A new equilibrium.
Every cloud has a silver lining. The cloud of global warming not only has silver lining but the entire challenge is made up of silver! Within this century we will see the emergence of new equilibrium for humans, far more prosperous and peaceful. We will see a society far more connected and inclusive. Most of our current challenges will be tackled. What is hard for me to visualize are the next generation of challenges. I expect health would remain a challenge. I might even think that mental and emotional health may become bigger and more recognized diseases than they currently are. Laziness may become a disease too. What else? Honestly, I am short of imagination. I think poverty, joblessness, traffic, population, pollution, terrorism would not be significant problems. I think our current economic system will collapse, since it is based on scarcity of basic resources. I do not think that would be a problem, since the collapse of this economic system will be caused by its replacement which will be even better! Our political systems would survive, though they will be forced to become more inclusive. If you look the countries allowing each other citizens visa-free, you would realize that it is mostly on the basis of economics. If the talent does not depend upon the color of your skin, or the presence of y chromosome, or the god you worship or not, or the place of your birth, the economic opportunity would force the politics to accept all. As an example, among the next 10+ US presidents this century 3+ are likely be females (besides Hillary, irrespective of whether she becomes the president or not). Yes, I realize that when your current score is 0, even making a prediction of third is quite daring.
I actually do not know where to start the analysis. The progress has been so fast on all fronts and likely to accelerate further. So let me start with global warming, since it is one of the biggest challenges. What is the implication of global-warming? Progress on renewal energy! Finding a source of energy which is abundantly available. What is that source of energy? If you see outside of your window during day time, there is nothing more abundant than the solar energy. Most energy we consume actually comes from the Sun, whether it is fixed today or fixed millions of years ago. Forget liquid gold, this shiny gold is far more valuable. There is one economic difference of shiny gold from the liquid gold. Unlike liquid gold, shiny gold is not monopolistic. Everybody has plenty of it, in fact, poorer countries have far more of it. Countries with liquid gold were not only lucky, but were able to get a portion of luck from the luck of other countries. In fact, far worse, only a handful of people in these countries were able to capture most of the luck. Shiny gold is hard to monopolize so the full benefits would be widely spread. In economics terminology, shiny gold does not allow rent seeking beyond minimal.
The next point I want to start with is technology. Technology is increasing productivity. In the recent past the gain in this productivity is due to connectivity and computation. You are able to collaborate with people remotely, you do not have to plan the exact meeting spot at an airport, you can write a letter and send it in a minute, you can seek market prices of stocks, or the book you are about to buy, all increase productivity. All these productivity increase happens when our systems are essentially dumb and need physical agility of human body. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence would change that. Our systems would be intelligent and our robots would be agile. One fear it raises is the widespread joblessness. In the past, increase in productivity resulted in more jobs. I think this would not be the case in future. The reason is that the increase of the productivity will happen since last of the human capabilities will be replicated in machines and made abundant. Of course, you may say I do not learn from the past – indeed I do not always, if I can see a fundamental difference in the future. So, I will not argue against the widespread joblessness in a few decades. What I would argue is that, that would not be a problem. In software lingo, it would be a feature and not a bug.
I think a typical job accomplishes 3 things. First, it is a mean of production. We need to produce to consume, and a job is a mean of production. Second, it is a method to redistribute wealth. It is a very unfair method though. If you think about it, the method is unfair, because the redistribution method is trying to incentivize production. Third, it is an activity which gives us meaning. We derive engagement, entertainment, and emotional stability from our jobs. Obviously not all 3 attributes have the same priority for everybody.
If we have plenty of production due to increase in the replication of human ability in machines, then there is no point in incentivizing human production. Of course, if we are not incentivizing human production, there is no point in making “the distribution of this production” unfair. You keep seeing that the technology is making rich, richer. I think that is due to our faulty measurements. We measure wealth in terms of money. Let me take an example. There is this well-known rich dude, Bill Gates, who lives in my town. In terms of wealth measurement, he is probably four to five zeroes richer than me. I bet he does not consume more than twice of me. If I were to throw a fair coin, and heads I gain his wealth and tail, I lose mine, I will not toss that coin. In the end, the wealth of rich person’s is an assignment of decision power, just like votes is an assignment of decision power. I have not heard anybody say, hey the president has so much power, we should not have a president. So if you measure in terms of consumption, the world has not become more unequal. It is actually becoming more equal. Let us take an example of connectivity. Do you think the difference in connectivity was more 20 years ago or it is more now? Twenty years ago I did not have a mobile phone, Bill Gates might have had one. Today half the people have a mobile phone. Twenty years ago, I would have to buy long distance calling cards, and talk only for a few minutes. While Bill Gates could be calling anybody, anywhere in the world, for any duration. Twenty years ago, I did not have a personal computer. While Bill Gates would have the fastest machine. Today, I bet Bill Gates computer is not much better than mine. I am sure you can see access to homes, medicines, education etc. The difference may not be increasing.
This gives me to the third point. That is the importance of the job, as a meaning to our lives. Let me rephrase the coin toss in the previous paragraph. If I were to throw a fair coin, and heads I get Bill Gates’ job and tails, I lose my current job, I will take that chance. In other words, if Bill Gates can keep his consumption and I keep mine, but give me the job of using that money to improve the world, I will take it. Heck I will take a toss even from a coin heavily biased against me! His job is improving the lives of many more people than my job today. This is far meaningful and emotionally satisfying.
So the argument I am making is that our economic system, which is trying to incentivize the production would lose meaning. We pay a huge cost in terms of unfairness to incentivize production. When the production is not a goal, are we human really that stupid to keep paying the cost of unfairness? I believe not. We are not that stupid. If we were that stupid, dolphins would have been the humans, and we would have been the faithfuls :)
Now coming back to shiny gold. What is the most constraining resource for production? It is the energy. If we have energy, we can solve water problem, land problem, food problem, and the need of every basic necessity. When we capture the shine through trees, we need the area of the entire earth or even more to satisfy our need of energy. In case we capture the shine through solar panels, we can satisfy our need with area of an average state in the US. Of course, when the shine is available freely, we might need it quite a bit more. It is still available so much, that the we can have widespread prosperity.
What does widespread prosperity imply? It implies fewer conflicts. Let me get back to the two large groups I had been part of. Microsoft and eBay. Now when my corporate overloads were doing well, everybody in the group were doing well. There were fewer conflicts. When I joined eBay, the stock was rising fast. On the other hand, when Microsoft froze salaries, doing layoffs, and similarly at eBay, the conflicting culture was quite obvious. In other words, when the pie is limited the fight for share is far more intense.
So increasing prosperity should reduce conflicts. There is no reason for us to only be connected to other people digitally and shun seeing them in person. Today the primary reason is, “hey they take my job”, “hey they will use our social net”, “hey rarest of them will explode a bomb”, etc. Most of these reasons would go away. I believe that inherently we are good, and if the reasons causing bad actions go away, then we do not become bad actors. So of course, our political system will become inclusive. It will become inclusive because we will make it. Again this is a daring prediction to make, when you see the rise of folks like Donald Trump even in the free world! Noting that Sadiq Khan, a muslim, became London’s mayor will not be anything to note in future. He became a mayor, just like anybody else could have become. Big deal? Today it is, but not in future. Why would it be, if he can perform as well as anybody else could.
Another reason for reduced conflict is the widespread of education. I think humans are good at recognizing quality education. How? Quality education engages our mind, and it appeals to our senses, since we can see the effect of it. It is the lack of quality education, which differentiates among human, more than anything else. Would we really think the availability of material like Khan Academy, would not grow, in every language, on every topic, on every smartphone? What is my rule in hiring at Faira – we do not pay attention to extraneous factors and I am trying to not even pay attention to personality traits. When everybody is educated, the talent could be anywhere in anybody. This will force the societies to be inclusive.
It is actually hard to visualize future challenges. Perhaps as hard as visualizing global warming a few decades ago. So I would get back to what I can see.
Let me ask a question? What is one of the biggest punishment? Solitary confinement. Boredom, the lack of keeping our brains engaged. What is the biggest reward? Learning. Basically, we would like to keep our brains engaged. Keeping our brains engaged is a similar requirement as keeping our heart beating. Even though we are more connected, but unless we derive new challenges, I am worried that the fraction of us may fall behind in this emotional need. Many of us will find ourselves with new mental and emotional challenges. May be the number of people with depression will increase. May be new emotional diseases will be discovered. Laziness, beyond just physical lack of activity, but mental lack of activity, will also be recognized as a disease. Again this paragraph is small, since I lack imagination. People who know me, I am generally optimistic. So I leave this to others, and would love to learn from you what new challenges will arise. No I will not label you pessimistic, in fact, able to foresee future challenges is a first step towards solving them. So in my books, you would be even more talented.