Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist. What movements can form in the future as a result of technological change? Today on the Uprising Pod explore the far off technology world of 2050 as inspiration for all you movement makers. Daniel Franklin, talks to Scott Goodson about his book Megatech: Technology in 2050. Get ready, fasten your seatbelt, know the exits. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Daniel Franklin & The Future of 2050
TEASE: If you think of the autonomous car, you are going to have to have decisions made by machines as to what they do in certain circumstances–very difficult circumstances. There’s a choice between killing one set of people or another set of people. If you get into a position where you can’t avoid a collision, do you run over the crowd in front of you or does the machine kill the driver? If you’re a driver, you would take that split second decision as a human being. But, but if you’re in a driver’s car, you might have to program that in. I don’t see a way of doing that programming without an ethical dimension.
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SCOTT: Close your eyes and imagine the year is 2050. What is it like? What do you see? What movements will form as a result of the technological change? Perhaps everyone walks around with glasses that project every message, every update right in the view of your eyes. Maybe there’s artificial intelligence, robots sprinkled among the masses, completing tasks that are now considered menial or every day. Perhaps, your 2050 is desolate, completely taken over by the machine. The climate is hot and barren and there is no one around.
Our guest today to the Uprising pod attempts to explore this foreign, far off world in the book MegaTech: Technology in 2050. Please welcome executive editor of The Economist Daniel Franklin. Thank you for joining us from London.
DANIEL: Thank you. It’s good to be with you.
SCOTT: You open your book by writing, “It is impossible to know for sure what the technology of 2050 will be just as 30 years ago nobody could have envisioned today’s world of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.” How would you describe today’s tech world?
DANIEL: I think it’s an extraordinary tech world. Certainly, when I compare it to my youth, the very fact that we can be having this conversation over something called Skype–you in New York, me in London. We could be doing it over a video link. We have to be doing it just over audio, but it’s made communication extraordinarily easy. A colleague of mine a few years ago wrote a prediction that we were going to see the death of distance. That’s one extraordinary thing. We just marked the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. That is an extraordinary change that we essentially all carry around–whether it’s an iPhone or another type of phone–carry around with us a device that connects us with virtually the entire body of human knowledge ever. It’s amazing.
SCOTT: Are you worried that the infrastructure of civilization as we kind of know it or what we grow up with is also being wiped out by this technology? We saw the iPhone. It does what you said., reduces distances and gives us tremendous power in the hand. But, at the same time, it feels as though we are living in a time where there are these huge shifts going on and it’s happening without awareness.
DANIEL: Yes. I don’t think that I worry that civilization is being worked up but I do worry that the speed with which this is happening and is likely to continue to happen presents with a lot of challenges and adapting to it and working out the best way to use the possibilities that are being created in treating it responsibly and coping with some of the consequences that it produces. It’s not always easy. I think overwhelmingly my senses of the excitement of what the possibilities created are.
SCOTT: What is the idea of human this world where change seems to be constant and fast and rapid? There never seems to be time to contemplate anything anymore.
DANIEL: I think that is a fair point. Space and time to do proper reflection to really absorb and think more deeply than we seem to have the opportunity to do in our regular lives is something very precious and increasingly would be valued, as we are bombarded by more and more constant information around us. It’s one of the reasons–by the way–that I like the stepping back approach of peering into the far off horizons. Take 2050 as kind of metaphor as looking beyond the immediate horizon. I think that does help to or encourage a way of thinking that looks beyond the hub bub today and says what are the really big trends happening? What are the really big changes happening in front of us?
SCOTT: It’s fascinating. To think back fifty years from today and how, for example, computers…the sophistication of computers 50 years ago and today how intelligent they’ve become. It’s almost unbelievable. From bacteria to Einstein and from computers 1980 to today, it created a tremendous leap forward.
DANIEL: Yes. Of course, you can’t know for sure where this is going to take us in the decades ahead. But, I think starting to think about what sorts of change might be happening can be both very interesting and sometimes quite helpful in what we see as important to prepare for.
SCOTT: In your book, you talk about that about pausing and looking into the future, but you also talk about looking back into history–that history repeats itself.
SCOTT: What does looking at the past technological advancements tell us about where we are going?
DANIEL: I think it’s important to say that history doesn’t repeat itself absolutely. It’s not a carbon copy of the future. But, you can look for lessons or patterns from the past that can help you out today and what is likely to happen next in perspective. Perhaps, we should have stressed in the beginning, this is not all my writing. This is very much very clever people that I’ve invited to contribute to this book. Twenty essays, essentially. The very first of these essays is by my colleague here at The Economist, Tom Standage, offers a toolkit for looking at the future. Just three items in the tool kit: one is trend watching, another is science fiction, but the very first item in his tool kit is a lesson from history. You can look, for example, at driverless cars. If you’re trying to work out what is likely to happen, what sort of issue are we likely to encounter as driverless cars develop, an obvious place to look is at the transition from horse-drawn carriages to horseless carriages to automobiles. You see a lot of the same sorts of issues that are propping up now being graphed with then. There was a mass labor force that depended on all that infrastructure. There were concerns about the new infrastructure that would have to be created. Certainly, safety concerns, which is a prime thing for driverless cars whereas regulations. What’s the correct form of regulations? More or less, everything is there. I think it’s instructive to look back and think how might this play out. Similarly, I think some of the things that you were alluding to earlier, kind of concerns about the impact of new technology. There’s a pattern historically about moral panic around new technologies. Technologies are kind of destroying our ways of life in some way. We are going to damage our society in ways that are going to be very hard to cope with. People worry about novels and the effect they have on morals. When talking movies came out, they worried about the effect of that. They worried about when computer games came out, the effect of that. Now, the impact of virtual reality. We can expect there will be these moral panics and perhaps those who are offering these services can get ahead of the game and start to anticipate the kind of reaction that is going to be had.
SCOTT: The idea of being in a world where we become surpassed by software where software is becoming so intelligent that we can’t even relate to how it thinks or its reason for being. For dreamers, the fantasy for the future can be beautiful. Elon Musk talks about a dangerous future. The chimpanzee is one evolutionary step below humans. When machines become as smart as humans and then surpass that, do we become the chimpanzee?
DANIEL: I think machines do become better at certain tasks than we are that’s for sure. I think there’s a seminal moment in that was a computer of the deep mind beating the world champion at Go, which is harder at beating the world champion at chess. It’s a very striking illustration of how a particular task –and the computers are getting better and better at this–, they will out perform humans. But, that doesn’t mean they out smart in other ways or surpass us in all sorts of others ways of understanding. I think we could find new ways of working–as we already do in all sorts of ways–with the machines to use machines to augment our human capabilities. It doesn’t make us redundant as human beings. I think there are concerns about how far this goes and what happens if machines in certain situations could get out of control or start doing things that could be quite harmful and how you allow for that and how you regulate and minimize those dangers.
ROBOT: I enjoy meaningful relationships with humans beings and find them stimulating.
SCOTT: Technology could become a blessing and it could become a curse. It already is in some respects as it always has been. My grandfather and his brother invented back in the early 1900s one of the first flat records. They were British. Then the record industry took off, then it was television. When I was a kid, my parents use to complain about me watching television. Now, my kids are sucked into their phones, and I feel a lost connection to them. I find it incredibly frustrating. I find it super disruptive in terms of my ability to connect with them. I have to text my son in order to have a dialogue with him. You must have the same experience. How do we overcome these types of changes that are happening?
DANIEL: Of course, it can be incredibly disruptive, but then again it’s never been necessarily easy communicating with one’s children. There have always been problems there and maybe it puts a higher value on certain situations where you go on adventures in one form or another where you have a proper escape and no distractions from normal machines or other people. I think it’s just a change in the order of magnitude to some of these things, not the change in the essence. There’s still always a craving for human connection, I think. Sometimes it happens in many, many different ways. We can connect with each other in many different ways. It fascinates me how despite the death of distance that I was talking about and the ease of telecommunication, people seem to feel a great need to meet in person. That seems to have a different quality about it. In a way, all of these possibilities, aren’t either or, they come on top of one another. You start to have different methods of communicating that live side by side. They don’t replace older forms of communications.
SCOTT: I suppose if bell invented texting, I would be talking to my kids.
SCOTT: So, climate change is an interesting hot button these days, especially with the current administration here in the United States. How will new industrial technology revolution help or hurt the planet?
DANIEL: Well I think there if there is serious hope for doing something to minimize global warming and to control carbon emissions, it’s not at least technological. In the energy area, for example, renewable energy is probably going to be one of the great exciting stories in growth areas of the coming decades. Solar power is coming down in price and improving in efficiency in leaps and bounds. A remarkable change is happening. There is more to come: more materials to be used, more efficiency in those not only in the capture of solar power but also probably in its storage as well, which is one of the problems of renewable energy. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. What do you do to capture the energy and keep it when you can’t produce it at the same extent? I think the other area where the technology could have a huge impact is just the efficiency at which data can be used to use existing energy much, much better and more cost effective as it has been in the past. It’s interesting that computer technology has been used already. Someone as sophisticated as Google, you’d think they have enormous energy uses but they applied some of their own deep mind technology to work out more efficient uses of their own centers. They discovered rather large efficiency gains that they could out by the very clever use of computing power.
SCOTT: It’s interesting. There’s a program at the Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm, which is an English program. It’s significantly oversubscribed by very bright students from all over the place in Europe who want to get in on what you just described–this new energy sources for the future. I think younger people just intuitively know that they need to find solutions. I think they don’t have to be told. They just kind of lean into it. I think that your prediction was accurate.
DANIEL: The other point about is that this is something that is obviously good because you know that it has to be helpful for environmental reasons. It’s also potentially very profitable. There’s a business case for it. You’re not often having to go against the grain. You’re actually going with the grain of potentially saving consumers money or saving companies’ money or creating start ups, which can create money by offering a very valuable service.
SCOTT: I don’t know if you saw the news last week, but Google has hired a philosopher. What did the experts say in your book about ethical problems we face as we create artificial intelligence and develop new devices that further hinder our privacy, etc.?
DANIEL: This was not prompted by me as editor, but repetitively there’s a light motif that goes through many of the contributions of the book, which is generally positive about the possibilities of technology but concerned about the pace of change out stripping the ability of regulators to cope with what’s put in front of them. You see that now, of course, in areas such as data privacy or cyber security. In the future, I think you’re in particular going to see it in the area of biotechnology and what we can do with gene editing, These ethical questions about what is right for us to create for us to eat and what is right to create for us in terms of altering the genome for health or even human advancements? The ethical question of who has access to some of the technology that is being created. These are going to be very tricky questions for all of us to deal with. I think a philosopher and the ethics in a way is going to be at the forefront of business. Google is probably ahead of its time in recognizing that.
SCOTT: It feels like it’s late to the game. Clearly, technology is leading the world today. I don’t know if you read the book Homer ??, but he made the argument that religion and science need to live hand in hand because science if left to its own devices, can destroy the world. Religion, let to its own devices can destroy the world. Together, you have ethics and values together with advancements. That’s really what’s necessary. It just feels that both the political structure and business structure has not really brought ethics into the forefront as it should.
DANIEL: It’s going to sort of be unavoidable. Bringing it back to the autonomous car, you are going to have to have decisions made by machines as to what they do in certain circumstances–very difficult circumstances. There’s a choice between killing one set of people or another set of people. If you get into a position where you can’t avoid a collision, do you run over the crowd in front of you or does the machine kill the driver? I don’t see a way of doing that programming without an ethical dimension to the technological choices.
SCOTT: Is there a way that we can push for that more in the way that companies approach ethics? Google is at the forefront but there seem to be many firms that just haven’t even started thinking about it.
DANIEL: It’s not the first thing you think about when you start up a business. There tends to be a period of denial when you say what we are trying to do is produce work that people wanted. Then you have to confront the ethical dimension. I think it’s going to be there more and more by demand by the fact that these issues will come to light very fast because there will be increasing scrutiny and awareness of them. I think the difficulty is making sure you get a sensible outcome and not a knee jerk, such as opposition to any development. Therefore, some holding back of some technical change just out of fear of the new.
SCOTT: They have to find a way of monetizing it so that there is an incentive to bring ethics and values into the organization. Maybe the younger generation will put a higher value on organization that has that.
DANIEL: And perhaps be involved in those decisions. These are complicated matters. You can’t just say well we’ve decided what’s right. You got to somehow engage in a conversation both with consumers and perhaps with government and regulators to reach where everyone is comfortable with the way ahead.
SCOTT: Back To The Future was a big series of movies a few years ago. I think last year if I remember correctly, it was an anniversary, and they said several of the innovations from the movies, including Biff, the president of the country, is somewhat similar to the results of today’s world. Looking at the future is both interesting and entertaining, why do you do it? You wrote your previous book, which was MegaChange, which unravels 2050 in terms of economy, religion and science. What can we gain from what’s to come?
DANIEL: I do it partly because I think it’s just interesting. It is this stepping back from the here and now, which I think is often quite revealing about what is happening today. It enables you to see sometimes what is happening today in sort of deeper…have a deeper understanding of it. It shows it in relief. You have a clearer understanding of, oh yes, that’s happening because the population is shifting or aging or growing in some part of the world and not here and so on. I think it’s helpful from that point of view. Then I think we are all planning our lives. We are all forecasting to some extent. We’re all taking decisions as to what we think it’s going to be. The best way to spend our efforts and investing our time or our money or our education. I think it is helpful to have a working hypothesis of how things are likely to develop so that you can consider those choices with more information.
SCOTT: It’s fascinating to think about…you talk about the iPhone is 10 years old and the economy that was created as a result of that innovation. The app economy, the acceleration of the internet in terms of services and customized products and services around your needs, even healthcare apps. It’s fascinating that whole world. Knowing what lies ahead, if you’re a business leader listening to this program, could provide inspiration for new types of businesses moving forward. Does your book have practical examples that give people pause to think and contemplate the future for their businesses?
DANIEL: I think it points to lots of areas of technology that’s going to be developing very fast. Some of the areas are not necessarily the most glamorous areas, but extremely important ones, such as material science is one that particularly intrigues me. I think it’s going to be producing new materials that do extraordinary things. It is already allowing manufacturing techniques, for example, that were unthinkable a few years back so that you can almost weave together a car as BMW does in one of its factories with techniques that look more familiar to the textile industry than the traditional automotive industry. There’s the whole 3D printing, which new materials plays into very well. There’s lots of sort of possibilities that pointed to areas of rapid development. It’s not in the book, but I sort of teased out for my own entertainment half a dozen totally fictitious companies that encapsulates some of the new technologies. They range from the health care technology and the future that you might call DKB or Doctor Knows Best, where there is a database that has managed to accumulate all the medical case studies of history and comes up with much better informed a diagnosis and personalized treatments based on individual’s DNA than any other doctor could individually. It’s that sort of thing where you can start saying these are the sort of possibilities that are in position. This is the sort of company that you can imagine emerging out of it.
SCOTT: It’s fascinating. I actually read an article recently about that whole area. The medical sciences and what they envision for the future. It was pretty remarkable. The ability to cross reference your own personal family histories with family members and all the possible implications with being in the geography you’re in. What could possibly be affecting us, is really fascinating actually.
DANIEL: There are more implications, which I think is one of more the fascinating things about technology is that almost whichever business you are in, you can imagine your life fundamentally different in the future. Clearly, if you’re in the law, you might imagine that the competitive advantage in the future is going to allow really smart computing machine intelligence that will tease out the best precedents, the best arguments that have worked in the past. There’s all sort of discovery that you get at the moment but a whole new level of sophistication combined with very finely trained legal minds. You have this combination of smart, well-trained lawyers but with very brilliant machinery. The interconnection between computer science and other forms of knowledge such as in the health industry–which is an obvious one. But, there are other areas. There’s one aspect that I think is going to be very fertile. Traditional barriers between disciplines will in many cases whither away.
SCOTT: Will we see some of the solutions that some of these traditional political problems finally arrive so that the democratization of healthcare through technology, access to education–do we see that as one of the benefits of this?
DANIEL: That is one of the potentials– one of the prizes that it becomes much cheaper. If you can imagine access to healthcare…if you imagine an app that becomes very expert at diagnosing you based on the systems that you describe and perhaps have a very lifelike interaction. We have that developed today with chat box, but you can imagine it becoming much more sophisticated. The machine will potentially start to diagnose you very efficiently. You can easily imagine how that technology becomes very, very widespread. It can start to make high-class diagnosis available to everyone at very little cost.
SCOTT: You’re a writer, an author, a journalist. You chose that career at the time when the world was a bit different. What advice do you give your own children or friends if they are looking towards the future for their careers? What kind of sectors should they look at? What should they be thinking about?
DANIEL: Obviously, everyone should always follow their enthusiasms. You cannot set this in stone. Interestingly, I was asked–it was a brilliant question when I went on my book tour of the United States was what would you like your granddaughter to study? I don’t have a granddaughter yet but clearly would be very happy if they were technologically minded and perhaps a brilliant programmer or what have you. But, actually, I would be very happy if my granddaughter were a historian. I think you will need this fundamental understanding of where we come from and the things that could go wrong and what’s made humanity work or what not. I think that’s going to be very necessary for the future. For all the advance of technology, I think history is still going to be important.
SCOTT: One final question. There seems to be two paths ahead of us. One where technology seems to help us flourish, solve some of the bigger challenges that we face and the other future is darker. the human race faces some significant challenges. Based on your expertise and that of the authors that you curated in this book, in the most simplest terms, how do you foresee our future?
DANIEL: I think I’m broadly optimistic. I think that is the tone of the book. It’s not a depressing read. A lot of the writing about technology can be fairly dystopian and concerned about all the negative consequences. I think I’m broadly, as we said at the beginning, excited at the possibilities. I think along with the many of the contributors to this book, also very mindful and aware and realistic about the things that could wrong. The concluding chapter is all about the unintended consequences of technology. They always happen. A very brilliant contribution by Frank Wilczek, a physicist at MIT, talks about the enormous potential that the state of our knowledge of physics has created for us. In a broadly positive essay, he talks about the failure modes that concern him. Things like nuclear capability, which are already there and we are reminded about now more and more. Environmental destruction and the machines run away with us in a military sense. There are possibilities created by these technologies that are wondrous but also could be turned against if not managed responsibly.
SCOTT: I actually had a meeting recently with Paul Mutter, who is the Nobel prize physicist from the U.S. and he was of the opinion that we need a new movement in the world for rational thought. Rational thought has been overshadowed by pure emotion. We need to get back to the age of rationalism. Maybe that will help save us as we move forward.
DANIEL: Rational thought is a very good idea, but you can’t get rid of emotions. That’s human.
SCOTT: That’s true. But, at least balanced.
SCOTT: This has been fascinating. I very much appreciate Daniel, your time today. This has really been eye opening to look into the future of the year 2015 and hear your thoughts and it’s fascinating. Thank you so much for your time.
DANIEL: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.