Julia is 25 years old, fresh out of university, where she got a degree in history and a master’s in education. For the past year, she has been working in a bookstore that is now closing. She spent the summer looking and hasn’t yet found a meaningful job that satisfies her desire to build a career that matters to her.
Like about 40 percent of Millennials, Julia believes her generation may be the first to earn less than her parents’. She thinks her country is heading in the wrong direction, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. Her rent consumes more than half her income. Schools are trying to reduce headcount, not hire new teachers. After six years of living with other students, she is seriously considering moving back to her old bedroom at home.
Millennials are now the largest generation in the labor force. Today, there are 1.8 billion Millennials worldwide, with more Millennials in China than the entire US population. Millennials started life in a great recession caused by institutional failure. Too many of them are saddled with student debt that will make it difficult for them to raise their standard of living. Most of them feel they have no true sense of purpose and no way to build a meaningful career and life. Many feel that opportunity has been pulled out from under them.
Future generations deserve a break in life. I have a plan to give it to them.
My name is David Siegel. I’m a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. I’ve started 25 companies and written five books on technology and business. In 2016, I was a candidate to be the dean of Stanford Business School. Since then, I founded two blockchain companies. Now that I’m 60 years old, I want to have much more impact on the world. In this essay, I’m putting down the blueprint for a nonprofit institute I want to start someday, to create a better future for Julia and young people around the world. I know it’s hard raising money for something like this, so I’m putting the vision out there in case anyone is interested in helping me get it started. Please share it with anyone who might want to change the world with me.
A New Institute for a New Reality
I named this new institute the Giordano Bruno Institute because I’m inspired by a man who, in 1590, proposed that 1) the earth is round, 2) it revolves around the sun, 3) the sun is just another star, and 4) the universe is infinite and has no “center.” For writing those words, he was the last man burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition. After his death, there was simply too much evidence that he was right. The church ended the Inquisition, paving the way for Galileo to popularize these concepts. He is, philosophically speaking, the patron saint of science and reason.
The institute will address three big and very related problems:
Problem 1: Education
Education is broken. We have inherited an educational system designed to produce obedient factory workers in the 19th century. It fossilized and today burdens society by teaching people facts, testing them, and giving them grades. They spend years studying text books and go into debt for more than a decade just to have a piece of paper that signals something to employers that is increasingly irrelevant. Employers are half the problem. This book lays out the argument:
We shouldn’t try to fix education. We should replace it with lifelong work and learning that will help people as they work 10–20 years longer than we do today.
Problem 2: Institutions
It’s not just education. We are failing at the basics. This is what young people like Julia face as they enter the job market:
- Health care — patients are over-diagnosed, overtreated, and over-prescribed. At least half of all health-care dollars are wasted.
- Technology — markets reward monopolies that invade privacy and individual rights.
- Monetary policy often creates needless recessions.
- News — skewed by corporate interests and gamed, especially scientific reporting.
- Governance — representatives put themselves first, before constituents. Voting systems are gamed almost everywhere. People have no voice.
Problem 3: Privacy and Personal Data
Big Tech is an increasing presence in our lives. We benefit, but at a price. This long infographic shows what each large company knows about you. It’s called surveillance capitalism. Here are the key points:
- Google knows everything we have ever bought at Amazon.
- Alexa is listening to you all the time; Amazon employees can and do listen to your conversations (“for training purposes”). Same with Siri.
- Google and Apple know every place you go.
- A Facebook lawyer said “There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy.”
- Your entire prescription history is available to any company that wants to purchase it.
- Credit-card companies sell your purchase data to hedge funds and ad agencies.
- Most companies you do business with store your credit-card data. Theft is common.
Today’s legal and financial playing fields are skewed toward large, monopolistic companies that harvest our data and use it against us. The machine economy has already started. We can’t prevent it, but we can control it for our benefit, rather than for the benefit of the shareholders of a few giant companies.
It Starts with a Book
I have written five books. My first book continues to be Amazon.com’s longest-running #1 bestseller. I’d like to write a big book featuring nine Millennials around the world, each of them representing one billion people who will inhabit earth in the year 2050. It’s based on nine fundamental drivers of change. Here is a mock-up of the cover:
I want to hold a worldwide contest to find nine young people who will lead these nine fields into the future. The book will tell the story of these Millennials and how they will change the world dramatically in the next thirty years. Last time I did this, the book was a bestseller.
This new book is meant to shock, inform, and inspire Millennials. By 2050, they will be running most institutions and industries. This book serves as their map, tool kit, and an entry point to our educational programs and community. Unfortunately, I can’t get a serious book deal without a team working social media, so I need an initial investor to help build that momentum.
Solutions for Young People
Now that we understand these problems, and assuming the book gets mass-market adoption, it’s time to start building solutions. My goal is to give Julia and her generation hope. I want to equip them to strike at the root of today’s problems and create a more agile “operating system” for society.
The project has three pillars: education, institutional change, and technology.
Solution 1: Continuous Education
We need to replace today’s education system with something more effective. I want to research, publish, explain, advocate for change, and engage Millennials to build new skills as they need them. I want to start by building an online education center that goes along with the book. Then, I want to grow an active community of young shapers, connect to other groups who are innovating, and help create a new wave of alternative educational models. I will produce conferences, online events, build apps, and more.
Specifically, I want young people to learn critical-thinking skills and continue learning all their lives as they work:
- Use the scientific method and do experiments to understand the world.
- Become comfortable in a world of increasing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity)
- Become statistically literate and train in Bayesian reasoning.
- Take each issue on its own merits, without platform belief systems.
- Understand AI and our relationship to it.
- Work on pilot projects that show the way forward.
- Learn how to keep learning as you work and as you need to know new things.
Much of this is summed up in my essay, In Reality.
I want this new institute to be the bridge between young people and employers, to tell them new models are emerging and they can let go of the status quo.
How we will measure success: by the number of young people who forego traditional higher education for a mixture of working and continuous learning.
Solution 2: Governance and Policy Advocacy
To succeed, the new Giordano Bruno Institute must change the systems that run the world. I want our community members to collaborate on institutional-change initiatives and work with other groups whose goals are aligned with ours.
There is low-hanging fruit everywhere. I can easily identify $20 trillion of global spending that doesn’t achieve its goal, and that’s just the first pass. My suggested approach is to:
- Better understand problems before trying to solve them. Many programs are misguided because they don’t fully understand what the problem is. From the EU to health care to education to federal regulation, if it doesn’t work, why are we tweaking it?
- Better frame problems so everyone is on the same page.
- Use new ideas and new technology to leap forward.
- Do experiments and pilots to refine concepts and scale them.
- Build an active community of world changers to identify, define, and solve problems together.
These books show a world of exciting new possibilities: 1) Randomistas, by Andrew Leigh, 2) Radical Markets, by Posner and Weyl, 3) The Elephant in the Brain, by Robin Hanson, 4) Inadequate Equilibria, by Eliezer Yudkowsky, 5) Stubborn Attachments, by Tyler Cowen.
The institute won’t focus on vertical solutions for industries. This work is focused horizontally — to help people like Julia build the skills they need to build meaningful lives. To help them make institutions more agile.
How we will measure success: by the amount of real change we can create in organizations. We will have to define it, quantify it, and hit our targets.
Changing institutions is critical. But our lives are more and more driven by data, machines, and algorithms. In addition to education and societal change, we must also build an alternative to Big Tech and its grip on our data.
Solution 3: A Level Tech Playing Field for the 21st Century
I want to build an open-source platform based on the ideas in my book, Pull. The key components are:
People use self-sovereign digital identities to identify themselves. This means you are responsible for your own identity. Microsoft, the W3C, and others are coming together around the DID standard, which could be the foundation of identity for this century.
People own and maintain their own data. They will keep a record of all their travel, likes, comments, photos, videos, appointments, doctor visits, diagnostics, prescriptions, classes, grades, parking tickets, purchases, reading, people they meet, conversations, and much more. They own it. They control it.
A market for personal digital-assistants. Today, we have Siri, Alexa, and Google. These digital assistants seem free, but they are actually quite expensive. In the world I want to create, there is an open market for personal digital assistants that can use your data to help you best. If you don’t like your assistant, fire it and hire another one to work with your data. This open-source playing field gives consumers choices that are fundamentally different than the monopolistic solutions we have today. We don’t have to invent everything — Stanford’s Almond project is heading in this direction.
From apps to services. Apps are traps. Apps keep our personal data on private servers. When we have proper, legal digital ownership of all our goods, and services are represented by digital tokens, markets become much more liquid. This is what I call the world of offers. It’s meant to replace apps, which haven’t scaled and are bottlenecks and traps for data and poor management of assets. We can transform apps into services and then things will scale far better than they do today. For more on the world of offers, read The Pillar Project Gray Paper.
An open social network. Today, large social networks are centralized. People are used to “free and easy,” but more and more we are beginning to understand the true price. People should own their own data, their own conversations, their own likes and shares.
Subscription-based content. YouTube’s algorithm now determines what kind of content creators make. The YouTube business model is to sell ad impressions to millions — it isn’t very different from the interruption-model of advertising on TV. Educating consumers is as important as creating a new business model for content.
Infrastructure should be open-source. To level the playing field, no single company should own the infrastructure of any industry. That limits innovation, because you need permission to do anything on the platform (e.g., Apple’s app store or Amazon’s infrastructure). I want to show the way by starting with small pilot projects with the power to transform industries and create a new era of competition and innovation.
How we will measure success: by the number of users of these new, open-source systems.
We are very much aligned with these groups…
- The Copenhagen Consensus Center
- The World Economic Forum Global Shapers
- Singularity University
- Arnold Ventures
- Skoll Foundation
- The Milken Institute
- The Case Foundation
There are many other potential partners. I want to focus on Millennials, the largest group in the workforce today.
I don’t have a team, and I certainly don’t have a detailed plan. I’m too late to apply for a MacArthur Foundation 100AndChange grant, but that is the scale I’m looking for. In 2017, I actually raised $21 million to build this vision as a crypto-funded project. The Pillar Project is an app you can get on your phone today. They are just starting to work with governments on self-sovereign ID and citizen services. Pillar has a lot going for it — they are very influential in the world of crypto-wallets and decentralized identity. I would want the institute to work with Pillar and other software providers to architect and deliver a fully open-source suite of solutions as an antidote to Big Tech.
I am perhaps one of the few people in the world best positioned to create, launch, and steward this platform. But it will take a community, and it will take money.
Don’t tell me I’m thinking too big — I may be thinking too big for you, but not for the MacArthur Foundation. Not for 1.8 billion Millennials. Not for the task of creating an on-ramp to the 21st century.
Do you see the importance of what I want to do? Do you want to be part of it?
At the moment, it’s mostly me and a few volunteers. I’m blogging at CuttingThroughTheNoise.net. We have a small Telegram group. We need fuel to create more content and more momentum. We are already publishing daily, working on our book proposal, building our social-media footprint, and working tirelessly to get this vision off the ground.
I don’t expect this to come together without meeting the right people. It could take years, but this institute is the legacy I would like to leave my children. I don’t know anything about traditional nonprofit funding, but I do think a nonprofit can have a business model and make plenty of money — it just can’t have profits. Are people willing to pay a bit each year to be self-sovereign and have control over their own data? If they are, this nonprofit could have a lot of cash coming in.
I’m in the exploratory phase now, looking for funders, partners, contributors, and connectors. If you think you can help, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- My talk to the EU Parliament last year
- The essay that helped get this started — In Reality
- Our Website and blog, Cutting Through the Noise
- Our new YouTube channel
- My video on why the digital ecosystem is broken
- Follow me on Twitter
- Join our Telegram channel
Thanks to Maarten van Doorn for his collaboration and to our community for their support.