Our team at Autodesk is called Strategic Foresight. We help identify and articulate long-term forces of change and their implications shaping the future for Autodesk and our customers. As Strategic Foresight, we do not attempt to offer definitive answers about what the future will hold. No one can do that. Instead, we recognize that the future is only partially visible in the present and cannot be fully known in advance (predicted). With this in mind, our team helps reveal insights across the entire company by working with Autodesk leaders to shape a preferable future (out of the many possible futures) that delivers value for our customers and our business. We explore a broad range of areas (e.g., society, technology, economy, environment, politics) with a long-term focal length (~10 years). The 10-year period is necessary because some technologies (like generative design as an example) have a long development runway before they are commercially available. The time to start thinking about potential new technologies is when they seem impossible or impractical.
As part of my outside-of-work reading, it should be no surprise that I pick books about the future. I am a big fan of non-fiction. I have an Audible subscription, so I listened to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
"Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights."
— Yuval Noah Harari
In addition, Homo sapiens is the only species to flexibly cooperate on such a large scale.
Because I enjoyed Sapiens, I then listened to Homo Deus, also by Yuval Noah Harari.
Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams, has been saying for decades that humankind does not have free will. We're all just "moist robots." As a cartoonist, most people don't take him seriously; however, Yuval Harrrai is an Israeli public intellectual, historian, and professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In Homo Deus, he postulates that humankind will try to achieve divinity through bioengineering and powerful computing. Harari also contends that Homo sapiens don't really have free will, and consciousness is mostly a mirage. People operate more like computers, and our programming contains the seeds of our own destruction. It was my feel-good book of 2020.
Having absorbed two books, I thought it was only fitting to also listen to Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
My takeaways (one lesson per chapter*) included:
Imperialism lead to fascism which lead to communism which lead to democracy. Democracy will survive the recent upswing in nationalism.
The current technology wave is different from prior ones in that biotech is being combined with massive computing power. It remains to be seen if artificial intelligence and human augmentation create more new jobs than the old jobs they destroy.
Although liberty is the basis for democracy, citizens make decisions based on feelings instead of logic. It is quite possible that people do not have as much control over their feelings as they believe. People's feelings can be easily manipulated. Algorithms, on the other hand, which are more objective, may know more about what is good for people than people.
Since the world's 100 wealthiest people now own more than the world's least wealthy four billion, even if biotech remains incredibly expensive, a class of wealthy, enhanced superhumans could emerge.
As the digital world pervades more and more of society, the time-honored bonds of community, family, and friends will continue to decline.
To borrow a quote from Tom Friedman, "the world is flat." Multiple civilizations no longer exist. As there is only one world, society is a single civilization.
Nations evolved to solve issues that tribes and families could not. As the world is now a single civilization, international cooperation is the key to addressing the world's problems.
The origins of religion date back to a time of limited scientific knowledge. As science uncovers more and more about life's mysteries, the importance of religion is waning; however, there will always be a place for religion as people are guided by their feelings and not pure logic.
The question of immigration comes down to "Are countries that accept immigrants doing so out of an obligation to take care of all humanity?" Or "Is the country doing immigrants a favor, and in turn, those immigrants are obligated to abandon their native traditions and blend into the receiving society?"
Although the number of people killed by terrorists is small compared to cars, drugs, or obesity, the media exaggerates the dangers, which furthers the terrorists' agendas.
Worldwide-scale conventional wars may be obsolete because they cost enormous treasure and offer small or even negative returns to winners. Sufficient havoc can be wreaked via cyberattacks.
Most nations suffer from a grossly exaggerated perception of their importance. Citizens should look at themselves objectively and from other peoples' perspectives to gain the humility that humanity needs to avoid annihilation.
None should use God as an excuse to hate, battle, or exclude others. Love is the answer.
Although those who don't ascribe to any one religion and tolerate all religions tend to behave better and lead more peaceful lives, when secularism becomes a religion, it can lead to fascism or communism.
People make decisions based on emotions, mental shortcuts, and groupthink. As such, people should embrace knowing that they know very little.
When people see or feel the effects of unfairness directly, they might act. When they are shielded from the effects, they are less likely to act.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It has always been with us. Humans tell stories and create myths. Their untruths bind people together for good deeds as well as bad. As such, people should seek their own truths.
The quest for an authentic self may be impossible because people are not really in control of their own feelings. For example, people cannot escape their own biases.
Students don't need more information. Instead, they need to learn how to assess it, synthesize it, and collaborate.
People should not seek purpose in serving religion, ideology, dogma, or nation. Instead, people should find meaning in serving others and through acts of kindness and love. Love is the answer. What's left to say?
With advancements in artificial intelligence and the widespread application of algorithms, knowing oneself will rise in importance. Meditation helps people explore their personal reality and comprehend how their minds work. Om.
I must admit that 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is not as good as the first two books. While listening and walking, I was experiencing deja vu. Some of the last book's content is a repeat from previous books. The book did help me pass the miles and is easy to follow. I have always felt that Harari chooses exactly the right word every time to describe the topic he is covering.
"If someone tells you a story about the 21st Century, and it sounds like science fiction, it might be false. If someone tells you a story about the 21st Century, and it does not sound like science fiction, it is defintely false."
— Yuval Noah Harari
At Autodesk, we are inspired by a better world designed and made for all. Our mission is to empower innovators with design and make technology so they can achieve the new possible. We deliver customers intuitive, powerful, and accessible technology that provides automation and insight for their design and make processes, enabling them to achieve better outcomes for their products, their businesses, and the world. Considering possible futures, navigating uncertainty, and leveraging change help Autodesk and its customers avoid learning lessons the hard way.
Learning about possible futures is alive in the lab.
* Since I could not bookmark by dogearing physical pages in an audiobook, to write this blog article, I referred to a summary provided by getAbstract as a refresher.