Digital Utopia | Digital Dystopia: Imagining our Tech Future
On 31 March 2021, Philip Ammerman delivered an online talk on Digital Utopia | Digital Dystopia. The event was organised by the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Cyprus. Philip’s presentation is available for download here.
Nicosia, Cyprus: 2 April 2020
In his online talk, Philip Ammerman, together with 55 participants, discussed the future trends in technology and how these will affect companies, families and governments in 2030 and 2040.
In his presentation, Philip expressed his belief that in the near future, online interactions and the wider digital ecosystem will be more attractive to consumers and citizens that the real world. This can be summarised in one simple sentence:
People will prefer to live online
By 2030, technology will reach a tipping point where we, as humans, will have to consciously choose a predominantly human existence over a predominantly virtual / tech existence.
By 2040, the choice of a virtual / tech existance will dominate human choice, changing the very meaning of what it means to be human.
This is due to a number of changes in how we absorb and interact with data:
Modern 4K LED screens are already making the screen world more attractive that the real world, to the naked eye. 8K screens are already on the market.
Augmented and later immersive and virtual reality are already disrupting key B2B sectors and will shortly begin B2C sectors.
Because gamification and social media already cause dopamine and serotonin reactions online, resulting in short-term and long-term biochemical impacts.
This leads to a situation where we demand, and get, instant gratification and self-validation online.
We can more easily understand the benefits of the online world when we compare this to real world interactions such as:
Standing in line at a bank or supermarket;
Speaking to a travel agent to order a ticket;
Explaining to a taxi driver or food deliverer your exact address.
However, there are many negative effects of living in an online world:
People can no longer read: they scan. They have difficulty writing. They cannot process complex sentences or reasoning.
People can no longer think critically: they follow the online crowd. Fake news and electoral manipulation are now standard features in many countries. Society has become polarised.
Prolonged social media use results in depression and negative self-image.
The presentation has outlined 3 theses to outline how quickly our digital world is changing reality:
1. Gaming and Entertainment
We believe that by 2030, it will be difficult to differentiate between reality and an immersive gaming environment. Advances in googles, haptic feedback response mechanisms, integrated sound, gesture and facial recognition and onboard graphics means that when “plugged in”, it can become very difficult to understand that this is not an artificial environment.
2. Labour, Robotic and Data
We believe that by 2030, over 50% of labour professions seen today in industrialised economies will have been replaced by a mix of robots (or wider automation) and AI. In most cases, the capability already exists, but neither regulatory systems nor human society are ready to accept it. By 2040, we will be at the level where human society will have accepted robotic replacement even in many advanced professions.
For example, but 2030 robotic surgical assistants will have become standard in hospital operating theatres. By 2040, human patients will be fully accepting and even preferring a robotic surgical assistant.
3. Health, Genetics and “HumanTech”
By 2030 – 2050, we will have developed the ability to:
1. Increase standard human life to 130-150 years of age through a variety of interventions;
2. Self-select “positive” genetic traits (while also curing genetic diseases);
3. Provide preventative “treatment”of diseases based on statistical analysis and genetic mapping, as well as preventative immunotherapy through engineering super-immune cells;
4. Provide continual health monitoring using wearables and implants;
5. Provide replacement body parts and organ systems using printed and engineered parts.
What is remarkable is that many of these technologies are already in existence: we are simply waiting for economic and social mainstreaming, and these will take place by 2030 and onwards.
Why is this a Digital Utopia? Because if we make the right decisions, we can fundamentally re-shape the broad spectrum of human existence for the better:
We will expand the human lifespan
We will eradicate preventable diseases
We can engineer new food crops to feed a hungry planet
We will have the most advanced technology ever
We can use robots totake care ofour most poor and vulnerable
We can harness technology to drive societal advances
We can end the drudge of human labour
We could save our environment–and our planet
An why a Digital Dystopia? Because judging from the overwhelming instances of human decision-making, we will almost certainly make a series of bad decisions.
Because technological gains are not spread uniformly across the planet or any single country. Gains are concentrated at the top (Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, etc) and society has grown increasingly unequal.
Because at least 50% of employment will be replaced by automation and AI. These jobs will never be replaced. And this occurs while world population rises from 7.8 billion in 2021 to 9.7 billion in 2050.
National governments are unable to mediate between economic growth and innovation on the one hand, and inequality and poverty on the other. They cannot regulate most financial sectors today: there is no sign they are aware of what the future is bringing.
The rich will grow not only richer, but tinkering with the human genome will change the very definition of what it means to be human.
As voters, citizens, entrepreneurs and family members, we need to start asking the right question—the difficult questions--as to our shared future. Here are just a few of them:
1. China is rolling out a national social credit system. This integrates continual monitoring of individual activity, and generates a social credit score. This is simultaneously a means of control, and reward. Other governments have outsourced credit scoring to the private sector. Where does this end?
2. The current macro consensus is that low taxes and low government are needed to attract investment. Yet since 1980, countries as diverse as the United States, Greece and Cyprus have seen steadily rising debt and deficits, as well as stable or variable poverty levels. What would be needed to make a government fit for purpose in 2030? In 2040?
3. Experiments with Universal Basic Income are essentially being heralded as a means of dealing with tech-driven unemployment. Can this be afforded? Can a society afford to have 30-50% of its population on similar schemes?
4. Does anyone really believe that the current (and future) tech markets constitute examples of functioning competition? How does one deal with tech monopolies?
5. Our macroeconomic systems, and especially our pension systems, have been engineered for 8-10 working people to every retiree and a life expectancy below 70. What happens when we have 2 workers for every retiree, an average life expectancy of 90, and an employment rate at 50% of the total population?
6. Democracy is vulnerable to fake news and unscrupulous politicians. Politics is perhaps the only profession where one can openly lie without consequence. At which point must the democratic franchise be restricted to prequalified voters? If such a solution is not available, how else can we prevent the recurring disasters democratic elections have been bringing?
7. What happens if wars are no longer fought by humans? Who wins?
8. What happens if more and more rich families genetically engineer their children?
9. What happens more and more rich families live superhumanly longer lives?
Please see the full presentation below.
Philip Ammerman is a company founder, entrepreneur and angel investor. He works with investors, founders and other clients in due diligence, business valuation, financial modelling, business development and investment management.
Philip has advised “real economy” investments, on over 120 investment transactions with a total investment value exceeding € 6.0 bln. He has extensive experience in the tech sector, advising buy-side investors (VCs, PE firms, family offices, business angels) on due diligence and investment decisions. He also supports founders in areas such as business planning, valuation and fundraising.
In 2010, Philip and his partners launched the Navigator Entrepreneurship Charter, a commitment to support or launch one new company per year between 2010 and 2020. This has led to the foundation of 9 new companies and support to one entrepreneur. The Charter is being renewed in September 2020.
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