My Internal World Game
Five hundred and twenty-five days ago I published a piece on Medium titled, 3,000–5,000 Days. I saw that amount of time as a reasonable personal planning horizon for a healthy seventy year old person with cancer in remission. I still do. Not that I assume I will live within those precise parameters, just that it feels like a useful frame for looking at what I have left and what I want to do with it.
3,000–5,000 days is ten to twelve years. I’m basically looking at the 2020s. My thought process might be of some value to other people wondering about the third decade of the 21st century no matter how old they are.
I know that any plans I create are likely to be made irrelevant by external events. The reason to have a plan, I’m finally realizing, is not to guide me at some future time, but to strengthen my sense of purpose right now. If someone else’s purpose gets strengthened while I’m at it, so much the better.
Reality disrupts plans. We are living in times when disruption is widespread, much-discussed, and accelerating. Sometimes it is welcomed, even embraced, for apparently making life more convenient. Often it is feared or hated for destroying ways of life.
Mostly, disruption is denied. Even though disruption is manifest in the past and present, we pretend that even more disruptive events which are clearly predictable in the future don’t need to be taken into account Right Now. We’ll deal with that when we get there. True, we will, but it would be easier to start dealing with it now.
I don’t like to be surprised and I’m pretty good at seeing disruptions coming. I was a child going into the ‘60s, often considered a time of major disruption throughout much of the world. Values were disrupted. Standards of behavior were disrupted and I was one of the millions of young people doing the disrupting. I loved those irresponsible years. I came out the other side of them a young adult, ready to be responsible, but with good feelings about changing things.
I discovered Buckminster Fuller in 1966 and I’ve used his what-if simulation modeling ideas and a way of thinking he called anticipatory design science in much of my adult life. It’s how I try to think. It’s how I’m trying to think about my 3,000–5,000 remaining days. To me, it’s crazy to have a personal plan for the 2020s that doesn’t start from the main features of the up-coming decade.
Who can know what those features will be?
Simulation isn’t prediction. I can’t know what the 2020s will be like any more than I can know there are 3,000–5,000 days remaining for me. But I can inform myself from different sources on important areas even though I have zero credentials. I can step back regularly from high volume intake and reflect, synthesize, let new ideas come up and write about them. I’ve published over 100 pieces on Medium in the 525 days since I wrote, 3,000–5,000 Days.
I’ve developed my own rough and loose World Game, Fuller’s name for a large-scale global simulation project he launched in 1961. I’m not a scientist, but I have a PhD and my dissertation was quantitative. I can read research reports. By the end of my so-called career, my trade was instructional technology. I’m certifiably good at teaching and learning, which to me are the same thing.
There is obviously a selection bias in the inputs to my internal World Game. I can’t follow everything and I’m not inherently interested in everything, (almost everything, though). My experiences play a large role too. Unexpected employment opportunities took me to Asia. Maybe what happens in the continent of Africa will be a more powerful force in the 2020s than what happens in Asia. My model has an Asia bias because I know places there much better.
Primary Drivers for My World Internal Game
I see the rise of China as one of the three main disruptive dynamics that will characterize my remaining 3,000–5,000 days. My entire life and the life of most people I know has been enabled by American dominance. Because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency and because the United States banking system is able to create money out of nothing by loaning it, everything is just easier if you’re automatically part of Team America. It sure has been for me.
Most people know the US run is winding down. Just like Great Britain’s run ended. Spain had it going once. So did Rome. So did Athens. None of them went away, they just didn’t dominate any more. Adjusting was tough.
I doubt the US will go away in the 2020s, although it might. Break-up is always a possible political consequence of newly diminished status. Political responses are hard to predict.
What isn’t hard to predict is that everything will cost more dollars as the demand for them decreases. Love it or hate it, US Government-backed make believe money has been the most reliable bastion of economic stability, where the world wants its nest egg, for at least three generations. Certain forms of hegemony can be good for everyone. Nationalistic Kleptocracies are not.
The rise of China in the 2020s will take many forms. We will see most of the world’s available sand turned into concrete for the construction of the new Silk Road infrastructure. We will see lines drawn in the water of the South China Sea surrounding islands built of more sand. We will see more Chinese tourists coming to look at famous places in the west. We will feel other soft power projections as Chinese values and methods permeate global culture.
It’s useful to think about these changes and it will be surprising, I assume, to see how our imaginings play out. As far as measurable disruption, though, the move toward a global market basket of currencies and its replacement of the dollar as the mandated standard is well underway with several China-backed initiatives. At some point in the 2020s, it will be clear to everyone that they don’t need dollars like they used to and that will be that.
As the dollar loses value, half the people in the country will be losing their jobs due to the second disruptive force in my internal World Game— some form of AI or automation. The most common job in the US today is retail and retail is being downsized by technology on every front. So is driving, any kind of driving.
This isn’t like a recession or a depression where people can try to ride it out. In the 2020s, the next 3,000–5,000 days, the basic deal by which you can get enough for a place to live and food to eat by working will not be an option for most people.
There will not be jobs to support all that many humans under our current methods of assessing value. People are going to have to do something else to get money and while they are trying to figure it out, the weather will Really Suck. Since we will hit the two degree temperature increase around 2030, we should imagine a steady increase in climate awfulness between now and then.
Some climate-based displacement will happen in the US in the next 3,000–5,000 days, but the reason I think of climate change as the third big Disruptive Force of the 2020s is the way bigger storms, bigger fires and bigger weather events of all kinds will affect agriculture, energy use, and the daily lives of most people.
Everything that has kept us busy, complacent, and blind to most of reality will be gone in the next ten to twelve years.
We’re not wired to be proactive but in the 2020s it will finally be too late to be proactive. We will have to be reactive — finally the deteriorating situation will be playing to our strength.
Defending with the Defense Budget
It is inevitable that millions of people will be desperately looking for meaning and purpose. There will be anger. There will be hopeless resignation and there will be everything in between.
The mass human response to the end of Pax Americana, the elimination of most jobs, and the ever-growing instability of the climate is what I’m trying to think clearly about. What should I be ready to do when a critical mass of humanity has the entire structure of existence pulled out from under them?
I’m not saying this will happen over the next 3,000–5,000 days. I’m saying it’s happening now, and it will intensify so much over the next 3,000–5,000 days that we will know we’ve reached the place things got kicked down the road to. Of course it will be way too late for a smooth transition, but not too late for a decent emergency landing, maybe no more challenging than what Sully pulled off in the Hudson.
It is fortunate that there will be a life-and-death project to be preoccupied with, as fully engaging as Captain Sullenberger’s. Imminent destruction really sharpens your focus, brings people together.
I hope we still have governments during the 2020s. If we do, they will have to go into emergency mode and be guided by the overriding need to work together with other governments to keep our planet habitable.
The whole idea of Master Planning emerged in the fire protection community in the 1970s out of the need to coordinate rival forces in an emergency. Even fire departments have a natural tendency to care more about themselves than anyone or anything else. But when massive wild fires began burning out of control in California, in-group favoritism had to be totally and immediately replaced by unqualified cooperation.
Command and control systems have been developed for organizing and managing events that will happen daily in the 2020s. Coordinating the global project to turn down the temperature is all very do-able. A judicious mixture of reflecting the sun at some times in some places, combined with carbon capture deployed ubiquitously like KFC will not just stop the temperature increase but reverse it. We can do that.
I hope we still call it the Defense Budget because for once it will be. We will be defending ourselves against temperature increase beyond two more degrees. We will have seen what two degrees does over the next 3,000–5,000 days.
We will have seen. That’s the crucial part.
The 2020s will be the Pearl Harbor of Species Extinction. Our species.
Dispositional Transformation at Scale
We will need AI to guide us through the unprecedented build-up of technologies we’ve never tested enough to really know what we’re doing. We’ll be playing ‘Go’ with the future of the planet on the line and AI will be better at it than people. AI systems will recommend approaches we will not understand and the systems will not be able to explain them.
The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has an engineering orientation and has already led China is to world leadership in AI, as well as the world leadership in clean energy. Disruptive force #1 in my model is perfectly set to be lead developer of new technical and social constructions.
Xi Jinping has made his version of those constructions unusually explicit. He has stated that the Social Credit system, his framework for controlled growth, will fully roll-out in 2020. From my perspective, his system will influence my remaining 3,000–5,000 days more than anything else.
It’s why I have hope.
Did I just say the Xi JinPing/CCP/People’s Republic of China Social Benefit system gives me hope that the human race can survive the end of employment and the end of nice weather without ripping each other to shreds in some Lord of the Flies scenario?
Yes. And that’s coming from a non-conformist weirdo. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m the type of person who would go nuts in a total government rate-your-every-behavior world. I mean, most of you reading this feel like you would go nuts if life was like Grade School Report Cards every few months only much worse, right?
Anything I write in the next sentence that attempts to place Social Credit systems in a positive light is going to look an invitation to debate. I’m not trying to pick a winner in the Social Control Derby. But there is no question China’s approach to managing over a billion people will shape the 2020s.
If it enables the nation to maintain greater social stability during disruptive times, versions of Social Credit systems will appear in other jurisdictions. Enterprise databases for Social Credit management are already being developed for use at the municipal level.
The less resolved question is, what will be the counterforce to the Social Credit approach? Generative Adversarial Networks (GANS) have proven to be the most effective structure for solving certain kinds of problems in AI. Networks that are substantially different co-evolve and learn from each other. They end up beating the best humans at ‘Go.’
Fundamentally different social control systems might also work together in a generative way to help us reorganize and get the Earth’s temperature back down.
As I am writing this in March, 2019, the plain truth is that western nations co-evolving comfortably and cooperatively with the Chinese system is unimaginable, especially the US. Until November 9, 1989, it was equally unimaginable that East and West Germans would party on the remnants of the crumbled Berlin Wall.
That was 40 years ago. Critical circumstances change much faster now. Global platforms emerge and gain attention if they are agile at letting people do things that matter to them. Ability is nice but agility is better because it’s hard for platforms to get it right and impossible to keep it right without constant updating built-in.
As the benefits that support social constructions everywhere that is not China dissolve, new and existing structures will quickly take their place. The social control problems China’s Social Credit system is designed to solve still need to be solved no matter how you feel about Xi JinPing’s world view.
I am preparing myself to participate in global platforms for people who need to feel better.
I’ve spent most of my adult life focused on knowledge and cognitive technologies. I’ve developed online platforms where hundreds of thousands of people have come to get smarter.
I don’t believe that online courses as we currently think about them will help get us through the 2020s. But I think millions of people will look for relief where they are looking right now — their devices.
Artificial Intelligence is already guiding content selection on at least one global platform — TikTok, which happens to be the most downloaded app in the world. The content there is short-form video designed to entertain, to provide temporary relief from the stress of real life.
What about content designed to bring deeper and more lasting relief? What about large-scale social experiences designed to bring deeper and more lasting relief?
I’m learning about human behavior and human emotional response in virtual environments and I believe that immersive platforms can be a vehicle for personal change at scale. I do not believe that VR is an Empathy Machine, nor do I believe that Empathy is necessarily the most desirable goal.
Empathy keeps us separate, but with some kind of supposedly more accurate understanding of other people’s mental state. Compassion focuses on the ways we are connected. We’re both. Connection will be what needs emphasis in the next 3,000–5,000 days.
Some of our dis-connect comes from cultural influences that some would say determine our behavior before our conscious selves do. We react automatically to people not like us and then rationalize it unconsciously by drawing within milliseconds on some embedded narrative. The human default state is to be culturally regulated in many ways, including emotional response to someone different.
There are many methods for altering or even completely breaking elements of cultural conditioning. Psychedelic drugs help make social constructions very clear. Some forms of meditation train practitioners in self regulation of emotional response. Dietary and nutritional approaches can clarify the social conventions and habitual aspects of eating.
People have been trying and refining those and other methods for centuries, but throughout human history most people haven’t wanted to break out of their cultural conditioning.
In the 2020s, the structure of cultural conditioning itself will be broken when China takes the lead, the jobs go away, and the weather will never get better by itself. There will be a conditioning vacuum.
Large-scale social experiences in virtual environments will be one option many will turn to. It is not technically difficult to see millions of people from all over the world who don’t even know each other doing things like playing ping pong, discussing current events, watching entertainers, and meditating together in VR.
I have done each of those activities in VR, just not at the scale that will be needed. Plus, it’s going to take a lot more than virtual ping pong to get our planet out of the mess it’s in. But if we can play ping pong, and talk and have fun and meditate — then there’s at least a better chance we will cooperate in producing an operating manual for spaceship earth.
I’m learning to design better experiences in VR, experiences that can touch, potentially, millions of people. One of my learning labs is Cambodian Living Arts, a prominent cultural organization in Cambodia, where I’m developing online training and 360 VR video content. The work there is part of a broader narrative of personal growth and empowerment through traditional music and culture. I see it as a model of hope and transformation for any post-conflict society.
I spent about 20% of the past 525 days in Cambodia. My work there demands all of me. There are no rules, no contract. I have to figure it out — how to interact with people, how to help an organization use new media to engage people.
We are doing our work one village at a time but we are also preparing to bring the whole world along with us, virtually, on the Khmer Magic Music Bus
We are trying to build a global platform for change. So are others. I feel like I have the time I need.