One Thing You Should Know about the Future

After reading an interesting and helpful post over at Forbes titled, 6 Things You Should Know About the Future, I was left with a question. The author writes:

The future isn’t what we thought it would be. We don’t walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars. Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.

Yet in many ways, we’re much better off than we imagined. Rather than a Mad Max dystopia of war, famine and disease we are safer, richer and healthier than we’ve ever been. As I’ve argued before, in a very real sense 140 characters are better than a flying car.

That’s the funny thing about the future. It’s never as fantastic as we hope nor as horrible as we fear.

jetsons

What do you think? Has the future lived up to our expectations? Perhaps it depends on where and when you are.

While I enjoyed the entire post, the last line in the quote above stayed with me. I wondered, Is that really the funny thing about the future? Could these words have been written In Germany in 1945 or NYC in October of 2001 or in early 21st century North Korea? Is the future “never… as horrible as we fear”?

My grandfather was never fully convinced that we had traveled to the moon and back. Too fantastic. Is the future never as fantastic as we hope? I wonder if these words could have been written in the labs where they created the first synthetic life forms in 2010? What’s more fantastic? A flying car or the creation of life in a lab?

True, Our experience may not match Bladerunner or the Jetsons, but 2014 is both fantastic and fearsome. We create life. Soon we will exercise the power of resurrection and bring back an extinct species. Fantastic. The global slave trade thrives and human slaves populate the dark corners of human civilization. Terrifying.

The real sticking point, I think, is the word “never”. It brings to my mind one thing we should all know about the future: We cannot predict it.

There may be coming around the corner something even more fantastic than we’ve ever dreamed and/ or something more fearsome than we have ever imagined… or not. Keep your options open and stay alert.

What do you think?

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If it Exists, Would’t Heaven be Boring?

A blog post from humanity+ makes the assertion that a future in which Artificially Intelligent entities take care of every human need and want will be boring. I couldn’t agree more. Image Imagine a future in which AI does more than perform all menial tasks for humans. They also do all the challenging tasks. They innovate, create, invent, discover. In that future there is no risk, no failure, no adventure. Let’s call it the boring future.

It’s also a reaction I’ve had when listening to theists talk about heaven. What would an eternity with no adventure, risk, and reward be like? Traditional images of heaven are scary boring. More recently, Christians are gravitating to the idea that heaven is not created by God for humans. God created the Earth for humans… and perhaps by extension the Universes too. Perhaps there’s an implication that we have lots more adventure ahead of us.

I find it interesting that both techno-utopians and Christians have some of the same misgivings about the future.

Both, I think, are pondering the question about our nature, human nature. Can there be happiness for us in an existence that is perfectly free of success and failure, predator and prey, evil and good, search and discovery? Or are we designed to be happiest when pursuing the ideals?

What do you think?

 

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Shapeshifting Marriage and Family Constructs for the 21st Century

marriage_dictionary
Where is the social construct of marriage headed in the 21st century?

Is it possible that rather than dividing along the lines of “for” or “against” gay marriage, we may see a new dividing line of …

on the one side…
a more conservative and traditional “pro-marriage and pro-family” construct advocated by both gay and straight constituents

against…
on the other side…
“anti-marriage” or “freedom of relationships” advocates (again made up of both gay and straight constituents) that adopt progressive views about relationships and child bearing.

Imagine… a legally married gay person arguing for pro-family values and against the practice of childbearing outside the bonds of matrimony, or against polygamous relationships, or arguing against the practice of serial “living together” relationships.

These images of possible futures came to mind when child advocate David Blankenhorn had a change of heart. An avid supporter of traditional marriage who emphasized the need for fathers in the home, Blackenhorn has not changed his basic values about marriage and family. He views marriage as “the” institution that exists as a gift to children. It exists to assure children that their birth parents who brought them into the world will nurture and care for them. As such, “marriage” can never truly apply to gay couples.

But for him, the debate about gay marriage was about the child and about society. For his opposition, the debate was about the adults and their individual rights. After years of debating, Blankenhorn concluded that, by and large, regardless of the merits, he simply did not make his case. The elites and younger Americans did not see things his way. His opposition successfully framed marriage as a private and personal matter, the meaning of which can be determined by the individuals involved, and not about society’s obligation to structure itself for the benefit of the young.

Now what? For political purposes, Blankenhorn has changed strategies. He has chosen to join forces with pro-marriage gay activists in his cause to strengthen the institution of marriage.

Will his strategy work? Is this a possible realignment that will gain strength? What will be the pro-family values of a “post-traditional marriage” world?

Let this sink in… We’re experiencing a civilizational shift.

Survey –Click here to Select ONE

  • Are we…seeing the creation of a new moral norm– a pro-marriage, pro-family agenda — in which gay and straight activists work together to raise a cultural standard.
  • Are we… seeing the first steps towards the recognition of other forms of nontraditional relationships such as polygamous, polyamorous, interspecies, and eventually man and machine.
  • Are we… seeing the emergence of a world that is more hostile to children.

Here are the source links:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/us/in-shift-blankenhorn-forges-a-pro-marriage-coalition-for-all.html?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/opinion/how-my-view-on-gay-marriage-changed.html

Participate in the survey

Two Mysterious Human Behaviors

Bobo_women_carrying_children
Every now and then we hear reports of whales stranding themselves on shore. Why they do this is a mystery.

Moving from whales to humans, two human behaviors seem to me to be equally mysterious. First, the loss of a desire to have children. This is not too common but it is more and more visible, especially among the more affluent. Second, the loss (among the young) of a desire to have sex.

Our world is full of children and explorations of sexuality run rampant and often destructively among us. The desire to have children and to have sex (with or without thought of children) are biologically embedded instincts. Would not the loss of these desires run counter to our biologically derived instincts? If these attitudes and behaviors continued and expanded, what kind of future would we create?

THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN

What is the future of children? I don’t mean the future of the children in the world. I mean the future of having children.

One of my favorite movies is Children of Men. The premise of the movie is that couples, for some unexplained reason, stopped having children. It is a dystopian vision of a future with no children and, thus, no hope. (For an interesting take on this thought – http://nyti.ms/1c0HoEp).

An essay I read in the New York Times, Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind, made me wonder if the reverse is also true. Is the loss of hope tied to loss of a desire to have children?

The essayist, a married, affluent, and urban young woman, writes about the economic sacrifices of having children. According to her, when she explained the article she was writing to other mothers, their words to her were: “good for you”. Not exactly the kind of mothers I’m used to.

What stands out to me from her essay is not the economics of having children. What stands out to me is that she could find no good reasons for having a child. Ironically, I could not escape the deep sense of poverty in her view of life.

I’m sure the essayist is a fine, loving, and healthy person, but this article made me ask a dark, dark question about the worldview it suggests. I have to ask, What if children were free, a dime a dozen? Would she and her husband (who is very concerned with the way humans tax the planet) find a reason or the space in their lives for a child?

I wonder, how similar is the worldview of this essay to that of Toni Vernelli who aborted her child to save the planet and about whom I wrote in an earlier post?

This question is not about the authors of the articles in particular. I’m sure there’s a world of difference between them as individuals. But there seems to be larger cultural questions here. After all, there is a culture wide decline in births. Somewhere around midcentury, the world’s population will plateau and then decline.

children_of_men

Demographically speaking, the single most important measurement of humankind is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). The magic number in measuring TFR is 2.1. That’s how many births per household a population needs to replace itself.

Many of the western democracies are experiencing birth rates lower than 2.1. In other words, our whole culture seems to be stepping into a worldview similar to the one mentioned above. Is our culture concluding that having children just isn’t worth it?

If demography is destiny, then is it the destiny of the west to disappear? Are we having our very own “Children of Men” moment?

Earlier generations delighted in the birth of a child. I wonder, has the loss of a religious view of life so disoriented us that we cannot be bothered with even the most basic evolutionary compulsions? (The irony of that last sentence does not escape me.)

Or, do the young somehow intuit that they live at the twilight of their society and from this deep lack of hope feel nothing worth sharing and passing on to a new generation?

Is it a good thing now to not have children? Since we seem to have lost the natural instinct of it, perhaps it is better to stop. At least until we discover a reason to live, to enjoy life, and to love it enough to want to be part of expanding the experience.

This is HUGE.

THE FUTURE OF PROCREATION
Here’s another even more mysterious symptom of the same malaise. Not only did Japan have fewer births in 2012 than any previous year, young people in Japan have stopped having sex.  Just in case you read what your brain thought should appear in the text, let me put an emphasis on the key word: “Stopped.”  You can’t even get to the question of should we or should we not have children, if you despise physical contact.
Japanese man and woman lean away from each other

Just when you thought the impossible never happened. Here it is.
The article stated: “A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.”
It feels weird to ask this but, is not having sex becoming an epidemic in Japan?

What’s going on here? Is it a positive? Are we finally gaining mastery over our naturally evolved instincts?

Or, Is this a surrender to the meaninglessness of it all? Are these attitudes symptoms of the dis-ease of hopelessness that can attack all humans anywhere at anytime? Both situations mentioned here are a manifestation of their own context and culture. At very least, we can say that not having children and not having sex are, biologically, dead ends. Are they the human equivalent of diseased whales beaching themselves on the shore? Something about life stops working. And we run counter to the most basic drives within us.

In the negative, we can postulate that human societies start by dismissing Spirit or Meaning which leads to hating life and evolves to despising each other. In the positive, we can experiment by breathing faith, hope, and love into a culture that can’t seem to figure out why humans are worth saving, worth bringing into the world, or even worth touching.

What do you think?

See you in the mystic…

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Creativity, Spirituality, and the Future

Creativity is a clue that we are not locked into a purely predetermined system of cause and effect.  While all human choice is preceded by causes and followed by effects,  and the variety of choices may be limited, there is still room for surprise.

I once asked someone if they believed God had the capacity to laugh at a joke. I added that if God knows everything then he could not be surprised. And surprise is what makes a joke funny. If this is true, and God cannot laugh at a joke, then God is poor. To not be able to laugh is poverty.

But I think God can laugh… and be surprised.

God has made man, like himself, creative. Since the early days of our species when we domesticated fire, we have continued to master the world. We have released the power of the atom. We suck the world dry of its energy. We create robots that will go to war for us. We topple trees and the natural habitats of many other of the Earth’s creatures. We have created a technological environment that is changing faster than our ability to adapt. That’s a prescription for extinction.

Mark Twain wrote, If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

It has been said, “The level of thinking which got us into the problems we face is not the level of thinking that will be able to get us out.”

If our technological powers continue to grow, and if we continue to try to master each other and the world, we may destroy the earth, our womb. In this next century, our species will need to reach a whole new dimension of creativity and spirituality. New ways of thinking, being, and living are essential if we are to overcome the problems we’ve caused and if we’re to create a human future.

I think God has designed a universe that has both stability and chaos, predetermined cause-effect and randomness. One of the biggest variables in the cosmos may be us. How will we choose to use our ever growing technological power?

We have entered the era of DIY genetics. Natural selection is not the only driver of evolutionary change anymore. There’s a new kid on the block that can reach into the fundamental fibers of life and create new forms of life.  That new kid is us and the possibilities are unimaginable.

This could be a disaster about to happen. But we could also be in for a surprise. I would like to think that we still have time to do something so wonderfully startling that it would make God laugh a deep laugh from the stomach.

What do you think?

The Future and After Earth

What if we knew that our planet would be unable to sustain life in 1000 years? How would our priorities change? What would we do differently?

A large part of my work is to help leaders and organizations think about the future.

For today’s imagination expanding exercise, consider three interesting recent “happenings”.

ONE…

The first is a pop culture piece, the movie, After Earth. This new movie starring the father and son duo, Will Smith and Jaden Smith, takes place after humans have had to evacuate their home planet. I love almost anything that takes place in the future and involves traveling to other planets, and, because it relates to a recent speech made by physicist, Steven Hawkins, it’s useful for this imagination expanding exercise.

TWO…

A second piece is from the world of academia. Stevan Hawking, respected british physicist and author of A Brief History of time, in a speech in Los Angeles the 71-year-old scientist tried to make a case for further exploration of space.

“We must continue to go into space for humanity. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way,” Professor Hawking said, adding that “we won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.”

I would love to better understand Hawkins basis for this comment, but that’s not the point here. What if this were true? What would immediately change, if anything? As a thought exercise, imagine what behaviors would change or what actions might we undertake politically, economically, environmentally, socially, and technologically.
Download-After-Earth-Movie-wallpaper-HD-1920x1080

THREE…

Add to Hawkins statements, the Mars-500 experiment that ended in November of 2011.

“The crew of the international “mission” to Mars has finally “returned” to Earth in Moscow, bringing one of the world’s most grueling scientific experiments to a close.

Six volunteers, including three Russians (Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy and Sukhrob Kamolov), as well as representatives from Europe (Romain Charles), China (Wang Yue) and South America (Diego Urbina), can now see daylight for the first time in 520 days. That is the exact time they spent isolated in their mock spaceship, simulating a trip to the Red Planet and back.

The men have been sealed in the mock spacecraft for 17 months. But they never left the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, and could have quit the Mars-500 isolation experiment at any time.”

The approximate costs of this isolation experiment was 500 million dollars. A trip to Mars would be much, much more.  This year, NASA’s planetary science budget, which is seen as crucial to finding habitable planets, was slashed by $300 million.

In light of Hawking’s statement, the Mars-500 experiment (both real world happenings), and the film, After Earth, ask yourselves, How would our perspectives and behaviors shift, if at all, if we knew that our species would “soon” have to leave it’s cradle? What do you think?

earthisthecradle

Imagining Alternative Futures through Scenarios

AN ORIENTATION

There is no such thing as the future. There are only the futures…the alternative futures.  This is proverbial among those who study the future… or should I say, the futures. This is one of the first steps towards being “future ready”. Imagining possible alternative futures is a very human capacity. But there are tools that can also help.

One tool that futurists use to help leaders and decision makers is the scenario planning process. Many of you leaders do this naturally, especially those of you who must be ready for contingencies at all times. You are intuitive experts at scenario thinking.

Scenarios are useful fictions that can develop your team’s capacity to anticipate and deal with change.
workshop
Last week I participated in a scenario planning workshop to formalize and deepen my understanding of how scenarios work. Scenarios are vignettes designed to inspire conversation about the alternative futures.

Our task, in the workshop, was to create scenarios about the fashion industry in the year 2025. The fact that none of us had any experience in the fashion industry proved to be a plus. What we learned was the process of scenario creation regardless of our lack of knowledge. Having learned the process allows us to help industry professionals take their raw knowledge of their industry, whatever it might be, and turn it into scenarios that create conversation and perhaps even prove useful for decision making.

Breaking With The Past

A recent piece (May 2013) in the Harvard Business review titled, Living In the Futures, tells a little of the history of scenario planning. Almost 50 years ago Royal Dutch Shell began to use scenario planning as a way of anticipating the “futures”.  The article states that (for Shell) scenario planning

 “…has helped break the habit, ingrained in most corporate planning, of assuming that the future will look much like the present. As unthreatening stories, scenarios enable Shell executives to open their minds to previously inconceivable or imperceptible developments.”

How many of you lead teams that behave as though the future will be just like today? This belief can blind us to the changes that are happening and may happen in our external environment. Many of you work in industries that are experiencing disruptive change. And more change is on the way. And it’s coming faster than ever. Teams need to be future-fitted.

ONE EXAMPLE

Click the image to tweet the text. Thanks!

Click the image to tweet the text. Thanks!

For example, in the M network several of us have been discussing several plausible future scenarios for faith-based organizations in the USA. One of them looks something like this: It’s the year 2050 and the tax benefits extended to religious organizations cease. The loss of tax benefits is a plausible alternative future. Where do churches, mosques, and synagogues go from there? What are the possible futures?

How will your organization adapt in order to thrive? What changes would need to be made? What perspectives would need to change?

The questions this post is designed to provoke is, How ready are you and your team for change? Have you created scenarios for the kinds of things that might impact your business? Do you have mental maps and narratives that might keep you ahead of the curve? How pliable is your organization culture? What is your team’s “complexipacity” ( the capacity to deal with complexity)?

Creating narrative (scenarios) about the kinds of things that can happen can begin to create confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and adapt to change. But the key point here isn’t about scenarios and how to create them. It’s about the necessity of foresight. In a rapidly changing world, leaders need to not only study the past, they must study the future.

What do you think?

INVITATION

A large part of my work is to help leaders and organizations think about the future. I trust that this is why, in part, you visit this site. If you want additional training on thinking about the future, I invite you to consider the 3-Day or 5-Day immersions in Strategic Leadership. We’d love to have you join us. Visit theimn.com for details.

Printing Food – Things that could happen in the next 10 years (3)

Some of you may remember the original Star Trek series in which the food for the crew was “materialized” in a machine that looked something like a microwave. Well now we’ll be printing food. According to dezeen, “3D printing expert Janne Kyttanen has produced prototype printed pasta, breakfast cereal and burgers to demonstrate how advances in 3D printing could transform the way we eat.” For the complete article click here..

We’ll be printing houses and organs. If and when we learn to print at the cellular level, What will become possible? Printed humans?