The Future – Part 13

I’ve written numerous posts on the subject primarily centered around technology and education and even a few concerning the relationship between the two.

What prompted this post is the the second biography I am reading on Pablo Picasso entitled, ‘The Success and Failure of Picasso’ written by John Berger.

And on page 30 Berger writes, “…the Spanish contribution to European culture – is deceptive. It is limited to literature and painting . It does not include the arts or sciences which are more directly dependent on comparable forms of social development; Spain has contributed little to European architecture, music, philosophy, medicine, physics or engineering.”

That observation precipitated an ‘aha’ moment when I recollected reading a similar observation about the lack of progress in the last 7-8 centuries in those cultures that embraced Islam.

And of course I thought about ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ – another great book on the subject of cultural progress written by Jared Diamond that I read some ten years ago where his argument was so interesting I was compelled to read it twice.

And I was reading just a couple of weeks ago Octavio Paz’s, ‘The other Mexico’ (or was it an essay buried in ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’?) where he pondered over the cultural differences between the North American Great Plains Indians and the much more sophisticated indigenous cultures that developed in the south.

One series of civilizations great. The other not so; remaining no more than nomadic, warring tribes. Interesting, although they all shared the exact same Asiatic ancestry.

And I am convinced now that Jared Diamond only got it partially right where he reasoned that cultural advancement – which we can also sort of kinda call it technological advancement – came about as a much more complicated proposition than merely being a result of a peoples’ access to abundant and quality sources of protein.

Fast forwarding to the present, I have been watching some YouTube available presentations given by Scott Galloway on predicting the future winners and losers between the big four tech companies: Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.

Everything that I’ve read, watched and listened to up this point concerning technology – and the advancement of such – has made me increasingly more mindful just how incredibly high the stakes are; there is no second place. You either own the market (85% plus) or you’re fighting over the table scraps with the other losers.

As Mr. Galloway has pointed out – these platforms as presented by these four companies are either converging or overlapping. For example, if a person is already logged into Facebook they are less likely to open another browser page to do a Google search. That same person will merely search from within Facebook.

And I found it positively amazing that Google pays Apple $1B per year just to be the primary search engine for all Apple products.

But with the rapid advent of Artificial Intelligence – technologies all four companies are working on independently – those search algorithms that once gave Google a seriously competitive edge – are being absorbed by the bigger picture technologies.

Systems are integrating as they collapse, meld, and combine. At some point there will be only only box, one OS, and one super app – and whoever gets there first and acquires the IP; naturally acquires the patents. In short, in the end – there will be one proverbial ring to rule them all.

I will return again and again to this subject because the entire future rests upon the continued development and change of these key technologies: nano-tech, AI, SoC, quantum computing, and bio-tech.

I just got off the phone with my 28 year old daughter, Sarah who is flying to Paris on Tuesday to interview for a post-doc position at the most prestigious and important university in all of France, The École Normale Supérieure (ENS Paris for short) which has among its alumni 13 Nobel Prize laureates, including 8 in Physics. BTW – ENS has the highest ratio of Nobel laureates per alumnus of any institution worldwide.

(And yes, I am proud.)

But I bring this up because the research she’d be doing there would be purely theoretical. The lab work she is doing now to complete her PhD in cellular biology involves doing real investigative lab work, meaning she carries out actual experiments using live cellular protein samples.

Her post-doc at ENS Paris (should it work out) would be spending two years investigating the science behind the science. In fact the theory of biology experimentation at the cellular level – both the tools and the science used – overlaps with quantum mechanics.

Think about that for a minute. Quantum mechanics is at this moment a working technology. Did you know that D-Wave Systems – a Canadian company – is the first company in the world to both build and sell viable, working quantum computers?

As William Gibson once wryly stated, ‘The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.’

Quantum freaking computers. Forget bits and bytes. Think Qubits.

The further evolution of these new computing and biological tools will usher in a new post-post industrial age.

But back to Picasso for a minute to bring the creativity of these new technologies full circle. Around the turn of the 20th century when Picasso (a Spaniard) was just beginning to establish himself as an artist in Paris, art was in the process of being commodified – or so says Berger in this latest biography. Dealers were beginning to buy and sell art as investments; as collectable, valuable commodities.

The artists – not stupid, and cognizant of that fact – celebrated not the finished art form, but instead celebrated their collective geniuses in being able to produce such art forms.

Today as I compare these new technologies to that old art I see some striking similarities.

As then as it is now: One will possess the genius or the technological know how to create (or advance) these new technologies. Or one will have the capital to acquire these new technologies (the means of production). Or one will simply be a spectator – a consumer – of these new technologies.

There will soon only be two ends to the societal spectrum: the rich creator and wealthy owner or the poor spectator consumer. (The middle class is dead my friend. It just doesn’t know it yet.)

PS – The first biography I read on Picasso was many years ago and it was written by Arianna Huffington (of The Huffington Post fame) entitled, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer’.

Which biography is better? Huffington’s is more personal and readable while Berger’s is more analytical.

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