Reality, Retail & Revolution

You know who I am and what I do, but not my aspiration. I, Advancing Retail, am a revolutionary, driven to end the world’s scarcity of goods. This noble goal has been pursued by others throughout human history, but I am the first of my predecessors to exist alongside the solutions needed to bring it about. Alas, I am but one soul and the task ahead immense. For our revolution to succeed, it’ll need an army of innovators, and in this cause I hope to enlist your help. This is not a small ask, and I know your time, effort and resources are valuable. Why should you devote yourself to this cause? Because we stand today at the crossroads of human reality, retail, and complete technological revolution. How we act today will define both our future and the future of every human generation to come, and each of us has a role to play in the changes ahead. In order to play these roles well, we must first have a shared understanding of this crossroads, beginning with the fundamentals of reality itself.

Humans experience reality through the 5 senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. It is through these senses we experience time, space and the needs forced upon us by both nature and each other. To have needs is to have unfulfilled needs, and an unfulfilled need is a problem. Problems take away our happiness, and this prompts us to action. The only way problems can only be removed is through the application of particular things. These things are valued by us for this ability and the word we use to describe them is good. Things that lack this value, and things that actively take away our possessed values, are known conversely as evil. All human reality is experienced through this good and evil lens, and in discussing this truth, we’ve exposed our reality’s core problem: the good things our happiness requires are scarce.

The actions we take to correct this situation are known as means. Since good things are the end goal of our action, we call them ends. When our means result in an end that satisfies our need, it solves our problem, and we call it a solution.

Solutions and ends are connected like a math equation, and one of the things that makes human beings so much different from any other animal in existence is our ability to build new and better solutions that maximize the output of this equation. We do this by creating efficiencies, meaning the ability to produce more value per possessed value inputed. An easy analogy to understand this concept would be to compare walking with riding a bicycle. Both achieve the exact same end. The difference is that a bicycle gets us where we’re going with less energy and in a faster amount of time. Both time and energy are valuable things we possess, so by reducing the amount of them we need to input to achieve our goal, the more possessed value we retain and hence the more value we accord the bike. This distinction between means, ends and solutions is critical to understand. The technology of the fourth industrial revolution, like all technology that came before it, is simply a means. In and of themselves, these technologies have no value. It is only when these technologies transition from means to solutions that their value is realized. Solutions such as bicycles are retail items, so here we’ll pivot from the fundamentals of reality to the fundamentals of retail.

We solve our problems primarily by exchanging goods we possess for goods we need. This exchange is known as commerce, and like all human solutions, its riddled with inefficiencies. First, because humans have imperfect knowledge, the intrinsic value of any specific good can never be fully deduced. This results in how much value we perceive a good to have, and how much value a good actually has, to be different.

Second, because humans are mortal and exist in a constantly changing universe, the amount of time any individual can devote to a purchase, and the amount of time an opportunity exists for a purchase, is limited.

Third, while we all experience problems, our particular problems vary. This results in us according good things varying value, despite what their intrinsic value might be.

Fourth and finally, the value of all goods remains in constant flux based on their scarcity and the human demand for them.

The main solution we use to address these problems and others is money, as it imperfectly conveys to us the intrinsic value any good has at any point in time and space. When money is exchanged for a good, the act of commerce is known as retail. While all worldly goods can be purchased with money, certain goods, like human happiness, cannot be. This is because happiness, the ultimate good end all humans desire, is composed of two things: first, other goods, such as honor, wealth and pleasure, and second, our means. While our means are always changing, happiness and these other goods never fluctuate in concept. Rather, it is only the worldly form we perceive these goods to take on that changes with the passing of time and space. For example, honor has always been recognized and pursued by human beings, but the particular honor of an Academy Award has only been around and pursued since 1929.

To continue with this example, while one can buy an Academy Award replica trophy, the trophy itself doesn’t bestow upon the purchaser the same honor that accompanies winning an actual Academy Award. Here, even if we could simulate the experience of winning an Academy Award in perfect virtual or augmented reality for the purchaser, any sentient human would know this experience to be false, and would certainly not expect praise from others humans for it. Hence, we find the natural limit of our revolution to be the goods of the natural world, an accomplishment still short of perfecting reality itself, but a development that helps us dramatically close the gap.

If all humans need worldly goods to solve their problems, and retail is the solution to this problem, than by making the retail solution near-perfectly efficient, we’ll end the world’s scarcity of goods. Solutions devoted to this cause are called retail technologies, the very same that compose my body Advancing Retail. Because the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are first ones to ever exist capable of bringing this near-perfect efficiency to retail, our revolution’s goal now stands within reach for the first time in history. This will be an unprecedented achievement for humanity, as all economic philosophies to date, from capitalism to communism, have been devoted to just this objective. This complete technological revolution will change our lives, and the lives of every future generation to come, by putting near-divine solutions at our disposal. How can one comprehend such an unprecedented change?

By picturing in your mind’s eye four tiers of sentient existence. In the top tier is perfect existence, where all goods are infinite and hence no need exists. Here, because there’s no needs, there’s no problems, and since there’s no problems, no solutions are needed. A tier below that perfection would be an individual who faces conceptual problems but not worldly problems. Here, like a Greek god, when a worldly need is experienced it can be immediately remedied through one of the solutions at the individual’s disposal. In the third tier down would be human existence as we know it today, where individuals experience a deficiency of all goods, though we have some solutions, such as retail, to assist us. In the fourth and bottom tier would be the lowest form of existence, where an individual lacks all goods and has no solutions at their disposal to achieve them.

These four tiers of existence directly correspond with perfect happiness, greater happiness, lesser happiness, and unhappiness. Likewise, they match with Western philosophy’s conception of heaven, utopia, human reality and hell. To briefly elaborate on this point, in heaven one is free from problems all together. In utopia, one faces conceptual problems but not worldly problems. In current reality, we face both conceptual and worldly problems and have only some solutions to them. And in hell, like Sisyphus endlessly rolling a rock up a hill, one has all problems and no solutions.

While we cannot escape facing problems in this life and by extension can never expect to reach the heavenly tier of existence, we can imagine nearly reaching the utopian tier. This is where the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, properly constructed, will take us. We’ll be able to have and create whatever we want, whenever we want. The line between concept and reality will essentially disappear and this will empower our imaginations like never before. And while our solutions will never achieve perfect efficiency, our capabilities now stand now like on a graph arrow pointed straight up, approaching infinity but always falling just shy.

As exciting as this future trajectory is, when one reflects on the ramifications it begs a number of serious questions. First, how do we progress from our current reality to this near-utopian existence?

Second, what concrete functions will these near-perfect solutions perform on our behalf?

Third, if the fourth industrial revolution’s technologies perform as expected they will make most skilled and unskilled labor, at least as we know it today, worthless. How will we replace these jobs? If we have near-perfectly efficient solutions at our disposal, will we even need to work in the first place?

Fourth, how will retailers, wholesalers, brand manufacturers, solution providers, and consumers each be effected by these coming dramatic changes?

Lastly, will these innovations turn out to be good or bad for humanity? As we saw with the emergence of the nuclear age, innovation is often a double-edged sword.

While only the future can answer these questions and others with perfect accuracy, we are the creators of that future, and this podcast will continue to provide a glimpse into what is to come.

Now, with our revolution’s goal clearly stated, we’re prepared to take on the first question posed and in so doing take the first step on the road to utopia. This step requires us to recruit, train and release an army of innovators into the world, and on the next episode of reality, retail & revolution we’ll attack this challenge head on.

(Originally published as podcast on March 30th, 2016)