“I brood over [each pot] with the same tenderness a mortal child awakens in its parent.”
“I am making pottery for art’s sake, God’s sake, the future generation, and — by present indications — for my own satisfaction, but when I’m gone my work … will be prized, honored and cherished.” — George E. Ohr, The Mad Potter of Biloxi, Mississippi
“To gain success a person will need high EQ; if you don’t want to lose quickly you will need a high IQ, and if you want to be respected you need high LQ — the IQ of love — Jack Ma, CEO-Alibaba
As world leaders gather at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos, Facebook is trying to redefine its purpose as a meeting place for the world’s population. It understands the tremendous impact of social media on influencing actual outcomes and in some way is trying to curtail its largess. While nobody denies that social media can be a force for the worse, there is also a need to think of a forum where the wisdom of the crowd can agree on and monitor sweeping global changes such as technology. This article lays out the need for a global social media forum where the world can gather to agree on and to provide feedback on policies designed to tackle global mega trends such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), climate change and inequality. There are numerous studies that layout solutions to tackling world problems but very few discussing the need for a grass root level, real time feedback mechanism that tracks the views of those directly impacted by change.
This article argues that we need a forum to agree on a fairer society and to monitor unfair advantages and disadvantages. It asks the question “do we confuse conflate equality with fair equality?”
Of course, such a forum would not be successful without creating incentives for the largest contributors of problems to change i.e. to create incentives for capital owners to work towards a fairer global economy. This notion is different from seeking equality which is what we usually talk about i.e. economic inequality. Although economic inequality is a grave concern, a larger question before us all is : are humans egotistical by nature i.e. even if we reach the proverbial utopia of equal wealth, will there be at least one individual who wants to be more wealthier than everyone else?
Just like school, does someone always want first place? Possibly, even among equals.
George E Ohr aka The Mad Potter of Biloxi was ahead of his time. He created pottery that he knew will not be understood by his generation. He poured his heart and soul into his work solely for his own satisfaction. Today, more than ever, there is a need to think of solutions ahead of time to make sure we leave a world that is cherished by our children.
I distinctly remember my last year in high school. I led a team of 5 students on a science project that was aimed at educating people about the impact of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) on the ozone layer- a layer surrounding the earths atmosphere and protecting us from the harmful ultra violet radiation of the sun. One of my most vivid memories was to see a lot of people mocking us because they felt that reducing carbon emissions wasn’t an important priority. I asked them why and they explained “ …that the world had plenty of immediate problems to solve and that there was always time to solve the issue of climate change later”.
Such explanations broke my heart. Imagine a teenager explaining his dreams is told that his dreams can wait. In reality, they are not important. However, today, I am staring at the same problem and the whole world is talking about it. Personally, a key learning from an apparently negative experience was that everybody is driven by incentives. Without aligning incentives, it is very hard to drive action much less radical change.
Most problems can be analyzed and solved using Pareto analysis or the notion that 20% of the players contribute to 80% of the problem. For instance, any solution to reducing carbon emissions would have to include the top emitters.
Let’s say there are 10 men and we give them a dollar each. This would be an equal distribution of resources. Now, let’s say we decide to reward the same men in proportion of their efforts, it would be an unequal but according to many, a fair distribution. This, in a nutshell, is a dilemma that represents an unequal but possibly fair outcome.
Again, what is fair is also a relative concept. However, there would be at least a portion of the human population who would not support rewarding slackers. This is also a concern that Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a concetp faces.
Fairness and equality are fairly nuanced problems. One could argue that in a world disrupted by Artificial Intelligence, UBI will buy time and create a level playing field for all.
To capture all the nuances, we would need a platform to capture the views of people across the world.
The simple answer is that the technologies we are developing have the potential to create existential threats. That may not be news to some as we have always looked at far reaching technological disruption skeptically and we have survived so long. So, what could be different this time?
Many technologies have resulted in financial bubbles such as the dot com boom in the past and the Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) of the present. These conditions represent economic tsunamis that have engulfed people across the globe and yet nations respond disparately to radical change.
Imagine, if every country responds differently to the depletion of natural resources or climate change and very few see the overall, global picture. Or, many countries think Artificial Intelligence will be a threat fifty years from now and so, it is premature to respond. Gene editing can have a very dramatic rise in inequality if the very rich can create a class of super-humans including those with little empathy. All the three scenarios mentioned will engulf the world in extremely rapid cycles with very little or no time to prepare.
While it is definitely an advantage that the intellectuals of the world have already started thinking about the long term effects of changes that affect the whole of humanity, it is also time to engage those that will directly impacted at the grass root level ie the common man in the conversation.
Now, imagine a platform where we engage the masses or representatives from various affected parties to discuss a roadmap to handle change. Subsequently, the very same crowd can give a real time assessment about the reality on the ground. This platform would be focused on proactively addressing our problems using the wisdom of the crowd. The tools to create such a platform are already available. A platform built on a global Blockchain supported by a foundation that has a fiduciary duty towards the participants.
Many would say such an idea sounds good on paper. I completely agree that many ideas do not move beyond paper. This could absolutely be one of those ideas. While the platform is a very macro concept, it is no longer a theoretical question. Rather, it is a race against time and global cooperation is the need of the hour.
Sometimes, we have to stop and ask ourselves : is technology working for humanity or the other way around? Do we need the extent of automation we are proceeding towards? Of course, the biggest argument is that automation will cut costs and save time. That argument needs to be revisited on a case to case basis for many applications. As John Maynard Keynes notes “..in the long term, we are all dead”. But, what is the long run if not an accretion of habits?
All of us are guilty of spending time on social media chasing updates on everybody else’s lives and on unfortunate events around the world. Instead, what if we create a social media dedicated to defining and measuring positive change. Let’s develop a habit of discussing solutions. A habit, will then, shape the future. A symphony that arises from a cacophony.