Listen to the
As we think about the near future, four fundamental ideas seem to keep repeating
in one way or another, over and over again. These are the new rhythms of our times and they seem clustered around:
uncertainty and turbulence
revolutionary effects of the introduction of digital technologies
the exponential rate of change
choices we are asked to make.
The rise in the level of uncertainty and turbulence has invaded almost every aspect of our society. In 2003, for example, we witnessed the emergence of an almost uncontrollable SARS pandemic; the unilateral exercise of military power, the like of which the world has never seen; a whole range of activities that have heralded China and India as economic superpowers; and the emergence on a global scale of widespread and shadowy terrorism threats, which it appears will be with us forever.
Over the last
we have also witnessed the impact of digital technology, which has redefined the nature of power, wealth, economy, communication, knowledge acquisition and distribution and social structure. Like all social revolutions not all of these changes have been for the better.
that we are experiencing change or what some call ˜progress at a rate that is exponential. What this means is that in this century we will experience change and paradigm shifts equivalent to all those of the last 20,000
For example, in the
five years we will experience the same amount of progress as we went through in the last ten years; in the following 30 months, we will experience the same amount of change and progress as during the past five years; in the following 15 months, the change of the last 30 months; and so on. So by 2010 we will be experiencing a rate of change comparable to the whole of the 1990s twice over.
This rate of change is demanding of us as
. We will need to use our
and creativity to develop a view of the future;
we will surely not survive. In this near future, trying to foresee the next ten years will be essential if we are to plan one calendar year ahead.
The twenty-first century, however, will offer a world of choice. We can, if we wish, make conscious choices about how both we and the planet will
. But no society has had to face choices that are more stark or uncomfortable. For example, we are the first generation that can, if it chooses, determine the kind of future it wants. We can choose whether to invest in life-extending technologies or education. We can decide how much of the planet s resources we will use. Alternatively we may simply allow
into a position where the choices are made by elites or even by machines.
Whichever choices we make, it will be hard for us to plead ignorance. We know enough and have sufficient aids to understand what is required.
No society in history has been in this position. Unless we use our imagination, this century will surely usher in a world that will be, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes once described, ˜nasty, brutal and short .
Uncertainty and turbulence, social revolution, exponential change and conscious evolution are the new rhythms of the twenty-first century. We can no longer apply without care the rules for success that
us well in the previous century. No longer can we rely on the social structures that we know and trust, but which don t seem to be working as well as they did and which somehow seem to have been devalued. In global geopolitics, we look on as mere spectators to some kind of deviant chess game where, more often than not, ordinary people seem to be the losers. In many democracies, we the electorate are forced to make choices that seem like no choice at all and which are devoid of vision.
Of greater concern, every day we receive signals that the environment can no longer cope with and support our every demand. If we continue as we are, it is possible that we will experience environmental systems failure which could threaten our survival as a species. There seem to be few courses available that can return society and the environment to a state where we can feel in control.
New rhythms in energy?
In a recent article in
, it was
that University of Alberta researchers have found a way to make cheap sustainable electricity from tap water.This is profoundly different to hydro-electricity as we currently know it.The work of these researchers suggests that if any liquid is
through micro- channels (tiny holes) in a non-metallic substance such as glass, positive and negative electrons are created as the liquid
with the solid surfaces.These electrons then migrate to
poles. Electricity can be created by connecting electrodes to the ends of the micro-channels.
This new thinking has produced a technology that could rival both wind and solar power as a new source of energy. In the future it could provide consumers with control of the production and distribution of the electricity that they require.What a
call for traditional utilities! (Source: www.BetterHumans.com, 2 October 2003)
The Age of Spiritual Machines:When computers exceed human intelligence
,Viking, London, 1999.
T J Kaczynski,
The Unabomber s Manifesto
by the terrorist Kaczynski raises some important ideas about machines that are out of control . . . ideas that many ordinary people would agree with, even if they don t know who wrote them.
(first published in 1651), Pelican, Middlesex, 1968.
The Experience of Middle Australia:The dark side of economic reform
, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2003.
An example of a program designed to provide
skills is the Global Foresight Network s
The 9 Principles of Strategic Foresight