The Evolutionary Journey to Society 4.0

Part 1 of a simple framework to explain emerging technology in the context of humanity’s evolution

Evolution of Las Vegas, Nevada — 1984–2016. Source
“I feel like I’m here to support the human evolution.” — Alanis Morisette

How has technology (the tools that humans build) help moved humanity forward throughout the long history of the past 12,000 years? All major epochal shifts in human society revolve around significant shifts in:

  1. How energy is converted into something of service (a plough, the automobile, airplanes and the space shuttle are examples);
  2. How communication takes place and how ideas spread (smoke signals, newspapers, landline phone, fax machine, mobile phone, Internet, Twitter);
  3. How history is recorded (papyrus scrolls, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, the blockchain); or,
  4. How the exchange of value is recorded (bartering, coins, central banks, cryptocurrencies and Single, Double and Triple Entry Accounting).

Right now , Emerging Strategic Technologies (see Q9 below for an explanation of what this includes) is enabling a significant shift in each of the four categories:

  1. Energy is increasingly being handled by automation, robotics and autonomous vehicles;
  2. We already communicate directly with machines (Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri) and we are on the cusp of connecting our brains directly to computers (see, for example, Elon Musk’s Neuralink). In addition, quantum computing is emerging and the number of connected devices (IoT) is exploding;
  3. Data is slowly shifting from centralised databases to decentralized blockchains, and with the shift to digitisation, there is an initiative underway to open source and digitise our entire civilisation. See the Global Village Construction Set. Clearly history is being recorded in new and innovative ways;
  4. While it is still relatively early days for crypto — with an inevitable shakeout coming — the survivors will completely change the way value is created and distributed, meaning that the methods we use to exchange value will likely also undergo a few changes.

Any one of these shifts on their own have caused revolutions in the past; today we are witnessing shifts happening in every area of progress.

With this evolutionary understanding as background, can we group the major revolutions of the time into the stages of an individual’s development? Simplistically, the framework looks like this:

  • Society 0.1 (gestation): Cognitive Revolution — Circa 30,000 to 70,000 years ago
  • Society 1 (infancy): Agricultural Revolution — Circa 10,000BC
  • Society 2 (childhood): Industrial Revolution — Circa 1760–1960’s (200 years)
  • Society 3 (adolescence): Information Revolution— Circa 1950–today (68 years)
  • Society 4 (adulthood): Egregore Revolution (placeholder name) — Circa 2010–2090 (80 years)
  • Society 5 (prime wisdom): Transapience Revolution (placeholder name)— Circa 2100

While the dates may be out for Society 4 and 5, the three key takeaways from history are:

  1. Rules change drastically during revolutions;
  2. If you don’t learn the new rules you get left behind.

Another observation is that evolution quickens and widens with each revolution. Look at how long it took us to make the relatively simple shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural: about 60,000 years. The agricultural economy lasted for only 12,000 years. The massively disruptive industrial economy lasted around 200 years and the 68-year-long information economy restitched the very fabric of society in less than a generation. The next great leap for humanity will be — by far — the greatest (and quickest) shift we have ever encountered.

The full framework, shown below, is certainly not set in stone — it has had more than 10 revisions since we started. Instead, it’s more of a thinking tool that will undoubtedly adapt based on feedback and criticism it might attract. The only thing the framework aims to achieve is a rich dialogue. If it proves to be wholly inaccurate but stimulates meaningful debate, the model will have achieved its purpose. Please share your thoughts.

Latest Version v1.2

v1.2 uploaded on 31 May 2018

Emerging Technologies

Now that we’ve seen how humanity has evolved its past technology, we can move on to Part 2 to discuss emerging technology (blockchain, crypto, deep data, AI, ML and IoT) in the context of humanity’s coming evolution.


If you find the model useful to contextualise the work you do, please feel free to use the model — all I ask is to please include the following attribution:

The Simplified Evolution of Societies by Michael Haupt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

To download an editable version of the document (Word), click here.

A list of FAQ’s and extensive additional references can be found below.

For the initiative to crowdsource examples of Society 4.0 demonstrably emerging, see Tracking Society 4.0.

Want Updates?

We’re tracking the evolution of society, with specific examples of Society 4.0 emerging. Want occasional updates?

Additional Explanatory Notes on the Evolution of Societies

  1. Agriculture includes water management, nitrogen fixation (fertiliser), sanitation systems, mouldboard plough, slavery, private ownership of land.
  2. Printing press includes the much earlier innovations of language, paper, alphabetisation and later, photography. Enabled a shift from non-replicable (or not easily) verbal and hand-written communication to accurately replicable spreading of ideas and innovation.
  3. Social contracts include social structures which assist with governing and servicing (the 5 forms of government — so far — are: monarchy, democracy, oligarchy, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism), learning (schools, universities, research, media, religion), healing (hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical), exchanging (banking, currency issuance), defending (military, legal, penal), building (corporations, factories), appreciating (art, music, sport, philanthropy).
  4. Electricity includes the light bulb, batteries, renewable energy. Enabled the construction of large-scale central interconnected generating stations and brought networks of wires into homes and offices, eventually leading to widespread use of electrical appliances and electric climate control.
  5. Medical and life-extension innovations includes anaesthesia, vaccination, pasteurisation, refrigeration, antibiotics, contraception, DNA, optical lenses — specifically the microscope. Enabled citizens to live longer, healthier, more productive lives. More recent innovations include health sensors (quantified self), AI analysis of medical data, nutrigenomics, genome editing, surgical robotics.
  6. Mechanisation includes the wheel, clock, compass, steam engine, internal combustion engine, automobile, assembly line, steelmaking, airplane, rockets, natural resource extraction, nuclear fission. Enabled a shift from human and animal energy to mechanical energy. Rapid road infrastructure improvement (from horse tracks to highways, using cement and tarmac/asphalt) followed and this enabled societies to spread, giving rise to the middle class and cities.
  7. Silicon and semiconductor devices includes transistors, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, personal computer, Internet, smart phones, GPS. Enabled a shift from the industrial age to the digital age, in which information could move at the speed of light.
  8. Triple-entry accounting and quantum computing includes blockchain, cryptocurrency, Internet of Things, planetary-scale Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Virtual and Augmented Reality, the world computer, the global brain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Why hasn’t [insert topic] been included, or why have you grouped [topic 1] with [topic 2]?

A1: One of the foundational principles in creating the model was to attempt to distill humanity’s evolution into a single page. I’ve searched for many years for such a model and have never found something useful. The model is intentionally broad and shallow, allowing room for personal interpretation. I believe that adding complexity would detract from richness of ensuing discussion. Conclusion: the model is intentionally simple, at the expense of completeness. For more complete analyses of humanity’s evolution, see the books referenced below.

Q2: What is meant by Maturity?

A2: We’ve taken the most recent 12,000 years of humanity’s evolution and aligned each type of society with the commonly accepted stages of human life, using human ages as follows:

  1. Infancy = 0–2 years
  2. Childhood = 3–8 years
  3. Adolescence = 9–25 years
  4. Adulthood = 26–65 years
  5. Prime Wisdom Years = 65+ years.

This approach helps us contextualise where we are as a species in 2018 and what the future may look like for us.

Q 3: What is meant by Defining Governance, Communication, Winning Tactic, Captivating Project?

A3: Again, in the interests of brevity, by “Defining” we mean the single, simplest, primary most overarching theme possible that captures the essence of the time. “Governance” means the manner in which the peoples of the time engage with each other and with institutions. “Communication” simply means the manner in which ideas are exchanged at scale. “Winning Tactic” means the primary manner in which each society’s “successful” families and individuals achieved their success. “Captivating Project” is any large-scale manifestation of collective enthusiasm for a seemingly impossible initiative, which often gives rise to great scientific discoveries and radical technological innovations.

Q4: Why have you chosen Physical Creation for Society 2.0 and Exploitation for Society 3.0 as Winning Tactics? Many would argue that there was more slavery during the industrial and that the digital era was more about creation.

A4: While we agree that slavery was a hallmark of the agricultural era, we believe that many years from now, with the benefit of hindsight, we will acknowledge that power during the digital era was concentrated in the hands of a much smaller group, and levels of inequality existed at far higher levels than during the agricultural era. See for example the 1% Problem, which refers to the top 1% wealthiest people in society that have a disproportionate share of capital, political influence, and the means of production. It is this very small minority who have exploited the rest.

Q5: What does Pansophical, Consensual, Automational and Egregore mean?

A5: These are all placeholder names for an as-yet unnanmed Society 4.0. Since we are currently experiencing the transition from Society 3.0 to 4.0, it is unclear as to what this Society will be referred to in future.

Pansophism is defined as universal knowledge, wisdom, understanding and transparency enabled by Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Internet of Things, Cryptocurrency, etc. Organised around the scientific method and data-driven governance, where social engagement at every level is fully transparent.

To provide further background, the ancient Sanskrit-speaking civilisation used the word “akasha” ([aːkaːʃə], आकाश). The root of the word means “ether” in both its elemental and metaphysical senses. The Sanskrit envisioned akasha as a metaphysical information network connecting humanity with itself, with its environment (including all living creatures) and with infinite knowledge. In this paradigm, thoughts, ideas, feelings, experiences and natural feedback loops (for example how human activity affects the environment) are stored forever and shared through akasha, the universal database connecting multiple planes of existence. (See Akashic Records).

Consensual refers to a society in which the norms and laws which help the society operate effectively are agreed to by all the people involved in the society. This is in stark contrast to a representative society, in which elected officials make and change the norms and laws on behalf of the citizens.

Automational refers to a type of society in which none of the citizens are required to work to earn an income. This is achieved when the majority of work is performed by machines and computers, leaving humans to enjoy creative and other work, not directly related to an income.

Egregore refers to the idea of a “collective group mind” and can best be envisaged by watching a starling murmuration, in which a collective of birds swarm together to create the appearance of a greater entity:

Source: National Geographic

Others refer to egregore as “unleashing group genius,” where the collected thoughts and ideas of a group result in an outcome that no single individual could have predicted.

If you have another suggestion for the name of Society 4.0, please suggest one here.

Q6: What is the difference between simple, complicated, complex and anarchic?

A6: The levels of complexity are based on the Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden:

  • Simple: Cause and effect relationships exist and are self-evident, are predictable and are repeatable. Decision model: Sense, categorise, respond. Best practice.
  • Complicated: Cause and effect relationships exist but are not self-evident and therefore require expertise. Decision model: Sense, analyse, respond. Good practice.
  • Complex: Cause and effect are only obvious in hindsight, with unpredictable, emergent outcomes. Decision model: Probe, sense, respond. Emergent practice.
  • Anarchic: No cause and effect relationships can be determined. Decision model: Act, sense, respond. Novel practice.

Q7: What years do the population counts refer to?

A7: The population figures refer to the start year of the following society for each society i.e. the population count for Society 1 is the population count at the start of Society 2. The counts are retrieved from Worldometers and Scott Manning.

  • Society 0.1: 10,000BC — 5mn
  • Society 1: 1760 — 770mn
  • Society 2: 1950 — 2.6bn
  • Society 3: 2010 — 6.9bn
  • Society 4: 2090–11bn
  • Society 5: 2100 — 11.2bn if predicted growth rates remain constant or about 3bn if a global cataclysm occurs.

Q8: What does Panarchy and Heterarchy mean?

A8: Bear in mind that Society 4.0 is unlike any historical precedent, and so new words are required to describe this new form of governance and social contract. The term “panarchy” is one of those new terms. It describes the inter-linkage of systems “in continual adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal.” This continual renewal has always been an essential means by which nature learns and evolves. Organisation and direction in this system come from the bottom up and from the fringes, rather than from the top down.

Similarly, heterarchy is a new term which describes a fluid form of governance with shifts between hierarchy and anarchy as the situation requires. The principle is based on the human brain, which, while reasonably orderly is not organised hierarchically. This understanding revolutionised the neural study of the brain and solved major problems in the fields of artificial intelligence and computer design. If this organisational methodology could lead to breakthroughs in technology, why can it not lead to breakthroughs in civil society? For more, read the Royal Anthropological Institute’s paper on the origins of inequality and how hierarchy and anarchy can co-exist.

Q9: What is Emerging Strategic Technology?

A9: Popularised by the 2011 book, The Politics of Emerging Strategic Technologies: Implications for Geopolitics, Human Enhancement and Human Destiny by Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan, EST refers to biotechnology, genomics, nanotechnology, materials science, artificial intelligence, computational logic and cognitive neuroscience. For the purposes of this article, we include Distributed Ledger Technologies (blockchain — Ethereum and others) and Cryptocurrencies (bitcoin and others).

Q10: What is the Global Brain?

A10: Popularised by Francis Heylighen, research professor at the Free University of Brussels and initiator of the Global Brain Institute, the global brain is a neuroscience-inspired and futurological vision of the planetary information and communications technology network that interconnects all humans and their technological artifacts.

Q11: What is a Brain-Chain Interface?

A11: Similar to a brain–computer interface, which is a direct communication pathway between an enhanced or wired human brain and an external technological device. However, rather than connecting to a single computer, a BCI is a direct communication pathway between the brain and a network of networks on a blockchain.

Q12: What is the difference between Co-Creation and Up-Creation?

A12: Popularised by C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy in their paper, Co-creation experiences: The next practice in value creation,” Co-creation is a management initiative, or form of economic strategy, that brings different parties together (for instance, a company and a group of customers), in order to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.

Popularised by Kevin Kelly, Up-creation is self-organisation that brings forth an emergent level of complexity that encompasses, without destruction, the previous lower levels of organisation. “We have four billion years worth of biological evidence proving the paradox of up-creation is real, and that amazingly great things can issue from lesser things. But we really don’t have a shred of evidence to support the belief that all possible things can be up-created from one particular lower form — us. This a hope we must call an act of faith.” — Kevin Kelly.

Q13: What is Warm Data?

A13: Warm Data, a term coined by Nora Bateson, can be defined as: Transcontextual information about the interrelationships that integrate a complex system. For a more nuanced explanation, see Warm Data, or here is Nora explaining it herself:

Levels of Conversation

“Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” — often incorrectly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

In the work I do as a Strategic Foresight Practitioner (the title commonly used is Futurist, but I really don’t like that word because Futurists have given themselves a bad reputation for good reasons), I’ve found it useful to be able to easily identify which society a conversation, tactic, strategy, plan or idea fits into. If the rest of the team can also quickly identify the type of conversation, it makes for much easier discussions. This doesn’t imply that any level is “better” or “worse” than any other level — it’s just useful to know what kind of thinking is being used.

Here’s how we generally do it:

1D Thinking

Dominated by survival, basic needs and wants. Fight or freeze and flight is an example of the 1st dimension.

2D Thinking

Sometimes called vertical or logical thinking, this was a great leap forward from thinking in the 1st dimension.

3D Thinking

This level of thinking encourages lateral thinking, ‘thinking outside the box’ and idea generation often based on ‘brainstorming’ guidelines to solve problems.

However, the three dimensions are also the physical planes through which we observe most of the world, so 3D Thinking is generally constrained to any type of thinking that leads to success in the known world: Society 3.0. In other words, the growth or profit motive drives the majority of decisions.

As an example, the founder of a truly disruptive startup will often have to resort to 3D Thinking in order to raise capital for their idea. This is because most investors are motivated by exceptional returns, more than being motivated by world-changing potential.

4D Thinking

4D Thinking starts by considering “what is happing now,” moves on to “what has happened in the past” and finally considers “what is likely to happen in the future,” based on science, data and empirical evidence.

The fourth dimension can be equated to virtualization in Society 4.0, in which outcomes can be simulated and extrapolated using science and data, to provide a much richer view of unintended consequences than can be achieved in Society 3.0. For more detail, see What is 4D Thinking on Quora.


With huge thanks to my colleagues Jonathan Kolber, Michael Andrew Haines., and Shereen Amos who helped shape early conversations and helped me understand that each age is defined by the tools we use. Also Daniel Jeffries who helped me understand the societal impact of triple entry accounting as a tool, Tobias A. Huber who helped me understand how bubbles accelerate innovation and ‘Alexei Montecristo’ who helped me understand that all major epochal shifts in human society revolve around significant shifts in 1) how energy is converted into service and 2) shifts in communication, collective memory, and exchange. Finally, of course, Otto Scharmer who sparked the original inspiration for the table.

Further Reading

Leading From the Emerging Future by C. Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaeufer
Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Perez
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
A Study of History Vol. I to XII by Arnold J. Toynbee
Out Of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World by Kevin Kelly
The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature by Ilya Prigogine
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
Manias, Panics and Crashes by Robert Z. Aliber and‎ Charles P. Kindleberger
Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy by Dr William H. Janeway
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris
Das Kapital: A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx
The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin
Triple-Entry Bookkeeping and Income Momentum by Yuji Ijiri
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
An Overview of Civilization
The Development of Agriculture
The 10 Inventions that Changed the World
11 Innovations That Changed History
Top 20 Greatest Inventions of All Time
The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel 
The Most Powerful Economic Empires of all Time
Social Contract Theory
Social Bubbles as Levers of Innovation
Blockchain Governance: Programming Our Future
Innovative Exuberance
Triple Entry Accounting
Cynefin Framework
World Population Counters

Wikipedia: Hunter-gatherer, Dunbar’s number, Behavioral modernity, Great Divergence, Neolithic Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Second Industrial Revolution, Digital divide, Timeline of computing, Social evolution, Sociocultural evolution, Social structure, Institution, A Short History of Progress, Universal history, Tulip mania, Project Apollo, Exploration of the Moon, Human Genome Project.