We need to do things differently. It is self evident at this point for anyone but the most myopic or sheltered that the old way of making things, conducting business and managing resources is not sustainable.
Fortunately, a lot is happening. New ways to harness energy with minimal environmental retraction are developing at an exponential pace, solar now outperforming coal as a producer of electricity in some significant areas. This trend is likely to continue providing a serious contender to oil and gas in areas of transportation, heating and cooling, all other things being equal. New energy grids are becoming more efficient and battery capacity is improving in many areas, allowing for cheaper storage of more energy using less materials. Production is evolving through technologies such as 3D printing that will allow for far more tailored output yet requiring far less input and minimal waste.
Machine learning in combination with automated processes will potentially be replacing human labour in most contemporary lines of work, at first the more repetitive activity but over time more creative work also.
For the proponents of technological development these alone will herald a new golden age, but history raises a warning finger. Industrialism may have resulted in an era of abundance for some, but far from all. As science fiction writer William Gibson pointed out, the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet.
However, for all the benefits technology offers the affluent, there is still massive poverty in the world. At least one eight of the global population is malnourished despite there being more than enough food for everyone. Working conditions and compensation are equally unevenly distributed. Perhaps this next wave of technological development will usher in the long awaited era of equality in access to resources and opportunity. Then again, perhaps not.
In the more affluent world this current shift will create massive unemployment in many areas of contemporary work. As the means of production within the system are by and large private and in need of external consumers to sustain themselves, the economic system itself will most likely collapse. Diminished purchasing power due to stagnant wages for three decades or more has been mitigated through the creation of debt, a method that is set to fail too once interest payments on said debt reach a point where there is no money left for the actual consumption that sustains the system. To add to the burden of the situation, as income decreases for the majority, so will the income of the state, hereto generated by various forms of taxation at a more or less equal pace as expenditures increase.
The proposed solutions vary. Lower wages and longer hours to compete with the machines are proposed by some, as if humans outcompeted by technology could reverse the trend simply by applying themselves. Plus perhaps working 24 hours per day with no vacation at ever increasing speed and reliability. Others worry about how we are going to pay for pensions around the corner, arguing that humans really should work longer since they now live longer, as if there was work for the humans to begin with. Some simply assume that humans will come up with new activities worth paying for, because humans have always come up with new jobs. This assumes that these will be jobs that exponentially improving artificial intelligence and equally exponentially advancing robotics will not be able to mimic and do faster, better and cheaper, a challenge humanity has so far not encountered. And even if humans come up with activities that machines cannot learn to provide, these will most likely be in the service industry. Taking care of each other is a noble endeavour, but it is unlikely that it will prove any more lucrative in the new era than it did in the old. Besides, if everyone is serving everyone else, who will make all the money to pay for all this service, and where will it come from?
A solution proposed from both right, center and left is a basic income. To keep the wheels of the economy rolling. It makes obvious if not intuitive sense. If new products and services are to be generated through automation rather than by humans hands and minds, then all we really need is a distribution system for the tokens we are to use in order to access these new products. A basic income does not necessarily fix the underlying problem though, merely addresses one of the symptoms. The wheels of the economy have not exactly been rolling society in the direction of sustainability, equality, democracy or freedom lately and it is unlikely that a mere extension of our trajectory will lead to a different destination.
Understanding the problem
The problem itself is not an easy one to come to terms with, but it is quite clear that our social systems have not evolved in tandem with the technological development of our society. At best, they have been reactive, attempting to patch the holes technology has ripped in our once local, small and relatively sustainable communities. As technology is propelling us into the future at exponential speed our social systems, be they concerned with governance, financial, distributional, legal, environment or any other aspect of contemporary life, remain mired in the past. More and more businesses are being disrupted by newer and more efficient systems, while regulators and governments by and large remain ineffectual, far behind the curve.
Applying old solutions to new problems in an attempt to protect the past from the future cannot work. Old political ideologies, born out of old societal trends and perceptions, are equally lost as the data does not compute in their models. The old story is falling apart, expressed by growing inequality, increasing environmental degradation, rollbacks of human rights and freedoms and pullbacks of democratic participation. At the same time, a whole new set of technologies and with them possibilities are emerging, potentially allowing us to collectively shape our own future. To write a new story together. Because the future is ours to shape, as it always has been. The only difference this time around is that we have been provided with an entirely novel tool set in order to do this. With the development of the internet and the technologies that feed into it becoming more affordable and widespread, along with the democratisation of information that blockchain based technology allows, the space for great leaps for humanity are presenting themselves.
On the other hand, these leaps could easily be curtailed by the forces that seek to control and dominate, turning our civilisation into the most penetrating and efficiently run dictatorship in history. Because technology is neutral to a large degree, and if we do not create the social systems we want, those benefitting the most from the old system will. Technology, much as everything else, follows the path of least resistance. If we do not prepare a path for it, it will find its own; whatever structures evolve around it as it disrupts that which is. We still have a great deal of influence at this juncture, but which path that shall be remains an open question. It is within this space that Social Systems Laboratories (SSL) operates.
SSL seeks to explore the various causes of the problems facing contemporary society and employ technologies within the space of social systems. We use and array of procedures such as Enterprise by Design and The Biomatrix Method to understand societal challenges and systems, much as an engineer or designer would relate to their mechanical counterparts.
The questions we seek to answer and issues we hope to address are naturally quite diverse, but many areas of challenges have been well defined by the organisations that have preceded us. Issues such as environmental degradation, lack of access to education, conflict and displacement, exploitation and oppression, lack of democracy and sovereignty, systemic racism and inequality along with a international financial system that excludes a great portion of our species from access to a level playing field, to name but a few.
As if these traditional issues were not enough to deal with a whole host of new challenges are rapidly taking their toll on global society. As noted, new technologies are set to disrupt and displace old companies and institutions much as the printing, record and advertising industry have been radically changed by the internet and its ancillary systems.
The financial institutions are beginning the experience the early stages of this through the use of the blockchain and the transferral of value through the decentralised ledger, and more will follow. 3D printing will further displace the old models of factories and distribution, self driving vehicles will displace transportation as we know it, nanotechnology, design at the genetic level and radical advances in medical technology in combination with artificial intelligence will change healthcare and agriculture in ways we cannot yet foresee. Virtual and augmented reality will change our perceptions in ways we cannot yet imagine. These are all challenges our current systems and institutions that support them, mired in for all intents and purposes ancient assumptions, are entirely unprepared for and in all likelihood entirely unable to adapt to. If we do not take on these challenges on a systemic level, we will go down along with the old system.
We clearly need to create new systems that work in parallell with our old ones, that are adaptive and can eventually take over as the old systems fail one by one. This in order to help us navigate through this disruptive period with minimal costs to us in the forms of conflict, insecurity, displacement, suffering and other predicable outcomes. Social Systems Laboratories therefore seeks to both develop and improve existing systems that might still function in the coming era as well as designing and testing entirely new ones in practical, hands on ways. We look for partnerships and offer support where viable solutions exists, and seek to develop new systems where they do not. Our work is open source and aimed at collaboration, the goal being to create the tools to write the new story together, along with the tools needed to get there. We hope that you will want to join us.