Chapter 12. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Foresight is Becoming Global

In addition to being a practice domain, global approaches to foresight are another of the emerging attributes that gives big foresight its name. When we take a global view, and surface TINA trends, we see the framework of the forest we’re bound within, and don’t lose our perspective when we zoom back down into the trees, working on client strategy.

Globalization, and a global perspective, is another foundation of big foresight. The more digitally, economically, and culturally connected we all become, the more we define ourselves as one social system, with common values, rulesets, and aspirations, and we see how our many commonalities support our minor, and useful, differences. Beyond Tom Friedman’s descriptive works, economist Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents (2002) and Making Globalization Work (2007) are great prescriptive looks at how we might improve our national and international politico-legal, financial, and social institutions in coming years to make our emerging one world culture fairer and more equitable for all. As information and digital infrastructure globalizes, transnational issues like trade, credit, national debts, investment, labor, crime, terrorism, pollution, global warming, oceans, and many others will become increasingly tractable.

Of course, the sociopolitical layer always moves the slowest, after business, which itself moves slow compared to digital technology, but at least we can increasingly measure the problems and see the potential solutions, as we have hard evidence of countries where good solutions are in place. The more global and evidence-based our media get, the more obvious it is who needs help, and the more ways collaborative social justice initiatives can be successfully conducted by small groups.

Some places are so wealthy and connected they are quite good at taking care of themselves. While writing this book, it was inspiring to see the strong public reaction to seventeen people dying to terrorists in France (the Charlie Hebdo attack, and millions rallying in response). But the 200 to 2,000 Nigerians who died to Boko Haram militants around same time in the Jan 2015 Baga massacre received far less global attention. That outcome was not so inspiring. The range of Nigeria’s casualty numbers are so wide because the Nigerian government is so corrupt and inept it often gives conflicting reports on such data, which it has reason to suppress.

A few years from now, however, we’ll all be able to contribute to various NGO and public transparency initiatives to get bodycams, shotspotters, camera traps, documentation bounties, and other such digital transparency and collaborative tools throughout danger zones around the world. The more we see, count, and map the ongoing violence, and use human and machine intelligence to identify the perpetrators, the more pressure we can bring on governments to do something about it, or face consequences far worse than finger wagging and collapsing tourism.

Meanwhile our software, automation and robotics are now getting so good that our most industrialized nations are again talking about accelerating worker displacement by smart machines, or technological unemployment. Most people don’t realize how much tech-enabled unemployment already exists. Modern employment statistics count only those actively looking for work, lest people see how many Americans now live entirely off the wealth of our industrial state. According to John William’s excellent Shadow Statistics site, real U.S. unemployment is at present 23% (almost one out of four able-bodied Americans who can work is not working), not the 5% reported in our rah-rah, consumption-oriented financial press. Our world has grown fabulously wealthy and leisure-rich, and there are impressive social safety nets in all advanced countries. All that wealth and growing free time bodes well for collaborative initiatives to use appropriate tech to address the pressing issues of the billions of global have-nots.

We can see that our wealthiest nations will need something like a permanent basic income guarantee (BIG) for every citizen a generation or two hence. BIG experiments have been done in the past, such as the 1970s Mincome experiment in Canada, in Namibia, and in India. A BIG was briefly considered in a public referendum in very-rich Switzerland in 2014. Finland is considering one now. The incubator Ycombinator is presently running a BIG experiment in Oakland, CA.

As technologically-created social wealth grows, a BIG is an obvious solution to make it easier for folks to retrain for new jobs after displacement, or to just check out from work altogether. Of course, the rich don’t want that kind of outcome, so there will be a fight. Bring it on, as they say!