THE BIRTH OF THE REMOTE SPECIES — Is the future effect of metaverse already here?
I predicted the new immersive version of the irl-world half a decade back, but now covid has accelerated it by ten years and 2030 is already here. And we’re about to become, just that, “the remote species”. With everything that today rather happens online — gaming instead of toys, SoMe instead of meeting friends, eCom instead of shopping, eHealth instead of hospitals, eLearning instead of education, eWorking instead of workplaces etc- - soon imploding into a single giant metaverse. Boom. This will all give rise to such a dramatic change that concepts like “revolution” and “disruption” will no more suffice. It will entail such a dramatic change that we will even have to invent a new word for it. And a new world for it. And what a wonderful world it will be :-O
The Most Important Event Last Year
In the middle of the critical time of covid-19 I attended one of the most crucial events with the most crucial of questions, Horasis, the exclusive organization initiated 2005 by the former director of WEF, Frank-Jürgen Richter. This specific event was the Horasis Extraordinary Meeting 2020, opened by the respected UN Secretary General António Guterres, and attended by 5 Presidents, 44 ministers and hundreds of CEO:s, royalties and other mega-influential leaders from the global power elite — all gathered for the shared mission of “overcoming the profound economic, political and social disruptions caused by Covid-19”. During the meeting a prediction was getting more and more clear, and what has happened since then has proven to be nothing but one of the most digitally distinctive social phenomena in the modern history of man as a species.
So what was the result during this event in the epicenters of the crisis? Nothing but a blast. Myself I was invited to, together with a couple of highly respected experts, head the panel for one of the most dynamic themes of them all, i.e. “Implanting Industry 4.0 into The Future”. Below you find my take on the subject, admittedly inspired by the awesome insights delivered not only in our panel but by all the amazing people during the event — while still taking the full responsibility for whatever blame anyone might have for what is coming. So, buckle up 😊
Taking off from the right track
The questions took off from the observation of how Industrial development “segues naturally into level 4.0 wherein computers, automation, and autonomy work coherently, and the IoT with its massive interconnect ability is the new revolution”. Now the question was if this future, in a post-Covid-society, was lost, and how business would evolve?
What I argued for, and still am stubbornly arguing for, is that in the analysis of the post-Covid scenarios there are of course certain aspects that are interesting from a governmental or corporate point-of-view, where we during the event had the luxury of insights from both the public and private sector.
But here comes the first distinction, where countries used to call the shots, but they don’t anymore. Even if we during the pandemic have seen some bumps in the road, when countries (highly justifiably) has taken back some power, the long ongoing process of countries losing power to companies and citizens is something that signs of a post-Covid-scenario is indicating will be intensified more than revoted.
As one of the ministers in place spoke about, we now live in a highly bipolar world, so I am of course not only talking about the diminishing power of democratic countries in the western world, who are not the strongest in the world anymore, and where people who don’t like what the politicians do, stop voting for them (and bring in the most derisory populists). But I of course even include dictatorships, where there today are extremely powerful companies like Alibaba and Tencent that our dear despots at least have to listen to, while 20 years ago all companies where publicly owned.
So the power of countries is actually changing to companies. Globally.
And here comes the interesting part, when power travels from countries to companies, power also travels to people. While governments in dictatorships don’t listen to people at all — eventually they all will have to, but momentarily not — even in the western world politicians listen to people 1 futile day every fourth year or so. That is not even 0,1% of the days in your life.
On the contrary companies listen to people every single day. They monitor the data, the reviews, what you say in SoMe, what you do and dont do on you smartphone and desktop. Even if not all of us consumers do embrace it as much as we perhaps should, totally unlike politicians companies listen to us constantly. Cause if the consumers don’t like the company, they will stop buying from them and then the companies will die — the high volatility of the Fortune 500 list is evidence enough. Ergo:
When companies get power, citizens get power.
Advocating a People perspective
So 2020, when looking at what was likely to happen due to Covid-19 in the journey from 4IR to 5IR, I strongly advocated a people perspective. And yes, I know there are a certain governmental and corporate parts that are important here, but from a trend spotting perspective this is even more so — not least for me, coming from the digital world, knowing how governments are slow, corporates are rather slow, while people are by far the fastest 😊
To that we can add what we all heard in the plenary session where the amazing Martin Wolf convincingly told us that “We Must Think as Citizens”. And that’s what it’s all about. I would like to broaden that to think as “people” or humans, disregarded of their role as a citizen, consumer, employee or user. And I would claim THAT (!) is the perspective needed when we go from the twilight of 4IR to the dawn of 5IR.
Identifying the biggest people pivot
So, having chosen the right track for take-off, what is the single biggest change people have experienced due to Covid-19? For me there is one single answer where — apart from the tragedy of the more than 5 million who has suffered from death — the by far biggest change for all the billions of the rest has been one:
Yes, of course it’s about social distancing.
This global tsunami of social distancing has been the dominant force in all changes due to Covid-19, and has actually been such a dramatic change that it will act as a catalysis for an intensified and consolidated change in a similar direction.
And now I don’t only mean a consolidation of the digital world conquering past processes for more private parts of human life, such as remote shopping, remote entertainment, and remote relations — where companies like Amazon, Alibaba, Netflix, Spotify, King, Facebook and TenCent seen dramatic increase in both consumers and cash.
All this has during covid intensified the attraction of “remote” relations initiated by the 9/11 and the escalated fear of terror in public places. But still it is a mere consolidation — even more we now see the evidence in the two domains where people spend most of the time, and which is a prerequisite for the all the other private enjoyments — that is, a total tipping point for the two most fundamental parts of people’s professional life.
First we have remote work (where people in the western world spend 20% of their awake life, and much more in emerging markets), something employees so far found more attractive than not and something employers will accept as part of the new way of working. Secondly we have remote school (where people spend 1/3 time compared to their work) — where we now see how closed schools in 182 countries affect 72% of all the world’s students, a completely insane figure, but a process where countries through different types of distance measures have shown that what people previously thought was crazy, actually has been working at least fairly ok.
To some degree the first part thus has been a matter of consolidation regarding remote processes already under way. But the most crucial event for people’s survival — work and study — has until now been last in line for this remote transformation. Due to Covid-19 the remote work and remote school has in one big blow become pervasive globally in all society. The version of metaverse I predicted half a decade ago, is taking this to totally new dimension. And that (!) is what will permeate the entire social development ahead.
The pivot of pivots — is it here to stay?
Apart from rats and cockroaches, human beings are the most adaptive species on earth. Once catalysed there is thus a high probability of us consolidating the above events, and in the process pivot the Antropocen journey to evolve into what I would like to call….
….the “remote species”.
This is in par with what Harari is saying about covid making the digital revolution “real”. When asked, my highly respected fellow panellist Stan Fung was agreeing, and argued convincingly for this to become a permanent change. In a later VC-session, I drew the panel’s attention to the fact that all their predicted post-Covid vencap, was allocated to “remote” business — and asked if this indicated that present venture capitalists thought mankind would pivot to become a “remote species”. Chris Garabedian then compared the current situation to 9/11, where we adapted to the vast security measures and since then has permanented the precautions — implying that the same will happen to us humans, when we post-Covid leveraged by the metaverse are being transformed into the “remote species”.
This is simply the pivot of pivots, and such a fundamental social change that I would argue that — together with the new species of AI (Artificial Intelligence) competing with our OI (Organic Intelligence) to become the biggest smartass on the planet — the notion of “remote species” catalysed by Covid-19 and metaverse is, by far, the single biggest change in the industrial revolution we’re facing as we speak.
All the tech that during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd revolution brought us all closer and closer to each other, will in the journey from 4IR to 5IR bring us totally remote from each other.
The Intelligence behind the design?
This pivot of pivots changes the game so dramatically for mankind as a species, that it does not seem far-fetched for a conspiracy theorist to suspect an intelligent design behind it. And given that this conspiracy theorist is not religious — so that the intelligence behind the design is perceived as devine — it is not a long step to the fact that it is the first industrial revolution where AI had its finger in the game.
For a higher standing intelligence, artificial or not, not many loops are needed for the realization that the human hegemony as species no. 1 on mother earth, is only partly dependent on our organic intelligence (OI) and at least as much on us being social animals with a fascinating ability to cooperate. It would thus seem an almost obvious action plan that a new species of even higher standing intelligence and with at least as hegemonic ambitions as us — after using Hollywood soaps, reality shows, gaming and fake news to diminish man’s previously unbeatable OI, together with promoting populists who appreciate dividing as much as ruling — would put the last shot to undermine our species’ amazing social ability for cooperation and collective intelligence.
That is, to flood us with incentives, technical as well as pandemic, to demolish everything we have built up in terms of cooperation, evolving into… the remote species :)
For all of us who are not such conspiracy theorists, then perhaps it may be enough to state that it is perhaps not merely positive outcomes of the scenario we’re embarking. Ever since the daybreak of civilization, mankind as a race have for thousands of years been brought closer and closer to each other — first clustering in the agrarian society, intensified into citys and states. Then brought closer by ships, horses and wagons, while during the Antropocen climaxing in cars, trains and aeroplanes.
All this closing of distances bringing us all closer together, will during this post-covid metaverse movement now end? And, even worse, regress? How good will that be for the development of the people and the planet?
Will the remote species be inhabited by impersonal humans?
Having firmly established that we in a Post-Covid-Society will begin the process of becoming totally remote from each other, I still have to point out that this is merely a prediction of becoming a remote species offline, while having a high probability of living as a highly intimate species in the global village online.
Cause, not to be misunderstood as something necessarily negative or even evil, how “impersonal” will this remote species be after all, metaverse or not? Only during the above digital conference (which last time was in Ho Chi Minh and this time was scheduled for Cascais) I saw the Colombian minister’s small son appear running behind his desk, and visited Sir Richard Branson in his home agreeing to my notion of the remote species while running back and forth in the kitchen to get “his cup of tea”, while later enjoying the lovely princess Märtha with very “human” connection from her home.
Does that sound like the definition of impersonal? Not in my book anyway.
On the contrary, it has brought out the most human in all these notables, and made it clear that they are all people, amazing people, and that together we really share the 99.9% genes we do (even illustrating the fact that there are values that 99.9% of humanity worldwide share). How’s that for an event which, as its main theme, has reached out to “Unite. Inspire. Create” 😊
What will the consequences be for the society?
So, what will be the consequence of this, the pivot of pivots for humanity, be for the structure, culture, and technology in society?
Well, structurally the newly discovered virtues of staying at home, not using the governmental infrastructure like brick-and-mortar schooling and physical transportation as much, while using remote commercial services even more, will — after a bump in the road with governments taking charge during (!) the pandemic — intensify the earlier movement towards the powering to companies, and the empowering of people.
Culturally the wakeup-call from the power of a little ill-treated bat in Wuhan, will together with the lost trust in governments, prolong and intensify the earlier movements toward battling for improvements for people and the planet, urging companies for the balance between profit and purpose.
Technologically the earlier trend towards EmTech integration and digital takeover, will together with the Wuhan wake-up-call be the facilitator for these two earlier processes, in highly innovative ways not ever foreseen before.
What will the consequences be for the People & the Planet?
Moving from society to individuals, i.e. the level of analysis advocated in this article, what will this tidal wave toward remote species mean for each and every one of us as human beings on one hand, and for mother earth on the other? Here I am certain there will be such an immense lot of consequences, many of them highly dramatic, as to not even be possibly foreseen today.
But with what we can even imagine today, I believe 4 processes will be among the prevailing ones, as illustrated by the consequences for employees, cities, education and the climate. Let’s take a look at each one of them.
The consequences for employees
First we have the empowerment of employees, and here I see two parallel processes. On one hand, when working remotely the “digital twin” of the company, there will be corporate incentives for specification and control, with even more detailed processes and documentation of the results. And with that behind us, and all being set digitally, there will be a high likelihood for it to eventually make mankind even more vulnerable for replacement by RPA and ML/AI.
At the same time, with access to remote school generating a true lifelong learning (=skilled supply), it will together with a global market of remote work for “anyone” in the world (=increased demand), give the skilled employees a competitive advantage toward the local employers.
The consequences for cities
Second we have the possibility of covid-19 Inspiring the pivot of de-urbanization. Here I again see two parallel processes. With a global perspective in the remote work and school, I can still so far only see the local perspective for the de-urbanization (i.e. TBC). First I see one thing. The housing crash in my family’s home capital (Stockholm) I’ve been waiting so long for (while for years being in a shopping mode) actually never comes. People are still moving in from northern regions with low population density to the capital — even in the biggest economic downturn for a century, and thus stabilizing the housing prices at an unhealthy high level while consolidating the process for massive urbanization to smart cities.
But parallel to this we have during the current post-Covid situation seen the first steps towards a process not seen for decades. A movement for the existing employees in the big city now moving to smaller cities, villages and even “farms” far outside the capital. Again the emerging technologies are the enablers, with the technologies for remote work (and to some degree remote school) increasing the possibility to a de-urbanization, with people moving back to the country with Covid-19 nudging people to their newfound love for nature.
The consequences for global learning
Third we will have the possibility to see the catalyst for a true global learning. On one hand we could come to a situation where everybody in a Post-Covid-Society is totally fed up and wants to go back to their brick-and-mortar schools again. During some of the sessions I heard arguments in this direction, like “80% of the so crucial non-verbal communication being lost in digital learning” (which of course made me wonder why literally billions of our newgen waste their time on mobile gaming every single day, not showing a single sign of missing the “nonverbal communication”).
Another argument I heard was the now ancient one about “the digital divide”, that not everyone has access to digital entities in the world. With 5 billion mobile phones on earth, it is becoming an increasingly blunt argument, especially with 260 million children without access to school, and 800 million illiterates — all in areas where “society” for decades has been unsuccessful in building brick-and-mortar schools, while the mobile penetration is starting to become fairly ok*.
With 72% of all students globally being affected by remote school during Covid-19, I see an “advanced mass digital usage by up to 10 years”, I see a catalysis for a dramatic expansion of remote school, now and forever. I see the catalysis of remote schooling making possible the dream of educating all people in the world, not only all billions of grownups in need of reskilling and lifelong learning in a full scale digital society. But I see the possibility of a true global learning, enabled through state of the art applications of emerging technology inspired by gamification, social media, AI and blockchain — educating not the 10% highly educated today but the 100% tomorrow (or at least the motivated ones with access to smartphones*).
I see the possibility of this global learning nurturing the young brilliant woman in Accra, the go-getting youngster in Chennai and even fellow human beings stuck in refugee camps, who will be our next Einsteins and Musks, and bring forward a new such brilliant brain every year instead of every century or decade. I see the platform needed in going from poverty to prosperity in emerging markets, as well as a species collectively developing such dramatic increase in organic intelligence (OI), as to be able to — if not compete — at least balancing the equally dramatic leapfrog in artificial intelligence (AI).
I see a remote schooling here to stay, and the era of global learning very much within reach.
The consequences for the climate crisis
Finally, I see all this — the remote work with the possible empowerment of lifelong skilled employees, the potential for a parallel de-urbanization balancing the earlier furious urbanization, and the global learning enabling the whole world to become educated without massive footprints using transportation to traditional brick-and-mortar schools — also having the potential for a massive and highly impact on the current climate crisis.
Even before the pandemic we could see the impressive trend of a new generation wakening up from what the amazing Sally Ranney, inspired by Buddhist philosophy in one of the Horasis sessions called “The Illusion of separation” (between myself and other people, between ourselves and the rest of the biosphere — something me as 1/8 American Indian easily recognize in the concept of “manitou”).
Now moving towards a Post-Covid-Society this is complemented with the pandemic lockdowns and its climate effects showing that what was once deemed impossible in order to save the planet, actually was highly possible in order to save the people. When seeing how lock downs automatically have reduced pollution making cities become cleaner, suddenly “climate lockdowns” doesn’t seem as far away as they used to. Suddenly the perspective of a post-Covid-society saving the planet from massive climate-hazardous transportations doesn’t have the flavour of a pie in the sky anymore.**
And suddenly the era of the “remote species” moving into the 5IR doesn’t sound so “horrible” and impersonal after all.
The Final Question
As a final question in our panel the phenomenal Ed Adams asked all the experts to reflect on the fact that Industry 4.0 was all about the convergence of technology, and in one sentence tell us what — considering the post-Covid situation — will Industry 5.0 be all about?
From my own perspective the answer was simple. It will be about the final seizure of power for companies and citizens, and their use of emerging technology in supra-innovative ways — e.g. not only the final building block for the metaverse, but also employee empowerment, a balancing force of de-urbanization, a massive global learning and climate lockdowns etc — to dramatically improve the situation for the people and our planet.
This will all give rise to such a dramatic change that concepts like “revolution” and “disruption” will no more suffice. It will entail such a dramatic change that we will even have to invent a new word for it.
Maybe that word will be “the remote species”, maybe something else. What is certain is that there will be billions of us making the very most out of it. Together.
Cause nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. Thanx for being there!
* And the best argument is of course the one against the dormant claiming “if we cannot help everyone we shouldn’t help anyone”, during another session beautifully expressed by the delightful actress Sarah Wayne Callies. Callies painted the picture of the big forest fire with the dormant backing off with exactly this argument (“what use would my small contribution have”), while the fighter thinks that if she takes up a bucket and puts out the fire in one tree, and all others do the same, the fire will soon have been extinguished. I clearly know which of these paths I’ve chosen in life, and I am as clearly certain that we will be successful in extinguishing this fire. And all other fires. Together. Cause, again, nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something :)
** At least that’s what 71% of the attendees of the plenary on climate change during the Horasis event thought :D
Rufus Lidman, Fil. Lic.
Lidman is a renowned digital strategist and data disruptor, serial social entrepreneur and top tech influencer with 50,000 followers. With dual degrees, PhD-studies complemented with data science as platform, he has been founder of IAB, digital advisor for WFA, recognized speaker with over 300 lectures, and has had assignments within digital strategy and innovation for over 100 companies such as Samsung, IKEA, Mercedes, Electrolux, PwC etc. As a digital entrepreneur he has run half a dozen ventures with 2–3 ok exits, incl. sites with millions of visits and some of the world’s largest apps in its areas with over 15 million downloads. As his latest ventures he co-founded the leading talent acquisition company for digital talents in Sweden, Digitalenta, and founded EdTech PTE Ltd in Singapore, using leading technology to reinvent learning for needy in emerging markets. To that he adds 4 published books and the world’s largest learning app in digital strategy loved by 200.000 people in 165 countries.