To Survive Our Technological Transformation, Civilization Needs a Cognitive Revolution
By James Arbib, Tony Seba and Deepak Chopra™ MD
Over the next decade, industrial civilization will experience a scale of technological disruption never before seen in the history of humanity. Converging across the five foundational sectors of information, energy, transportation, food and materials, this disruption will drive massive transformations across the economy.
But while this disruption is inevitable due to fundamental economic drivers, only by transforming our very core way of seeing and understanding the world will we navigate this transition in a way that elevates humanity to new heights while avoiding societal breakdown.
Over the last two decades, we’ve been consistently more accurate than mainstream analysts in predicting critical technological disruptions like rapid cost declines for solar panels, the shrinking of the coal industry, as well as the peaking of global oil demand for petrol car sales.
We anticipate that technological innovations across these five sectors will drop production costs by 10 times or more — putting incumbent legacy industries from fossil fuels to dairy farming out of business — potentially allowing humanity to revolutionize the way we process and communicate information, and produce energy, food, and materials.
The disruption of extraction
Human civilizations have traditionally organized around an extraction-based production system, based on hierarchical, centralized control and distribution of scarce resources. This system has come with a set of beliefs about the world, scientific practices, and ideas about society — an organizing system in which exploitation and inequality became hard-wired as systemic features necessary to keep the system alive.
While contributing to important discoveries and unprecedented forms of progress, this system is reaching its limits in the form of escalating global crises, from climate change to pandemics, from rising inequality to resurgent authoritarianism, from financial instability to raging xenophobia.
But the industries that have thrived in this extraction-based system are not going to survive the next decade: they will be swept away by fundamental economics.
Life comes at you fast
Centuries ago, the cross-pollination of technologies in different sectors — paper, ink, metallurgy, and food — led to the innovation of the printing press, which made books widely available and affordable to individuals for the first time. This unlocked the mass circulation of knowledge and ideas, making way for the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution.
A century ago, the internal combustion engine along with the first moving assembly line led cars to completely replace horse transportation within about 13 years. At the time, nobody thought it was possible. Automobiles went on to transform whole industries and entire built environments, with houses, towns and cities redesigned around this radical form of transport.
Then earlier in the twenty-first century, the smartphone arrived, and with it a series of information revolutions across the internet, the cloud and AI, together triggering disruptions across incumbent telecommunications giants, entertainment monoliths, and taxi markets.
As we have also seen in other technologies like digital cameras and microwave ovens, these disruptions can take little more than a decade to render their predecessors obsolete.
That’s because technology disruptions follow an ‘S-curve’, starting slowly, rapidly accelerating as production costs plummet while capabilities increase, before reaching an exponential growth rate that wipes out and replaces older technologies.
Yet it’s the convergence between different sectors that produces the most profound transformations. Trapped in silo-thinking, conventional analysts fail to grasp how synergies across the sectors of transportation, energy, information, food and materials will rewrite the very rules of civilization itself. These disruptions are not merely technology substitutions, an electric car for a gasoline car, but a fundamental change to the system. The disruptions affect the value chain, infrastructure, business models but also bring in a new set of possibilities across society.
In much the same way that the Internet permanently transformed dozens of other industry sectors — solar, wind and battery storage will make clean energy so cheap and abundant that it will unlock radical innovations we can barely imagine.
Scaled up to 100% of supply, energy ‘superabundance’ will be available at near-zero marginal costs. The energy system will shift from domination by centralized utilities to inherently decentralization, enabling the emergence of self-sufficient communities, companies and regions, while creating new jobs, products, business models, and organizational capabilities.
That will make it possible to fully electrify road transportation and heating, water desalination and treatment, waste processing and recycling, metal smelting and refining, chemical processing and localised manufacturing, cryptocurrency mining, distributed computing and communications, and carbon removal — and much more.
The convergence with information and electrical vehicle technology will also unleash a new model of Transport-as-a-Service (TaaS). Autonomous electric vehicles will be so cheap and charging infrastructure so ubiquitous that supermarket and shopping center car parks would give away electricity. Retail itself would transform as autonomous food delivery and coffeehouses-on-wheels become financially viable.
This will further drive down costs while providing abundant cheap energy for precision fermentation of proteins, making them more than 10 times cheaper than animal proteins by 2035. Industrial-scale brewing of single-celled organisms will allow nutritious and fresh food to be produced locally, anywhere, at low cost.
Cost reductions in additive manufacturing, nanotechnologies and precision fermentation will disrupt extractive resources and chemical synthesis, spurring the creation of a dizzying array of materials. Costs and capability improvements across precision biology, 3D printing, sensors, communications, computing, and robotics will feedback into new unthinkable innovations across these other energy, information, transport and food sectors in a self-reinforcing dynamic.
Together, these disruptions will facilitate a breakthrough production system making old extractive systems obsolete. In their place, we will see a decentralized model of localized ownership and creation alongside a global model of product design and technology development. This creation-based system would enable the abundant, local and cheap production of energy, food, knowledge, tools and materials for the benefit of all, rather than a few. We call this potential new epoch, in which human beings for the first time in history could be free of concerns around material survival, the ‘Age of Freedom’.
Though these disruptions are inevitable within the next decade, we cannot automatically assume their coherent convergence into a system benefiting humanity. Societies, governments, international institutions, businesses, and NGOs are still grounded in the old organizing system. They are unprepared for the coming scale of disruption and the unprecedented opportunity for civilizational transformation.
Whole industries upon which huge sections of the current economic system depend will transform within 10 years. Oil, coal, gas and nuclear assets will be stranded. Big agribusiness and industrial livestock farming will be unrecognisable before 2035. Demand for traditional manufacturing and mining will diminish, replaced by greater localisation of manufacturing. We will need a fraction of the current number of cars — built using far fewer parts and running on electrons, not liquid fuels. Demand for long distance shipping will plummet, along with pipelines and big rail industries.
Handicapped by incumbent interests, incentives and mindsets, some societies may remain stuck in the dark ages, unprepared for business failures and job losses, and incapable of reaping the benefits.
Absent an intelligent and holistic approach, disruption will unleash unprecedented levels of chaos and discontent. Accelerating ecological, economic and political instability could abort the Age of Freedom before it sees the light of day: At worst, it could lead to societal collapse, and at best, it could empower a new form of techno-authoritarianism with continued centralized domination of production.
To free the body, free your mind
The biggest obstacle on our journey toward the Age of Freedom, then, is not any particular industry or government — but the old organizing system. Our cognitive inability to understand the speed, scale and dynamics of the coming disruption poses the greatest risk.
The prevailing, extraction-based system is based on linear approximations of limited portions of reality. We use reductionist mental models that break up complexity into small pieces to examine the components of things at ever finer levels of granular detail — hoping we can put them back together coherently. But escalating crises prove we have exhausted the usefulness of this paradigm. Almost every major challenge humanity is facing, from cancer and climate change, to food and consciousness, needs complex systems thinking to solve.
Having lost sight of the interconnections between and across incredibly complex systems, our dysfunctional cognitive models trap us in the rapidly collapsing paradigm of extraction. That’s why we need new models and maps which engage with complex systems, relinquish disconnection for interconnection, and harness planetary collective consciousness for local implementation.
Humanity needs radically new mental approaches to manage this emerging reality. This cognitive revolution requires us to tap into human awareness — the creative wellspring of intelligence within Nature itself. This is a level of consciousness where all the systems and activities of humanity and the natural world are integrated, harmonised and mutually supportive. As we activate our inner potential we find the human values of security, compassion, connection, self-worth, and mutual respect that are needed to navigate this time of monumental transformation.
To be sure, the journey will be perilous. The system that could emerge as a result of this new way of thinking and seeing will be iterative and collaborative in a way never attempted before. At a time when the need for societal plasticity is highest, we also see adaptability is diminishing; history shows that those who challenge prevailing dogma will be attacked by those who profit from it.
But if we succeed, it will open up the possibility of a fully distributed world emanating from people, in which every household, community, town and city is an integral self-sufficient and sovereign node in a bottom-up, global network of networks comprised of local producers of energy, food, materials and knowledge.
We can only guess at the mosaic of sciences, belief systems, governance mechanism, value codes and spiritual practices that will emerge to support and enrich humanity in this new Age of Freedom. But we can be sure that for the first time in history, we can see, well within our grasp, an imminent future full of unlimited possibilities. It’s up to us to make it ours.
JAMES ARBIB is chairman of a UK-based family investment office with a diversified portfolio across all asset classes and a focus on the risks and opportunities of technology disruption. He is the founder of Tellus Mater, an independent philanthropic foundation dedicated to exploring the impacts of technology and its potential for solving some of the world’s most challenging problems. He is the co-founder of RethinkX and has given keynote speeches at dozens of events including for BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, governments and corporations. A graduate in history from Trinity College, Cambridge, he has a Masters in Sustainability Leadership, also from Cambridge. He is a qualified chartered accountant and worked as an investment analyst covering utilities.
TONY SEBA is a world renowned thought leader, author, speaker, educator, angel investor and Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon best-selling book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation”, “Solar Trillions” and “Winners Take All”, and co-author of “Rethinking Transportation 2020–2030” and “Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020–2030”.He has been featured in several movies and documentaries including Bloomberg’s Forward Thinking: A Sustainable World, 2040, and SunGanges. He is recipient of many awards including the Savvy Awards (2019), Solar Future Today’s Visionary Influencer Award (2018), and Clean Energy Action’s 2017 Sunshine Award. He is the creator of the Seba Technology Disruption Framework™. His work focuses on technology disruption, the convergence of technologies, business model innovation, and product innovation that is leading to the disruption of the world’s major industries. He has been a keynote speaker at hundreds of global events and organizations including Google, the European Commission, Davos, COP21, CLSA, J.P. Morgan, Nomura, National Governors Association, Conference on World Affairs, the Global Leaders Forum, Intersolar and China EV100. He has taught thousands of entrepreneurs and corporate leaders at Stanford Continuing Studies. He has a Stanford MBA and an MIT degree in Computer Science and Engineering.
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com