There was a time that I thought people could live long enough to see everything. I have since learned what they see is a smaller and smaller percentage of all there is to see. Surprises are commonplace.
On the 13th of October, the Nobel committee awarded the 2016 prize in literature to Bob Dylan. Looking at that choice, I was first surprised and then pleased. I like Bob Dylan.
I looked at the list of previous Literature Nobel winners. Writing in English, we find Churchill, Hemingway, Shaw, Faulkner, Bellow, O’Neil, Eliot, Buck, Kipling, Yeats and others. Why Dylan?
One person I know suggested that perhaps all literature prize winners must be below average singers. Leonard Cohen is now waiting by the phone. More likely Dylan knew about what was happening 53 years ago when he wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin” The song is part of us. There are dozens of cover versions. From the Byrds to Bruce Springsteen. From The Beach Boys to Burl Ives.
Poetry is about meaning that addresses our subconscious first and our conscious later. Good authors give us insight into the human condition. Dylan is good at that. We eventually get it.
The times are changing and we must notice and prepare. As my friend, Bob Behan, recently told me, the astute of the world have a common thread in their thinking. “Nothing lasts forever.”
Preparing for “nothing lasts forever” is challenging. All of us use what exists and what we know to extrapolate the past and present into the future. Faster computers, more efficient cars, bigger cities, more spectacular media, shorter lived products. The future that surprises us, and is more impactful, will be things that exist as tiny dots on the horizon today.
You might have been able to imagine the internet in 1965 but I doubt you could have estimated its impact. Video games. I think not. You might have guessed Walmart but I doubt Amazon would have been in the list. GM bankrupt. I would have missed that one. Korea as a huge industrialized country. Probably not.
The future is unknown and unknowable, except for it will be different. History rhymes, it does not demand.
The adaptation skills we must develop are:
- Basic computation and language
- Continuous learning
- Critical thinking
We must see the changes as they begin, not long after. We won’t get it exactly right, but as you learn to anticipate, you welcome surprises as being more information to help with decisions.
What are the things to watch?
- Artificial intelligence. AI needs a lot of computer power to do its magic. As that power and storage become cheaper, new relationships will emerge. My younger son once pointed out that a problem that takes 10,000 hours to solve on a single processor, is not the same problem if it takes one hour to solve on 10,000 processors. We learn by iteration. One step every 10,000 hours leads nowhere, while one every hour can lead us to very new possibilities in a week.
- Blockchain will revolutionize trust relationships. Maybe I don’t need a bank or a contract lawyer. Maybe I don’t need to rely on the government for appropriate monetary policy.
- Quantum computing will affect both of the above. Immense speed and reliability. The downside is current privacy techniques like encryption will fail.
- A recoil from news and politics as entertainment. Government should be about governing, a management thing, as opposed to politics which has little to do with managing and much to do with authority and image. The media will return to fact based information or be replaced by reliable reporters on the internet.
- Science will clean up its act and return to facts, theories and candidate theories. Speculation using computer models will be seen to be useless. Models tell us more about the people who built them than they do about what they purport to be seeing.
- People will become a little more patient. As it is now, for many the long run is lunchtime on Tuesday. Some problems and opportunities take generations to mature.
It will be rocky during the changeover. Many of those about to be displaced have power and influence, but those only matter where there is no fundamental change. Fundamental change always wins. Like the water carving out a canyon, the rock must eventually submit.
The Times They are A-Changin’ is a sound philosophical platform. Thanks Bob.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772