power shifts

“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” ―Alvin Toffler,

I read Toffler’s book, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century, shortly after it was published in 1990. He saw a shift in power developing due to advances in technology — from force and wealth — to knowledge.

It means that we are creating new networks of knowledge … linking concepts to one another in startling ways … building up amazing hierarchies of inference … spawning new theories, hypotheses, and images, based on novel assumptions, new languages, codes, and logics. Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation in history (creating a massive, confusing gold mine for tomorrow’s historians).

But more important, we are interrelating data in more ways, giving them context, and thus forming them into information; and we are assembling chunks of information into larger and larger models and architectures of knowledge.

None of this implies that the data are correct; information, true; and knowledge, wise. But it does imply vast changes in the way we see the world, create wealth, and exercise power.

Not all this new knowledge is factual or even explicit. Much knowledge, as the term is used here, is unspoken, consisting of assumptions piled atop assumptions, of fragmentary models, of unnoticed analogies, and it includes not simply logical and seemingly unemotional information data, but values, the products of passion and emotion, not to mention imagination and intuition.

It is today’s gigantic upheaval in the knowledge base of society — not computer hype or mere financial manipulation — that explains the rise of a super-symbolic economy.

Thirty years later and we are drowning in information, much of it not true, and the exercise of technical knowledge, much of it not wise.

The Institute for the Future has recently published Power Shifts: A Decade of Extreme Consequences and Transformational Possibilities. The report defines power as, “the ability to shape consequences”.  They identify three extreme forces that will affect the next decades.

  1. Institutional Volatility
  2. Global Automation
  3. Climate Change

It would be difficult not to see these three forces already affecting our lives.

The IFTF report includes many tools for organizations to start to make sense of these power shifts. The most interesting resource is the Scenarios & Superpower Cards, looking at possible shifts in the coming decades.

  • ‘Chaos Magicians’ destabilizing institutions and markets
  • Worldwide corruption aided by tax havens
  • Major investments in mitigating climate change
  • California leaving the USA
  • ‘United Zones of Acceleration’ between sovereign cities
  • Regionalization of the Internet
  • The collapse of autonomous car market due to hacking
  • Anonymized reputation attacks
  • Low-cost robots
  • Death of platform monopolies
  • Massive forgeries using AI
  • Digital sanctuaries
  • Global climate guerillas
  • Pirating water due to shortages
  • The end of insurance
  • Legal protection of nature
  • Destabilized real estate markets
  • Zero waste cities

There is lots of food for thought here, and all the documents can be downloaded for free.

IFTF: Power Shifts 2019

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