ImpactAlpha, June 29 – The start of a global recession in the middle of a pandemic that has laid bare structural inequality and racism may not be the most auspicious time to revive the tech-utopian vision. Or maybe it is.
“We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential transformation of human civilization in history,” begins “Rethinking Humanity,” the new report from the think tank RethinkX, which has tracked the disruption of transportation, food and other sectors.
The synthesis: a shift from a centralized, extraction-based system of fossil fuels, livestock and concrete to a distributed, creation-based system built on photons, electrons, molecules and qbits. Think lab-grown food, solar energy and autonomous electric vehicles.
Driving the change: 10x technological advancements that are pushing the cost of basic needs as low as $250/month by 2030, using one-tenth the natural resources with 10x, or even 100x, less waste. That could make access to food, energy, transportation, information, and shelter a fundamental human right, say coauthors James Arbib and Tony Seba. Out: scarcity, inequity and predatory competition. In: plenitude, shared prosperity and collaboration.
If the technological building blocks are already here, the new social, economic and cultural Organizing System to manage the transition is not, the authors say, offering a 2020-2030 Action Plan.
The first steps, they say, is to recognize the non-linear nature of the changes and the existential choice at hand: cling to out-moded systems and face societal collapse, or create new systems of organization that usher in a new age of freedom.
“Dark ages do not occur for lack of sunshine,” the authors write, “but for lack of leadership.”
Closer than you think
Mainstream models underestimate the speed and scale of change. Seba’s predictions for the rapidly declining costs of solar power and lithium ion batteries, for example, seemed aggressive a decade ago, but have largely come to pass. Pension funds are ripe to be tapped for infrastructure-style financing for solar, battery, and food production systems (see, “Green infrastructure is back on the agenda”). New mechanisms, such as clean-energy REITS, could enable individuals to invest in projects in their own communities.
COVID is just a warm up. Shocks throughout the 2020s will lead to destabilization and unrest, sparking extremist and populist reactions. Disruptions will cascade. For example, the collapse of whole segments of the oil sector could impact credit markets, the U.S. dollar’s global primacy and interest rates, along with jobs and livelihoods.
The ownership structure of the networks and means of production will determine whether the future is “benevolent or dystopian,” write the authors. Extreme inequality is inevitable if we continue with our current ownership structures. Out: corporations and monopolies. In: transparent, collaborative, open-source systems.
Individuals should also control their own data, which should be treated as intellectual property. “Ensuring individual ownership and control of private data will provide economic benefits to consumers that are currently being extracted by third parties,” they write.