On the Beach with Futurist Jerome Glenn

, Jeju Island

Two of the things that I like doing the most were combined recently: hanging out on a stunning beach on a volcanic island and talking about the future with a visionary. I just got to spend time on Jeju Island with Jerome Glenn, the founder of the Millennium Project, and one of the best-known futurists in the world and Youngsouk Park, the most prominent futurist in South Korea.

Interestingly, Jerry was there at the beginning of modern-day futurism and learnt scenarios analysis from Herman Kahn https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Kahn at RAND. Herman Kahn was the military thinker who did a lot of work thinking about ‘the unthinkable’ during the Cold War, when people really didnt want to talk about the possibly ramifications of nuclear war. Herman Kahn was actually the inspiration for the classic “Dr Strangelove.” The goal of scenarios is to look at different alternative stories of how the future might play out.  In a way, one could say that you go through step by step the sequence of events in order to find out what you don’t know you don’t know but you should know’ according to Jerry. Apparently,  this approach was passed on to the UK’s Shell Corporation which is attributed for bringing this important approach in to business. I have always had scenarios as part of my approach to investment.

Stages of History

One of my favourite charts was this one simplifying stages of history.

If you notice the column regarding power moving through religion to government and then to the corporation, which is where we are today.  As you move from stage to stage,  the old power structures still have influence but the new one takes the central stage. So government and religion are still influential but corporations like Google and Facebook now get to influence global events. Interestingly, Jerry thinks that power will increasingly move to the individual. He thinks that the world hasn’t fully awoken to the implications of the information revolution. It almost like the Copernicun revolution when we realised that the solar system didnt revolve around the Earth but we revolved around the Sun. Until  now, modern society has revolved around the market. Land, labour and capital had to organise itself and locate itself according to the needs of the market. This meant that universities and education was in the business of creating good, well-behaved citizens and people that were supposedly useful for the market (one can argue as to whether it was effective or not).  Now all of us, in theory, are at the centre of a global market which revolves around us. We can access billions of people through the internet and social media without being a massive corporation. And this should only get easier.

He gave the example of a young person who decides that on Sunday they want to visit a History Museum in Korea. He or she could put out a message that anyone can join for just $1. There will be some commentary and maybe listeners can ask questions or to go back to a particularly interesting exhibit. Perhaps just 20 show up. But when he or she gets really good at guiding and utilising technology, perhaps thousands will show up from around the world. This is a great example of building the market around you.

The Age of Self Realisation

Many are looking towards the future with great anxiety and this is a major theme that the Emerging Future Institute is endeavouring to tackle. Workers became cogs in the great wheel with the Industrial Revolution, and now with the approach of the Fourth industrial Revolution and robots, there are great fears that workers will just be replaced.  Jerry thinks that we shouldn’t fear AI and robots so much. He likes to remind people to distinguish between narrow AI (which is what we have now) and AGI or Artificial General intelligence, which is where AI is capable or learning from situations and then applying learnings in other new situations. For example, whilst AI might have beaten the world’s best GO player, if you changed the rules it wouldn’t have won. With AGI it could have. Then there is Artificial Super Intelligence. This is the AI where it sets its own goals and the one that the science fiction writers fearfully write about. [Personally I thought the movie Ex Machina was very interesting and New Scientist wrote a fascinating article about it : EX Machina Review]

In this sense, Jerry thinks its stupid to be worrying about the ‘robots’ now given AGI and then ASI is so far away: everything including the famous “Go” development is narrow AI. Competition with AI is “stupid”.

Jerry told me during the day that the role of bodies like trade unions should be to act as an institution to maintain peoples’ income, not job. It is often foreseeable which jobs will be replaced so trade unions should focus on retraining those workers in preparation so that they can move in to new roles and effectively utilise robots and AI themselves.

The real opportunity of this time is that with automation and other new technologies more and more of our basic needs can be met. Universal basic income should eventually be introduced but it will be most effective when the costs of these basic needs come down. We have seen falls in the cost of many basic needs but the cost of education and healthcare for example have continued to rise. Jerry’s best guess is that by 2030 it will become easier for a minimum guaranteed income to be effective. [As an aside, I think that the falling cost of eduction and healthcare might be two of the major themes of the next decade given that they are at breaking point for many households. The solutions are there in the form of technology.]

With the basic needs covered as per Maslow’s hierarch of needs, humans will be able to increasingly focus on ‘self-realisation’.  Jerry imagines a world where people spend a lot more time figuring out what they want to do. But he doesn’t think that they will be lazy. People inherently want to do something in their life, and I agree with this. He suggests that overnight whilst we are sleeping, our AI avatars will be monitoring the world for opportunities and in the morning there might be  a report ” Sir there are 17,000 things you can do today. I have selected 365 which are economic and baed on your previous behaviour and preferences, I think you should look at this list of 12 things.”

Its an amazing vision. Lets hope its true. We recently wrote an article about the Human Potential Movement 2.0.

Human Potential Movement 2.0

Jerry presented some of his ideas to the Governor of Jeju Island after our conversation and then did a presentation to local dignitaries and business people. This is a recording from a local student I believe. If the voice quality isn’t good enough for you  recommend looking at other recent talks.


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