By Dirk Helbing
There is no doubt that humankind has changed the face of the planet fundamentally, and this has now a name: the age of the Anthropocene. However, the question is, whether we should be proud or concerned about it, and how long it will last. Because the age of the Robotocene is probably just a few years ahead - just a splitsecond on geological time scales.
The world isn’t in particular good shape. We haven’t managed to overcome the last financial, economic, and public spending crisis, but the next one is looming already. We are faced with climate change, which may eradicate one sixth of all species. Peace throughout the world has become quite unstable. Terrorism and cybercrime are on the rise. We are struggling with demographic change: an ageing population and mass migration. Above all, we are overusing many resources of our planet. On average, we are using 50% more resources than we should, if we want to be sustainable on the long run. In fact, this is closely connected with our chances of survival. Our current economy is running largely on oil, gas, and coal. While these technologies have made our lives easier, the world population has exploded. It has grown by a factor of more than five, almost ten. So, if we now have to reduce CO2 emissions to save our climate and our planet, it is not entirely clear how many people our planet can carry. If we want to survive rather than to die of disease, hunger, or war, we need to quickly build a low-carbon economy and learn to handle scare resources more efficiently. These include nitrogen, phosphorus and water, i.e. the ingredients needed for food production.
Probably in response to these challenges, governments around the world have started to collect Big Data about everyone and everything. This was driven by the belief that more data means more knowledge, more knowledge means more power, and more power means more success. While this sounds plausible, things aren’t that easy. In fact, even though we have better technology and more data than ever, we haven’t managed to solve the above mentioned problems. Instead, we are faced with new ones, such as the loss of jobs. It turns out that we are in the middle of a fundamental transformation of our economy and society, driven by the digital revolution. Automation using intelligent algorithms and machines is expected to replace about 50% of today’s jobs, which means that we will have to reinvent half of our economy in just about 20 years. Moreover, we are seeing the rise of new, data-driven forms of historical governance models, such as fascism 2.0 (a big brother and brave new world society), communism 2.0 (based on a benevolent dictator model), and feudalism 2.0 (based on a few monopolies and a new kind of caste system, using citizen scores). These kinds of data-driven societies would manage scarce resources in a top-down way, more or less totalitarian. In times of scarcity, they would decide who would be entitled to get what amount of what resource and what kind of (public) service. When it comes to providing certain kinds of medicine, such decisions could easily be a matter of life or death, in particular in times where multi-resistant bacteria, which cannot be fought by our antibiotics, are on the rise.
I think that we should instead build capitalism 2.0, because capitalism has been the so far most successful economic system, based on bottom-up self-organization, entrepreneurial and individual freedom, competition, high innovation rates, efficiency, flexibility, and resilience. The upgraded capitalism would be more democratic, I believe, leading to democracy 2.0. What we need to build is an open and participatory framework that supports "ecosystem thinking", co-creation, co-evolution, and collective intelligence. Furthermore, the Internet of Things allows us now to measure external effects of interactions, to price such positive and negative externalities, and to trade them in a multi-dimensional way - a system that I call "finance 4.0". This would create entirely new markets, but first of all, promote resource efficiency, a circular economy, sharing, and cooperation. In this multi-dimensional exchange system, additional kinds of "money" would be created in a bottom-up way. This mechanism could generate a living for everyone and public resources in times, where progressive automation is threatening incomes, taxes, and consumption, i.e. the basis of our economy.