Sunday, December 13, 2020

Greetings from 2030 - a time when the oxymoron of ‘sustainable growth’ is, finally, gone

Dear 2020,

Reading this hopefully gives you hope and trust in the future. There is one! What it looks like we decide, every day. Sometimes it seems to need some magic, but remember that “magic is making the seemingly impossible possible”. There’s a big difference between “seemingly impossible” and “impossible”.

I remember that I watched the advent calendar on the Swedish television back in 2020. Something I hadn’t done for many years. I recall it was an effect of being mainly at home, every day, the full year. You can probably relate to that, even if it feels like a long time ago this shift happened.

The television advent calendar the year of 2020 was a story that included back holes, time travel and sending messages through time. Sending messages ahead in time, into the future. This is something that has been possible from the dawn of humanity.

Sending messages backwards in time is a bit trickier. When did we learn that? Well, “future will tell” :-)

Black holes was also the subject of the Nobel prize in physics back in 2020. (One of the laureates was Roger Penrose, who to me was more known for the Penrose tiling and other less galactic topics.)

2020 was the year when you could more clearly see that we were at the inflection point. A bit clearer than when I last wrote about it. The inflection point is rather an inflection period, a period of time when we shift from one era to another. A period of time during which our actions have a very high impact on the future.

Be aware of this. Also be aware that the inflection period is not over, it continues in 2021 and beyond. But proactive actions are best taken early in the inflection phase. Of course, the uncertainty is even higher in the early phases, so your actions must be guided on principles that embrace the unknown, and the actions must be designed to cater for the unknown. 

Giving guidance on how to get to the future, from the future, is very tricky. One reason is that the past, present and future are different reference frames. It’s a bit like telling someone to “turn right”, and getting the opposite result (“they turn left”) because their left is your right. I will however offer you two beliefs of the future that might guide you:

First, “you will get there”, regardless of if you’d like it or not. It is not about “how to get there”, it is about what it looks like. And the future depends on the past, and hence you impact the future with every action you take, collectively.

Second,, a more specific hint: “Rethink growth”. I remember that “sustainable growth” used to be a very popular term, which drove humanity into the inflection period. “Growth” as it used to be defined was a very effective engine to power humanity ahead. All the way into the inflection period. But growth the way we used to think about it is simply not sustainable. All resources on a planet, both the renewable and the non-renewable, are limited. “Sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. Sooner or later a system of growth reaches the limits and the laws of growth starts to break down. This leads to a bifurcation point which decides the future state of the system. Our system, the system of earth and the ecosystem of earth, including humanity. Are we going to “level up” for yet another era, or are we going to be a victim of the great filter in the Fermi paradox (an unimaginable future!)? A key aspect to nudge our path into the wanted future is to redefine “growth” and find a growth metric that guides us into the next era.

A few complementary thoughts:

  • “Digital assets and digital value creation” are not disconnected from the physical world. In the 2020 era value created on the digital side of the equation still impacts the (unsustainable) utilization of physical resources. 

  • “Technology” is important, but not the key ingredient of a sustainable future. We are leaving the industrial era, in which technology in the 2020 meaning was a central driver. Technology will still be a key part of our lives, just as grain and other agriculture products will be, and is, even after the agricultural era.

And in case you are looking beyond our planet. Yes, there are other planets within reach, and they are richer of resources than we might think. But all other planets within reach lack the most valuable and necessary resource! An ecosystem to be part of. To build up a complete, self-sustaining, ecosystem is a grand challenge that we still do not know if it is an “impossible” or just “seemingly impossible” quest for humanity. And before we know we only have one ecosystem, our planet.

We shape our joint future step by step, day by day and action by action. A learning from the 2020 advent calendar is in its title, Mirakel. Not in its literal meaning (miracle), but it is made up as a synthesis of the past and the present, of the present and the future. The protagonists in the Mirakel story are called Mira and Rakel, and Mirakel is a synthesis. Literally.

The protagonists in our narrative of the future are you, me and everyone else. “Act now”!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Herd Humanity (Flockhumanitet)

I read the news today, oh boy”. Flipping through the newspaper is an exploration journey, and weekend mornings are one of the good times for such excursions.
This weekend I found a nugget. Embedded in yesterday paper was an opinion piece, and in the opinion piece this nugget was present two times.
Herd humanity. Flockhumanitet in Swedish.
Let’s carefully detach this little nugget, and bring it into the light for a closer look.
Before we look at the term as such, let us briefly look at the context in which is was found. The opinion piece. The text brings forward the situation of the elderly in the corona context, how 70+ year old individuals in a higher-than-usual-rate are dying in caretaker homes. And are in no or little contact with relatives. A very urgent topic, with no simple solution. (and — this is also the topic for an article in today’s paper).

The opinion piece approached the topic from the role of the Church of Sweden. Also “relevant”, but perhaps not the most useful viewpoint for untangling the underlying wicked problem. (Or actually “system of interlinked wicked problems”, I think.)
Possibly with the exception of “herd humanity”.

I got the feeling that this simple term might open up for a new view on the “wicked problems” and help us find an “even better” approach. Almost like a “silver bullet”, but not in the Mencken way, but simple as in the “simple rulez” way.

Now, let’s have a closer look at “herd humanity” as a term.

It is obvious that “herd humanity” relates to “herd immunity”, which is an often used, and also (likely) an often misused, term in these times.

Incidentally, besides the term “herd humanity” yesterday’s paper also had a good example of “misuse of herd immunity”. In an article an individual states himself to be “herd immune” on his own (“Jag är redan flockimmun”).

I do believe that “herd immunity” is a collective state, not an individual state. Furthermore, it is not a “final state”, but a state you can enter and leave as a collective depending on a number of factors. If there’s any formal definition of herd immunity I think it starts from looking at the measured R of the disease. R is a metric that relates to the spread, not as in “spread speed”, but perhaps like in “spread width”. It can be partly understood as “the number of individuals each person that carries the virus transmits it to” and “R being sustainable below one” might be an approximation of a definition of “herd immunity”. Also part of the scope is that “R” can be different in different clusters.

This is a very rough starting point for the explanation and I will not even try that here… However, I do not think “herd immunity” is in any way an individual state. (Also, “herd immunity” is not a “strategy” in itself — but that’s a parallel potential post.)

This is the context the term herd humanity (flockimmunitet) should be explored. So, here, comes my take:

  • Herd humanity is a collective state of mind. A complex behavior of a network of humans.
  • Herd humanity is an emergent characteristic, and cannot be “decided” or “created”.
  • Herd humanity has not “one single definition”.
  • I frame herd humanity as a positive thing.
  • Herd humanity can be observed. Some metrics can likely also be defined and observed. The usable metrics are likely possible both on “herd humanity” as such, and potentially on activities that can increase “herd humanity”.
One such potential metric might be derived from the “pay it forward”-type of behavior. Like “if someone do you a favor, to who many do you pay it forward”. A measurement of reciprocity. The similarity to the R number is somewhat striking. However, in the “herd humanity” case you want an R above 1, while in the “herd immunity” case you want the R to be below 1.

Along this line of thought it might be that “herd humanity” is one potential outcome of the golden rule. And hence, the nugget discovered in the opinion piece might be a “golden nugget”.

Anyway, this is what I read into the term spontaneously. I am probably wrong, especially as in “not the only possible way of framing herd humanity”.

But the term struck a chord with me.

What about you? Any thoughts or ideas?

See the worst thing about doing this
Doing something like this
Is I think that at first people sort of are a bit suspicious
‘You know, come on, what are you up to?’”

When doing some due diligence research on the term I found nothing except references to the opinion piece when searching for flockhumanitet. When searching for herd humanity there’s some reference to the work of Nietzsche, who seems to view the term as not so positive in his book “Human, All Too Human”. I also found a number of cases where herd humanity was apparently mistakenly used instead of herd immunity. Finally, I also realized that “herd” in “herd humanity” can also be a verb.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Urban legends on Neuralink, a must Musk read

AI (Artificial Intelligence. But I assume you are aware of this meaning) is a big thing. A mega-big thing. A "we ain't seen nothing yet"-mega big thing. Something that is not easy to wrap your head around.

We have all seen and used AI and related things like ML (Machine Learning). Likely you have also seen and heard about possibilities just around the corner.

But perhaps "we ain't seen nothing yet". We might be at a stage of insight that compares to the future of "AI" the way the first pre-wheel, rolling log, make-it-easier-to-move-stuff, implementation compares to the worldwide systems of logistics of today.

The short version seems to be that AI will happen and will change everything, big time. Hopefully in a good way but the risks are not the usual ones. And if that is the case, what shall (and can) we do to increase the likleyhood that the outcome is "positive"?

A man, a plan, a canal - but not Panama

Enter Elon Musk, who is behind both Tesla and SpaceX. Elon Musk has raised concerns around the AI evolution, and also eg  sponsored OpenAI.

The man has a plan. He also has a canal, or rather channel, for the initial announcement and outline of the new venture Neuralink. He chose a blog and a blogger.

Perhaps an unusal channel for an introduction (and, sure, I would not be surprised if more traditional channels was used as well - but I am not aware of any and most coverage refers to the WaitButWhy blog post).

And, make no mistake, this is not a usual blog, nor a usual blog post. It's long. It's good. It's a must read. And again long. It was posted just over a week ago, and it took me five days to get through it. (OK, it is not that long. I did other things as well during these days.)

If you have read earlier posts on the choice by Elon Musk might not be all that surprising. Tim Urban (the blogger at WaitButWhy) already wrote a number of posts on Elon Musk and his earlier ventures, on a direct request from Elon Musk (start here), as well as a two piece blog post on AI which is another great read.

But if you only read one of the posts - read the post on Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future. It will help you wrap your head around AI and one approach that might prevent a singularity type existential risk.

The Musk Business Canvas

During your reading journey you will come across this image, the Elon Musk Company Formula according to Tim Urban.

Image from by Tim Urban. Used with permission.

You will find the canvas in the fourth chapter of the rad blog post, where this canvas is populated with both the Tesla and the SpaceX rationale.

If you have ever thought about the drivers of Elon Musk, or the concept of Massive Transformative Purposes, you will see how this canvas fits into the puzzle.

Don't get fooled by the lower left blue circle with the words "Starting Point". It is not the starting point. The canvas work starts in the upper right corner. The starting point for the canvas work in the Neuralink case is the "increased chance for a good future" in the context of AI.

In order to find the answers to the "how", "why" and other questions, go ahead and read. The reading will take you through the background and the population of the boxes in the canvas. You will read that "democracy is like escaping from a monster by hiding in a sewer", an you will learn things you didn't know. But take your time, you will need it.

And the ending is an interesting way of viewing AI: "in a future world made up of AI and everyone else, he  [Elon Musk] thinks we have only one good option: To be AI."

(The short version of this blog post: Read the post on Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future. Why? Read this blog post.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lost and found

Most of us have spent time looking for something we needed to locate. Be it the car keys, that important paper or something else we urgently need.

Sooner or later that lost thing often turns up. With a bit of luck before the opportunity where the thing that is lost is needed.

In order to find the lost item fast enough most of us applies some kind of search, be it structured or more unstructured.

And everytime we search that lost thing is located in the last place we would search.

Naturally it is. Why would we look any further once we found what we are looking for? That wouldn't be rational.

We stop looking when we find the solution to the problem. That is the rational thing to do. But it is also a problem. Sometimes it is even "the problem". It might even be an irrational thing to do.

If you have a problem that needs a solution, it is very easy to stop looking when you find the solution. But likely you haven't found the solution, just a solution.

How do you know that there's a better solution, if you just keep looking? The problem is that you don't, so it wouldn't be rational to continue looking. But think again, compare with your experience from the past. How many times have you, sooner or later, identified a better solution after a while?

So how long should you then keep looking?

In the case of a simple problem like the car keys, the answer is obvious (or at least seems obvious). But there might be an other type of answer, and in order to identify that we return to the time before you found the car keys, or a solution to whatever type of problem you try to solve.

What thoughts went through your mind at that point in time?  Perhaps thoughts like "where did I (mis)place the keys?", "when did I see them last?" or even "who took my keys!?".

Or did you search for the solution (sorry, the car keys) while at the same time looking for an alternative solution? "If I do not find the car keys I need to take the bus, and in that case I need to stop searching in 45 mins and instead walks to the bus station." Or "if I do not find the car keys I can call my friend and ask for a ride".

If you continiously look for altetrnative solutions some magic starts to happen.
  • You will likely find an alternative solution before you find the car keys.
  • When you have a backup, alternative solution, you are not as stressed for finding the expected solution (the car keys).
  • And, in the general case, you realize that the expected solution is just one alternative solution among others, some of which known now, some of which will emerge in the future.
This is a liberating experience. And mind-blowing. It's the solution to all problems ;-)

(Some might draw the parallel to "parallel computing", or even with phenomena like quantum physics and Schroedinger's cat - but that's up to you. Just be careful, it might lead into a parallel universe or a higher dimension!)

So, next time you found what you where looking for, keep looking. You should constantly look for things. And at the same time you always will have an alternative solution ready.

Now, where are those car keys..?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cleese on Creativity

Serendipity is a great thing. Tomorrow I will be in the audience when John Cleese is on stage, and when I mentioned that at the lunch table today I was recommended to look for an old video where John Cleese talked about creativity.

Which I did. And I found several.

Two of the videos caught my attention, One shorter (approx 10 mins) and a longer one (more than 30 mins). Both are highly recommended, and I suggest that you enjoy them in this order. (Both videos are embeded at the end of this post.)

Cleese elaborates around two modes; open and closed  - and that creativity mood only can appear in the open mode.Suggestions on how to enter the open mode and unlock the creativity are given, and complemented with the note that actual creative insights sometimes (often) appears after the visit in the "tortois enclosure".

The shorter video is not dated, but might be from 2010. The longer video seems to be from 1991. It is fascinating to compare the overall messages and note how similar the stories are, but still performed differently - not only in the length of the talks.

There's a lot of take-aways from these talks, and I am sure you will both recognize some aspects, get ideas on how to move into the mood of creativity found in the open mode and - above all - enjoy the talks as such.

So - enjoy the videos, I did. And I will enjoy John Cleese live tomorrow, regardless if any lightbulb jokes are included. I am sure it will be a creative performance by a very creative comedian and public speaker.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Metrics; why Ratios are not always Rational

Here are 16 minutes you definately do not want to miss.

Clayton Christensen takes you on a journey to explain why the interest rates on eg our homes are so low. And indicates why the reason for them to be low should make us worried.

It starts of with a classification of innovation into three classes. Then hops into metrics and how we mesure things. Finally ending in the connection to the interest rates, after a brief detour over to Japan.

There's a lot of take-aways in here. But the importance of metrics, and how we measure things, is central.

It is rare to find a very complex line of reasoning presented in a very understandable way. It is even rarer to find a few of the simple rules that guides the behaviour of a complex system neatly identified and presented, in a way that makes the connection almost obvious.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Exploiting externalities exponentially

How can we ensure that exponential activities don't create and exploit  new and old negative externalities?

A while back I finished reading the book ”Exponential Organizations”.

If you haven’t read Exponential Organizations the “slide version” is here, and slide 32 is the one-slider that summarizes the concept:
To me the most fundamental part of the concept is on the next slide:

Instead, this post is about a passage on the very first page of the book, in the foreword:

Salim has studied and interviewed CEOs and entrepreneurs whose companies are leveraging a newly available set of externalities and, as a result, scaling their organizations at many times the normal rate of typical companies.
The key phrase is "leveraging a newly available set of externalities".

Even though externalities can be both positive and negative, the most infamous set of externalities are the negative ones. Like getting rid of waste by dumping it somewhere.

A few days ago I read a post by "the undercover economist", Tim Harford. That post also touches upon the potential externalities that a multi-sided, peer-to-peer, market with exponential characteristics may cause and explore, on both of the market sides.

Tim Harford further more hints on a way to view such markets; as an arbitrage game where the price differences in a specific market (and thus an inefficient market) are exploited.

But he also indicates the positive values for a broader community that peer-to-peer markets creates; the activity adds fluidity (and thus a more efficient market is the result) and it creates a mechanism that can take care of peaks, eg on the demand side.

However, the question around externalities remains. A near zero-marginal cost society will create more exponential businesses. And a key component in exponential activities is to leverage externalities.

How can we ensure that exponential activities don't create and exploit  new and old negative externalities?