Ten Points About a World of Accelerating Change Summary

JANUARY 23, 2009

On Jan. 23, 2009, John Smart, president of the Acceleration Studies Foundation in Mountain View, Calif., presented “Foresight Development in a World of Accelerating Change: Thoughts from an Evo Devo Futurist,” which contained the following excerpts:

  • Acceleration in computational capacity has driven a lot of the wealth that we have, and will not slow down in our lifetime because the basic physics of the universe seem to allow continued efficiencies in acceleration.
  • To be a good futurist, you should spend half your time thinking about science and technology, because if you don’t understand where they’re going, a game-changing event will come along and you won’t be prepared.
  • We can and should nurture and grow good technology such as automated recycling systems that will solve problems, rather than bad and dirty technologies — landfills, for example – that will create new problems.
  • Technology will continue to evolve to have more intelligence and autonomy. We will see increasing intimacy between humans and machines. For example, the cell phone is more intimate than the laptop.
  • Look for voice applications to be increasingly common, by which you ask a question in to a cell phone, it does a Web search and brings up an answer. There will be a phone like this in every child’s hand in the next 10 years. Think about a world where every child can learn as fast as curiosity drives him just by using a phone.
  • There are a lot of downsides to putting a cell phone in everybody’s hand. Some 3 billion new people will be added to the world’s population in the next 30 years, and 95 percent of them will be born into third-world slums. On their cell phones, they will see the good things that wealthier people have.
  • Look to multinational corporations (MNCs) rather than national governments to drive environmental and social changes. Of the top 100 economies in the world, 76 are MNCs, and 24 are nations.
  • Innovation must be sustainable. Innovation and sustainability are opposing forces, but to survive we must push both. The Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization, for example, was the leading edge of innovation in 2,300 B.C., but the land was overgrazed and overfarmed until it became a desert. That society innovated but failed to sustain.
  • Europe is 10 to 20 years ahead of us in recycling technology. Its adoption was easier than expected because they used automation, not people, to drive it. Technology learns a lot faster than people do. If you set a bar, technology will jump over it.
  • To boost the U.S. economy, we should improve access to private equity markets, cut corporate taxes in half, and require every executive who is using other people’s money to have “skin in the game” and invest his or her own money as well.

John Smart is founder and president of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, a nonprofit community that seeks to help individuals better understand and manage continuous accelerating change. He is a future and systems theorist who studies science and technological culture with an emphasis on accelerating change, evolutionary development, and human-independent machine learning.

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