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Expanding Human Horizons...

Meta-category - Expansion: Technologies that exponentially expand human effort and activities. By Jona Nalder, with Rhys Cassidy

“I don’t think we will survive another 1000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
- Stephen Hawking

Expansion. Throughout our history, exploring for survival or new opportunities has been a constant theme. At the dawn of time, the Hawking’s of that era would perhaps have been warning about the need to move beyond Africa, or away from somewhere an ice age was beginning. During such migrations (1), it has often been the development of new technologies which have enabled such moves to succeed. For Vikings fighting the scarce resources of their arctic homes, the longship enabled commerce, trade and exploration. For sailors in the 1700’s, the sextant allowed ships to cross oceans with the certainty of success required before global travel could become commonplace, and today, millions of people cross borders and oceans held aloft by carbon fibre wings that are given lift by spinning turbo-fans. All of these are part of the story of technology impacting human efforts and abilities.

This lens of ‘the ways in which technology is impacting humanity, work and learning’ is the basis of the Future-U framework (2) developed to help us begin addressing the vast story of humans and technology into a discussion that can be most useful for us right now. ‘Expansion’, the third meta-category in this framework, follows on from both Automation and Augmentation. Rather than focusing on technologies that replace or assists human activities as they do however, it refers to the technologies that exponentially expand human possibilities. 

Specific examples in our current time-frame include the internet (information everywhere) and the smartphone (access and share information everywhere). In our near-future timeframe, ‘Expansion’ covers the arrival of low-cost renewable energy, access to free high speed internet, ‘New Space’ activities like asteroid mining and autonomous Artificial Intelligence and Robots. Any one of these have the potential to bring exponential change on a scale similar to what electricity did for our grandparents. 

Mining of Asteroids and the moon for example are now forecast to facilitate huge increases in building in space and expansion on Earth. Countries such as the US and Luxembourg are evolving policy and law to allow for mining in space, and several companies are racing to develop technologies to identify, mine, utilise and transport the vast quantities of resources found in asteroids (3). This includes Moon Express, the first private company to receive a government licence to go to the moon (4). The database of Asteroids compiled by Asterank details several whose equivalent value of trillions of dollars is the same as the total wealth produced in an entire year on Earth (5).

The long and continual process of expansion illustrated in maps of human migration (1) does make it hard to imagine that humans won’t soon continue this process and migrate off-planet. What will become possible when we are no longer limited just by the resources found only on Earth? Exponential expansions which build on automation and augmentation technologies like asteroid mining have the potential to increase our ability to cater for a growing population on Earth and beyond in ways that until recently were found only in Science Fiction. The ability of today’s learners to soon explore and settle our solar system does raise important big picture questions about our responsibility for this planet and our place in the universe however. Will we replicate Earth systems in space or use technology to devise new ways of being? Will this expanded awareness lead to different approaches to old and new problems? Future-U is here to help kickstart the answering of these questions. The future is you, and us. Let’s get started. 



2. This Future-U framework acknowledges that no one schema can ever encompass all the developments and directions technology is taking. However, it is important to make a start now that the impact of technology has accelerated so greatly. 





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.