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As the Future Catches (the) US December 10, 2009

Posted by eskuhn in As The Future Catches You.
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The most striking characteristic of the book is not necessarily the content, not how genomics is going to change our lives, but simply how all this information is presented. Compressed into standard paragraphs and text, this book might be a third the number of pages, but would it communicate as quickly? As effectively?

I found my eyes were able to absorb almost the entire page with a glance. The key points were highlighted not by using italics, but by their relation to the rest of the page. The alignment of the words, their size, and their overall presentation controlled the cadence of the read. It was almost as if I were reading a live speech, text sizes and styles words were the volume and inflection.

But not to neglect the content of the book completely, the thought that kept creeping into my mind was: “What is going to happen to America?” We are quickly being out-manufactured by China and out-sourced to India. I’m all for free-market globalization and have no personal qualms with either of these scenarios, but America needs to wake up and figure out what it’s next competitive advantage will be.

As it says in the book, America’s status as one of the richest countries in the world is essentially held up by a few extremely successful entrepreneurs. Our role models are those that dropped out of school (Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg) and became billionaires. Now, what’s seldom mentioned is that these people are so far ahead of the curve that they are actually learning FASTER than any school would have been able to teach them. The PROBLEM, however, is that we as a culture value the “go for broke” mentality, leaving us with two eventualities: rich, or poor.

But the majority of Americans would benefit greatly from quality education around new concepts and technology. Right now, the wealth disparities only continue to mount as the rich pay for and receive excellent educations from a young age, and the poor become quickly discouraged by the lack of quality education, and possibly more importantly, the resulting lack of great professional options. The model looks a lot like a long-cycle venture capital investment (invest in education, produce more valuable people), but the problem may not be in the financials, it might be in the culture.

The real question is: How can we build a culture around valuing quality education with strong emphases on new technology and processes?

Facing the lion speed of change… December 7, 2009

Posted by Emily Lin in As The Future Catches You.
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The book provides striking evidence to support its main theme: the near future would be highly driven by IT revolution, molecular revolution, and bioinformatics / biocomputing. The three major advancements reinforce and accelerate each other in an exponential speed. However, a lot of countries or organizations still fail to realize the fact, and those who do not pay close attention to the trend would be falling apart in an unexpected faster speed.

“What our world looks like in fifty or a hundred years depends to a significant extent on our ability to adopt and adapt the ethical, political, and economic challenges of the digital-genomics era.”

Coming from Taiwan, I am particularly interested in the author’s description about Taiwanese’s achievements in economy and technology, and am encouraged by his theory of “small would win over big”. The growth of economics would be no longer requires natural resources, but rather the agility and concentration on knowledge-based services. The wealth of a country would be depending on “knowledge-export ratio: value-added exports / commodity exports”, and its ability to protect its knowledge. “The future belongs to small population who build empires of the mind.” And the future is coming in a faster speed than many thought.

It must be controversy to Americans, but it is very interesting for me to hear the term: “IC – Indians and Chinese – who prosper Silicon Valley”. “United States is borrowing great minds from India and China.” US economic growth would highly dependent on maintain its attractive environment to retain foreign knowledge-based workers.  On the other side of the talent acquisition race, whether India and China could catch up depends on whether these countries could nurture pro-knowledge  environments that invest in education and public health, reward entrepreneurs, and emphasize on knowledge-based industries.

I am worried about the increasing discrepancy between the earnings of the richest versus the poorest (427 to 1!) It seems that the rich would get richer and the poor may never get a chance to revert back because lack of resources in education. Moreover, concentration also happens in giant companies. The power of big companies outgrows many small countries. Social responsibilities of big companies would become an increasingly important topic.

Facing the “lion speed” of change, we have to versatile and adaptive. “The only way to make a successful career is to being a free agent…Is to learn how to understand and use new concepts and technologies.” We have to be prepared at the mobility-nature of knowledge-based work, and be ready to leave at a faster time than ever before. “Those who leaved are the most valuable.”

As the Future Kills Us December 7, 2009

Posted by Muckzak in As The Future Catches You.
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“The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.  Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

Sound familiar?  It’s the voice of optimism from a cynical Sarah Connor in Terminator II – Judgment Day.  Her doomsday narration voice resounds in my mind as I navigate through chapter after chapter of the reading assignment for our Systems Design class.

I’m within the first thirty pages of the book and I already want to stop.  I inherently dislike rhetoric that dwells on negative paranoia themed ideas without substantiating facts.  Is the disparity between the rich and poor widening because the poor are getting poorer?  My instinct tells me, not necessarily – technology has enabled us to increase the potential of capital creation.  I’m unclear as to why multiplying the amount of global wealth is a bad consequence.  Would the author be more satisfied with a smaller ratio than 427:1 if it meant that the total global wealth was reduced? 

Now that I’m on page 50, I’m waiting for the epiphany.  I’ve read more facts but they are in a vacuum.  For instance, it’s amazing how quickly opinions can change:

                But before Microsoft became the behemoth it is today . . . Apple built a simpler and better    operating system… But it did not share . . . It kept its program “exclusive.”           Programmers found it       easier to work with Microsoft’s “open” system… So today you can      buy 70,000 Microsoft-     compatible programs… and 12,000 Apple programs… Even though it had a better product…             Apple lost. (p 37)

 Apple lost?  That’s a very definitive statement.  Apple has 29 billion in cash today and has rebounded beyond conceivable expectations.  It unquestionably grew consumer markets for online music sales, MP3 players and smart phones.  It evolved from just a personal computer company to a multimedia conglomerate.  Results and conclusions are always dependent on the referenced moment in time.    

I’ve skimmed through page 150.  Growth in genome research, development in nano technologies…  Interesting…  but not interesting enough to keep reading at such a high level of generality.  All these sound bites just sound condescending.  Sleepless (and angry) in Berkeley. 

I give up.  You had me at page 196.  1984 came and went 25 years ago. 

You never know what the future holds.  I face it, not for the first time, which a sense of hope.  There are plenty of people out there who value human life, and as our society and resources change and evolve with continued technological innovation, I believe the world gets smaller and more personal.  Our collective conscience grows.  There is nothing to fear. 

                Only

                                Opportunities

                                                To

                                                                Seize.

December 7, 2009

Posted by James Bender in As The Future Catches You.
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Scaling and stickiness.

Why is it that it has taken me my entire life to truly understand these two concepts mean?

Think like this:
Stickiness.  What are things that you need everyday?  Food, water, shelter–Yes.  Comraderie, fellowship, news, justice?  There are primal necessities and social designs in which you participate every day.  Stickiness is the concept that you will continue to spend your time doing these things.  Everyone needs to eat, sleep, and receive input.  So food has been important throughout time.  Fellowship has also been important (no man is an island).  Information flow or access to information has been paramount.  Every person on the planet engages in these things.  Hence, scale.

Scale.  Networks of great size increase in complexity and richness.  That ability to scale builds the network.  The network in itself, is not valuable.  It is sometimes the size of the network alone that is valuable.  The ability to rapidly scale enables wealth migration, value creation, and stickiness.

I urge you to consider stickiness and scale in all that you do today.

Is knowledge enough? December 6, 2009

Posted by Ignacio Larrain in As The Future Catches You.
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The world is changing. And it is changing faster every day. The author shows data on how the differences between developed countries and third world countries is increasing instead of narrowing, and he defines information or the so called knowledge economy as the golden key for poorer countries in order to at least have the chance to get out of their actual reality.

As a first reaction I tend to agree with his point of view. Information is crucial. And there have been interesting experiences from countries like Singapore that have been able to climb the stairs from poverty to become a successful economy. But I believe that even though knowledge is necessary it is also not sufficient. As human beings we have some basic needs we will pursue to fill in first place and after we have done so we can start thinking a little bit ahead. In many third world countries we see hunger, deceases, violence and lack of democratic rights that have to be solved in first place. I had the chance to study the differences between public and private schools in Chile, a country that has been developing very much for the past thirty years. And one of the key findings was that even though the materials taught and the resources used to teach students could be equaled, when a little boy does not have breakfast in the morning or if he gets involved every day in home violence then even though he attends the best school in the country he will not be able to perform as he should. Even though we are trying to educate all our children the difference is still increasing. And this happens in a country that has been in the developing countries’ group for years and far away from those relegated third world countries.

An this is why I believe it is not just a matter of leadership within each country to change those places’ destinies, but it is a matter of world leadership in order to see the world as a whole and to realize that we need to embrace one another’s needs as if they were our own. We need courageous, ethical and socially responsible leaders that want to build a better world for all. And as future world leaders we are called to make a decision: will we work to create that better world or not. If we choose the first alternative it is going to be a great challenge. I just hope most of us get to choose to face this challenge, and to do it with great passion.  But we need not to loose sight of how to approach this challenge. If we want to really have an impact then we do not have to focus only on saving some proceeds for charity but to be thoughtful of those key decisions that can affect someone’s life in the long run. And we as leaders will face those types of decisions many times in our lives, for example, when we have the chance to create new jobs and deliver fair wages in cheap labor countries. It is our responsibility as Haas students to pursue a better world, and to make it with fairness and within clear ethical boundaries.

As the future catches you December 6, 2009

Posted by Pau Min Wong in As The Future Catches You.
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The author made a compelling argument and provided substantial historical evidence that technology adoption leads to wealth accumulation for the community or nation. He continues to assert that nations wishing to prosper should depart from traditional resource-based economies and focus on developing “value-added” service industries. While I agree that knowledge driven industries increases productivity and economic value-add, I think there are significant risks involved when a country becomes over-reliant on such an economy. Singapore, for example, was worse hit amongst most South East Asian countries in the recent financial crisis. A balance should be struck between resource-based as well as knowledge-based economy in order to limit a nation’s exposure to extreme volatility in wealth creation and destruction.

As to the author’s point on concentration of knowledge pools within certain localized areas, communities or ‘zip’ codes, I’d like to add another potential reason for this phenomenon by drawing a parallel to the idea of specialization as a method of increasing efficiency. As globalization continues to lower trade barriers across geographies, localized communities no longer need to be self-sufficient. They can trade goods/services between them. Naturally, the need to remain competitive will drive local communities to specialize in order to maximize efficiencies, thereby creating localized centres of excellence.

A quick thought on corporate social responsibility: Should global corporations that profit from exploiting natural resources from countries such as Nigeria and Myanmar be responsible to ensure that some of the wealth created is reinvested in a sustainable way, e.g., help develop local communities, education, etc? When local governments fail, shouldn’t global corporations profiteering from the countries step in?

As the Future Catches You October 31, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in As The Future Catches You.
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I found myself frustrated with this book. Until the end, that is, when Enriquez notes: “I apologize for simplifying so many debates and concepts. My objective is not to teach you everything you need to know about technology but, rather, to start a debate.” This made the work come together for me.

The book is about change, and rapid change; this is encapsulated by the phrase, “Future catches up to the imagination too quickly”. First it was improved communication. Then the Internet. Then micro-knowledge (genes, nano, etc.). He’s not just pointing this out for us to digest, but almost as a warning. Those countries, people, companies, families, groups that do not value technology and that do not prepare themselves to understand the movements that are going on (let alone lead those changes) are shooting themselves in the foot. Some think you have to run to stay in place. Enriquez thinks you have to be on a rocket ship to stay in place, and figure out something faster to move ahead of others.

I was interested in his thought that national resources are actually a constraint, because resource-rich countries end up being intelligence-poor. Similarly, I’m encouraged by his take that, the more you learn how to learn, the better off you’ll be. As a liberal arts undergrad, that makes me happy . . .

He has one point that is probably true, but which I think he would approach differently if he were writing in 2009 in Berkeley. The top 20% of society that understands technology is getting richer, faster, than ever before. True! But what that 20% do is what matters in this situation, and if social entrepreneurship takes off, if “doing good by the world” wins out, then that acceleration may not necessarily be a doomsday scenario.

 

Scarcity ≠ Value? October 6, 2009

Posted by Graham Pingree in As The Future Catches You.
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I was particularly interested by Enriquez’ points about how the information/knowledge economies have challenged the traditional economic model of ‘scarcity = value.’ He suggests that in the new knowledge economy, a product/idea is only valuable if it is shared (he uses the fax machine example – it is only useful as it proliferates). The ‘network effect’ he describes is not a new phenomenon – a car/phone/newspaper is clearly more valuable with the infrastructure that comes with universal adoption too – but seems to be much more crucial in service-based businesses. It got me thinking about social networking, though. Enriquez says “what matters most is that the purchaser becomes part of a network, and that network keeps growing,” but what if there is no “purchaser”, and the service is provided for free? In this case, it is harder to me to understand if there is any inherent value (at least in terms of wealth creation, which is what the author is talking about in this section) to a having a large network – presuming no alternative revenue model like advertising. It seems to me that the economics of businesses haven’t changed that much: the widest distribution is desirable, as long as people are willing to pay something for your product/service.
Another observation (pardon my cynicism) was that much of the change that Enriquez forecasts has some scary implications for global security in the future. As wealth disparity between and within nations increases, as social and religious mores are challenged by innovations in genetics, as technological advancements generate potentially dangerous “second uses”, it would appear the world will become even less geopolitically stable. The author acknowledges some of these risks, but spends most of the book describing the opportunities incumbent in genomics and other changes – I couldn’t help think that more vigilance is required about all of the accompanying pitfalls as well…

Hannah Davies on As the Future Catches You September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in As The Future Catches You.
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“What makes us special is not the number of genes…
Or the fact that we share many of these with worms, plants, bacteria.
What is particular to humans is the complexity with which we network…
Our biological selves.”

Wow. I don’t know whether to feel elated or depressed after reading this book. It is a great celebration of our uniqueness as individuals, our closeness to other animals through the whole circle of life, and the impressive capacity of the human mind to figure it all out.
But what a terrifying indictment of human nature, if such advancement in knowledge is for the exclusive gain of the ever-decreasing chosen few, at the greater expense of the many. Can it possibly be true that such enlightenment is leading us down the path to greater global injustice? And that such technological and scientific innovation is suppressing, rather than catalysing, social innovation and improved social structures? How eerily ‘Brave New World’.
What struck me most about this book though, was President Clinton’s quote:
“We are learning the language in which God created life… without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind.”
Above all, the book has left me feeling uncomfortable about the moral issues it raises. Are genomics a fulfilment of our creative potential as individuals, or a step too far in our desire to play God? Coming from the EU, where the debate surrounding genomics is particularly fierce – from our distaste of genetically modified food to a deep unease with ‘test-tube’ babies – I find myself troubled by our constant craving to control and manipulate the very essence of what we are. Especially if such ‘advancement’ is not for the greater good, but only the privileged few.
And yet, in the final call, I can’t help but admit that I’m one of those so-called golden billion, with much more to gain than to lose from genomic and technological advances. One of my best friends was diagnosed with a brain tumor eight years ago. Three operations and extensive radiotherapy later, the tumor is in temporary remission but the long-term prognosis is fragile. Morality and global injustice aside – if genomics holds the potential key to a permanent cure for my friend, do I want to be part of it? Yes, of course I do. For better or for worse, it seems the desire for survival is a more powerful element of human nature than any ethical considerations. I guess that’s written in our genes, too.

Can the future be caught? September 30, 2009

Posted by Alison Zander in As The Future Catches You.
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The concept of a knowledge economy was new to me.  I have come from the perspective that natural resources provide a position of strength.  This book pointed out that natural resources can actually be a disadvantage since may people will exploit these natural resources first, then accumulate capital, and lastly educate their people.  Since building knowledge is the way we will grow and accumulate wealth in the future, I would agree that natural resources can prove to be a disadvantage.

 The book was also eye opening in terms of how much progress is being made in the scientific world and how important scientific knowledge is to the future of society.  I was surprised to hear that the government has allowed entire animals to be patented and that in the future pharmaceuticals may become niche products that target specific genomes.  There has been so much progress made in such a short time period that soon we may see medicine become more preventative than treatment based, but I also find that encouraging.  I was also intrigued by the topic of Achaea and that it accounts for 1/5 of the biomass on the earth.  It will be interesting to see if in the future if there are in fact find living things on other planets.

The biggest paradigm shift I had while reading this book is that the new dominant language is genetics.  This area of science is new to me, but the benefits it can provide in treating and preventing disease are very exciting.  I will be interested to see if in another 10 years we will have exponentially more progress made in the field of genomics.