While the development of drones and robots that could take themselves the decision to engage targets becomes closer, the issue of whether to develop such system becomes a conundrum. It is important to be able to face such a possible threat, at the same time usage of this type of weapon will need to remain very much controlled. Mechanisms similar to control of nuclear proliferation or chemical weapons might need to be put in place – with the particular challenge that no huge and noticeable industrial complex will be needed to produce such weapons.
The Open Letter by concerned scientists on autonomous weapons is interesting to read. It states “If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”
At the same time, military might contend with enhancing human capabilities by teaming humans with robots, in particular to be able to take decisions in uncertain situations. But the issue needs to be tackled quickly because the consequences of robots engaging without control could become a proliferation issue.
I am always amazed as how people in leadership positions try to avoid crisis and instead choose ways that lead to a slow downfall. I believe that comes from the need to have an impression of control about what is happening. I think this impression of control is actually an illusion.
Crisis are moments where the current balance is not any more sustainable. Crisis are great moments of opportunity (ref. our post ‘Why a Crisis is Always a Great Opportunity to Change for the Better‘). But of course, it is more difficult to keep control of what is happening, in particular for people in leadership positions pre-crisis.
Trying to avoid crisis requires addressing the imbalances and trying to transition out into another state. The thing is, because they won’t be forced to, the people and organizations that benefit from the current situation won’t easily let go. They will resist. The imbalance will increase, and it is not sure at all that a crisis won’t happen sooner or later. Going into a triggered crisis mode with a plan is probably safer on the long term – and it is possibly better for most stakeholders as well. Triggered crisis will also have less amplitude, be more predictable and will remain more contained. Such is the way, for example, that avalanches are controlled in ski resorts.
I deeply believe that sometimes it is better to go into the crisis mode than try to maintain an illusory situation with the underlying structural imbalance increasing. I think that is exactly what is happening in China right now: out of a need to keep control, the government is trying to avoid a crisis by all means, and that will most probably turn out ugly at some stage, because the structural imbalances are deepening and an economic transition is needed. And in the meantime the entire global economy suffers for a long time.
Sometimes, triggering a crisis is better than trying to maintain the status-quo against all odds.
Churchill is famous for his quote “Never let a good crisis got to waste“. A crisis is a great opportunity to change things for the better. In some instance it is even the only opportunity to change things for the better.
While every crisis is destructive for part of what was (including the lifestyle of some people), it is a great opportunity to create a new order. The thing is, it is better to have an idea about the new order should look like before getting into the crisis, but this comfort is not always available. A crisis is also a great pivot point where the future can go one way or the other.
The important observation is that every crisis, even if not wanted or unexpected, should be considered as an opportunity for change into something better.
Don’t waste the next personal or professional crisis. Take it as an opportunity to change for the better.
In the excellent book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind‘, Yuval Noah Harari writes: “One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.”
In the book he applies this law from the very start of the Agricultural Age to all sorts of new belongings and constraints imposed by the sedentary lifestyle linked to having fields to care for. But of course it is also widely applicable today to all sorts of modern life items, from cars to mobile phones. They were initially luxuries and have become things we can’t live without.
Today we can’t live without a number of contraptions that impose on us a tremendous burden in terms of maintenance and replacement. We can’t live without them because society also takes them for granted. For example, not having a mobile phone nowadays for professionals is something of an heresy!
It is at the same time the result of progress, and it comes also with obligations and constraints. The thing is to keep some balance so as to not become hostages to all those luxuries. How do you fare?
There is a gap between technology development and the way organization change. And this is at the root of the Fourth Revolution: if the gap gets large enough, only a revolution can make organizations evolve to fit with technology. And it is what is happening right now.
I find the illustration by Scott Brinker the best – he call it the Martec’s law: “Technology changes exponentially; organizations change logarithmically“. He applies it to the current digital disruption, but of course it was always the case – the industrial revolution was also created by a progressive mismatch between technology and the institutions and organizations of the previous Age. Organizations can only change at a certain pace, and the larger they are, the slower they can evolve; they generally can’t cope with the increasing rate of technology evolution without undergoing a substantial change.
According to this law, a revolution is inevitable that will rebaseline the organizational setup to the current state of technology development. And this will be highly disruptive to existing organizations – unless they find a way to overcome the curse of only being able to evolve slowly.
Kevin Kelly notes about the birth of the religions we know today that they have all appeared around the same time, when agriculture was sufficiently developed to generate abundance.
“About 2,500 years ago most of humanity’s major religions were set in motion in a relatively compact period. Confucius, Lao-tzu, Buddha, Zoroaster, the authors of the Upanishads, and the Jewish patriarchs all lived within a span of 20 generations. Only a few major religions have been born since then. Historians call that planetary fluttering the Axial Age. It was as if everyone alive awoke simultaneously and, in one breath, set out in search of their mysterious origins. Some anthropologists believe the Axial Age awakening was induced by the surplus abundance that agriculture created, enabled by massive irrigation and waterworks around the world”
When the Industrial Revolution came with printing, these religions branched somewhat with for example, Protestantism for the Christians.
He continues: “It would not surprise me if we saw another axial awakening someday, powered by another flood of technology“. The conclusion of that observation should shake us. Is the spiritual awakening we can observe around us just a trend or is it a deeper movement linked to the Fourth Revolution? I tend to believe in the latter, and I am excited to see how that will materialize in the years to come as we move into the Collaborative Age.
It all fits into an interesting quote by Bill Gates: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten“.
That quote takes a particular taste coming from a person that is deemed to have missed, when it comes to Microsoft’s strategy, many of the key changes brought by technology in the last decade.
Our forecasting ability is exceedingly limited. Change takes it time to transform the world, but it will roll on inevitably. Today, I believe we totally underestimate the changes in our daily life, our institutions, our organizations, that are being brought by the Fourth Revolution. These changes will be tremendous. As Gates says, let us not being lulled into inaction, but let us anticipate what is coming. It is only at this condition that we will benefit from it.
We do hail Steve Jobs for inventing the smartphone in the shape of an iPhone (and other marvels of modern technology). Yet today we see that this technology is becoming mainstream and ubiquitous. So, would this invention have happened even without Steve Jobs’s genius? The answer is yes, and probably not too late after it happened thanks for Apple.
There are a lot of pointers in the form of past inventions occurring simultaneously (such as for example, the telephone, the theory of evolution etc) described for example in the excellent book ‘What Technology Wants‘ by Kevin Kelly. This shows that when the technological environment is mature, key inventions tend to happen naturally. If one does not invent it, so does another. Not everyone can bring a new technological invention to effective realization, but the world is big enough that several organizations can come simultaneously to similar results.
The great expansion of Android devices shows that the technological ecosytem was about ripe when Apple came out with the iPhone. The conversation about the convergence of cameras, phone and computer features was around already since the early 2000’s. The genius of Steve Jobs was to be the first to bring everything together in a well designed solution; but simultaneously many were not very far from a workable product with similar features. Technology was simply mature for the change. Steve Jobs brought its realization forward by a few months or years, but it would have happened eventually.
The same happens with the Fourth Revolution; as our long distance interactive communication capability has been created, the transformations of the Fourth Revolution are inevitable. We can’t predict who will be the first, where, but we know they will happen – and sometimes take shape simultaneously in several places.
In many natural science domains, we increasingly become conscious that in nature, 95%+ of the change we observe comes from short and intense phenomena such as storms, floods, earthquakes.
For example in the study of erosion, rivers shapes and material that is then transported by rivers such as boulders, it is very clear that rare storms and floods are the main contributors to the shaping of the riverbed (and sometimes, to the destruction of some man-made structures that tempted to tame it). While most textbooks still present erosion as the continuous work of air and water over millenniums, in reality, most of the work has been done during much shorter periods -days- of intense flow.
It does similarly happen in the world that surrounds us. Most of the changes come from unpredictable, short and intense moments, which we often call crisis (or also, in the field of society, revolutions). Crisis create the conditions for re-shaping our society, our economy, our organizations. Our duty is to protect ourselves and our loves ones against those crisis, and also to take advantage of them when they happen – because ultimately it is those rare events that shape our environment.
Following up on our previous post on why real disruptive innovation does have to change business models, this inspirational image from Hugh MacLeod is a great complement.
Real good ideas do necessarily alter the power relationships (and that is why they are always resisted, but that is another story).
Power relationships include those relationships in an organization’s hierarchy as well as those relationships in a market.
When I am facilitating, it is interesting to see how I can feel that the group stumbled upon a good idea – when someone starts feeling uneasy about this is going to change power relationships (and in general, his or her own power). Resistance starts to kick-in. It is a sure sign that we hit the nail on the head and that a good idea has been produced. It needs to be captured before it dilutes itself, and assessed to check whether it is just good, or whether it is great.
We reject inconvenient truths – as long as they stay remote enough not to disturb too much our lifestyles. And so we stay in our comfort zone while disaster is looming further away, and although the consequences might be much more dire in the future.
Change is about looking at reality in the face. Not to over-dramatize, but to be aware of what really happens outside there.
It is not easy and it is not natural. And it is why those that describe the reality of things are often rejected. And why those that create and transmit reassuring messages are popular.
The only way to overcome this hurdle is to create visible change in the life of the people that strike them at the emotional level. There is unfortunately no other way.
Want change without some dose of suffering? That won’t be possible. Just make sure that it is bearable and that measures are in place to overcome the challenge when it will have been noted by the group.