Throughout history, whenever new technologies have emerged that change our means of production and ability to communicate they have tended to transform society. The rapid technological development of the past century – in biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence – holds the promise to do the same for our current, post-industrial world.
Our political institutions, the rule of law, human rights, the banking system, our education system – and even capitalism itself – are products of the industrial age. We have learnt to navigate the industrial economy as individuals, and as societies we can exert some control to define its shape and limits.
But what comes next, in a post-industrial world? Below we propose both how to identify and study these impacts driven by the living and intelligent technologies spearheaded by digitalization.
A Manifesto for the Emerging Technological and Societal Transition
Version February 2, 2016, by Steen Rasmussen, mainly with input from participants at the Lorentz Workshop "An Emerging technological and societal transition" (see http://www.postindustrialworld.org), October 5-9, 2015, Leiden, The Netherlends, as well as from discussions at the Santa Fe Institute, NM USA, in January 2016.
The text below is originally co-authored by Lene Rachel Andersen, economist & philosopher, Next Scandinavia & research associate University of Southern Denmark (http://www.nextscandinavia.com) and Steen Rasmussen, professor in physics, University of Southern Denmark & external research professor, Santa Fe Institute, USA (http://flint.sdu.dk). An op-ed about these issues can be found in the Conversation see (http://conversation.com)
This Manifesto calls to action scientists and other interested stakeholders to identify and document observables and key issues concerning the emerging mainly technology driven societal transistion. (1) The primary mission is to find out how things are (the facts). (2) Secondary - and seperatly from (1) - we as citizens may propose possible scenarios for how to develop our new societies.
Our understanding of the postindustrial world is inadequate. The traditional job market is changing and so is the nation state. Solid economic and political structures of the past are deteriorating under the current technological development. In order for politics to be meaningful and for human rights and democracy to survive and thrive, we need to understand the greater patterns in this development.
Digital products and services, social media, mobile apps, etc., have changed our everyday lives in less than a decade. In fact, most of us use technologies on a daily basis that were wild science fiction 40-50 years ago when computer science first became established in Western universities. For most citizens and policymakers, the dramatic impact of the still exponentially growing information and communication technologies (ICT) is only starting to become apparent.
Today, a convergence between the bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- (BINC)(1) technologies develops the living and intelligent technologies of tomorrow. We are entering the BINC Age. All developed countries participate in the making of the BINC technologies and they are about to take off like computer science did a little more than a generation ago, and this development is enhanced by the already implemented ICT.
This is important, because democracy, politics, rule of law, human rights, the market economy, capitalism, the creation of money, the banking system, and even our schools and local communities are products of the industrial age and its technologies. As individuals we have learned to navigate the industrial economy and as societies we can somewhat control and define it with politics and legislation. But nobody has a clue what the global economy is going to look like in the postindustrial age of the BINC technologies.
The industrial economy grew out of austerity and a need for more of everything; more was simply better. Increased productivity satisfied real demands and brought cheaper goods, it also allowed for a development that meant fewer hard jobs, more fun and interesting jobs, shorter work hours, and longer vacations.
The BINC economy grows out of a situation where, in the richest parts of the world, more is not better. We are already sick from over-eating. Increased productivity may lead to cheaper goods but few need more, instead we just turn the Earth’s resources into trash faster and we must consume in order to stay employed.
The BINC technologies allow for a world of plenty with virtually no waste. A decresing part of the population will be able to develop, produce and distribute what everybody needs. It is a world where everybody could have their own personal fabricator, just like we have personal computers and printers at home today. We could design or download the code for goods we need and produce almost anything at home. As these goods have life-like properties most can be recycled; technology becomes like biology and part of the natural cycles in nature.
Throughout history, whenever new technologies have changed the means of production and communication they have transformed societies and cultures (see summary table below). We therefor anticipate that due to the development in the BINC technologies, societies globally face a transformation that could be as drastic as the transformation from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age or from the pre-scientific, agricultural society to the Industrial Age. Such changes redefine the very structures and workings of economy, governance, sovereignty of nation states, balances of power, environment, the human condition, religion, and much more. This time, however, these major changes will not happen over centuries as was the case with the transition from, say, the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. It will likely happen within a generation or two.
Within and between the nations we see indicators of this current transition. Among these indicators are the working poor, lack of privacy due to abuse of big data, challenges concerning secure and sustainable energy systems, international taxation issues regarding corporations, a rapidly growing and mainly speculative financial market, increased consumption of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and a radically transforming and diminishing job market mainly due to automation and digitization. The latter concerns not only blue-collar jobs, but also white-collar jobs. An even more worrying indicator is the number of people in the West who are attracted to fundamentalist religion and nationalist movements in search for simple answers to the complex changes.
The components that make up this critical transformation from the Postindustrial to the BINC Age are concrete and clear and can be grouped into five major areas: (A) the digital economy, (B) citizens in cyberspace and as biological creatures, (C) the erosion of the middle-class and the nation state, (D) the interconnectedness of the entire globe, and (E) the need for new narratives to use to make sense of the world. Please note that these five areas are notaligned along the traditional categories: technology, economy, environment, legal framework, or cultural narrative etc.; their interaction creates the global transition. We have summarized the development in a number of documented theses, which we believe make the transformation pattern easier to see.
(A) The BINC economy is a fundamentally different kind of economy:
1) Digital products and services represent an increasing part of the value creation.
2) Only the first digital unit requires capital, land and labor, the following copies are practically free of cost. This means profit without production and less need for employees. Further, digital products have no transportation costs, they are global from the moment they are released, so the best products win and take all: There is no market for thesecond best. However, the threshold is also lower to enter (a fair) market.
3) The marginal costs of material production approach zero (0) due to automation.
4) With Personal Fabrication (advanced 3D printing) pretty much anything can be manufactured locally (open source software and hardware).
5) An increasing part of the economy is based on derivative trading (speculation).
6) Established economic theories are inadequate to address the current reality.
7) The digital economy removes more jobs than it creates. Increased global demand on highly skilled individuals, while competition for the still fewer available low-grade jobs does not raise wages but only working hours and employment insecurity.
(B) Citizens in cyberspace and citizens as biological creatures
1) Information and communication technology (ICT) design and infrastructure implementation cements power structures (central or decentralized)
2) Currently, ICT is mostly implemented for greater concentration of power (government, communication, banking, platforms for social media)
3) Big business, governments and international intelligence use the digital infrastructure to access private data from the citizens, which means loss of freedom and power for the citizens.
4) Massive control of the information flows and the associated perception enables modeling of individuals’ decision processes and value chains, which in part determines what it means to be human.
5) Synthetic biology (SB) increasingly makes it possible to alter our genetic makeup. These technologies in a very direct manner have the potential to impacts what it means to be human.
6) ICT (and (SB)) generate a significantly more complex world.
(C) In the developed economies the middle class and democracy is eroding
1) There is greater return on investment in speculation than in production, you become more wealthy from being rich than from working.
2) Information, humans and money can travel freely across national borders. The world is increasingly changing from some 200 national economies to one global economy for which there is no common rule of law. On the individual level, everybody increasingly participates in one global job market.
3) Businesses move to places where they don’t need to pay taxes. Nation states compete among each other to provide the lowest taxes.
4) The middle class is increasingly challenged to provide the tax revenue needed to secure good nation state governance.
5) Economic elites are taking over the political power and democracy is deteriorating. Economic and hence political power gets concentrated on still fewer hands.
(D) The global interconnectedness also means global interdependency and that no nation state can take care of their citizens alone.
1) We have entered the Anthropocene. There is only one environment, e.g. local consumption generates global warming and human impact is causing a mass extinction of species.
2) The converging bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- (BINC) technologies, which is developed everywhere, will transform the world faster than ever before into something we have difficulties imagining as the pace of these new inventions increases exponentially.
3) The global population continues to grow and is predicted to reach 9 billion around 2050, accompanied by a wide range of migration issues and cultural clashes. Also the emergence of, and migration to, maga-cities have created new local-global communities.
4) It becomes increasingly challenging to align radically different economic, cultural and governance structures, i.e. traditional Arabic, industrial Russian and digitized Scandinavian as individuals from previously distant cultures are now mixing.
5) There are no global institutions or other structures in place that can handle this transformation, nor do we have the necessary legal frameworks and economic theories.
(E) The need for new narratives.
1) The political spectrum of left and right used to be about capital interests, now it is about single issues and emotions. Left and Right emerged from the industrial society and the struggle for power between workers and capital. Today, in the West, from left to right there is consensus about the open society, liberal democracy, market economy, and some measure of public welfare (disagreement on level of taxation and social benefits), but overall, systemic agreement about the model. As a result, voters are uniting along completely different lines; political parties are increasingly attracting members and voters according to emotional composition, single issues (e.g. for or against globalization) and less economic interests.
2) Postmodern deconstruction, globalization and the abovementioned erosion of the left-right political spectrum are undermining our grand narratives about reality, which used to keep societies together, i.e. religion, nation and class - and to some extend also science. As they lose their explanatory power, some are re-discovered in totalitarian form.
3) The only grand narrative that has survived is “the free market”, which provides consumer goods efficiently but is incapable of solving any of the problems stated above. In fact, it fuels them.
To preserve sustainable economies, human dignity, Human Rights, democracy, and social calm these issues must be taken to the forefront of practical national and international politics. In a world were knowledge is viewed as an indisputable asset for economic growth, this same knowledge must be put to work to understand the current transformation of the global economy and community and to address and develop sustainable and desirable paths forwards. A continued belief in the narrative that a free market and the nation state will resolve our current dilemmas is naïve. We need to recognize reality as it is and not as it once was.
The BINC Age offers us the opportunity of meaningful work, leisure time, prosperity, and freedom for all. With the right political, legal and economic structures and institutions and with the best possible implementation of the BINC technologies, we can shape the world to meet our highest hopes. We have to develop visions for inclusive and sustainable societies, while recognizing how the new technologies are in the process of changing the very foundation of the human condition. If we are wise, we can use the emerging BINC transition to move everybody beyond austerity and into a world of plenty. However, apathy could allow the BINC transition to bring our world into a new dark age, a dystopia controlled by a tiny elite.
(1) In the sciencetific community, these new technologies are sometimes referred to as NBIC, and not BINC. However, having presented these technologies to thousands of lay-people in our experience people both connect to and remember the word “BINC” and it allows us to talk about the coming BINC Age with non-scientists in a way that engages people.