What will this fourth wave of digital disruption mean for our world? Read my thoughts in this week’s edition of “Isn’t That Ironic?”.
A New World of Love?
Note: Today marks the fourth post in my series on the likely changes wrought or accelerated by the present virus. In the first post, I looked at the idea of creative destruction—how old structures are destroyed as they are replaced with new ones. The second post looked at how data has become the most valuable commodity in the world. Last week I reviewed the four stages of the modern digital disruption of society. Today I look more closely at how this fourth wave of digital disruption will affect the professions and the way we do business. Of course, there’s a spiritual meaning as well.
The Fourth Wave
This fourth wave of digital disruption is largely focused on the emerging technologies of robotics, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. It will bring greater efficiencies to the professions, which have not yet achieved significant efficiencies from the digital age. Let’s take a look.
By far the largest cost of education is paying teachers. Computers have not brought any efficiencies here. Class sizes haven’t changed, although teachers constantly complain about class sizes. Back in the early 1970s, I was a student in many classes of over 30 students. Large classes are nothing new. In Alberta today, the economic breakeven size for a class is between 20 and 25 students. Computer technology has added extra costs for schools and extra work for teachers but has not made any appreciable improvement is teaching efficiency or effectiveness.
With schools shut down for Covid-19, teachers have scrambled to figure out how to teach online, deliver lessons, and mark assignments with computers. It turns out, all this is possible. In fact, once you have lesson plans, course outlines, assignments done for a course, you don’t have to do them again. It’s not even necessary for thousands of teachers to do this for the same course. We only need one set for all the province’s students in English 10, Chemistry 20, etc. All of this can be online, accessible anytime, at any speed. Assignments can be marked by computers using artificial intelligence—even essays—and they can check for plagiarism. One teacher could easily provide personal feedback for 100 or more students. All the usual teaching tasks are done by computer, Supplementary materials are available online in electronic formats, no need for books, teachers, discipline. The teacher can take on the role of coach. These changes will come, slowly or quickly. But once any jurisdiction moves in this direction, all jurisdictions will.
Accounting, Law, and Banking
These professions have also not seen much efficiency from computers. But both are largely rule-based and can be automated. Soon, companies will need fewer accountants. We really just need bookkeepers to enter the transactions. From there, computers can be programmed to produce all the accounting statements, business advice, tax forms, etc. Most individuals do exactly this with online tax preparation software. Artificial intelligence will bring better advice than humans can give and blockchain will make the whole process more secure.
Similarly, legal advice and documents are all rule-based. As well, there are so many laws, precedents, loopholes, and they are different for every jurisdiction, that human lawyers can’t keep track of it all. Computers with artificial intelligence will do most legal work faster and more accurately than human lawyers. Contracts won’t need lawyers. We will use smart contracts on blockchain—safe, secure, cheap. In fact, legal firms will be the first to use this technology. They will be able to do twice the work with half the staff. That’s what efficiency is all about.
Soon, blockchain-based banking will allow all of us to have bank accounts in any currency, digital or national, and to move small or large sums anywhere in the world instantly for trivial cost. We will be able to lend or borrow money directly through blockchain and smart contracts. The need for traditional banks will diminish, both as financial intermediaries and for depositing money, as will the ability of national governments to control our money.
Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain - The Fourth Wave
The rise of artificial intelligence will finally encroach on the jealously guarded power of the medical profession. The explosion of medical information, along with the incredible reams of junk science in “medicine” has made it impossible for humans to keep up with what’s new and what’s really true. Soon, we will have our smartphones check our vital signs and connect with an AI computer program to diagnose our health issues and offer prescriptions—with various options from which the patient can choose. Do you want to simply take a pill and change nothing in your life? Do you want a purely diet-based solution? Do you want referrals to specialists in your area? Do you want a homeopathic solution, and plant-based solution, a vaccination or no vaccination, surgery or physiotherapy or chiropractic or acupuncture or mind-healing? Take your pick of possible treatments for whatever ails you. The computer will tell you about the success rates of each treatment option, its side effects, how much it will cost, how long it will take, how much effort you will have to put in (yes, after all, YOU are the biggest variable and the ultimate cause and solution of your problems). Doctors, hospitals, etc. will succeed or fail based on their own success rates with treating ailments. The veil of blindness behind which we make medical decisions will come off. Information, that is “data”, will become supreme—and the data will be available to everyone.
The End of Google
The big data companies are controlling, profiting from, and censoring data. Many people hate this but don’t have any real options. Blockchain will change this. There will soon be blockchain-based solutions for email and internet searching (Google), personal social networking (Facebook), video sharing (YouTube), and many other applications. With blockchain, data is secure and decentralized. No one can remove your video or your post.
Governments are in trouble. I can’t even begin to detail all the reasons here. Here are some big ones. Government spending everywhere is unsustainable and the end is near. Printing trillions of dollars in Covid-19 relief will undermine the value of national currencies and hasten their end. Many government functions are counterproductive and even destructive and will be abandoned. Respect for our governing elites is plummeting and people will no longer acquiesce to whatever governments want to do. When you can work from home, home can be anywhere and many professionals and businesses will move to low-tax, pleasant-climate jurisdictions where the government doesn’t hassle you at every turn. The burden of public debt is falling on millennials who cannot pay it and, when they realize they are paying for their parents’ wastefulness, will refuse. These last two points will decimate government revenues. Interest rates that have been held artificially low for almost two decades (for the benefit of government debtors) will dramatically increase when national currencies are abandoned—which will cripple governments and everyone else except those who have real money.
Many functions of government can be done by AI and smart contracts and don’t need people at all. Many other functions of government do more to hamper than help and will simply be abandoned when government revenues crash. People will not support high taxes and excessive regulation, both of which strangle them. It’s rather ironic, but I think the excessive governmental response to Covid-19 will hasten the public’s desire for smaller, less powerful governments, less able to disrupt everyone’s lives.
The New Globalization
AI and robotics will change the older economies of scale in most manufacturing processes and allow the return of manufacturing to high labor cost areas by using micro-manufacturing with AI/robotics with very little labor. Taxes and regulation costs will increasingly be the determiner of where businesses locate, which will spur competitive (read lower) tax rates. The cost of capital will be more nearly the same everywhere because financing will be done through blockchain/smart contracts and will avoid stock markets, investment banks, local banks, and local currencies.
What’s the spiritual takeaway? Freedom, responsibility, equality. Greater access to information will force all of us, whether we want it or not, to realize that our education is in our own hands, our health is in our own hands, our business success is in our own hands, our personal destiny is in our own hands. And, yes, our spiritual state and spiritual growth are definitely in our own hands. It’s not up to our pastors and priests, try as they might. It’s in our hands. Will we make it a world of love? Do we have the courage to turn away from fear and embrace love? You must answer this question for yourself.
God Bless You!
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