The Nature of the Future – Review

Nature of the FutureWhat will the future look like? Here are some glimpses.

  • Genomera: Crowdsourcing clinical trials.
  • BioCurious: Hackerspace for biotech.
  • Lending Club: “We replace the high cost and complexity of bank lending.”
  • ScholarMatch: Connect under-resourced students with resources, schools, and donors to make college possible.
  • Foresight Engine: How would you reinvent the process of medical discovery?
  • Open PCR Machine: Do it yourself thermocycler for controlling Polymer Chain Reactions for DNA detection and sequencing.

These are all discussed in the book, The Nature of the Future, by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future.

We are quickly finding out that when we go from a centralized communications infrastructure to a distributed one, when we connect everything and everyone, the result is not just to make things faster, better, and bigger. The social system itself acquires a fundamentally different quality: it becomes more diversified, more emergent, and often unpredictable.

This book provides probably the best background, and foreground, reading for most of the ideas discussed on this blog: complexity; the changing nature of work; the need to integrate learning into our work; and the primacy of cooperation in networks. Dedicated chapters cover money, education, science, governance, and health, with interesting future scenarios supported by current examples. While automation and robotics may be taking many jobs away, Gorbis identifies unique human skills which will continue to be important. These should be the core of any public education program.

  • Sensemaking
  • Social and emotional intelligence
  • Novel and adaptive thinking
  • Moral and ethical reasoning

As Gorbis writes, and I wholeheartedly agree, “Learning is social”.

We need to learn how to work better with machines, letting machines do what they are good at. Gorbis shows how machines and average people can outperform experts at playing chess. “Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.”

On the future of health care, Gorbis sees a new role for doctors. “In a socialstructed health care system, the doctor is not an omniscient God but a great conversationalist, astute observer, and insightful partner, that is, she is less a robot and more a real human being.” Doctors will be more like nurses, and with increasingly advanced technology, nurses will be more like doctors. I wonder if in the future, their roles will merge?

Gorbis identifies a major disconnect in our economy.

  1. Our technology tools and platforms are highly participatory and social.
  2. Our business models, by contrast, are based on market, i.e., monetary rewards.
  3. conflicts [between these two priorities] are likely to grow simply because the number of such endeavors [Twitter, Facebook, etc] is growing exponentially.

Gorbis concludes that “much new value and innovation will move from commodity-or-market-based production to socialstructed creation.” This reminds me of the T+I+M+N framework. A networked economy is not a mere modification of a market economy, but a form in itself that can address issues beyond the capabilities of markets.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. There are few people who would not benefit from this synthesis of the forces of technological, economic, and societal change coming at us. I will close with some practical advice, applicable to all, but especially for anyone entering the workforce.

In a world where people’s jobs will not be given to them, each individual will need to look deeply and understand what she or he is good at, how she or he can contribute to multiple efforts and navigate multiple roles and identities as a part of different communities.

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