Existential SWOT: 8 Most Important Changes for the Next 10 Years

Here is a list of the eight most important changes for the next ten years, obviously from my point of view. I’d love to hear your take on this: am I wrong? Did I miss something critical? Is there something on the list which shouldn’t be there?

I’ll contemplate each list item from the perspectives of existential threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses. Existential threat is probably self-explanatory, but it’s a good idea to write a couple sentences on the latter ones: I mean by an existential opportunity any possibility to transcend current paradigms of what we think we are. Thus, this is mostly a qualitative, not quantitative metric. I’m looking for opportunities in existing differently or better. An existential weakness is a feature of life or society which either makes threats more probable or opportunities less probable, and an existential strength, vice versa, makes opportunities more probable and threats less probable.

Here is my initial list of important changes.

  • End of the Age of Gun
  • Lost of privacy due to continuously enhancing capabilities
  • Fragility of techno-social development
  • Sociocultural effects of Global Warming
  • Lack of space technology investments
  • Energy abundance in Global South
  • New trust and information systems
  • Economy fading out

The developments are not in particular order. I’d love to prioritise them later. The following text descriptions are also just drafts.

Resistance becomes more unfair with the widespread introduction of Autonomous Violence Machines

End of the Age of Gun

What if a Mexican drug lord constructs a huge drone army to fight against anyone challenging power over his territories and people? If he manages to do this, he does not have to trust anyone, anymore.

In the middle ages a horse archer and a knight were superior fighting machines. A very few people had the change to purchase a horse and suit of armour. Thus, there was a significant imbalance of power. For several hundred years, this has not been the case: crystallized in the polemic second amendment in the US constitution, the ability and right to bear arm made it possible for the peasants to stand against their oppressors.

But the age of the gun has ended. Previously, a number of liberties were provided to many due to the fact that oppressors had to please the masses which were quick to learn how to use guns against their lords if needed. When this is no longer the case, it’s possible that these liberties diminish.

Existential threats in the End of the Age of Gun

Few people, perhaps leaders of advanced nation states, rich individuals or CEOs in oppressive companies, can repress large group of people with expensive autonomous violence machines. Further, the introduction of autonomous violence machines in warfare might reduce the barrier of war because no human casualties would occur in field operations for the automated party.

Existential opportunities in the End of the Age of Gun

New technologies sometimes make capabilities more equal: it’s possible that open sourced violence machines liberate people to an even more equal balance on the ability to conduct acts of violence.

Existential weakness in the End of the Age of Gun

Emergence of machine learning technologies and ability to construct massively destructive weapons make building autonomous violence machines possible.

Existential strength in the End of the Age of Gun

Reduction of the costs from building war machines is shrinking, providing many the opportunity to partake in owning autonomous violence machines. The open source culture can be the medium for sharing good enough designs for resistance to be possible. 2nd amendment in US constitution provide means to have a conversation about the solutions to maintain the democratizing structures from the age of the gun in the new era.

Stasi archives

Lost of privacy

What if all adults can print their own autonomous violence machine or can create gene altering viruses in their garages?

Technology enhances our capabilities, but due to the enhanced capabilities to do bad things to massive number of people, there is no alternative to giving up privacy. Someone has to watch out for rogue behaviours.

Preferably this someone would be elected and their actions transparent. For example, everyone could see where their behaviour has been monitored and why.

Existential threats in lost of privacy

Part of being human is to be able to represent multitude of roles. A major part of what it means to be a human disappears if there is a requirement for a coherent self that does not change based on context. Furthermore, data that is not transparent but is accessible to governments or corporations offer some people significant, and ever growing power over others.

Existential opportunities in lost of privacy

Radical transparency would offer us understand the huge number of differences and hidden similarities in behaviours and preferences, it could reduce taboos and offer people opportunities to fulfil their true self, if such representation exists, more freely.

Existential weakness in lost of privacy

People are afraid of differences both in others and in themselves compared to others. This fear might be stronger than the ability to understand and empathise.

Existential strength in lost of privacy

There are existing structures, such as laws and practices, for the governments to invade privacy.

“First we shape our tools and then the tools shape us”

Fragility of techno-social development

Imagine what if one day, when you wake up, you realise that your phone hasn’t charged the previous night. The lights don’t work. As there is no connectivity, you can’t google what you should do.

There are two parody images of the good old Maslow hierarchy. In the first, below the most basic needs, there is a text in big green letters that says “wifi”. In another, there is a text under the wifi text. It says “battery life”. Due to brain plasticity people are really fast at learning how to use new tools. But as McLuhan said: first we shape the tools and then the tools shape us. We grow to be dependent on our tools, such as internet search, mobile phones, digital maps and GPS, and soon augmented reality.

Existential threats in fragility of techno-social development

When the technology stack grows it becomes more and more fragile. A small problem in critical infrastructure can have horrifying side effects because we are not prepared to operate without our connected, electricity hungry tools.

Existential opportunities in fragility of techno-social development

These tools, if functional, clearly make us trancend what we used to be.

Existential weakness in fragility of techno-social development

The tools are dependent on each others and built on top of each others.

Existential strength in fragility of techno-social development

Energy harvesting and (in broad sense) “mesh” networked infrastructure increases the resilience instead of reducing it.

“Either it’s not true, or it’s already too late.”

Sociocultural effects of Global Warming

What if USA withdraws from the climate agreement, framing it as fake news, and at the same time the alarming temperatures in the poles continue to rise. Would you feel devastated?

Global warming is the most evident self-inflicted long term risk our planet faces. It is also a global challenge level of which has never been seen before. Due to the huge complexity in decision making regarding the issue, there will be apathy and public recant. If the sentiment that the warming is already impossible to fix increases, the end of the world attitude might lead to bizarre sociocultural behaviours.

Existential threats in sociocultural effects of Global Warming

If the climate change denialists move directly from “it’s not true” to “it’s already too late”, the existential risk of the climate change might realize faster than it would only from the climate perspective. The end of the world attitudes might increase the risks of major wars, immoral behavior and widespread depression.

Existential opportunities in sociocultural effects of Global Warming

If successful, the climate change induced global reactions would be the first time when humankind demonstratedly would have collaborated together successfully. It would be a very good start for other large scale projects not only in risk management but also in mutual opportunities.

Existential weakness in sociocultural effects of Global Warming

The argument is balanced unfairly: there is no sense of urgency, there are short term benefits in opposing global collaboration, the scientific community is still shy to pronounce possible effects of climate change to normal people and so on.

Existential strength in sociocultural effects of Global Warming

There is no way around the argument that swift action is required even in the most hopeless situations.

Would you believe it if I’d say this picture was taken 45 years ago?

Lack of space technology investments

Imagine if the youngest person who has been outside Earth’s gravity well would be over 80 years old. Actually, you don’t have to imagine this, because youngest person to have done this is 81 year old astronaut Charles Duke.

There has been promising efforts by some private companies to increase space related investments. However, they are mostly focusing on satellite cargo, not space research.

Why this matters in the era when it’s possible to send autonomous probes to do space exploration? There are several reasons. While the astronauts are alive, efforts to diminish their success are mostly embarrassing. But just wait for it: when the last living person to visit the moon dies, the calls to claim that the moon flights were mere fake news will grow stronger. This is a bad development, because keeping all the people on this same small planet is absolutely not resilient. One global catastrophe can wipe out all of humankind, the science, languages, cultures. The price of a Moon station or permanent Mars colony is a very small insurance against this.

Existential threats in lack of space technology investments

Both a narrative that claims that “we have never been that great” and a narrative that claims “we used to be great and reach for the stars but we don’t do that anymore” is very harmful to progress in general.

Existential opportunities in lack of space technology investments

That private companies are more and more able to participate in space research might prove to be a start of less hierarchical and more flexible era in space research.

Existential weakness in lack of space technology investments

Short-termism that typically guides decision-making rules out any large scale investment, but especially the ones that have an existential goal.

Existential strength in lack of space technology investments

There are (some) business opportunities in space.

Solar will boom much faster than expected

Energy abundance in Global South

There are historical reasons why countries in the Global North are leading in GDP, education, innovation and other metrics (a part of these reasons is that the people in these countries decided upon which metrics to follow in the first place). But it’s quite possible that countries near the equator, coincidentally also most affected by global warming, are the ones to catch up very quickly due to technological reasons.

This is because solar power prices are already cheaper than any other form of electricity production in these areas. For example Morocco, equipped with a power cable connection to the power hungry Europe, is estimated to produce whopping 40% of their electricity with solar panels already in 2020.

Solar is also different from traditional “strategic” forms of power generation. Generating power from coal, uranium or oil requires a lot of strategic assets, such as mines, wells, and power plants. But solar power can be produced anywhere. The energy abundance paired with increasingly capable 3D printers and other precision tools might make these countries small scale production powerhouses.

The change in global logistics chains and in global power balance is so significant that there are major risks as well. For example, the Russian influence via oil and gas will diminish which might severely hurt their current claim to become a global influencer.

Existential threats in energy abundance in global south

Current strong players using their resources to stop the development which benefits mostly relatively poor and small countries.

Existential opportunities in energy abundance in global south

Rise of Sub-Saharan Africa and acceleration of the rise of South American nations would significantly increase the living standards of billions of people.

Existential weakness in energy abundance in global south

Global energy production system and logistics chains is not built for the opportunity.

Existential strength in energy abundance in global south

Due to the nonstrategic nature of solar power the increase in energy production capability can be done via people and markets instead of large infrastructure investments that are prone to corruption and resource curses.

“I get my alternative facts from fake news”

New trust and information systems

The industrial age systems to produce mutual information and social trust, namely media arranged in conglomerates and science according to the reductionist scientific method, are facing more and more issues and criticism. There is a grave risk that large groups of people completely abandon these systems if they can’t reinvent themselves for the more connected and transparent times.

The new systems that transcend the current ones should not completely disregard the old ways, especially regarding the scientific method. Nevertheless, a new, more participatory and holistic layer should be added both to increase relevance and keep on doing science for it’s own sake. It’s especially problematic that media and science are often considered ends in themselves while for the most people they are means to different outcomes, such as entertainment, information and knowledge, understanding, curiosity, social coherence, norms, or technological capabilities. The new systems are providing better means to achieve some of these outcomes.

Existential threats in new trust and information systems

If media and science are dismissed by a large group of people, the very foundations for meaningful discussion in the society disappear.

Existential opportunities in new trust and information systems

The new or upgraded systems can work better in many ways to include more people also to participate and to make trust or facts more structural (think blockchain).

Existential weakness in new trust and information systems

Political motivations might make it reasonable for some actors to remove essential parts of the trust and information systems completely.

Existential strength in new trust and information systems

The scientific tradition has managed to last for periods of very radical transformations while still keeping its essence in place.

Economy fading out

Due to energy abundance, automation and economies of scale, the marginal costs of products are becoming almost zero. While most tasks in middle class jobs are automated, there is an increasing competition for low paid jobs, increasingly reducing the salaries in the lowest paid job markets. The diminishing added value in products then keeps them affordable for the low paid labor, but renders selling and transporting these products outside the scope of meaningful market operations.

Existential threats in economy fading out

Large scale disruptions in global monetary system can cause suffering. For example, if USA would claim that they are not going to pay their foreign debt, a systemic collapse of all the banks could occur, rendering all the debt and savings obsolete. Most people would benefit from this in the longer run, but there are no substitute systems in the society to provide the basic needs, so a societal paralysis could occur.

Existential opportunities in economy fading out

Soon there might be sufficient number of postmoney features available to induce ad hoc trust between collaborators and to get rid of money as trust medium.

Existential weakness in economy fading out

The networked global economy can fail simultaneously everywhere even due to a relatively minor reason in a particular market.

Existential strength in economy fading out

As economy is merely a human system, simply continuing to work normally even if there wouldn’t be money in the society would work.

Afterwords

My list of 8 items was:

  • End of the Age of Gun
  • Lost of privacy due to continuously enhancing capabilities
  • Fragility of techno-social development
  • Sociocultural effects of Global Warming
  • Lack of space technology investments
  • Energy abundance in Global South
  • New trust and information systems
  • Economy fading out

What other developments, issues or possibilities should be on the list?

Are there some items that don’t belong to the list?

Images:

PercyGermany

JosephB

James C Farmer

DFID

NASA

A. Davey

Anguskirk

Alane Golden