Imagine a city in the year 2075. What does it look like? How is it different from cities today?
I was asked to answer this question for an important application I’m about to submit. I shall say more about this application in a few weeks.
It has been years since I read foresight analyses from every part, and everyone has their own projections.
Going beyond the various scenarios that people and strategic groups depict, my understanding is that future cannot be really predicted. The point is, especially nowadays, that there are too many variables; they lead to what mathematicians call a combinatorial explosion.
I have answered this question by imagining how society will have changed during the next 60 years according to my hope, my vision, and expectations. However, the focus of this post is not to answer that question directly, it is rather to tell you how I see the whole foresight analysis fever, and how I learn to deal with the future. So sorry if I mislead your attention with this title. This is not another foresight analysis. If you want to take a look on how major industrial groups in US foresee future you can take a look here. Even though the curators have not considered the great potential of open science and of a p2p based society, they still have reported some critical key factors that I consider traits and features of the open and p2p movements, such as the focus on decentralized manifacturing and the widespread access to informations and disruptive technologies. We live in exponential times, every human being on Earth is crunched by an increasing complexity by the day. In fact, most of the notions and skills that determine your place in the world are subjected to a darwinian selection since they are getting absorbed by softwares, machines, and robots, which in most cases perform the work faster and more efficiently than humans.
“Software is eating the world”
– Marc Andreessen
This leads to massive unemployment and to great social inequality, where only the people who have selected a cutting edge track for their career are the ones who will stand in the job market during the next decades. So what’s left for humans? Fortunately, the good news is that in one way or in another we will – and we are already being – pushed to ask ourselves fundamental questions regarding our place in the world. This goes beyond a simple career choice. It addresses the way we interact with each other, the common values we want to set up as a basis for society, and the relationship we have with our planet.
If we will seriously take in consideration such questions, there are chances we won’t need money anymore, and while machines will work for us, we will work for the planet and we would then dedicate to what machines cannot do. My personal guess is that with automation we’re basically outsourcing our need for repetitive and unpleasant jobs, so that we can dedicate ourselves to art and insights. Indeed, every job should be carried out with a pure artistic spirit, something that goes far way beyond the merely goal of getting a salary.
Imagine a city in the year 2075. What does it look like? How is it different from cities today?
So, to go beyond how I see the next 60 years, or rather how I wish them to be, I want to share one of the most profound teaching I have learnt on this topic.
The following is a series of mental exercises that if carried out seriously will make you understand which role you have in shaping the future of your life, and of the entire world. It could sound a bit arrogant, but hey, you can give it a try.
1 – Imagine two portraits on two different walls of the room you are at this moment.
The first image on your left depicts you exactly as you are right now. The second image, on your right, depicts you as how you could be if you have developed your full and harmonious potential. Beware, the second image is NOT how you “should” be. In fact, the essential “duty” of everyone consists in realizing what he or she has as a potential. In no way the word “duty” should be associated with moral codes, social rules, conventions, dogma, etc.
It’s not so easy to depict the two images, especially the second one that forces you to go beyond what society wants you to be. If you find it hard to imagine the second portrait, you could try to think of yourself as another person: a stranger that can be felt, heard, and seen, whose behavior can be observed and inferences derived. We usually do that from the behavior of others. Unfortunately all our conclusions are biased, either from the data we have, or from our own prejudices. In fact, we usually depict people in relation to ourselves, not in relation to their potentials. Instead, let’s try to make an experiment. Imagine a person you know and ask yourself: what kind of person is he or she? Is he or she acting carefully for his or her own happiness? Would you feel safe to trust him or her if something important for you were at stake? What important initiative would you invite him or her to take part to? How would you feel if you were condemned to spend one year alone with this person? Do you find that, generally speaking, he or she is wise? Trustworthy? Solid? If his or her essential desires were being satisfied, what kind of person do you think he or she would be?
Of course, your answers to such questions would be of scarce value because you have a very limited amount and quality of data, upon which your own prejudice will enhance the bias. Nevertheless, try to answer such questions every time you have to make a decision on something big at stake.
Now that you know how to observe others you can try to observe your self. First, try to recall the image of your self, as you appear from outside. How do you walk, how do you sit, how do you talk etc. Basically the same image that you depict when you think of a person you know. So try to answer all the questions above, and try to honestly answer if you were thinking of another person. Of course, the second portrait cannot be depicted if the first one isn’t crystal clear as you were imagining another person. While doing the second portrait, please remember to deeply dissociate the word “duty” from the social concept that we have of the word. These concepts are merely decoys.
2 – The second exercise is more interesting in my opinion, however having completed the first is a compelling requirement to go on with the second.
Imagine the present as the center of a circle. You are here, the person you are today (the first portrait of the last exercise). The circumference represents a moment in time, let’s say about five years from now. You can travel along the infinite radiuses that connect the center of the circle to the infinite dots of the circumference, but in five years you will find your self on just one single dot of the circumference, and only one of the many dots represent the actual fullest development of your potentials (portrait number 2). Will you go toward that point or you will be diverted toward others? All the dots represent the complete set of your possible futures. What usually happens is that one walks on a radius for a while, then jumps on another, and then again on another. Defining the full development of our potential (the second portrait) will create a sort of magnetic attractor for our journey toward that point. In fact, the result of the second portrait is the truthful formulation of the essential desires. Of course, it cannot take a second. First, a thousand of fake and unnecessary desires suggested by sociological influences have to be removed… education, imprinting, etc.
Please take the time to compare the future you look at with great expectancy with the future that you would objectively foresee if you were another person. When the fake and illusory future is abandoned, it will leave space to other possible futures. From all the spectrum of possibilities some, from our point of view, are more desirable than others. “Desirable” is the future that we will find pleasurable to realize. Several undesirable futures exist for all of us. Many people after the middle age accuse a series of pains, that could have been predicted and avoided by an objective observer. We should of course orientate the future when this is still pliable. At this very moment I am not talking from the simple perspective of what happens day by day. Future is the rest of our life, and it may even be longer…
So, which future do you consider desirable? Ask yourself, honestly.
You have only one of the following three possibilities:
1) Are you doing something? Is there a realisation of something in particular that would make you happy? Ask yourself: “If I were to do it, would I die happy?”
2) Are you looking for some comprehension? Ask yourself: “Would I die happy if I had reached that understanding?
3) Are you becoming something? Would you die happy once you had transformed yourself as the result of the experiment that we call life?
The categories above cover all the possibilities. In the second one we found less people than the first, and the third is a very rare category of men. So pick one of these.
Let’s suppose you have discovered the desire in you, what possibilities do you have to realize your future?
The probability to reach it depends on the following: the understanding of the desire, the availability of the means to reach it, and the willpower to do it. In order to understand the true desire in you, you need to answer questions like the ones I suggested. The struggle in answering them will force you to abandon many things that are actually impossibile that you were instead considering possible, and to let many illusions emerge. While this process will not be pleasurable, it will certainly be useful and healthy. Again, try to imagine the moment of your death. What accomplishments will make you satisfied with your life? You could have the desire of making something really simple; such as, for instance, having learned many languages, or having raised your children well, or having wrote a fine book, or crafted a masterpiece, or again having influenced your contemporaries; there are millions of possibilities.
I want to take a bit further the idea that the definition of your mission does not have to be imposed from the outside. You should ask yourself what it is that you are striving for? There’s no satisfaction in becoming what the others want us to be. It can be useful in some occasions, but it doesn’t satisfy our intimate desire.
In order to understand how the second portrait will look like according to the various scenarios you can think of yourself on three different levels; like three different aspects of you. The first one is your body, the second is the emotions, and the third is the intellectual part.
Try to clearly see, understand, and feel how you want to be in ten years:
a) How will you look like from a physical point of view? Will you have a good digestion, or will you be chronically dyspeptic, exhausted, and unable to do or take pleasure in doing things?
b) How will you be on the emotional side? Will you be bored, unable to prove any enthusiasm, so basically half sick? Will you perceive every day of your life as new or will it just be another day? Will you be able to experience true pleasure for beauty and love?
c) How will your intellectual condition be? Will you have kept you enthusiasm for ideas? Will you take pleasure in waiting for tomorrow’s ideas? Or will you become indolent, loosing every interest in ideas?
After taking seriously in consideration such exercises we can try to answer how a city will look like in the year 2075, by assessing the same experiment to our cities, nations etc. We would then probably agree that most of the quality of life depends and will always depend on how we interact with natural environment and on the quality of our social interaction.
I recently had the honor to translate an open letter from the FLOK Society project to the Commoners and Co-operators of the World to participate in the Ecuadorian transition towards an Open Commons-based Knowledge Society. In a speech on Sept. 19, 2012, President Correa of Ecuador appealed to the young people of his country to fight for and realize a vision of “good living” based on a commons-based and open knowledge society. The FLOK Society project (Free/Libre Open Knowledge) has been created to propose a transition plan and a policy framework to achieve this unique vision. In accordance with Ecuador’s National Plan, there can be no ‘good living’ policy that is not inspired by, and rooted in, free and open knowledge and a thriving commons.The FLOK Society project is a joint research effort sponsored by the Co-ordinating Ministry of Knowledge and Human Talent, the Senescyt, (Secretaria National de Educacion Superior, Ciencia, Tecnologia e Innovacion) and the IAEN (Instituto de Altos Estudios del Estado).
I see the current global crisis as a carrier of questions. Questions that will shape the definition of ourselves in the society, and last but not the least, the way we deal with the natural environment. Our planet Earth have limited resources. Limited resources doesn’t mean finite resources, but limited by thermodynamical facts. We could restore the environmental situation, we could reach other planets, but the point is that evolution has brought every beings in the direction of energy efficiency. Therefore, while we look for other planets, and develop self-assembling nanobots, we should also consider changing our social and development models.
Talknig about other bottom-up approaches that involve changing policies and how poltics is made, in Italy we recently see a promising project named Progetto RENA. Progetto RENA, among other important activities is pushing forward the discussion through a wiki page to foster questions about the deepest italian basis of society and politics. The RENA’s open wiki addresses question about innovation, demand for change, and the role of people in institutions.
In fact, the good of such movements is that they’re indeed bottom-up in their approach, but still interact with local, national and supranational institutions. For instance, I’m currently working on the Italian chapter of OuiShare, a global network empowering citizens, public institutions and companies to build a society in which every person has access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. We believe that an economy based on sharing, collaboration and openness can solve many of the complex challenges the world faces. As an independent, not-for-profit organization founded in January 2012, OuiShare has rapidly evolved from a handful of Parisian enthusiasts to a global community spread across Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. All of our work is made available through the Creative Commons, because we believe open knowledge empower citizens, enterprises, and institutions.
Another important there I want to put the focus on is Open Science, where I’m also active with a series of projects (see HackYourPhD, #ScholRev , FORCE11 and OKFN Open Science, Leukippos Institute). Open Science is a very broad movement, embracing different peculiar realities. It mainly act on the idea that all the academic papers should be free and open to the public. Also, it foster methods of collaborations, research and productivity hacking the old fashioned way of making science. With HackYourPhD, Open Knowledge Foundation and other stakeholders we recently organized an hackathon at the OKCon in Geneva. The results you can produce is incredible when team spirits and best practises act together towards common shared goals.
I hope if the focus will be soon to develop a gLocal lean governance, overcoming a short-term approach typical of the old politics. My dream is to see all these interdisciplinary and trans-national movements acting sinergically on the internet and on real-life. One idea is maybe organizing some international jam events nailing down some of the major issues facing the world nowadays: scarcity, education, governance, production, finance.
As for today we have a limited lifespan. Each of us has a limited time to understand the world and to decide its own role, in life and on planet Earth. My personal advice is to explore, learn, act, and then inspire other people. Do not teach them. Inspire. Trust your self the most, act consequently. Act quickly. One day your entire life will flash in front of your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.
CC: Thanks to Simone Cicero for part of the images.