In this week’s article we’re going to continue our exercise in futurism and imagine a world post-4th industrial revolution. Taking Alain Demasio’s ‘regime of the trace’ as a starting point, we’ll take a detour into the era of the ‘deep fake’ before we enter into the age of the ‘deep truth’.
The 4th industrial revolution, as defined by the German economist Klaus Schwab, is not happening tomorrow, it has already begun. In fact, its beginnings coincided almost exactly with the new millennium. And although the term was first used by Schwab in 2015, and then in the eponymous book published in 2016, its impact had already been clearly defined by February 2000 in the National Intelligence Council report: Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts.
As I explained in my previous article, Schwab’s vision is based on the application of the digital revolution to both the physical and the biological. In its wake we are seeing a deployment of miriad new tools each with fascinating potential: blockchain and crypto-assets, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics and self-piloted system, nano-technologies and super-batteries, quantum computers, biotech based on embryonic research, stem cells and DNA manipulation, and ‘intelligent’ connected objects, to name but a few.
What we are talking about here is disruption to human society several orders of magnitude greater than that which atomic fission delivered. And this example is pertinent. The main danger facing us today is the same as it was then: that this fascinating technology will fall into indelicate hands, which is, sadly, what is obviously happening.
In my previous article I discussed the deep fake era as the first unhealthy emanation of the technology characterizing the 4th Industrial Revolution. You see, fake news is only the tip of the iceberg. The ability of machines (hardware as well as software) to produce perfectly realistic artifacts, and even "more real than life" media will be fully operational in just a few years. It will then become not only possible, but easy to falsify almost anything, both physical and intangible.
What follows next is the stage where counterfeiting is widespread and dominant in most sectors. We’ll see fake medicines, spare parts, reports, testimonies, recordings, telephone conversations, contracts… the list goes on. The next generation printers that our grandchildren will be using, coupled with a ‘Super AliExpress’, which will put the most sophisticated service providers at your fingertips 24 hours a day, will allow you to have almost anything made, copied, replicated...
Currency will henceforth be completely dematerialized, and our grandchildren will laugh when they hear us talk of a time when we exchanged printed pieces of paper for jewelry, cars, or cinema tickets. The dollar will have lost its hegemony, but this will not matter: the financial sphere will have mutated and adopted the new SFM (Super Factional Money) paradigm, characterized by the simultaneous co-spending of several thousand different currencies, most of them crypto. There will always be state currencies, but they will not be the most widely used by the general public. Instead, each respectably-sized retail player will promote its own cryptocurrency.
In this disturbing vision, we will be led to question the concepts of reality and truth as we define them today. As a logical reaction, and to give themselves oversight, the system will put in place permanent and increasingly sophisticated (read: painful) controls, regardless of the type of social interaction (trade, finance, politics...).
The general public will doubt anything presented to it as standard and suspicion will become the norm. Conspiracy theories and other anti-system movements will explode. Governments will react by over-legislating, and we will slide, finally, into the era of ‘deep truth’. “Certified True" labels will appear everywhere, which will be based on blockchain technology and its comprehensive and unforgeable public registry structure.
Everything will be measured, evaluated and recorded in a blockchain. There will be no more need for tickets anywhere, speed cameras, tax controls, paternity tests... We will be tracked, recorded, geolocated and filmed continuously, and this data will be analyzed to generate automated alerts, warnings and legal sentences. AI will automatically process data, and the results obtained resold to retail players enabling them to become even more efficient in their fierce desire to keep us consuming.
The same players will also use the power of the blockchain and connected objects to almost completely eradicate counterfeiting. You will be filmed in all public locations, the images analysed by AI to identify the models of clothing, bags and accessories you wear. This data will be cross-referenced with that on your individual blockchain in order to verify that there is indeed paper trail for each item. If not, you will be accosted for further explanation or even directly debited the corresponding sum.
That said, total traceability will also have its upsides. Food scandals will be rare because everything will be correctly measured and documented: the genotype and paternity of each animal over several generations, the cold chain, storage and delivery times, etc. The same will apply to the pharmaceutical industry: from the extraction of raw materials to final packaging and in-store sales, everything will be precisely recorded in a dedicated blockchain, eliminating the possibility of counterfeit medicines finding their way to market.
Fake news and other deep fakes that have disrupted several elections and triggered many false scandals will be but a bad memory. All information will be fact-checked against information stored in the corresponding blockchain. The "not fake" label will be automatically assigned to content that has been verified by a decentralized, open-source algorithm, and we will know what is real once more.
I have two small details as a corollary to this meandering vision:
- This scenario, plausible or not, will obviously not be global. It will only concern the companies and countries that can finance the implementation and maintenance of such infrastructure. The 4th Industrial Revolution will undoubtedly be fascinating in many respects, but it will create a radical social fissure that risks cutting the world in two, and for good this time, by mercilessly excluding the have-nots.
- As we have touched upon here, the concept of blockchain applied to all sectors of society could revolutionize the world as we know it today. However, it would come at a considerable cost and still faces two physical limitations: the amount of data involved, and the energy required to allow its secure storage and instant access.
Concerning the Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts report, I implore you to read the latest iteration dated January 2017: "Paradox of Progress".