Making sense of exponential change
What Happened in 2004…
…and why I’m changing direction in 2018
As I engage with a wider audience interested in Project 2030 and Postcards From 2035, I’m more and more often asked how I do my research, where I get my information from and how I make sense of the exponential change our civilisation is experiencing. The answer is surprisingly simple, but certainly not what you might expect. I’ve not shared this with many people before (not even my mum) because, quite frankly, it makes me a little uncomfortable. However, if you believe, like me, that growth occurs outside our comfort zone, buckle yourself in as I answer the question…
I’ve previously written about my bizarre experience on a Thai beach in 2004:
The Beach That Rocked (My World)
Remembering a bizarre Thai beach experience that forever changed my life
In that essay I described an out-of-body experience that rattled my world to the core and resulted in a 2-year sabbatical, during which I dived deep down the consciousness rabbit hole previously explored by great minds like Ken Wilber, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Fritjof Capra, Buckminster Fuller, David Bohm, Ervin Laszlo, Carl Sagan, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Stanslov Grof, many more as well as numerous Eastern philosophers.
What I didn’t share in that essay is the second significant way in which the experience radically and unalterably changed the course of my life. I didn’t share it because, when I wrote the article in March 2016, it still wasn’t clear to me how this second piece was relevant. However, as I witness how society is evolving in 2018, perhaps the time is right to share this now.
During the out-of-body experience, I received a crystal-clear, mind-blowing vision of a future, entirely data-driven society, in which the data generated by the society essentially represents the resource which keeps the society running. I’m aware of the more modern “data is the new oil” meme, but this was something entirely different, because the vision replaced capitalism entirely.
Keep in mind that this was 2004 — Facebook was a few months old, tech companies were still reeling from the dot-com crash, Google was 7 years old, Amazon was 10, the world wide web had only been around for 14 years and it was three years before the iPhone release. The tech simply did not exist to support an entirely data-driven society. However, the vision had me enraptured, so I spent the next 2 days — without sleep — furiously trying to capture what I’d been shown into my trusty notepad (with my untidy handwriting).
I’ve kept that notebook, and at the end of every year I read through those rough notes to remind myself of the vision, wondering whether I can do anything with it. For many years the vision remained essentially worthless, but what has been interesting to observe is how exponential technology is lately delivering the vision almost precisely. (I track these developments here).
Before I explain, here’s a simplified diagram of how society operated in the vision. Note the importance of — what was then called — the Personal Identifier and Data Vault. You can read more about each element here — numbers in the diagram represent the numbered elements.
A number of significantly interesting developments — all of which are prerequisites for a data-driven society — have occurred since receiving the vision:
- 2006: Although research started in the 1970’s, the first 12 qubit quantum computer was benchmarked by researchers at the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, as well as MIT, Cambridge. Cambridge Quantum Computing launched in the UK in 2014. Without the power of quantum computing, it’s unlikely we can achieve a fully data-driven society.
- 2008: Although the history of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) spans hundreds of years, in 2008 the Alaska Permanent Fund reached a new all-time high with payments of $3269 per person, showing a somewhat meaningful UBI for the first time in history. I prefer the vision’s version of a Universal Abundance Income, which is basically an incentive and reward program for committing to the development of a data-driven society.
- January 2009: In October 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper on the cryptography mailing list at metzdowd.com describing the bitcoin digital currency. It was titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. In January 2009, Nakamoto released the first bitcoin software that launched the network and the first units of the bitcoin cryptocurrency, called bitcoins. That got my attention, because this was the first time I’d heard of something that had the potential to provide the framework for this future society.
- 2015: The term “sharing economy” began to appear in the early 2000s, as new business structures emerged, enabling social technologies, and an increasing sense of urgency around global population growth and resource depletion. Professor Lawrence Lessig was possibly first to use the term in 2008, though others claim the origin of the term is unknown. Airbnb launched in 2008 and Uber launched in 2009, but the sharing economy really started making sense with the 2015 publication of The Business of Sharing by Alex Stephany, founder of JustPark. The basics of a sharing or peer-to-peer economy are the foundation for a future data-driven society.
- July 2015: Ethereum, which uses a natively digital currency – Ether – as a fuel for decentralized applications in the Web 3.0 ecosystem, launches. A currency and ecosystem like this is required for an alternative awards and incentive system (most often referred to as UBI). As of February 2018 i.e. it’s less than 3 years old, the Ethereum ecosystem has 30 times more developers than the next blockchain community (Bitcoin). If you go back through history, whoever has the developers tends to succeed.
- May 2017: Microsoft, uPort, Gem, Evernym, Blockstack, and Tierion announced the formation of the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF). The Decentralized Identity is absolutely key to achieving a data-driven society. In February 2018, Microsoft shared what they’ve learned less than a year into their Identity Division’s deep-dive. Clearly things are starting to happen.
- June 2017: After encouragement from my personal coach, Louise Mowbray, I started writing Postcards From 2035, in an attempt to storify the vision I received in 2004. Rather than waiting for the entire manuscript to be completed before publishing, I’ve released each chapter (postcard) online as they birth themselves. This counterintuitive decision to publish freely has created a funnel, or opened a channel, to connect with others interested in society’s evolution:
- August 2017: SingularityNET launches the global brain, a key piece of the data-driven feedback loop.
- There are many more examples, but in the interests of brevity, I think you get the point: we’re increasingly moving toward a data-driven society, but more specifically a society rich in what Nora Bateson calls Warm Data.
As reluctant as I am to admit this publicly — because I’m always skeptical of anyone who claims to have received ‘divine revelation’ — I cannot deny that the clarity of the vision received in 2004 has been my guiding framework ever since that watershed day. It shapes and informs all my research and helps me make decisions about who I invest time with and what projects I get involved in. I am surprised on an almost daily basis by new in-real-life and neural connections that confirm the now 14-year old vision. It’s how I ended up, for example, collaborating with Jonathan Kolber, author of A Celebration Society and Shereen Amos, who will be producing the documentary about a data-driven society. It’s how I crossed paths with Daniel Jeffries, Vinay Gupta, Trent McConaghy, Dr Shaun Conway, Jordan Greenhall and countless others who are (sometimes not so) quietly solving the modern-day version of the Great Horse Manure Crisis. It’s why more than 17,000 people follow my writing on Medium, without any publicity and even though my writing is sporadic. It’s been a truly humbling (and enriching) experience to talk publicly about a vision that has on more than one occasion led to suicidal thoughts because of the significant gap between what I was shown and where we are now.
As a result of something I can no longer not do, I’m changing direction in 2018.
I’ve recently been inspired by the idea of Society 4, something I learned from Otto Scharmer of MIT’s Presencing Institute. It’s a useful framework which helps me fit the vision I received into the natural evolution of societies.
From today I’m shifting my focus to creating tools that help with making sense of Society 4. These tools will include an advisory newsletter, a database of certified Society 4 initiatives and a Society 4 consultancy. If things go well, you’ll be seeing this logo widely used. It may be too early to be launching this initiative right now, but it’s something I must do, to help birth the society I so desperately want for my daughter.
I hope you’ll join me on the journey.