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We need a new big-picture way to understand technology’s accelerating complexity


We need a new big-picture way to understand technology’s accelerating complexity

Future-U manifesto part2

"We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments” — Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, 2016

Is this view of the impact that technology is having a new one? Far from it. From immediately after the introduction of the microchip in 1960’s and the beginning of what has been labelled the third industrial revolution, with the first being ushered in by steam power and the second by electricity, there have been those who understood that it was reshaping society. But here we are nearly 50 years later, and despite it being well known that “Digital is the main reason over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 disappeared since the year 2000” (Pierre Nanterme, CEO Accenture), the comprehensive view that Schwab is calling for has not appeared.

This can be seen as a major problem for those working to encourage positive adaption rather than reactionary approaches to the current massive transition. For Future-U however, the lack of such a shared understanding of where technology is going is not a problem but an opportunity that has led founder Jona Nalder to distill his 12 years working with technology and learners into creating a big-picture view that can summarise and articulate the amazingly complex and diverse concepts involved so that necessary conversations can begin.

While the technologies involved in the current transition are many, the Future-U framework organises the majority into three meta or overall categories of Automation, Augmentation and Expansion. Each of these will be detailed further in parts 3–5, but can be summarised as:

Automation: A.I., bots, Machine Learning, driverless cars, blockchain, internet of things, robotics
Augmentation: VR, AR, mixed reality, tele-work & play, exo-skeletons, bio-tech, genome-editing, implants
 Expansion: low-cost renewable energy, free high speed wifi, space mining and production, off-earth living

No schema could ever encompass all the developments and directions technology is taking. For instance, previous efforts have often grouped technology purely by its functions. This framework instead seeks to create meta-categories based on the ways in which technology is impacting society and work. In this way, disparate elements such as Virtual Reality or Bio-tech which are normally discussed separately can instead be understood in terms of their direct augmentation, but not replacement, of humans’ abilities to work, think and learn.

In the same way, the other meta-categories are also designed to bend and further our understanding, not of the million different directions technology seems to be taking us, but of how technology can be understood and acted upon together. And that is a big part of what Future-U is being created to do. If this makes sense, please share this message, get in touch, and look forward to part three.


Intro to FUTURE-U: The ‘Overview Effect’

Future-U manifesto part1

Going into space is something that humans have dreamt of and written about for centuries. And, thanks to factors like engineering ingenuity and the way newly miniaturised transistors could help calculate the required orbital mechanics, this dream was finally achieved by Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

Since Gagarin, programs like Apollo, Mir, Space Shuttles, the International Space Station and Tiangong have seen 0.000076% of people alive leave Earth. These approx. 550 women and men have been formally studied for changes that their time in space have caused such as the effect of low gravity on muscles and bone density — but one of the most fascinating impacts of being in orbit has been how it changes astronauts mindsets and world-views. This phenomenon, dubbed the ‘Overview Effect’ by Frank White in 1985, refers to the effect that viewing our planet and sole home from the distance of orbit has had on those who have witnessed it. View the official documentary here.

More recently, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, author of ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ and poster of this prolific series of Twitter images from space has added to the reports of previous generations:

“We live on this little bit of cooled crust, and this little sliver of air, and we think it’s guaranteed. We think we’re invincible right, and we think the whole universe is here to serve us. And we’re like bacteria in a corner, just found a little niche that’ll support our life” — Chris Hadfield, 2013, JRE.

So, if we were looking down at our pale blue dot home right now, what would we see? It’s probable that with just such a big-picture perspective, we would see a planet undergoing massive transitions in technology, work, and society, the effects of which are showing in increased social and political instability particularly as many jobs that have been mainstays since the previous Industrial revolution of the 1800’s begin to disappear. The technologies involved in this transition are many, but the majority can be roughly organised into three meta or overall categories of Automation, Augmentation and Expansion. These categories will be covered in detail in ‘Intro to FUTURE-U’ parts 2–5, but overall refer to:

Automation: A.I., bots, Machine Learning, driverless cars, internet of things, robotics. Augmentation: VR, AR, mixed reality, tele-work & play, exo-skeletons, bio-tech, genome-editing, implants. Expansion: low-cost renewable energy, reduction of Earth-limits, Space mining and factories, off-earth living.

Many across the globe are of course aware of these developments and their effects and symptoms, but are not putting all the pieces together in an ‘Overview Effect’ -enough of a way that could allows us to think beyond today to plan for a successful future where soon many humans may be seeing Earth not just from near-space, but from Mars and beyond.

QUESTION: If we were mission control and could build an organisation to lead the next phase of work and education into a thriving future, what would it look like? is designed to answer just this question. Look out for more articles laying out the what, how and why in coming weeks.