as you or I. But the many sober-minded scientists I interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.

    Over the past few decades, the term “Anthropocene” has climbed out of academic discourse and into the popular imagination — a name given to the geologic era we live in now, and a way to signal that it is a new era, defined on the wall chart of deep history by human intervention. One problem with the term is that it implies a conquest of nature (and even echoes the biblical “dominion”). And however sanguine you might be about the proposition that we have already ravaged the natural world, which we surely have, it is another thing entirely to consider the possibility that we have only provoked it, engineering first in ignorance and then in denial a climate system that will now go to war with us for many centuries, perhaps until it destroys us. That is what Wallace Smith Broecker, the avuncular oceanographer who coined the term “global warming,” means when he calls the planet an “angry beast.” You could also go with “war machine.” Each day we arm it more.

    II. Heat Death

    The bahraining of New York.

    In the sugar­cane region of El Salvador, as much as one-fifth of the population has chronic kidney disease, the presumed result of dehydration from working the fields they were able to comfortably harvest as recently as two decades ago. Photo: Heartless Machine

    Humans, like all mammals, are heat engines; surviving means having to continually cool off, like panting dogs. For that, the temperature needs to be low enough for the air to act as a kind of refrigerant, drawing heat off the skin so the engine can keep pumping. At seven degrees of warming, that would become impossible for large portions of the planet’s equatorial band, and especially the tropics, where humidity adds to the problem; in the jungles of Costa Rica, for instance, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent, simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out.

    Climate-change skeptics point out that the planet has warmed and cooled many times before, but the climate window that has allowed for human life is very narrow, even by the standards of planetary history. At 11 or 12 degrees of warming, more than half the world’s population, as distributed today, would die of direct heat. Things almost certainly won’t get that hot this century, though models of unabated emissions do bring us that far eventually. This century, and especially in the tropics, the pain points will pinch much more quickly even than an increase of seven degrees. The key factor is something called wet-bulb temperature, which is a term of measurement as home-laboratory-kit as it sounds: the heat registered on a thermometer wrapped in a damp sock as it’s swung around in the air (since the moisture evaporates from a sock more quickly in dry air, this single number reflects both heat and humidity). At present, most regions reach a wet-bulb maximum of 26 or 27 degrees Celsius; the true red line for habitability is 35 degrees. What is called heat stress comes much sooner.

    Actually, we’re about there already. Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe. Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.” The high-end IPCC estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still. By the end of the century, the World Bank has estimated, the coolest months in tropical South America, Africa, and the Pacific are likely to be warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century. Air-conditioning can help but will ultimately only add to the carbon problem; plus, the climate-controlled malls of the Arab emirates aside, it is not remotely plausible to wholesale air-condition all the hottest parts of the world, many of them also the poorest. And indeed, the crisis will be most dramatic across the Middle East and Persian Gulf, where in 2015 the heat index registered temperatures as high as 163 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as several decades from now, the hajj will become physically impossible for the 2 million Muslims who make the pilgrimage each year.

    It is not just the hajj, and it is not just Mecca; heat is already killing us. In the sugarcane region of El Salvador, as much as one-fifth of the population has chronic kidney disease, including over a quarter of the men, the presumed result of dehydration from working the fields they were able to comfortably harvest as recently as two decades ago. With dialysis, which is expensive, those with kidney failure can expect to live five years; without it, life expectancy is in the weeks. Of course, heat stress promises to pummel us in places other than our kidneys, too. As I type that sentence, in the California desert in mid-June, it is 121 degrees outside my door. It is not a record high.

    III. The End of Food

    Praying for cornfields in the tundra.

    Climates differ and plants vary, but the basic rule for staple cereal crops grown at optimal temperature is that for every degree of warming, yields decline by 10 percent. Some estimates run as high as 15 or even 17 percent. Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, we may have as many as 50 percent more people to feed and 50 percent less grain to give them. And proteins are worse: It takes 16 calories of grain to produce just a single calorie of hamburger meat, butchered from a cow that spent its life polluting the climate with methane farts.

    Pollyannaish plant physiologists will point out that the cereal-crop math applies only to those regions already at peak growing temperature, and they are right  theoretically, a warmer climate will make it easier to grow corn in Greenland. But as the pathbreaking work by Rosamond Naylor and David Battisti has shown, the tropics are already too hot to efficiently grow grain, and those places where grain is produced today are already at optimal growing temperature — which means even a small warming will push them down the slope of declining productivity. And you can’t easily move croplands north a few hundred miles, because yields in places like remote Canada and Russia are limited by the quality of soil there; it takes many centuries for the planet to produce optimally fertile dirt.

    Drought might be an even bigger problem than heat, with some of the world’s most arable land turning quickly to desert. Precipitation is notoriously hard to model, yet predictions for later this century are basically unanimous: unprecedented droughts nearly everywhere food is today produced. By 2080, without dramatic reductions in emissions, southern Europe will be in permanent extreme drought, much worse than the American dust bowl ever was. The same will be true in Iraq and Syria and much of the rest of the Middle East; some of the most densely populated parts of Australia, Africa, and South America; and the breadbasket regions of China. None of these places, which today supply much of the world’s food, will be reliable sources of any. As for the original dust bowl: The droughts in the American plains and Southwest would not just be worse than in the 1930s, a 2015 NASA study predicted, but worse than any droughts in a thousand years — and that includes those that struck between 1100 and 1300, which “dried up all the rivers East of the Sierra Nevada mountains” and may have been responsible for the death of the Anasazi civilization.

    Remember, we do not live in a world without hunger as it is. Far from it: Most estimates put the number of undernourished at 800 million globally. In case you haven’t heard, this spring has already brought an unprecedented quadruple famine to Africa and the Middle East; the U.N. has warned that separate starvation events in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen could kill 20 million this year alone.

    IV. Climate Plagues

    What happens when the bubonic ice melts?

    Rock, in the right spot, is a record of planetary history, eras as long as millions of years flattened by the forces of geological time into strata with amplitudes of just inches, or just an inch, or even less. Ice works that way, too, as a climate ledger, but it is also frozen history, some of which can be reanimated when unfrozen. There are now, trapped in Arctic ice, diseases that have not circulated in the air for millions of years — in some cases, since before humans were around to encounter them. Which means our immune systems would have no idea how to fight back when those prehistoric plagues emerge from the ice.

    The Arctic also stores terrifying bugs from more recent times. In Alaska, already, researchers have discovered remnants of the 1918 flu that infected as many as 500 million and killed as many as 100 million — about 5 percent of the world’s population and almost six times as many as had died in the world war for which the pandemic served as a kind of gruesome capstone. As the BBC reported in May, scientists suspect smallpox and the bubonic plague are trapped in Siberian ice, too — an abridged history of devastating human sickness, left out like egg salad in the Arctic sun.

    Experts caution that many of these organisms won’t actually survive the thaw and point to the fastidious lab conditions under which they have already reanimated several of them — the 32,000-year-old “extremophile” bacteria revived in 2005, an 8 million-year-old bug brought back to life in 2007, the 3.5 million–year–old one a Russian scientist self-injected just out of curiosity — to suggest that those are necessary conditions for the return of such ancient plagues. But already last year, a boy was killed and 20 others infected by anthrax released when retreating permafrost exposed the frozen carcass of a reindeer killed by the bacteria at least 75 years earlier; 2,000 present-day reindeer were infected, too, carrying and spreading the disease beyond the tundra.

    What concerns epidemiologists more than ancient diseases are existing scourges relocated, rewired, or even re-evolved by warming. The first effect is geographical. Before the early-modern period, when adventuring sailboats accelerated the mixing of peoples and their bugs, human provinciality was a guard against pandemic. Today, even with globalization and the enormous intermingling of human populations, our ecosystems are mostly stable, and this functions as another limit, but global warming will scramble those ecosystems and help disease trespass those limits as surely as Cortés did. You don’t worry much about dengue or malaria if you are living in Maine or France. But as the tropics creep northward and mosquitoes migrate with them, you will. You didn’t much worry about Zika a couple of years ago, either.

    As it happens, Zika may also be a good model of the second worrying effect — disease mutation. One reason you hadn’t heard about Zika until recently is that it had been trapped in Uganda; another is that it did not, until recently, appear to cause birth defects. Scientists still don’t entirely understand what happened, or what they missed. But there are things we do know for sure about how climate affects some diseases: Malaria, for instance, thrives in hotter regions not just because the mosquitoes that carry it do, too, but because for every degree increase in temperature, the parasite reproduces ten times faster. Which is one reason that the World Bank estimates that by 2050, 5.2 billion people will be reckoning with it.

    V. Unbreathable Air

    A rolling death smog that suffocates millions.

    By the end of the century, the coolest months in tropical South America, Africa, and the Pacific are likely to be warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century. Photo: Heartless Machine

    Our lungs need oxygen, but that is only a fraction of what we breathe. The fraction of carbon dioxide is growing: It just crossed 400 parts per million, and high-end estimates extrapolating from current trends suggest it will hit 1,000 ppm by 2100. At that concentration, compared to the air we breathe now, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.

    Other stuff in the hotter air is even scarier, with small increases in pollution capable of shortening life spans by ten years. The warmer the planet gets, the more ozone forms, and by mid-century, Americans will likely suffer a 70 percent increase in unhealthy ozone smog, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has projected. By 2090, as many as 2 billion people globally will be breathing air above the WHO “safe” level; one paper last month showed that, among other effects, a pregnant mother’s exposure to ozone raises the child’s risk of autism (as much as tenfold, combined with other environmental factors). Which does make you think again about the autism epidemic in West Hollywood.

    Already, more than 10,000 people die each day from the small particles emitted from fossil-fuel burning; each year, 339,000 people die from wildfire smoke, in part because climate change has extended forest-fire season (in the U.S., it’s increased by 78 days since 1970). By 2050, according to the U.S. Forest Service, wildfires will be twice as destructive as they are today; in some places, the area burned could grow fivefold. What worries people even more is the effect that would have on emissions, especially when the fires ravage forests arising out of peat. Peatland fires in Indonesia in 1997, for instance, added to the global CO2 release by up to 40 percent, and more burning only means more warming only means more burning. There is also the terrifying possibility that rain forests like the Amazon, which in 2010 suffered its second “hundred-year drought” in the space of five years, could dry out enough to become vulnerable to these kinds of devastating, rolling forest fires — which would not only expel enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere but also shrink the size of the forest. That is especially bad because the Amazon alone provides 20 percent of our oxygen.

    Then there are the more familiar forms of pollution. In 2013, melting Arctic ice remodeled Asian weather patterns, depriving industrial China of the natural ventilation systems it had come to depend on, which blanketed much of the country’s north in an unbreathable smog. Literally unbreathable. A metric called the Air Quality Index categorizes the risks and tops out at the 301-to-500 range, warning of “serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly” and, for all others, “serious risk of respiratory effects”; at that level, “everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.” The Chinese “airpocalypse” of 2013 peaked at what would have been an Air Quality Index of over 800. That year, smog was responsible for a third of all deaths in the country.

    VI. Perpetual War

    The violence baked into heat.

    Climatologists are very careful when talking about Syria. They want you to know that while climate change did produce a drought that contributed to civil war, it is not exactly fair to saythat the conflict is the result of warming; next door, for instance, Lebanon suffered the same crop failures. But researchers like Marshall Burke and Solomon Hsiang have managed to quantify some of the non-obvious relationships between temperature and violence: For every half-degree of warming, they say, societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict. In climate science, nothing is simple, but the arithmetic is harrowing: A planet five degrees warmer would have at least half again as many wars as we do today. Overall, social conflict could more than double this century.

    This is one reason that, as nearly every climate scientist I spoke to pointed out, the U.S. military is obsessed with climate change: The drowning of all American Navy bases by sea-level rise is trouble enough, but being the world’s policeman is quite a bit harder when the crime rate doubles. Of course, it’s not just Syria where climate has contributed to conflict. Some speculate that the elevated level of strife across the Middle East over the past generation reflects the pressures of global warming — a hypothesis all the more cruel considering that warming began accelerating when the industrialized world extracted and then burned the region’s oil.

    What accounts for the relationship between climate and conflict? Some of it comes down to agriculture and economics; a lot has to do with forced migration, already at a record high, with at least 65 million displaced people wandering the planet right now. But there is also the simple fact of individual irritability. Heat increases municipal crime rates, and swearing on social media, and the likelihood that a major-league pitcher, coming to the mound after his teammate has been hit by a pitch, will hit an opposing batter in retaliation. And the arrival of air-conditioning in the developed world, in the middle of the past century, did little to solve the problem of the summer crime wave.

    VII. Permanent Economic Collapse

    Dismal capitalism in a half-poorer world.

    The murmuring mantra of global neoliberalism, which prevailed between the end of the Cold War and the onset of the Great Recession, is that economic growth would save us from anything and everything.
    But in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, a growing number of historians studying what they call “fossil capitalism” have begun to suggest that the entire history of swift economic growth, which began somewhat suddenly in the 18th century, is not the result of innovation or trade or the dynamics of global capitalism but simply our discovery of fossil fuels and all their raw power — a onetime injection of new “value” into a system that had previously been characterized by global subsistence living. Before fossil fuels, nobody lived better than their parents or grandparents or ancestors from 500 years before, except in the immediate aftermath of a great plague like the Black Death, which allowed the lucky survivors to gobble up the resources liberated by mass graves. After we’ve burned all the fossil fuels, these scholars suggest, perhaps we will return to a “steady state” global economy. Of course, that onetime injection has a devastating long-term cost: climate change.

    The most exciting research on the economics of warming has also come from Hsiang and his colleagues, who are not historians of fossil capitalism but who offer some very bleak analysis of their own: Every degree Celsius of warming costs, on average, 1.2 percent of GDP (an enormous number, considering we count growth in the low single digits as “strong”). This is the sterling work in the field, and their median projection is for a 23 percent loss in per capita earning globally by the end of this century (resulting from changes in agriculture, crime, storms, energy, mortality, and labor).
    Tracing the shape of the probability curve is even scarier: There is a 12 percent chance that climate change will reduce global output by more than 50 percent by 2100, they say, and a 51 percent chance that it lowers per capita GDP by 20 percent or more by then, unless emissions decline. By comparison, the Great Recession lowered global GDP by about 6 percent, in a onetime shock; Hsiang and his colleagues estimate a one-in-eight chance of an ongoing and irreversible effect by the end of the century that is eight times worse.

    The scale of that economic devastation is hard to comprehend, but you can start by imagining what the world would look like today with an economy half as big, which would produce only half as much value, generating only half as much to offer the workers of the world. It makes the grounding of flights out of heat-stricken Phoenix last month seem like pathetically small economic potatoes. And, among other things, it makes the idea of postponing government action on reducing emissions and relying solely on growth and technology to solve the problem an absurd business calculation.
    Every round-trip ticket on flights from New York to London, keep in mind, costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice.

    VIII. Poisoned Oceans

    Sulfide burps off the skeleton coast.

    That the sea will become a killer is a given. Barring a radical reduction of emissions, we will see at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly ten by the end of the century. A third of the world’s major cities are on the coast, not to mention its power plants, ports, navy bases, farmlands, fisheries, river deltas, marshlands, and rice-paddy empires, and even those above ten feet will flood much more easily, and much more regularly, if the water gets that high. At least 600 million people live within ten meters of sea level today.

    But the drowning of those homelands is just the start. At present, more than a third of the world’s carbon is sucked up by the oceans — thank God, or else we’d have that much more warming already. But the result is what’s called “ocean acidification,” which, on its own, may add a half a degree to warming this century. It is also already burning through the planet’s water basins — you may remember these as the place where life arose in the first place. You have probably heard of “coral bleaching” — that is, coral dying — which is very bad news, because reefs support as much as a quarter of all marine life and supply food for half a billion people. Ocean acidification will fry fish populations directly, too, though scientists aren’t yet sure how to predict the effects on the stuff we haul out of the ocean to eat; they do know that in acid waters, oysters and mussels will struggle to grow their shells, and that when the pH of human blood drops as much as the oceans’ pH has over the past generation, it induces seizures, comas, and sudden death.

    That isn’t all that ocean acidification can do. Carbon absorption can initiate a feedback loop in which underoxygenated waters breed different kinds of microbes that turn the water still more “anoxic,” first in deep ocean “dead zones,” then gradually up toward the surface. There, the small fish die out, unable to breathe, which means oxygen-eating bacteria thrive, and the feedback loop doubles back. This process, in which dead zones grow like cancers, choking off marine life and wiping out fisheries, is already quite advanced in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and just off Namibia, where hydrogen sulfide is bubbling out of the sea along a thousand-mile stretch of land known as the “Skeleton Coast.” The name originally referred to the detritus of the whaling industry, but today it’s more apt than ever. Hydrogen sulfide is so toxic that evolution has trained us to recognize the tiniest, safest traces of it, which is why our noses are so exquisitely skilled at registering flatulence. Hydrogen sulfide is also the thing that finally did us in that time 97 percent of all life on Earth died, once all the feedback loops had been triggered and the circulating jet streams of a warmed ocean ground to a halt — it’s the planet’s preferred gas for a natural holocaust. Gradually, the ocean’s dead zones spread, killing off marine species that had dominated the oceans for hundreds of millions of years, and the gas the inert waters gave off into the atmosphere poisoned everything on land. Plants, too. It was millions of years before the oceans recovered.

    IX. The Great Filter

    Our present eeriness cannot last.

    So why can’t we see it? In his recent book-length essay The Great Derangement, the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wonders why global warming and natural disaster haven’t become major subjects of contemporary fiction — why we don’t seem able to imagine climate catastrophe, and why we haven’t yet had a spate of novels in the genre he basically imagines into half-existence and names “the environmental uncanny.” “Consider, for example, the stories that congeal around questions like, ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ or ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ ” he writes. “Will it ever be possible to ask, in the same vein, ‘Where were you at 400 ppm?’ or ‘Where were you when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up?’ ” His answer: Probably not, because the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in novels, which tend to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the poisonous miasma of social fate.

    Surely this blindness will not last — the world we are about to inhabit will not permit it. In a six-degree-warmer world, the Earth’s ecosystem will boil with so many natural disasters that we will just start calling them “weather”: a constant swarm of out-of-control typhoons and tornadoes and floods and droughts, the planet assaulted regularly with climate events that not so long ago destroyed whole civilizations. The strongest hurricanes will come more often, and we’ll have to invent new categories with which to describe them; tornadoes will grow longer and wider and strike much more frequently, and hail rocks will quadruple in size. Humans used to watch the weather to prophesy the future; going forward, we will see in its wrath the vengeance of the past. Early naturalists talked often about “deep time” — the perception they had, contemplating the grandeur of this valley or that rock basin, of the profound slowness of nature. What lies in store for us is more like what the Victorian anthropologists identified as “dreamtime,” or “everywhen”: the semi-mythical experience, described by Aboriginal Australians, of encountering, in the present moment, an out-of-time past, when ancestors, heroes, and demigods crowded an epic stage. You can find it already watching footage of an iceberg collapsing into the sea — a feeling of history happening all at once.

    It is. Many people perceive climate change as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now come due after several centuries — a helpful perspective, in a way, since it is the carbon-burning processes that began in 18th-century England that lit the fuse of everything that followed. But more than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades; since the end of World War II, the figure is 85 percent. Which means that, in the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe, and that the story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is also the story of a single lifetime. My father’s, for instance: born in 1938, among his first memories the news of Pearl Harbor and the mythic Air Force of the propaganda films that followed, films that doubled as advertisements for imperial-American industrial might; and among his last memories the coverage of the desperate signing of the Paris climate accords on cable news, ten weeks before he died of lung cancer last July. Or my mother’s: born in 1945, to German Jews fleeing the smokestacks through which their relatives were incinerated, now enjoying her 72nd year in an American commodity paradise, a paradise supported by the supply chains of an industrialized developing world. She has been smoking for 57 of those years, unfiltered.

    Or the scientists’. Some of the men who first identified a changing climate (and given the generation, those who became famous were men) are still alive; a few are even still working. Wally Broecker is 84 years old and drives to work at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory across the Hudson every day from the Upper West Side. Like most of those who first raised the alarm, he believes that no amount of emissions reduction alone can meaningfully help avoid disaster. Instead, he puts his faith in carbon capture — untested technology to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which Broecker estimates will cost at least several trillion dollars — and various forms of “geoengineering,” the catchall name for a variety of moon-shot technologies far-fetched enough that many climate scientists prefer to regard them as dreams, or nightmares, from science fiction. He is especially focused on what’s called the aerosol approach — dispersing so much sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere that when it converts to sulfuric acid, it will cloud a fifth of the horizon and reflect back 2 percent of the sun’s rays, buying the planet at least a little wiggle room, heat-wise. “Of course, that would make our sunsets very red, would bleach the sky, would make more acid rain,” he says. “But you have to look at the magnitude of the problem. You got to watch that you don’t say the giant problem shouldn’t be solved because the solution causes some smaller problems.” He won’t be around to see that, he told me. “But in your lifetime …”

    Jim Hansen is another member of this godfather generation. Born in 1941, he became a climatologist at the University of Iowa, developed the groundbreaking “Zero Model” for projecting climate change, and later became the head of climate research at NASA, only to leave under pressure when, while still a federal employee, he filed a lawsuit against the federal government charging inaction on warming (along the way he got arrested a few times for protesting, too). The lawsuit, which is brought by a collective called Our Children’s Trust and is often described as “kids versus climate change,” is built on an appeal to the equal-protection clause, namely, that in failing to take action on warming, the government is violating it by imposing massive costs on future generations; it is scheduled to be heard this winter in Oregon district court. Hansen has recently given up on solving the climate problem with a carbon tax alone, which had been his preferred approach, and has set about calculating the total cost of the additional measure of extracting carbon from the atmosphere.

    Hansen began his career studying Venus, which was once a very Earth-like planet with plenty of life-supporting water before runaway climate change rapidly transformed it into an arid and uninhabitable sphere enveloped in an unbreathable gas; he switched to studying our planet by 30, wondering why he should be squinting across the solar system to explore rapid environmental change when he could see it all around him on the planet he was standing on. “When we wrote our first paper on this, in 1981,” he told me, “I remember saying to one of my co-authors, ‘This is going to be very interesting. Sometime during our careers, we’re going to see these things beginning to happen.’ ”

    Several of the scientists I spoke with proposed global warming as the solution to Fermi’s famous paradox, which asks, If the universe is so big, then why haven’t we encountered any other intelligent life in it? The answer, they suggested, is that the natural life span of a civilization may be only several thousand years, and the life span of an industrial civilization perhaps only several hundred. In a universe that is many billions of years old, with star systems separated as much by time as by space, civilizations might emerge and develop and burn themselves up simply too fast to ever find one another. Peter Ward, a charismatic paleontologist among those responsible for discovering that the planet’s mass extinctions were caused by greenhouse gas, calls this the “Great Filter”: “Civilizations rise, but there’s an environmental filter that causes them to die off again and disappear fairly quickly,” he told me. “If you look at planet Earth, the filtering we’ve had in the past has been in these mass extinctions.” The mass extinction we are now living through has only just begun; so much more dying is coming.

    And yet, improbably, Ward is an optimist. So are Broecker and Hansen and many of the other scientists I spoke to. We have not developed much of a religion of meaning around climate change that might comfort us, or give us purpose, in the face of possible annihilation. But climate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

    It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

    *This article appears in the July 10, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

    *This article has been updated to provide context for the recent news reports about revisions to a satellite data set, to more accurately reflect the rate of warming during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, to clarify a reference to Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World, and to make clear that James Hansen still supports a carbon-tax based approach to emissions.

    Mundo digital, ser o no ser

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    Los Andes   Sábado, 29 de julio de 2017

    Por Miguel Angel Gutierrez – Licenciado en Ciencias Políticas. Doctor en Historia e Investigador de Futuros

    El dilema shakesperiano tras cuatro siglos mantiene su vigencia:”Ser o no ser, esa es la cuestión. ¿Cuál es más digna acción del ánimo, sufrir los golpes penetrantes de la fortuna injusta, u oponer los brazos a este torrente de calamidades, y darlas fin con atrevida resistencia? Morir es dormir… Pues quien soportaría los latigazos y los insultos del tiempo, la injusticia del opresor, el desprecio del orgulloso, el dolor penetrante de un amor despreciado, la tardanza de la ley, la insolencia del poder, y los insultos que el mérito paciente recibe del indigno cuando él mismo podría desquitarse de ellos con un puñal… El país sin descubrir de cuya frontera ningún viajero vuelve- aturde la voluntad y nos hace soportar los males que sentimos en vez de volar a otros que desconocemos”.

    Solo que hoy el drama se plantea en relación con una forma diferente del ser: el ser digital, lo que aplica tanto para individuos, organizaciones, empresas e instituciones.

    Los 20 mil millones de artefactos conectados hoy a Internet, se duplicarán en menos de cinco años, para volver a duplicarse en el 2027 donde habrá entre 75/80 mil millones de “cosas” conectadas a Internet, en tanto otras estimaciones suman 500 mil millones en 10 a 15 años. Sumado a este desarrollo las innovaciones tecnológicas surgen diariamente en: inteligencia artificial, robótica, biología sintética, conectividad, neurociencias, bioingeniería, impresión 3D y 4D, fotónica y cualquier forma de interconexión entre cada una de ellas, para hacer todo lo que se nos pueda ocurrir.

    Si es cierto que todo lo importante en la vida transcurre en los límites: en la superficie de la tierra, en la membrana de la células, en el momento de la catástrofe; hoy la llegada de la 4ta revolución industrial va a cambiar esto. Los límites son los que nos demarcan la separación entre lo propio y lo extraño, entre lo conocido y lo desconocido, lo que empieza y lo que termina, entre lo que es y lo que será mañana. La fusión de tecnologías está borrando los límites entre los sistemas físicos, biológicos y digitales,

    Todo ello, cambiará la forma en que hacemos nuestra vida diaria, los negocios, cuidamos la salud o invertimos, entre muchas otras cosas. Esto es fácil de entender, más complicado es saber que hacer, porque supone cambiar nuestro modo de pensar. Ya no se trata de esperar que la tecnología nos alcance como pasó con la computación personal, con la telefonía digital o con las transacciones en línea. Hoy es imprescindible la anticipación, tanto para los individuos, como para las instituciones y las empresas y si es difícil para los primeros, lo es más aun para estas últimas.

    Es preciso atender -en el orden de los riesgos- algunas estimaciones sobre el destino de las empresas, ninguna de las 10 empresas más poderosas del mundo en 1995 conserva su posición 20 años después y cámaras empresaria creen que el 40% de las empresas actualmente activas en el mundo no van a existir en los próximos 20.

    Los beneficios probables y posibles, en el orden de los estímulos, no deben ser medidos solamente por el monto de inversión, conforme a criterios ya obsoleto. Para considerar sólo una de las tecnologías consideradas disruptivas: la inteligencia artificial (AI) , -aun cuando algunos mercados, sectores y negocios individuales están más avanzados que otros-, la AI se encuentra apenas en los comienzos del desarrollo de su potencial. Según estimaciones de PWC la AI podría contribuir hasta con u$s 15,7 billones a la economía global en 2030, lo que representa más que la producción actual de China y la India sumadas.

    Desde una perspectiva macro-económica, habrá oportunidades para que los mercados emergentes puedan sobrepasar a los competidores de las regiones más desarrolladas si su capacidad de anticipación les permite conocer que tecnologías, procesos y modelos de negocios estarán en los nuevos límites en los próximos quinquenios o décadas. Ya sea en el ámbito de su actual sector empresarial, o en campos totalmente nuevos, una de las nuevas empresas de hoy en día o un negocio que ni siquiera se ha fundado aún podría ser el líder del mercado en dicho horizonte temporal. Si se entiende el horizonte de transformación y se puede especular sobre su evolución.

    En notas anteriores me he referido a los contextos múltiples, con los que quiero significar que el conocimientos de los límites de nuestro sistema de pensamiento no radican exclusivamente en un único ambiente externo, sino en un complejo e incierto conjunto de contextos que pueden incidir en nuestra toma de decisión.

    Desde factores ambientales globales: geopolíticos, macro económicos, financieros, comerciales, demográficos, socioculturales, climáticos a nuevos paradigmas de conocimiento, pasando por los ambientes propiamente de negocios con competidores, regulaciones, lobbies, inversores, procesos y tecnologías, cualquiera de ellos y todos pueden generar nuevos conocimientos que faciliten a las empresas y organizaciones entender mejor sus complejas e inciertas circunstancias.

    Frente a la complejidad y la incertidumbre, como signos de época, se requieren nuevas formas de entender la realidad y resolver los problemas que ésta presenta, para lo cual no sirven más los modelos convencionales. En primer término es preciso olvidar el abordaje por partes: dividiendo el todo en unidades más simples. Es el fin del imperio de la especialización, de su falsa racionalidad. Es preciso una perspectiva holística, ver los hechos en sus diversos contextos: geopolíticos, socioculturales, ecológicos, científicos y tecnológicos y desde luego económicos. Ello no implica que no se tenga una visión de conjunto: global. Por el contrario es preciso ver los contextos dentro de la globalización, lo que indica su dinámica o proyección. En resumen se requiere un abordaje multidimensional y interdisciplinario, para comprender y conocer lo nuevo.

    Esto señala insuficiencia de los de los departamentos de I+D -Investigación y Desarrollo de las empresas-, aunque se le sume la I de Innovación. No basta un entendimiento de lo actual, sino que se requiere entender la dinámica futura: su dirección, su velocidad y los riesgos y oportunidades que implica. No se trata de predecir el futuro, sino en desarrollar capacidades individuales y corporativas para gestionar la incertidumbre, saltando más allá de la mera proyección de las tendencias actuales a pensar en función de escenarios futuros alternativos que no respondan a relaciones lineales de causa-efecto, sino a nuevos modelos sistémicos de anticipación.

    La humanidad está a punto de la transición, hacia “evolución por dirección inteligente” 4 fuerzas clave para la evolución y transformación de la humanidad.

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    Reinventing Humanity

    As we close out 2016, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to take a risk and venture into a topic I’m personally compelled to think about, a topic that will seem far-out to most readers.

    Today’s extraordinary rate of exponential growth may do much more than just disrupt industries. It may actually give birth to a new species — reinventing humanity — over the next 30 years.

    The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]

    Click to View Full Infographic

    I believe we’re rapidly heading towards a human-scale transformation, the next evolutionary step into what I call a “meta-intelligence,” a future in which we are all highly connected — brain to brain via the cloud — sharing thoughts, knowledge, and actions.

    In this blog, I’m investigating the driving forces behind such an evolutionary step, the historical pattern we are about to repeat, and the implications thereof. Again, I acknowledge that this topic seems far-out, but the forces at play are huge and the implications are vast.

    Let’s dive in…


    A Quick Recap: Evolution of Life on Earth in 4 Steps

    About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system, the Sun, and the Earth were formed. Four steps followed…

    1. 3.5 billion years ago, the first simple life forms, called “prokaryotes,” came into existence. These prokaryotes were super-simple, microscopic single-celled organisms, basically a bag of cytoplasm with free-floating DNA. They had neither a distinct nucleus nor specialized organelles. Fast-forwarding one billion years…
    2. 2.5 billion years ago, the next step in evolution created what we call “eukaryotes” — life forms that distinguished themselves by incorporating biological “technology” into themselves. This technology allowed them to manipulate energy (via mitochondria) and information (via chromosomes) far more efficiently. Fast forward another billion years for the next step…
    3. 1.5 billion years ago, these early eukaryotes began working collaboratively and formed the first “multi-cellular life,” of which you and I are the ultimate example (a human is a multicellular creature of 10 trillion cells).
    4. The final step I want to highlight happened some 400 million years ago, when lungfish crawled out of the oceans onto the shores, and life evolved from the oceans onto land.

    The Next Stages of Human Evolution in 4 Steps

    Today, at a massively accelerated rate — some 100 million times faster than the steps I outlined above — life is undergoing a similar evolution. In this next stage of evolution, we are going from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to evolution by intelligent direction.

    Allow me to draw the analogy for you:

    1. Simple humans today are analogous to prokaryotes. Simple life, each life form independent of the others, competing and sometimes collaborating.
    2. Just as eukaryotes were created by ingesting technology, humans will incorporate technology into our bodies and brains that will allow us to make vastly more efficient use of information (BCI) and energy.
    3. Enabled with BCI and AI, humans will become massively connected with each other and billions of AIs (computers) via the cloud, analogous to the first multicellular lifeforms 1.5 billion years ago. Such a massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness and a new organism I call the “meta-intelligence.”
    4. Finally, humanity is about to crawl out of the gravity well of Earth to become a multi-planetary species. Our journey to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and beyond represents the modern-day analogy of journey made by lungfish climbing out of the oceans some 400 million years ago.

    The Four Forces Driving the Evolution and Transformation of Humanity

    Four primary driving forces are leading us towards our transformation of humanity into a meta-intelligence both on and off the Earth:

    1. We’re wiring our planet
    2. Emergence of brain-computer interface
    3. Emergence of AI
    4. Opening of the Space Frontier

    Let’s take a look at each.

    Wiring the Planet

    Today, there are 2.9 billion people connected online. Within the next six to eight years, that number is expected to increase to nearly 8 billion, with each individual on the planet having access to a megabit-per-second connection or better.

    The wiring is taking place through the deployment of 5G on the ground, plus networks being deployed by Facebook, Google, Qualcomm, Samsung, Virgin, SpaceX, and many others.

    Within a decade, every single human on the planet will have access to multimegabit connectivity, the world’s information, and massive computational power on the cloud.

    Brain-Computer Interface

    A multitude of labs and entrepreneurs are working to create lasting, high-bandwidth connections between the digital world and the human neocortex (I wrote about that in detail).

    Ray Kurzweil predicts we’ll see human-cloud connection by the mid-2030s, just 18 years from now.

    In addition, entrepreneurs like Bryan Johnson (and his company Kernel) are committing hundreds of millions of dollars towards this vision.

    The end results of connecting your neocortex with the cloud are twofold: First, you’ll have the ability to increase your memory capacity and/or cognitive function millions of fold; second, via a global mesh network, you’ll have the ability to connect your brain to anyone else’s brain and to emerging AIs, just like our cell phones, servers, watches, cars, and all devices are becoming connected via the Internet of Things (IoT).

    Artificial Intelligence/Human Intelligence

    Next, and perhaps most significantly, we are on the cusp of an AI revolution.

    Artificial intelligence, powered by deep learning and funded by companies such as Google, Facebook, IBM, Samsung, and Alibaba, will continue to rapidly accelerate and drive breakthroughs.

    Cumulative “intelligence” (both artificial and human) is the single greatest predictor of success for both a company or a nation. For this reason, beside the emerging AI “arms race,” we will soon see a race focused on increasing overall human intelligence.

    Whatever challenges we might have in creating a vibrant brain-computer interface (e.g. designing long-term biocompatible sensors or nanobots that interface with your neocortex), those challenges will fall quickly over the next couple of decades as AI power tools give us every increasing problem-solving capability.

    It is an exponential atop an exponential. More intelligence gives us the tools to solve connectivity and mesh problems and in turn create greater intelligence.

    Opening the Space Frontier

    Finally, it’s important to note that the human race is on the verge of becoming a multiplanetary species.

    Thousands of years from now, whatever we’ve evolved into, we will look back at these next few decades as the moment in time that the human race moved off Earth irreversibly.

    Today, billions of dollars are being invested privately into the commercial space industry. Efforts led by SpaceX are targeting humans on Mars, while efforts by Blue Origin are looking at taking humanity back to the Moon and plans by my own company, Planetary Resources, strive to unlock near-infinite resources from the asteroids.

    In Conclusion

    The rate of human evolution is accelerating as we transition from the slow and random process of “Darwinian natural selection” to a hyper-accelerated and precisely directed period of “evolution by intelligent direction.”

    In this blog, I chose not to discuss the power being unleashed by such gene-editing techniques as CRISPR-Cas9. Consider this yet another tool able to accelerate evolution by our own hand.

    The bottom line is that change is coming, faster than ever considered possible. All of us leaders, entrepreneurs, and parents have a huge responsibility to inspire and guide the transformation of humanity on and off the Earth.

    What we do over the next 30 years — the bridges we build to abundance — will impact the future of the human race for millennia to come. We truly live during the most exciting time ever in human history.

    Disclaimer: Futurism only supports products that we trust and use. This post is in partnership with Abundance 360, and Futurism may get a small percentage of sales. Want to take a class with Peter Diamandis? Click here to learn more!

    Bebe del futuro (experimental futures)

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    Could this be the future of parenting?

    NurturePod installation and photos by Stuart Candy

    This experiential scenario from a not too distant future, my first “solo” art museum installation (really, all this work is highly collaborative), is now live at M HKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium.

    Futurist/journalist Andrew Curry and I recently had a chance to chat about the project for an upcoming issue of the Association of Professional Futurists quarterly, Compass. Many thanks to Andrew and APF for sharing the transcript below (edited for clarity and length).


    Andrew Curry: What we have here is a very small baby –– not a real baby –– in a little pod surrounded by all sorts of digital stimulus looking after her or his needs. This is a “programmable para-parenting pod”, which basically removes the need for parents to get involved, as far as I can tell. It’s a bargain at €789, obviously. What was the brief, Stuart?

    Stuart Candy: The brief for A Temporary Futures Institute was to create some kind of a design contribution corresponding to Dator’s generic images of the future; grow, collapse, discipline or transform, and I was assigned “transform”. I had this quite large space and could basically do anything that fit the budget and time. To get from those broad parameters to the final installation really started from the name. There was a prior project (which appeared in Compass) called NaturePod, a hypothetical product from a handful of years away, addressed to stressed-out office workers who may need to reduce their cortisol levels and increase productivity by spending time in nature, without leaving their cubicles. That was a provocative take on what happens when you marry supposedly biophilic interior design trends to virtual reality.

    AC: So this is a kind of companion piece?

    SC: Right. It came about in a conversation with my longtime collaborator, Jake Dunagan –– a lot of our work is based on wordplay and being silly –– and he said, “well, when you’re done with NaturePod, you should do NurturePod, ha ha ha”. He was joking, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. Then this opportunity came along, and I realised that, while this might not be my idea of a transformation, it does actually correspond to a popular notion about what immersion in virtual environments means.

    AC: It comes with all this very nice packaging and sales material. Clearly something about the commercialisation of it engaged you.

    SC: A lot of the experiential futures work I’ve done is about bringing encounters with futures into an everyday context. Hence guerrilla futures projects like NaturePod; we launched it at an architecture and design trade show, so the people who came across it thought it was real. The organisers of the trade show knew what we were up to, but the thousands of others attending didn’t. I was interested in trying to import the lessons and techniques from creating encounters “in the wild” into the cube of a contemporary art museum. That’s why this piece is not sitting on a white box; it’s sitting on the kind of table you might find in an Apple Store.

    AC: The NurturePod box has all the kind of labelling detail you would expect to see in a package. Is that part of the experience as well?

    SC: I think the attention to detail that makes a hypothetical resemble the real is an important part of this practice. It is intended to invite, not a suspension of disbelief exactly, but more an investment of belief, a kind of willing desire on the part of the viewer to say okay, suppose that I did come across this in a few years’ time. What do I think about that? What do I feel about that? I think the details provide added dimensions of engagement so they can dive deeper, if they want to. Most people are probably going to engage with the main image; a glanceable, instagrammable baby in a pod wearing a headset. But for those who take the time, there is more detail to enjoy, or be dismayed by, according to your taste.

    AC: There’s a little tag, “control baby’s experience with the NurturePod App”, and a kind of WiFi, Bluetooth-type logo suggesting I can download it. I haven’t actually tried to do that; I’m guessing that bit might not be real?

    SC: That’s right, it does break at a certain point because it isn’t real, but it’s supposed to feel like it is. All of these messaging elements are scaffolded in detail on existing products, and existing idioms that we recognise subconsciously, being citizens of the early 21st century. We’re literate in ways we don’t even realise about the semiotics of marketing, and electronics in particular. This is using that language to get something across about a seemingly imminent possibility.

    AC: One more thing that strikes me about this, about the languaging, is it’s not just about marketing. There are a whole lot of cues about the idea of the new, the idea of the modern, and the classic ways in which technology companies make us feel inadequate and then sell us reassurance.

    SC: I suppose using those tropes could be said to invite reflection on how embedded in the tropes we are, because we know this particular thing doesn’t exist. But that’s a bit of an intellectual angle. I find people’s emotional responses interesting, from watching them interact with it and from what they’ve shared in conversation.

    AC: What sort of things have they said?

    SC: “I’m really drawn to this, and also repulsed by it.” There’s this sense of being torn, and that is quite satisfying to hear, because I think creating or inviting a complex emotional response is something that we should strive for in futures work. This is why design and film and performance and games are important –– the whole repertoire of approaches to experiential futures; like the proverbial toothbrush that reaches places regular ones can’t. Hopefully we are on our way to a better futures toothbrush.

    The NurturePod installation is just one part of A Temporary Futures Institute (ATFI), a boldly experimental M HKA exhibition which opened in April, curated by Anders Kreuger and Maya Van Leemput.

    (M HKA was also the main venue for Design Develop Transform, where Kelly Kornet and I recently presented the Ethnographic Experiential Futures framework.)

    There are some stellar artists featured in ATFI (including Michel Auder, Miriam Bäckström, Alexander Lee and Darius Žiūra), and the other futurists involved in the exhibition are Agence Future (Maya Van Leemput and Bram Goots, Belgium), The Centre for Postnormal Policy & Futures Studies (Ziauddin Sardar and John Sweeney, UK/US), and Mei Mei Song (Taiwan).

    Show runs until 17 September –– so if you’re within range of Antwerp, check it out!

    – Seth Keller and Kazuki Guzmán, Fabrication consultants
    – Tarik El-Khateeb, Graphics consultant
    – Special thanks: Maya Van Leemput and Anders Kreuger (for curating ATFI); Bram Goots (for crucial logistical help), Ceda Verbakel (for copywriting assistance); Giulia Bellinetti, Georges Uittenhout, and the rest of the team at M HKA (for essential technical support); Jake Dunagan (for inspiration); Jessica Charlesworth, Ilona Gaynor, the Toronto Uterati (for helpful conversations)

    See also:
    – Article from Harpers Bazaar on what to see at A Temporary Futures Institute

    – Video from ARTtube about ATFI (5 1/2 mins)
    – ATFI exhibition brochure (pdf)

    – Show summary from Belgian newspaper De Morgen (in Dutch)

    – Two contemporary artists I greatly admire whose work has influenced this piece one way or another: Patricia Piccinini and Ron Mueck


    The Man Who Saw the Future

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    The Man Who Saw the Future

    As the pace of change in business accelerates, the legacy of Pierre Wack, the father of scenario planning, is more relevant than ever.

    I had the feeling,” said Pierre Wack, “of hunting in a pack of wolves, being the eyes of the pack, and sending signals back to the rest. Now if you see something serious, and the pack doesn’t notice it, you’d better find out — are you in front?”That observation is probably the most succinct description there is of the practice of scenario planning. Scenario planning — the use of alternative stories about the future, many with improbable and dramatic twists, to develop strategy — is one of the few management innovations to have actually been created in a corporate setting, amid the real-life battle for profits. Pierre Wack, who died in 1997, was the leader of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies’ elite London-based scenario team. With his colleagues and successors at Shell’s Group Planning department, he designed and refined this important business tool, in effect serving as the chief analyst of Shell’s version of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Scenario planning alerted Shell’s managing directors (its committee of CEO equivalents) in advance about some of the most confounding events of their times: the 1973 energy crisis, the more severe price shock of 1979, the collapse of the oil market in 1986, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Muslim radicalism, and the increasing pressure on companies to address environmental and social problems. The method has since become widely popular outside Shell, not just in corporations but in some governments. In South Africa, for example, scenario planning played a major role in the peaceful transition from a system of apartheid to a stable multiracial government.

    Yet for all of that, and despite its reputation for prescience and panache, scenario planning has not always been influential within the companies that use it, including Shell itself. To be sure, the “energy crisis” scenarios, in particular, helped Shell prosper more than its rivals. Called the “Ugly Sister” by Forbes for its relatively weak financial position in the late 1960s, Shell moved to become one of two breakout leaders (Exxon was the other) of the industry. Even so, the company often seemed to ignore many of the warnings from its own scenarios. For example, the scenarios might have helped it avoid some extremely costly failed investments in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the public relations and legal damage associated with its 1995 plan to dispose of the Brent Spar storage facility by sinking it in the North Sea.

    Shell is hardly unique; most companies that create scenarios of potential risks and opportunities find it difficult to actually make effective real-world decisions based on the stories they imagine.

    Pierre Wack understood this paradox as well as anyone. Today, his legacy is more relevant than ever: The political and economic uncertainties that Mr. Wack foresaw (he christened the future “the rapids” back in 1975) have become a fundamental part of business life. A clear sense of the future’s obscure challenges and opportunities is the most valuable asset an executive can have. To Mr. Wack, the ability for which managers are most celebrated — the ability to get things done — was only one part of their necessary skills. Equally important, and much harder to come by, was the ability to see ahead. The more aware the wolf pack is of the terrain in which it runs, the more effectively it hunts. What does it take to engender that awareness in managers, particularly in these shocking and skittish times?

    Early in October 2002, I visited Shell Centre in London for an answer. Officially, I was there to attend a commemorative celebration of 30 years of scenario planning at Shell. The first great scenario event at Shell had been a 1972 report to the managing directors anticipating the impending energy crisis. With host Ged Davis, Shell’s vice president of global business environment and the company’s genial and erudite leader of scenario planning today, we met in a corporate banquet room. On the walls were brightly colored murals with the names of futures from years gone by, some of which never came to pass and others of which were counterintuitive but did come true: “Oil Tightrope,” “Greening of
    Russia,” “Liberalisation,” “Business Class.” The room was filled with Group Planning members and alumni ranging in age from 30 to 80, along with about 30 outsiders who had used or explored scenarios in some noteworthy way.

    During one breakout session, I joined a group of obstreperous firebrands (Shell’s Group Planning department has always employed some of these) on the subject of “life after scenarios.” They were keenly aware, of course, that scenarios have become a widespread consulting practice, popularized by such futurists and management writers as Peter Schwartz, Arie de Geus, Joseph Jaworski, Charles Hampden-Turner, and Kees van der Heijden — all former senior officials in Shell’s Group Planning department. There is also now a collegial network of scenario planners and consultants around the world; one Shell alumnus, Napier Collyns, was honored at the celebration for his role in fostering that network. (Mr. Collyns and Mr. Schwartz went from Shell to cofound Global Business Network, another central source of scenario practice.)

    But Mr. Collyns pointed out the essential contradiction in scenario work: Shell’s original insights came from “years of deep research, rigorous analysis, ongoing conversations, and multiple iterations of the scenarios themselves” — all conducted by Shell’s mysterious and brilliant team. But over time, the method seems to have been watered down into just another three- or four-day workshop in which people feel like they’ve expanded their thinking away from the office, but still return to business as usual. Perhaps, some of the firebrands suggested, the golden age of scenarios is ending. Maybe some new methodology is needed to help companies see their own troubled futures as clearly as Shell saw the energy crisis in 1972.

    I felt that if Pierre Wack were at the anniversary celebration himself, he might find the discussion beside the point. He had, after all, experienced the same sort of frustration throughout his career with scenarios, which began in the 1960s.

    Thinking the Unthinkable
    The seeds of scenario planning methodology were planted in the late 1940s, when the futurist Herman Kahn, then a young defense analyst at the Rand Corporation, started telling brief stories to describe the many possible ways that nuclear weapons technology might be used by hostile nations. (For this, Scientific American described Mr. Kahn as “thinking the unthinkable,” a characterization he embraced gleefully.) Near Rand’s Southern California offices, Mr. Kahn hung out with screenwriters and moviemakers — one of whom, Stanley Kubrick, used him as a model for Dr. Strangelove, and another of whom, Leo Rosten, suggested the name “scenarios” for these storytelling exercises.

    But by the mid-1960s, Mr. Kahn’s methods had become a mechanistic smorgasbord approach, serving up dozens of possible forecasts (often generated with mainframe computers). The method would probably have died of sheer complexity, except that two individuals from Shell sought out Mr. Kahn. One was Mr. Wack, then head of planning at Shell Française (originally from Alsace-Lorraine, he pronounced his surname to rhyme with “Jacques”). The other was Ted Newland, a senior staff planner known for his incisive, unsentimental views of global politics. When Mr. Wack and Mr. Newland joined forces at Shell’s headquarters in 1971, they already shared two key insights. First, change in the Arab world was about to destroy the stability of the existing oil regime, which oil companies had dominated (and drawn a profit stream from) for 25 years. Second, everybody in the oil industry knew it, but nobody was prepared to do anything. With sponsorship from several far-seeing Shell managing directors, the two assembled a team to bring that awareness to the entire organization.

    Scenario planning was just a starting point for them. Mr. Wack, who had studied some of the mystic traditions of India and Japan in depth, had been a student of the Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff in the 1940s, and he had learned to cultivate what he called “remarkable people” around the world; this phrase in French means not so much gifted or eccentric people, but people with unconventional insights about the world around them. At that time, most oil executives believed that tensions in the Middle East would soon abate because Western-dominated stability would triumph; it always had before. Mr. Wack and Mr. Newland systematically examined every possible angle of the situation, with particular attention to the pressures faced by the ruling governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia. They concluded that it would take a miracle to avoid an energy crisis, and a set of keenly focused scenarios to make managers not just intellectually realize the danger, but prepare for it.

    “People today could not possibly believe the degree of inward-lookingness that there was in the companies [of the 1960s],” Mr. van der Heijden told the 30th anniversary celebrants gathered in London last October. “Suddenly Pierre and Ted came in and showed us that you could open the window and look at the world.”

    Shell Responds
    During 1972 and early 1973, the Group Planners’ message percolated through the global Shell organization: The oil price could soar from its current $2 per barrel to an unimaginable price of as much as $10 per barrel. (Actually, by 1975, it would hit $13.) Despite resistance from some Shell managers, the organization began to put in place many of the commonsense, mundane frugalities that had been lost amid the frenetic growth of the 1950s and 1960s. This put Shell in an enviable position when the crisis did occur, and an even more enviable position during the Iranian revolution of 1979, when the oil price soared a second time, up to $37 per barrel. As the shock from that shift subsided, the industry entered a bubble. Through the early 1980s, oil traders assumed the price would keep rising; they kept bidding for oil futures and driving the price higher.

    Once again, in the early 1980s, Shell’s planners offered a counterintuitive message: They said the bubble would collapse. The forces holding OPEC together would fragment, energy demand would finally slow down, and the industry would have to retrench. Mia de Kuijper, one of the young planners of that era, proposed that oil was about to become a commodity product. This was a shocking notion to many executives because it meant, as Ms. de Kuijper later noted, that “a trader in Rotterdam would have more to say about the price of oil than the managing directors.” Ted Newland actually stood before the Shell managing directors in 1982 and intoned a nursery rhyme to describe OPEC’s impending disarray: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” As the price fell over the next three years, it set in motion an industry consolidation that eventually swallowed three of the major oil companies known as the “Seven Sisters.”

    Mr. Wack and Mr. Newland left Shell in 1982. Mr. Wack began consulting for Anglo American, the South African mining corporation, on its efforts to globalize. One of his fascinating insights involved the effect of apartheid on the price of gold production. He said, “South Africans live with the feeling that they are blessed with a geological miracle: their gold and diamond deposits. But it is actually a human miracle: People work in horrible conditions for very low wages. ‘Be careful,’ I told them. ‘You are going to be the highest-cost producer, because this human miracle is not going to last.’ ”

    To Anglo American executives, Mr. Wack seemed to be predicting the end of apartheid, and they wanted to hear more. So did their spouses; indeed, they wanted to know if there was a future for their children in South Africa, or whether they should emigrate. An Anglo American executive named Clem Sunter picked up the challenge, and, inspired by Pierre Wack, he suggested two scenarios for the country: A “low road” scenario in which the whites fought to hold on to apartheid, and a “high road” scenario in which they accepted the inevitability of a multiracial society and pushed for the kind of widespread economic growth that would allow such a society to thrive (in part by bringing South African business back into the flow of the international economy). Mr. Sunter’s 1987 book, The World and South Africa in the 1990s (Human & Rousseau Tafelberg Ltd.), became a bestseller in South Africa during the late 1980s and early 1990s, second only to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. It is credited with helping South Africa’s white population see the value of a peaceful transition from apartheid.

    The Gentle Art
    By the time Mr. Wack left Shell, he had concluded that scenario planning, in itself, was not nearly effective enough at changing, as he put it, “the mental maps of managers.” The best way for me to explain this deficiency is to describe one of my own scenario projects, conducted for an Internet service provider at the height of the dot-com bubble.

    We came up with four possible images of the future. Three represented glittering futures of easy success, and then there was the sad story called “Gruel,” in which the venture capital market for Internet entrepreneurs dried up. During our sessions, I tried but failed to coax the group to pay more attention to Gruel. Preparing for that future would have meant building some cash reserves, being more frugal, and focusing on short-term revenue streams. Had they done all that, they might still exist today. Had I paid better attention to changing their mental maps, I might have had the confidence to tell them not just that this worst-case scenario was plausible, but that it was predetermined. By not seeing the possibility of Gruel, my clients were helping to ensure that it would happen.

    What, then, does it take to come up with the kind of scenario that makes people shed their natural defenses so they can understand and prepare for the futures that are inevitable, if only they could spot the factors that create them? Mr. Wack spent his last year with Shell traveling the world, trying to come up with an answer to this question. He returned with a single cryptic diagram labeled “the gentle art of reperceiving.” It showed a process involving not just study of the business environment (through scenarios), but a rigorous and intuitive examination of one’s own intent, of competitive advantage (à la Michael Porter), and of strategic options. But even Shell, which based a set of workshops on the Pierre Wack process, couldn’t make them stick.

    It turns out that you can’t develop this kind of capability in a set of workshops — or even through an elite agency of analysts and internal consultants. If you truly want to create a “pack of wolves” attuned to the environment around them, then the people making decisions have to devote their careers to increasing their collective awareness of the outside world. Scenario planning, as Mr. Wack conducted it, provides precisely this kind of in-depth training over time. You research present key trends; you determine which are predictable and which are uncertain; you decide which uncertainties are most influential; you base some stories of the future on those uncertainties; you spend some time imaginatively playing out the implications of those stories; and then you use those implications to start all over again and develop a sense of the impending surprises that you cannot ignore.

    Very, very occasionally, a company takes this way of using scenarios to heart. For instance, the South African energy company Sasol Ltd., working with a scenario practitioner named Louis van der Merwe, has used an elaborate year-long exercise to shift the entire culture of the company toward scenario thinking — in part by having managers throughout the company take part in writing and publishing their own highly polished scenario book. Only time will tell, of course, whether or not that translates into better results. Managers and executives already report themselves taking risks more confidently and seeing options more clearly, which is not usually the case after scenario exercises.

    Successful companies typically have one or two people with the ability to see their environment clearly. Pierre Wack’s methodology, which he never fully articulated while he was alive, is a way of developing this aptitude throughout the organization. Companies that achieve this tend to remain out of public view for fear of being copied or outdone. (Sasol, for instance, is ruthlessly private about the content of its scenarios.)

    If executives at many companies seem paralyzed or in retreat during this moment of exceptional business uncertainty, perhaps it’s not just the environment that’s gotten to them. Perhaps it’s that, while pursuing the numbers day after day, they haven’t been systematically training themselves to be like wolves at the front of the pack. They haven’t been training themselves to see as far as they can see.

    Reprint No. 03103


    Art Kleiner,[email protected] is the “Culture & Change” columnist and a regular contributor of “The Creative Mind” profiles for strategy+business. He teaches at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. His Web site is Mr. Kleiner is the author of The Age of Heretics(Doubleday, 1996); his next book, Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Business Success, will be published by Doubleday Currency in August 2003.

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