The details about the world I list below are SO counter-intuitive that I often forget them, so I’m writing them here to remind myself. I’ve linked to the resources behind these crazy facts in case you want to dig deeper.
The main idea is this: it’s 2015 as I write this and everything is changing. Things are changing so fast now that it’s really, really hard to keep up with important economic & technological developments. This post is my attempt to make the future just a little bit more approachable.
Human kind has been riding an exponential curve that’s been getting steeper ever since people first discovered fire. Einstein’s quote about compound interest (which follows an exponential growth curve) applies directly to the innovations we’re surrounded by every day. The pace of change is so fast that it’s hard to see unless you look for it.
This growth curve is a direct result of the fact that (get this) fast new technology gives us the tools to make even faster newer technology, so our societal progress continually picks up speed.
There are a few really absurd but totally true things about the time we live in that most people are not taking into account in their decision making processes as they set their goals for the years ahead. I would like to list some counter intuitive facts about the world here to clarify why I do what I do, and help you make your own decisions about the future.
As I mentioned, these things are counter intuitive but very well supported. If you’re alive to read this now, most of the predictions below will happen within your lifetime. I implore you to let these insights guide your priorities.
1. AI is going to change everything.
“Artificial intelligence” has been a long time coming. When computers which understand their own design and can self-improve arrive (According to Nick Bostrom, pro estimates vary from 2020-2090, but on average around 2040) that single development is likely to change the way we interact with the world and each other more than any other invention in history – and it will do so overnight. Literally. If you want the point elaborated, there are two fantastic blog posts about artificial general intelligence you can read here: AI Part 1, AI Part 2
We also don’t understand what makes us human yet. Merely understanding consciousness would begin to change everything we know and believe about the world. Being able to simulate consciousness will be even crazier. Machines that can understand and work with meaning, logic, and reason will change what it means to be a conscious, intelligent life form. The ramifications for religion, science, technology, economics, physics, and so on are unpredictably dramatic, so I will leave it at that.
Main idea: Brace yourself, AI will usher in such a dramatic change that it’s difficult to accurately predict anything other than “AI will change everything” about the far future.
2. You don’t have to get old.
Just like you can keep your car running if you maintain it well, so now with your body. Not to mention, this maintenance will be such a valuable economic boon that beginning around 2030 it will probably be a free procedure, like primary and secondary education (grades 1-12) today.
The main reason for this is that we’re approaching the point where we will add MORE than 1 year of life expectancy to every human on the planet with each year that passes. For thousands of years humans always lived to the same age. A few hundred years ago we started increasing the average life expectancy of all humans by about a year every decade. As I said earlier, the pace of progress only increases.
Main idea: You’ll probably get way more than 60 years on this planet. You probably actually have somewhere between 120 and 1200+ years left to live if you can avoid getting hit by a truck. Speaking of trucks…
3. Driving is on its way out.
Driving is just about the most dangerous thing people do, and so it goes without saying that its incredibly dumb to drive often. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a choice. In just a few years driving will be computer-controlled. Self-driven cars are already out on the roads, and their safety ratings are unprecedented. My bet is that 2017 teenagers will no longer worry about getting drivers licenses, and by 2020 not even adults will be permitted to drive.
Main idea: Once people catch on to the fact that the one of the biggest health crises in the world is driving and we have a viable alternative, it won’t be long before it’s illegal to drive. If you like driving, enjoy it while you can.
4. “Careers” are a broken idea.
I mean, not bad per se, just irrelevant. First, careers are very new (just a few hundred years old), and they’re becoming irrelevant very quickly. The brief period of human history when it was economically productive to trade your time for money the same way week after week is coming to an end. As always, the most valuable pursuits will be learning, creativity, and communication (social skills).
I’ll be specific: Learning is the ability to solve problems and turn them into opportunities, also sometimes referred to as “business” or “engineering.” Creativity is the ability to understand multiple fields of expertise and combine insights from each productively. Communication is the ability to help people understand you.
Main Idea: Not only will most jobs be replaced by automation in the next few decades, they should be. Just like you don’t want to be a farmer (as 90% of people were just 100 years ago), your kid doesn’t want to be a barista, receptionist, sales clerk, or waiter.
5. “Education” is a flawed concept.
Nobody will ever “revolutionize education” because education sucks. The education model of learning is a leftover from a time when very few people were literate. Now that we are all literate, it makes much less sense to enforce a “student, teacher” paradigm. We’re just so blinded by how “normal” education seems that we can’t see how we actually learn things. Not only do companies and corporate projects work with goal based learning, infants learn with goal based learning.
Take for example, walking or talking. Nearly everyone who is physically and psychologically able to walk or talk learns to do so. This is because the goal-based “learner, feedback” paradigm assumes success and directly enables progress. By changing our reliance on “education” we may be able to create a world where everyone who can physically do math would pass college calculus.
Main Idea: Our culture’s concept of human learning is broken, and we’ll have to fix it ourselves.
6. Working isn’t working.
The middle class collapse is working us to death and wasting our lives. We as a culture are hollowing out the middle class by de-coupling productivity from pay. This means you can work your butt off and you won’t make any more money. In fact, if you get a job today, you should expect to work harder each year and get no raises (other than a 5% annual raise for inflation, which should not count as a raise).
This decoupling means that the productivity bar to earn minimum wage continually increases, which is why you’ll have to work two jobs eventually (if you aren’t already.) This is why I have turned down job offers left and right ever since I graduated.
Main Idea: Find a way to participate in a value-based economy, not a time-based economy. Make money based on the value you create or how you help other people, NOT the amount of time you work.
7. Wages are inhumane.
On a related note to #3 and #5, I think eventually we may need to accept that trading time for money is a human rights violation. No one should have to trade the one resource they never get more of in order to live. The full-time-work economy has functioned for a while, but it has spent too many people’s lives. YOLO, you know? Nobody can afford to trade their most precious resource just to eat.
Main Idea: We have to find an alternative to trading money for time. Time isn’t money. Time is much, much more valuable because you never get it back.
8. Virtual Reality is better than real life.
It may not be obvious now, but Facebook owns Oculus, and essentially that means that we’re likely under a decade away from spending much of our time in a virtual world. Think about if as many people used Second Life as currently use Facebook. The real danger of this? Facebook is ad-supported. Your virtual world will be ad-supported as well.
Concerns about ads aside, having access to a world (which is nearly indistinguishable from reality) where you can choose your appearance, abilities, and your surroundings will be absolutely mind boggling. Who wouldn’t spend most of their time in a world like that?
We’re talking 180-degree 3D views that offer resolution higher than your eyes can discern and dynamic range equivalent to real life (HDR). Real life spatial audio as well, if not also pressure suits so you can feel this virtual world. You’ll be able to step into anywhere you want from wherever you are just by putting on a set of goggles and some headphones. Who knows, we may end up with a holo-deck, too.
Also, thanks to tech like The Microsoft Holo Lens, these two kinds of worlds (virtual and real) may overlap quite a bit. You may just be able to visit your foreign friends in their living rooms.
9. Things are better than they have ever been.
People talk about using “natural” things to stay healthy and longing for “how things used to be.” – this is a silly (if popular) way to look at the world, because botulism and deathcap mushrooms are technically “natural” (and very very bad), and ‘the way things used to be’ involved widespread injustices for large groups of people.
‘Natural’ things and ‘the way things used to be’ aren’t better. In fact, we live in the most peaceful, loving time in human history. Often the best and most wonderful aspects of modern life were designed by people, and are by definition not “natural.” So let’s stop complaining and start acting like the heirs of an unimaginably rich inheritance, because that’s exactly what we are.
If you don’t believe me, look at the data. Here are TED talks filled with data about progress & hope, and about how we’re living in the most peaceful time in recorded history.
People are smarter, kinder, healthier, and more empathetic and aware than they ever have been! (and no, that doesn’t say any good things about our ancestors) The present moment is better than any past moment has ever been. We are healthier and better off than ever, and our potential is limitless thanks to technology like youtube and the rest of the internet. Which brings me to #10.
10. All of this is yours.
Your potential is unlimited, your reach is global, and it’s been less than a decade since this radical new world began. Not only do you have FREE access to the collected knowledge of all of human kind in your pocket, you have the coolest megaphone ever: you can speak directly to thousands or millions of people through online video. Every project you make can have a global audience (or whatever audience you choose for it) and you can impact the world however you want.
Does it feel that way? No. Is it true? Look around.
The stories you tell can be seen by the whole world. Not to mention, your audience is only going to get wider. It’s unfathomably easy to become internet-famous right now, and having a digital audience will be a super power in a world where 5 billion more people are just arriving on the internet in the next few years.
Not to mention we live in a world where it’s now reasonable to start a private company with your friends and aim to colonize another planet. Humans had already done incredible things in the 20th century, but now in the 21st century private companies have sent and returned stuff FROM SPACE. There are incredible teams working together to bring you virtual reality, self driving cars, a home on mars, artificial intelligence, an infinite ageless lifespan, and more. You can form a team and pick an awesome goal and work toward something that will change the world, too! Unbelievably, people will pay you to do it.
So I implore you to take stock of where you are and where you want to be.
Find a way to make money that doesn’t involve trading your time.
Find a way to use your voice to help and empower as many people as you can.
Pay attention to what facets of your life you love most, and spend time focusing on those.
Read as much as you can. Give yourself and unlimited book budget and an e-reader.
Aim to change the world.
Get to know this beautiful world we live in because things are better than they have ever been. Not only are things just going to get more awesome from here (faster than you can even imagine), you can be a part of making the world even more awesome.