Our Digital Golden Age

By 2030, it is predicted that 2 billion jobs will disappear, approximately 50% of the jobs on the planet. What does that mean for our lives in just 13 years? Will we be ravaged by unemployment and social inequality? Or will we have entered a golden age of development?

The classical period of Greece (4-5th century BCE) was a cultural explosion that saw extensive development in philosophy, science, architecture, art, theatre, literature and the creation of the political system known as democracy. It was a period of intense creative production that arguably shaped the development of the western world as we know it today.

The catalyst that drove the birth of this period was a transition from subsistence agriculture and every man for himself, to the development of coinage, collective abundance and the merchant class. Here we see diversification of social, economic and political models. Above all, we see the development of the concept of leisure time. Naturally, how can a man who needs to work a farm develop time to ponder the ways of the world? He needs someone to work the farm instead. Enter slavery. With the hard work of the day covered, the man has more time to manage his farm and consider other things. The concept of work and leisure arrives and we have the beginnings of a new system of hierarchy: those who have free time and those who do not.

In the absence of a second wave of slavery, what could disrupt our economic and social system in such a significant way, what could free up our labour force to such an extent? Look around and you can start to guess: the development of AI and chatbots, driverless cars, IoT, wearable technology. In our modern world, humans are not required to do the work, we automate. Enter the robots.

It is estimated that by 2030, we will lose 2 billion jobs across the globe. Most of these jobs will be in unskilled labour. More and more jobs will require less human input because a robot can do the work better. Will this be a tragedy for unskilled workers? Or will our new found abundance of leisure time re-organise our world to engage more with abstract and creative thought? Will we move from working because we have to earn money to engage with our current economic model, or will we move to people working because they want to, because they feel passionate about something, because they have a talent?

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the USA since 2000 i it notes consistent numbers when it comes to employees who are active, enthusiastic and committed to their work. That number is 32%, with a global average of just 13%. The rest of employees, the other 68-87%, are significantly less productive but still paid alongside their highly engaged and productive colleagues.

Unhappy employees are not only disruptive to workplace flow, they can also put pressure on our health care systems. Ground breaking research in 2012 from the Carnegie Mellon University, was able for the first time to provide evidence that continuous psychological stress significantly contributes to higher rates of illness as the body’s inflammatory response is reduced. What would it look like for our health care systems if we were able to reduce the number of people being treated for stressed related illness?

In preparation for a digitally driven world, Finland has commenced a trial of the universal income where 2,000 selected unemployed citizens are receiving a living wage. They will continue to be paid this wage even if they find employment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk warned that governments will need to start looking seriously at universal income as more jobs become automated. However, he expressed concern that the greatest challenge would be for people to find meaning in a world where so much of our purpose is derived from our employment.

So, here we are, at a pivotal point of time. Thirteen years away from 2 billion fewer jobs. We are on the cusp of something new, a time that will require changes to our economic, social and political systems. Will we respond fast enough? Will we embrace leisure time and shift our economic and political systems to suit? Will we adjust what we have or are we on the verge of creating something new? If our technology is already developing at an exponential rate, what new innovations will we uncover when we have more time to create?

Perhaps we are on the verge of our next creative cultural explosion. Enter 2030, the dawn of our next golden age.

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

Success and the power of mentorship

 

“And you ask any successful person how they got to where they are today, chances are they’ll tell you about a mentor they had somewhere along the way.”– Barack Obama[1]

People are complex but, in a great way, we are defined by our environment and ambitions.  Having clear objectives, is the first step towards success, because after that moment you can work towards them.

Today, looking backwards, having gone through university and some first professional experiences I’m convinced that a mentor can bring down obstacles.  The first time I came across a mentor formally was during my participation in the SABF team and I will always be grateful for her dedication.

A mentor gives you the means to improve personal and professional skills. It raises awareness of your strengths and weaknesses to better align yourself towards your goals. It inspires you and brings more confidence when facing challenges.  It´s important to be open minded to receive advice and be willing to work on it.

To find a mentor the most important thing is to learn to approach people for advice.  And to take the most out of the relationship, you have to be honest about your own personal and professional objectives.

Without doubt, if you seek for a mentor you will win opportunities to meet interesting people and enrich your experiences.  Always be open to give advise, people are amazing!