Dannie Jost: The times ahead will surprise us

For our recent forecasting project, we asked some friends and experts for their insights, expectation and hope for the next three to five years. Dannie Jost replied with a very publishable piece that we’d like to share in full with you.

For our recent forecasting project, we asked a number of friends and experts for their insights, expectations and hopes for the next three to five years. How will technology change our lives? Our friend and CoCities speaker Dr Dannie Jost replied with this following piece that we’d like to share in full with you.

I should have been an astronomer: I like to think in terms of light years and orders of magnitude. In 3-5 years not much happens, just fluctuations. Still, punditry is something that everyone ought to engage with at least once in a lifetime. It was about time that I give it a try.

What are the most interesting big trends and drivers that will shape the next 3-5 years, how might they manifest, and what are the main implications?

For the next 3-5 years the big trends and drivers that will shape our existence will be the shrinking of the economy, the development of a new understanding of what sustainability is, the discovery that governance systems are failing, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. The main implications will be a tendency to concentrate on those values, attitudes, and resources that make a difference in the quality of one’s life. There will be a mixture of the intensity of loneliness, and an increase in the value of clan values.

This does not mean that there will be no conflicts, it may even be that the conflicts between social classes – the haves and have nots – will intensify within and across national sovereignty borders. I have a bad feeling that democracy and liberalism are eroding and that human rights and obligations are good candidates for a collaborative reengineering project. I know that capitalism is broken, but thank Charles Schwab for voicing it out loud.

Imagine that the world’s governments, instead of restructuring their administrations, reducing costs, getting a grip on corruption, concentrate on improving the social cohesion and infrastructure, put the squeeze on the taxpayers that are already overtaxed (aka ‘the poor’) and leave the few wealthy living in overabundance and tax free. Somehow that is not a recipe for peace. Strangely enough this is the trend as we watch the world deal with the so-called financial and the euro crisis. I do not like the developments one bit.

The question that remains for me is whether I will remain a complaining observer, and if there will be any action that I will take to interfere with these developments.

How could the world be made more desirable over the next 3-5 years? In other words, which problems would you like your peers to tackle over the next few years, or which parameters to change?

I would like to see my peers tackle financial regulation, social equity, and produce technology that liberates instead of technology that enslaves. A lot of technology today enslaves, it does not liberate. Come to think of it, the same can be said of regulations and laws that are there to guarantee our freedoms but that over time have been highjacked in the service of few and alienate the masses. The results are not pretty. I exaggerate. Still, sometimes it looks like one large group gets the obligations, and a small minority get the rights. That is not the idea. I do not like that bit either.

Which parameters should change is not the question I would ask. It implies a deterministic approach to a deterministic world. I would invite exploration and I would include discipline in the exploration. The exploration will aid in finding the emerging temporary parameters that can be used to shape the world and create the society that we want. Techno-determinism is not the way to go. Determinism is just not the way that the Universe is built. The Universe is evolving and we are interacting with it albeit on a small scale in the grand scale of things, and in a big way in the small scope of our planet.

All our information-generating capabilities only reveal the limits of of knowledge and the confines of our cognitive abilities. We are not doomed, but the rollercoaster ride of evolution has barely began.

I would like to see some of my own ideas gain traction, but the ink is not even dry on some of those plans. Still, the plans are quite concrete. I enjoy playing and exploring the ideas of monopolies and competition and their relationship to innovation and public goods. For example, the pharmaceutical industry operates with a business model derived from hardcore capitalism, and that model is fairly kaputt.

Thanks for the questions. These are good questions. The more I try to answer them, the more evident it is to me that I do not have a clue. The times ahead will surprise us. I will continue to search for the perfect hot chocolate mix. Hopes I have for a smart phone that is a wifi fox and has no more than ten apps. For dishes and laundry, I will rely on house help and electric appliances.

Dr Dannie Jost has been Consulting Science Advisor and Senior Research Fellow at the World Trade Institute (WTI), NCCR Trade Regulation, Law Faculty, University of Bern, Switzerland since 2008. She works in policy and regulation issues where science, technology and trade are involved. Work in progress includes advising federal agencies on the scope of action for nanomaterial regulation within the framework of international trade law.

Please note: This piece is released under Creative Commons (by-nc). For your attribution, please refer to the author, Dr Dannie Jost.