In the next 10 years, the convergence of key technologies will completely disrupt five foundational sectors – information, energy, food, transportation and materials. Costs will fall by 10 times or more, while production processes become an order of magnitude 10 times more resource-efficient, using 90% fewer natural resources and producing 10-100 times less waste. The technology disruptions ahead and the rapid non-linear change they will drive, are not what mainstream analysts predict to be another Industrial Revolution. Instead, the world is undergoing a far more fundamental shift, according to findings in, “Rethinking Humanity: Five Foundational Sector Disruptions, the Lifecycle of Civilizations and the Coming Age of Freedom,” produced by RethinkX.
“Our very model of production is being turned on its head,” said report co-author and RethinkX co-founder Tony Seba. “And, with it comes enormous opportunity and risk. We can use the upcoming convergence of technology disruptions to solve the greatest challenges of humankind – inequality, poverty, environmental destruction if, and only if, we learn from history, recognize what is happening, understand the implications and make critical choices now because these very same technologies that hold such promise are also accelerating civilization’s collapse.”
From extraction to creation-based production system
The report details the current shift from the prevailing extraction and exploitation model of production to a model of localized creation from limitless, ubiquitous building blocks – a world built not on coal, oil, steel, livestock and concrete, but on photons, electrons, DNA, molecules and (q)bits. This shift enables a 10-time improvement in costs and efficiency across five foundational sectors.
Analyzing similar disruptions, patterns and processes through ten thousand years of history, the report finds that 10 times advancements in those five foundational sectors have driven the emergence of new, vastly more capable and advanced civilizations, but only when combined with adaptive, dramatically improved organizational capabilities – that is society’s organizing principles, social governance, and economic systems and institutions.
The report finds that the cost of the “American Dream” defined in terms of 1,000 miles per month of transport, 2,000 kWh per month of energy, complete nutrition (including 100 grams of protein, 250 grams of healthy carbs, 70 grams of fats and micronutrients), 100 liters of clean water a day, continuing education and communications could be as low as $250 a month by 2030.
Unlike mainstream analysts’ linear forecasts based on mechanistic, siloed models, RethinkX takes a systems approach that has been consistently more accurate in predicting the speed and scale of technological disruptions.
Humanity is at a crossroads
“For the first time in history, we have the technology to meet the basic human needs – food, energy, transportation, information and shelter – for all people at a fraction of the cost, economically and environmentally,” said James Arbib, report co-author and RethinkX co-founder. “But, the lessons of history are sobering. Every leading civilization, from Çatalhöyük and Sumer to Babylonia and Rome, has fallen as it reached the limits of its ability to organize its society and solve the problems created by its prevailing production system. When these civilizations were threatened by collapse, they looked backwards and attempted to recapture the glory days by patching up their production system and doubling down on their organizing system rather than adapting. The result: collapse of society and descent into a dark age.”
The information sector is already experiencing the impact of the new creation-based production system butting up against today’s increasingly antiquated organizing system, according to the report. Centralized content production with high costs, high barriers to entry and narrow distribution channels has given way to billions of producer-consumers generating content at near-zero cost with minimal barriers to entry across a globally-connected network. Alongside the extraordinary benefits the information revolution has brought, the emerging production system has also created novel problems, which organizing systems are incapable of understanding or managing. A few computer hackers in an apartment in one country can hijack another’s governance processes, spread false narratives, polarize public opinion, paralyze decision-making processes, and help enable regime change at home and abroad. Individual nations are no longer able to manage the narrative or control the flow of information.
Similar disruptions will unfold simultaneously in the energy, food, transportation, and materials sectors during the 2020s, and like the information sector, will present the same kind of unprecedented opportunities at the same time they offer challenges.
Opportunity for societal breakthrough, but context is also set for collapse
Unlike previous civilizations, for the first time in history, the industry has seen just the technological tools to make an incredible leap in societal capabilities, but also the ability to see what is coming and elevate humanity while avoiding civilization’s collapse, according to the report.
Rethinking humanity provides an action plan for leaders around the world that focuses on accelerating the rollout, infrastructure and value chains of the new energy, information, material, food and transportation systems, while at the same time strategically winding down the old extraction model of production.
“The future is not pre-ordained. We can choose to elevate humanity to unprecedented new heights or instead to preserve the status quo and descend into a dark age. As successive, concurrent, predictable shocks destabilize our civilization in the 2020s, the knee jerk response will be for greater centralization and concentration of decision-making and resources, giving nation states, previously gridlocked by polarization, the power and ability to take decisive action,“ said Seba. “It is imperative that this power not be used to patch up the old, but to accelerate the new. The challenge is to ensure we protect people and maintain social stability while the new system emerges and we consciously manage the strategic shutdown of the old extraction system.”
“Dark ages do not occur for lack of sunshine, but for lack of leadership,” said Arbib. “This is a clarion call to leaders across society – public and private – to see what is really happening, to understand the implications, and to rethink the way we all do business, invest and organize society.”