“Science without consciousness, will lead to the ruining of our souls” used to warn the 16th century French advanced thinker, Rabelais. Alvin Toffler, the famous Futurist, who passed away in 2016, was warning in his 1970 book, the Future Shock, that “too much change in too short a period of time” would cause unsuspected wounds and grief amongst ordinary people. And, in another of his books, the Third Wave, he predicted that after the Agricultural then the industrialization waves, Mankind would enter the Information Age and its consequences…
Fast forward, from the 16th century to… 2021:
- Was it a coincidence? These last 24 hours, I came across stories of two financial institutions around the World, aiming at transforming the Post-Covid Economy, into a place where more people would have access and benefit from their services, presenting this as a humanist breakthrough of the Post-Covid Economy…
- A few days ago, Britain’s biggest fund manager (£ 1.2 trillion) joined the Shell’s “shareholders’ rebellion” demanding a far more credible and ambitious environmental plan, instead of the green-washing that the board and its consultants had come-up with… (see article).
- Last week, the Wall-Street Journal was announcing in a long article that “Some of the world’s biggest companies and deepest-pocketed investors are lining up trillions of dollars to finance a shift away from fossil fuels”…
That is all reassuring but is that deeply challenging the roots of the Old Economy? Is this what Rabelais and Toffler were advising/warning us about? Does bringing more of the old financial world to people with less means, truly question the financial capitalism? When Shell shareholders demand a faster energetic transition, is that to build more cars, roads and fly more planes with a clean(er) fuel? Who will benefit from the trillions mentioned in the WSJ, in the context of an increasingly unequal wealth repartition?
Laurent Alexandre is a medical Doctor who also graduated from France Elite School (the prestigious E.N.A.) system. He is a prolific, provocative and not necessarily always right author and specialist on the question of Artificial Intelligence (A.I. which is the new fashion wave, soon sending Digital to oblivion.) In his book, “The War of Intelligences” (La Guerre des Intelligences – 2017), Dr. Alexandre describes a scary Future where hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost into the banking field, amongst taxi drivers, accountants, medical doctors, dentists, radiologists etc. comparing their fate to the 29’000 water carriers from Paris who totally disappeared when running water was installed in the French capital. In a TV interview, he forecasts that “in an Knowledge based, A.I. fuelled Economy, the masters will be the smartest, most gifted and innovative people, whereas the less skilled ones will be the new pariahs.“ He clearly asks the question: What will we do with the hordes of less skilled people? We can’t simply abandon them, can we?” Laurent Alexandre finishes his interview by explaining that “Transhumanism” (defined by Wikipedia as “a philosophical movement, the proponents of which advocate and predict the enhancement of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies able to greatly enhance longevity, mood and cognitive abilities”) will deeply challenge Mankind and countries on the ethical, political and philosophical level.
On May 16th, Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Economics Nobel Prize granted an interview to the British daily, The Guardian, about his latest book (A Flaw in Human Judgment). For him, “One thing looks very likely is that these huge changes [coming from the Disruption Economy, and, amongst others, A.I.] are not going to happen quietly. There is going to be massive disruption. The technology is developing very rapidly, possibly exponentially. But people are linear. When linear people are faced with exponential change, they’re not going to be able to adapt to that very easily […] And clearly, A.I. is going to win!
A shared view amongst Business Futurists is that 50% of the jobs are at risk due to automation, digitalization, Artificial Intelligence etc. When I link that to the article recently published (my apologies, I failed to record where) that we were on the verge of a point of no-return, concerning our capacity to preserve human life on planet Earth, I believe that, as business leaders, we need to go much further than window-dressing.
Some of the debates and questions we shouldn’t spare ourselves may be around themes such as:
- What should be the Purpose of the New Economy?
- What will happen to Society when 50% of its active population will be out of a job?
- What will be the notions of job, salary, employability?
- Will the notions of countries, borders, governments still be the same?
- Will we continue to admit huge inequalities without worrying of the consequences?
- What will “successful business” mean? Will there still be shareholders?
- Will we buy huge national champions out and let them go on with destructive business policies or should governments finance innovative, environment/human friendly businesses instead?
I encourage you to listen to this brief (8’47’’) TED talk from Harvard Professor, Michael Sandel. He is another thinker who questions and challenges, in a constructive manner, some of the Old Economy’s orthodoxies. This is where our reflections as Disruption Leaders, should take us too.
Enjoy your Post-Covid Economy Leadership Journey!