Democracy is the political regime best adapted to complexity. The reason is that it allows bifurcations to happen at every election, i.e. depending on the country every 4 to 7 years. Those changes can be unexpected and worrying, but they happen more frequently and -one hopes- less abruptly than in other political regimes.
Elections are always creating surprises in particular in troubled times, and this has been demonstrated heavily in 2016 where in several western countries there has been a reaction against the establishment and from people who feel left aside from the world’s transformation (Brexit, Trump election).
It is a good property of a system setup to manage a complex world to be able to implement those important changes with this frequency.
Other political regimes will in fact only allow such changes much less frequently and therefore, they will be more abrupt and can even degenerate into civil wars.
We concur heavily with Churchill saying that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried“! And this conclusion on democracy should be kept in mind when we are not happy with election results.
One of the main concerns nowadays is the pace at which society can absorb all the technological changes happening.
According to Salim Ismail, Singularity University’s founding executive director and global ambassador in ‘What Happens If Society Is Too Slow to Absorb Technological Change?‘ “the true challenge with advancing technologies isn’t the threats they impose, but more that society is sluggish at absorbing and making use of the technology at its current pace.”
Honestly when one looks at the curves available on new technology adoption I don’t see so much of a difference on the latest technologies. In all cases adoption has been fairly rapid once the technology was there. The main difference might be how far reaching and simultaneously global the new technologies spread.
It does not seem to me that the rate of technology adoption is an issue. If it is a good and useful technology it gets adopted. Infrastructure will be modified to fit to it (sometimes with delays due to the investments required). The main issue is for us to learn how to deal with it, but honestly I can’t quite remember how work was before email as this change was so obviously great.
So let’s not believe that technology adoption is really a limiting factor. If a technology is useful and works, it spreads. Period.
The dominance of video over the internet is privatizing it: to get the video flowing, major operators like Netflix, Google etc have been obliged to invest heavily in infrastructure and this changes fundamentally the topology of internet. The internet has flattened and gotten more and more privatized. This is extensively explained in the Quartz post ‘The internet has been quietly rewired, and video is the reason why‘.
This does not go without creating an issue: “As Big Tech gobbles up more infrastructure and accounts for more internet traffic, it poses questions for the future of the network’s openness, says Farrell, the former ICANN executive. “It means the internet is evolving from being a peer-to-peer open standards network to being a proprietary set of, effectively, VPNs [virtual private networks],” she says. “Which users are not quite aware of—they think they’re on the open internet and they’re not.””
This evolution will have to be watched in particular when it comes to developing the infrastructure for those that have poor access to internet. The recent backlash against Facebook in India is just an example of things to come.
One area that has struck me in particular is the reference to exceptional performance of the combination of human and artificial intelligence when is comes to pattern recognition. An example: “In one recent study, given images of lymph node cells, and asked to determine whether or not the cells contained cancer, an AI-based approach had a 7.5 percent error rate, where a human pathologist had a 3.5 percent error rate; a combined approach, using both AI and human input, lowered the error rate to 0.5 percent, representing an 85 percent reduction in error.”
It seems increasingly that this combination of two different perspectives, ours and the other one we are creating using Artificial Intelligence, could open us new frontiers. Artificial Intelligence in that sense seems rather a useful tool to broaden our perspectives and capabilities.
Another example of how algorithms rule our lives is related to employment. Algorithms sift through applications and personality tests that are increasingly common on job application sites. This is well detailed in this Guardian column: ‘How algorithms rule our working lives‘.
We had already written about how algorithms and Artificial Intelligence already influence our genes. In the essay on employment, the author shows how algorithms decide on the fate of applications taking into account a number of parameters which unfortunately appear sometimes to disadvantage the poor or sick. One other aspect is also highlighted: many companies tend to use the same algorithm/ subcontractor, therefore the lack of diversity creating exclusion.
Data crunching can surely detect certain aspects of our lives that are covered today by medical secret, by law. Anti-discrimination regulation will have to be upgraded to account for this issue.
And we will have to learn how to make our applications more machine-compliant, by adding the frequency of the right keywords too. All in all, our internet presence will become increasingly an important factor to master so as to project the right image to the algorithms that will take important decisions for our lives.
The premise is that the intrinsic complexity and sophistication of the empire or organization increases over time up to a point where additional complexity is detrimental, in particular in the face of sudden external change. The institution is then unable to cope with the change. “When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.”
I find this model intriguing because from my perspective, complexity rather increases reactivity and adaptation. I think the author mistaken complication and complexity. Adding layers of bureaucracy in a futile attempt at control is complication. Properly maintained complexity is rather an antidote at inflexibility. We should certainly fight organizational complication (and its representative, bureaucracy) but rather welcome complexity.
I have lately had the opportunity to work at high level in a number of very large companies and I am struck how the social system of these companies is a machine to inflate egos.
It may be due to the fact that in the selection process that presides over the choice of executives and senior managers, having a large ego (and its substantiation by a large company car, a corner office, a pretty secretary, a super tight calendar that can’t allow meeting for the next 3 months…) is a discriminating factor that fosters promotion.
Anyway, this has two consequences
ego being tied to the job title and the associated deference within the organization, the transition will be very hard if moved out of the job or when retiring
as top managers will be significantly ego-driven, this may lead to derailment in decision-making with regard to the best interest of the company.
I certainly hope that over time, the organization of the Collaborative Age will be significantly less ego-driven and ego-fostering. Its less pyramidal shape, its openness should provide the necessary antidote.
The paper is a bit long but worth reading: how a child suffering from schizophrenia found solace in his relationship with an African Shaman, discovering how his condition brought him closer to this special role. To read in Nautilus, ‘A Mental Disease by Any Other Name‘.
“Both shamans and schizophrenic people believe they have magical abilities, hear voices, and have out-of-body experiences.”
I find this document exciting because it shows that conditions that we judge as debilitating and requiring treatment in our society may have been rather considered a strange but valuable gift in other societies.
The document also shows how belonging to a community can help control symptoms associated with these conditions.
Let me stretch this observation to our framework of the Fourth Revolution. Our usual categorization of mental illnesses stems from the Industrial Revolution. What if it would be significantly upset by the Fourth Revolution. Moving into the Collaborative Age we might find that some of these conditions are gifts in certain situations too.
There appears to be a number of publications about the loss of power by men in the new society, and the fact it may be a major causes of the current crisis.
One of the major pieces is a 2010 essay in The Atlantic ‘The End of Men‘ that describes how woman are taking power since the 1970s (since the wide adoption of birth control, noted by us as a key contributor to the Fourth Revolution) and how men have now lost their traditional identity of bread winner for the family. The piece even describes how active discrimination is needed to get enough men into university as women would be much more successful academically.
But these statements can sometimes go a bit over the top like in that Marginal Revolution post ‘What the hell is going on?‘ where the loss of manhood is suggested to the at the root of many contemporary political woes (“The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males“).
There is definitely a rebalancing act between men and women happening, and it is true that a lot of the blue collar jobs lost to the Fourth Revolution transformation were traditionally held by men, which creates some identity crisis. We should however probably not go to the opposite statement. After all, Silicon Valley is still struggling to get a fair share of women in startups.
Becoming a contractor is an increasing trend: “[Independent contractors] share of total employment is rising, from 9% to almost 16% between 2005 and 2015. And it’s not just low-skill, uber-drivers turning to contract work out of desperation—the increase in alternative work spans all education levels. Americans with a college degree are most likely to be contract workers, and this group saw the biggest gains. Contingent work has also become more common across a variety of industries and occupations.”
One of the main issues with the fact that we will become increasingly contractors is to manage the risk of a sudden loss of revenue; and more generally, the ups and downs of income depending on how often we provide our services. This is a problem I am managing in my consulting company, voluntarily keeping a substantial share of earnings in the company to cope with periods with lower utilization. De facto, the company is being used as an income insurance buffer. It might not be the most efficient way, but it works.
The Quartz post proposes that the state could setup a ‘wage insurance’ against substantial drop of income to cover those extreme events that can really derail one’s life. This could be a very useful institution for the Collaborative Age, together with some sort of collective health and life insurance.
What other institutions could we think of for the Collaborative Age?
In the Industrial Age, job title was very much one’s social identity, in particular related to the position in pyramidal organization charts. In many countries like France, the studies (university, degree) and grade achievements was also very much one’s identity. It is still the case at various levels.
However, this easy-to-relate identify definition will disappear in the Collaborative Age as the importance of conventional organizations will progressively disappear, and as we will be increasingly on our own without a fixed ‘job’, or at least only with temporary ones.
This situation creates a lot of stress on personal identity. It is thus a high barrier for those that hesitate to jump out of traditional organizations; or, those who get retrenched or lose their job and have to reinvent themselves. It is possibly one of the biggest stressors in society today.
One needs to realize how defining oneself in terms of job title and university degree is limiting. In particular after a few years’ experience, our personal identity is much more complex and full; and it involves both personal and professional elements. We need definitely to find other ways of expressing our complete identity. It could be through our own creations or on social media.
Transforming the way we express our identity is a mandatory skill for the Collaborative Age.
One aspect that struck me particularly is her statement “I want to stress that “safe” doesn’t have to imply “always comfortable.” Some of the very best community building involves real discomfort as people explore beliefs and perceptions, challenge assumptions and explore differences.” Actually, I do strongly believe that going together through uncomfortable situations is a great way to create emotional connection – and that’s a ploy commonly used for example, for team-building events.
How do you treat the community you are trying to build? Is there any of these elements missing?