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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds I’d like to start with a bold statement. The future is unknowable, but also inevitable. This saying is both a warning and a call to action. It warns us that talking about the future always involves conjectures and speculation. Educated guessing, if that’s a nice way to put it. Many people shy away from this sort of guessing, but that’s really not good enough. We will all have to prepare ourselves, our families and our nations for the future. And that, whether we like it or not, means we will have to make guesses about what the future of globalisation will be like. Have you thought about what your job would be like in five years?

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds In the next few steps, we’re going to look at a few factors that will help you think about how you will answer those questions for yourself and your family. To start with what is perhaps the most important point, the future is closer than you think due to the explosive advance of digital technology. Digital technology is advancing and changing our world in an absolutely inhuman pace. I give talks about globalisation all around the world, and what I find when it comes to talking about the future, is a systematic reluctance to think about the eruptive nature of digital technology. Quite simply, the changes are coming faster than most believe.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds As it turns out, our ability, our technical ability to process, transmit and store information is doubling every couple of years or so. This is called Moore’s law. We don’t have to know much about the technology of Moore’s law. The key thing is, what does it mean for the future of globalisation? But let me start with an example of how eruptive this progress is. This is an iPhone 6s. It is a very powerful computer. More powerful than the computer that guided the Apollo 11 spaceship to the moon and back in 1969. But how much more powerful is it would you guess? Take a guess and write it down. Write down your guess. Is it a 100 times more powerful?

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds 1,000 times more powerful? A million times more powerful? No, really. Write it down and take a guess. Well, the right answer is it’s 120 million times faster. Between 1969 and 2015 when the iPhone 6 came out, computer processing got 120 million times faster. That’s amazing. But it gets even more amazing. This here is an iPhone X. It is 2.7 times faster than the iPhone 6s. Now think about that. The iPhone 6s came out in 2015, this came out in 2017. What the 2.7 times faster means is that the processing speed increased more between 2015 and 2017 than it did during all the years between 1969 and 2015. That’s what it means when things double every two years.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 seconds And digital technology continues to advance at this pace. It’s projected to do so by experts at least up to 2025. This extremely rapid pace of technology is disrupting all sorts of things. But in the course of this lecture, we’re going to focus on what it means for future globalisation. Now I know many people find it hard to think about this kind of eruptive pace, because it’s not something we see in our everyday lives. In our everyday lives, we tend to assume that the future will be a lot like it is today, but maybe a little more so or a little less so.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds Or we can draw a picture of the sort of mismatch between our natural tendencies to think about the future as a straight line and the actual way that digital technology progresses. I call it the holy cow diagram. Let me explain. As we saw in the history videos, humans lived in a walking distance world for all of our evolutionary past. As a consequence, our brains developed to track motion. Indeed, all brains develop to track motion. If you think about it, every living thing that moves has some form of brain. But things that don’t move, don’t have brains.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds But until a few centuries ago, our brains only had to track a very narrow range of speeds, so we developed a strong tendency to straight line the future. That is, we tended to view the change from today and tomorrow as being very similar between the change we saw between yesterday and today. This is illustrated in the straight blue line that rises steadily from the left to the right. But this is not how digital technology develops. Digital technology follows what’s called exponential growth. And this looks like the hockey stick shaped curve, the red line that I’ve added to the chart. The key point is that the technology grows slowly at first because it’s growing on a very small base.

Skip to 5 minutes and 31 seconds And doubling a small base is still small. But progressive doubling means that the steps get larger, and this imperceptible progress phase at the bottom there, turns into this explosive phase as it swings up. If you keep doubling things, the event, the increases eventually get gigantic like the difference between the 6s and the iPhone X. Now, when these two ways of thinking about the future of cross paths, we get what I call the holy cow moment. Before the holy cow moment, people tend to overestimate the impact of technology. People who talk about the future seem to be alarmists, they teamed seem to be exaggerating everything. Once you get beyond the holy cow moment, people tend to underestimate the impact of technology.

Skip to 6 minutes and 23 seconds They just can’t comprehend why things are changing so fast now, when they weren’t changing that fast before. Now I think the world has reached a holy cow moment when it comes to digital technology. It’s changing globalisation in ways that are too fast for most people to understand. Most people I believe, are underestimating how quickly the nature of globalisation will change. In the next video, I’d like to touch on the sorts of jobs that the future globalisation will affect.

Future globalisation is unknowable, but also inevitable

We all will have to prepare ourselves, our families, and our nations for the future – and that, whether we like it or not – means we will have to make guesses about what the future of globalisation will be like.

Have you thought about what your job will be like in five years, whether artificial intelligence will affect you, whether the trend towards freelancing will touch your jobs?

This video discusses these big questions.

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This video is from the free online course:

International Affairs: Globalisation

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies