A Project 2030 Initiative
Co-Creating Society 4.0 — Our Only Hope for a Bright New Future
The future is fundamentally in our hands, dependent on our ability to organise
“May you live in interesting times.” — Chinese curse
In recent times we’ve seen the overthrow of despots in Tunisia, Egypt, Pakistan, Ukraine, Burkina Faso and Guatemala. The disastrous presidency of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma ended with his welcome but embarrassing resignation on 14 February 2018. In the US, high profile firings and exits from the White House are continuing signs of a presidency in chaos.
Meanwhile, technological developments like blockchain, cryptocurrencies, decentralisation, robotics, 3D printing, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, genome sequencing, gene editing and brain mapping are making their mark on society. Cumulatively, these technologies are potentially threatening “society as usual.”
We sure are living in interesting times.
The World Economic Forum refers to this period in our history as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but what we’re experiencing feels to me to be far more than merely an industrial revolution. It seems as if we’re witnessing the next social revolution.
What is a social revolution?
A social revolution is a fundamental change to the structure and nature of society. It usually involves a comprehensive overhaul of the existing social, political, and economic order.
“Social revolution means the reorganization of the industrial and economic life of the country and consequently also of the entire structure of society.” — Alexander Berkman (1870-1936)
As we have witnessed in recent uprisings, for the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long colonial or imperial domination. The youth are particularly restless and resentful. They’re connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired during the Arab Spring. Their physical energy and emotional frustration with the global status quo is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or an abhorrence of what previous generations have done to the planet. Perhaps it will be the youth who finally bring in the changes we need, rather than government and business leaders, many of whom seem to be making matters worse. Perhaps the teens will save us, by triggering the next global social revolution.
What social revolutions have we witnessed before?
If we are indeed about to witness a social revolution, it won’t be the first in our long history. Simplistically, we’ve had 3 prior revolutions:
- Agricultural Revolution: Started in about 10,000BC and at its peak, global population reached around 770m. We could call this Society 1.0, because it was the first time humans shifted from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to permanent settlements.
- Industrial Revolution: Lasted about 200 years from roughly 1760 to 1960, during which global population grew to 3.6bn. Let’s call this Society 2.0.
- Digital Revolution: Has so far lasted about 68 years from roughly 1950 to today. Population stands at around 7.4bn. Let’s call this Society 3.0.
Present-day culture is the net result of this enormous evolution. Today, human society is surging forward, propelled by the accumulated momentum of all the ages through which civilisation has evolved. Just as mechanisation during the Industrial Revolution changed the way we lived, the introduction of decentralised technologies will again change what it means to be human.
If you’ve read this far, you probably sense — among many others — that Society 4.0 is waiting to be birthed. The old appears to be collapsing and making space for something new. But what exactly is waiting to be birthed?
If we — as a species — are to be successful at birthing this… thing, it would help if we could define it and could provide evidence that Society 4.0 is demonstrably emerging. What we need is a name and an easily accessible collection of case studies, programs or developments that clearly show the shift from Society 3.0 to 4.0. Specifically: what societal shift do these case studies and examples enable?
If you too can sense a shift to Society 4.0, I’d love to hear your thoughts. You don’t have to be a futurist, technologist, systems thinker or any other kind of ‘expert’ to contribute — you just need to have an opinion and perhaps an example or two of an initiative supporting this shift. Please share yours. There’s no prize, except a resulting pool of evidence that points to Society 4.0 emerging.
How do I contribute?
To kick this process off, I’ve put together a brief survey, which should take no more than 5 minutes to complete: Society 4.0 Survey.
You made it to the end! If you’re interested in helping us solve some of the planet’s grand challenges with our ambitious Project 2030, please check out the overview, and invite others to do the same.
Postcards from 2035
Have you come across Postcards from 2035? It’s a series of profoundly simple interlinking ideas describing life in a highly desirable society, where everything and everyone is advanced, happy, intelligent and problem-free. It’s a blueprint of the world we need to co-create. Here’s what that world could look like.
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, Otto Scharmer who sparked the original inspiration for Society 1, 2 and 3 Society 4.0.