Future Growth: A Scarcity Approach

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Can we predict the changes in our future value systems?

In recent years a rift across society has made itself felt. This has become apparent in increasingly stark divides between camps, be it political parties, outlook on globalization, views of what the future holds. In essence, the gap stems from an abundancy versus a scarcity approach. If you win we lose, say some. We can all win, say others. In the same manner, some hold a rather fatalistic view of the coming technical changes by thinking all hell will break loose if and when machines take over our jobs and lives. For those less keen on a dystopian scenario, there are plenty of thought models, from research-based to experimental, that paint a possible future. Examination and even future dreaming pave the way to a better transition from trends to reality.

How We Get There

Predictions of future developments have to be taken with a grain of salt at best. While definite claims make for great headlines, experts are too aware of the ever-accelerating impact of so-called wild cards, which throw in a new set of rules and discard the relevance of any linear predictions. Linear predictions in tech can be compared to those in weather forecasts: Certain cycles can be predicted, but not when their underlying presumptions will change and their effects with them. A great example of a trend that enabled cautious linear predictions is Moore’s law. This self-enforcing observation is slowing down and reaches its physical limitations as the components approach the size of an atom.

Already, some suggest that the progress of semiconductors may reach its end as soon as within the next decade. With it, certain predictions based on this model will cease to take effect. Others hint that changes in the material of the components (silicon-germanium, phosphorous-boron), design (3D, clock rate), or even the system (spintronics, quantum computing, neural modelling) may replace and even multiply past growth rates. The search for a growth multiplier replacing Moore’s law means many yet little-known technologies will lead and shape future developments. In any case, throwing more unknowns in the race will invariably create more question marks for the future.

Progress Of Technology Unhalted

In essence, the rapidly changing technological landscape is expected to continue and even accelerate. The broader public slowly becomes aware of the potential effects emerging technologies and especially AI could bring to people’s lives and in particular the job market. However, the picture painted in the mainstream media is often exaggerated, with a touch of fatalism added for style. Despite the flawed representation of AI, the fact that society becomes acquainted with these issues is of advantage, especially considering the massive leaps that are expected in this field. Still, the transition from purely mechanical replacement to “intelligent replacement” is gradual and hard to discern. While at first concerning manual or low-labour jobs, more recent progress suggests that even highly sophisticated jobs such as accountants or lawyers are not safe from replacement. So what are the industries that will resist?

Things Remaining Scarce

It doesn’t take an expert to see that the near future will bring many more jobs in the tech sector as well as in data management. But what if we look further into the future? It turns out that the place to find answers begins with the question what is valuable to humans and what is scare. Jon Perry of The Decline of Scarcity blog brilliantly sums up a number of areas that are relevant. As long as we are constrained to the earth as our only habitable planet we will always have constraints of a physical nature, be it land or materials. Greater efficiency in the use of all of these resources will be needed to account for growing population numbers (even as growth is declining) and increased standard of living. One thing deeply engraved in the human system is the need for social interaction, acceptance, and status. Hence, human attention will likely be a valuable commodity in the future – especially considering the abundance of distraction possibilities available.

Optimizing Time And Experience

Another scarcity closely tied with the social aspect will be time. People will pay to receive information, goods, or services prior to others – already now, fans of franchises are willing to dish out to receive first releases or event/time-related special editions. With the Netflix subscription one pays for the convenience and time-efficiency of having movies and shows right at one’s finger tips. As time becomes one of the final frontiers, products and services that optimize the use of it may gain in value.

An interesting aspect of the scarcity aspect in social interaction is privacy. These days, people are giving away private data fully aware in return for services like Facebook or LinkedIn. Services that charge a premium for secure data handling find that people are often unwilling to pay extra for their privacy. It seems like after aeons of living in close communities with very little private space people are again losing the anonymity gained in the 20th century due to the “global village” character of the internet. Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly emphasizes in his book The Inevitable (2016) that the underlying structure of the internet leads to a natural accumulation of data. Paying for their own “fence” may be something that will be left only to the people with the resources to do so – and only if still desired.

Transitioning Societies

Designers Anthony Dunn and Fiona Raby took on a different approach by modelling a change in society based on scarce factors. In their project United Micro Kingdoms (2013), they envisioned different societies based on the political axes left-right and libertarian-authoritarian. Each society developed different value systems and thereby dramatically changed their economic structure. For example, a centralized, communistic society drew their resources from tightly-controlled nuclear energy, whereas an anarchistic society rather modified humans themselves, based on a mind-set of self-experimentation and stark individuality. Dunn and Raby’s approach highlights the importance of thinking in large, extrapolated schemes to imagine the future. Not so much to get a clear picture of what it will look like, but rather to integrate thoughts on our changing environments into our current thinking so we will prepare ourselves for a transition with a positive outlook and take lead on the changes we want to see.



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