Southern vs Northern Hemisphere 5.0?
‘’It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.’’ Voltaire (aka Francois Marie Arouet)
Historically, previous Industrial Revolutions have always had their many proponents and detractors. The current Fourth Industrial Revolution, as it was dubbed by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, is no different. Perhaps, this state of affairs is part of the mindset required by human beings in order to process change. Utopia vs Dystopia? Bellum vs Ante Bellum?
In fact, MIT philosopher-activist Noam Chomsky may well be right after all with his doomsday scenario: The fast rate of technological changes in recent times means that humanity is obliged to focus on improving its morals and ethics before we actually do manage to obliterate ourselves. However, this evolutionary pace also represents a huge opportunity in terms both of global geopolitics and the relationship between the Southern and Northern hemispheres of our beloved planet earth.
Arguably, capitalism has been the catalyst for the last four Industrial Revolutions. But these were far from people-centric moments in history. But, the Fifth Revolution may signal the inauguration of radical change of a more human kind and a trend towards decentralisation across the entire socio-economic spectrum will be at its core. For the disenfranchised and socially excluded in the world, this represents a big chance for improvement and a fairer share of happiness in life. Apparently, if www.100people.org are to be trusted in their assertions, those 60 inhabitants in the world who are [in the village of 100 people who represent the world’s population], currently without internet access, are about to be empowered by said Fifth Revolution. The reason is simple: The untapped talent pool [and arguably the future hope of humanity] is mainly located in the Southern Hemisphere. Exposing those ‘markets’ and regions to paradigm shift technologies may allow them to leapfrog developed economies, and all within less than one generation.
As a matter of fact, one could make parallels to the First Digital Revolution in the Eighties. In the early days of the internet, there was a utopian vision that technology would change the world for the better and solve all problems everywhere all over the world instantly. Indeed, the notion that the Internet reframes our very existence as a flow of data was of great appeal to the tech entrepreneur community. Interestingly, the world wide web could also be seen as a “universal” version of what the Whole Earth Catalogue team tried to do in the late Sixties led by guru Stewart Brand.
But it never happened? Why? An unhealthy cocktail of big business and even bigger government.
So the largest driver globally for that first tech revolution was Palo Alto in San Francisco, which had been steadily growing in economic influence since the 1950s. The city has a big hippy heritage that permeates all walks of life. It is impossible for Santa Clara Valley not to be affected by this. Partly inspired by Flower Power, and partly fuelled by the government-backed LSD experiments on campus at Stanford, Silicon Valley has grown into the biggest tech cluster in the world with one of the biggest GDPs of any urban neighbourhood in the world.
In the early Eighties, academic Hans Jonas explored spirituality and religion in relation to new technology. For his book ”The Imperative of human responsibility” (1984) he decided to focus on ethics and morals based on his personal and harrowing experience in Nazi Germany. He was also one of the first thinkers to reflect on the human impact on nature through technology. Another key thinker was Victor Ferkiss who defined a new utopian vision for society again based on technological impact.
Other researchers, like Barbera Goodwin in her book “The Politics of Utopia” (2009), explored the socio-political implications of any given technological advance and how movements can be inspired. It is alleged that Stanford Professor Frederick Terman, also cited as the godfather of Silicon Valley, saw Palo Alto as an academic coterie rather than a geographical location. Later Tech industry leaders of the time like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates somehow picked up on the ‘Valley vibe’ but corporates and policymakers intervened to curtail their vision. But nowadays the new industry pioneers are in a position of much more strength and emerging economies have no legacy systems to slow them down. Paradoxically, there are big similarities between the hippy movement and the notions of abundance muted by technology pioneers. New tech religions have also sprung up such as Way of the Future in the USA who proclaim: “…the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software….”.*
Beginning of the End?
So what next? Perhaps, certain issues nearer to home need to be addressed. For example, if one in four Americans is unbanked then surely technology must have a role in solving that problem — Fortunately, tech is helping lots of customers who may never have been in a retail bank. Theresa Schmall, a manager at CFSI, points out that “solutions using digital and mobile platforms can provide expanded access for the unbanked. It may also remove the presumption of exclusivity that prevents many unbanked and underbanked households from approaching mainstream financial services — while also eliminating those seemingly endless lines.”** But there are many layers to the issue of social exclusion. Identity is a key factor and linked to the wider and more philosophical topic of Representation.
In a recent report biometrics was cited as a megatrend by Think Tank, Cenfri — “For the financial inclusion sector, biometrics can be used to authorize access to personal data, pre-populate forms and agreements, and verify signatures. Something this simple can transform the relationship between the financial sector and consumers while opening the door to a wider range of financial products. In essence, biometrics make the consumer interoperable with the broader financial system.” ***
If the cradle of humanity is in Africa, then it seems to make perfect sense that it and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere should the epicentre of the next Industrial Revolution. It will take a paradigm shift in education and leadership but with resilience, a new humanity 5.0 will emerge. We hope.