Imagine a world in which all human beings on the planet are equally rich on all five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I believe such a world is not only possible. I believe it must be built. Let’s build it.
>”We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” JFK, 1962
We live in decisive times. Where do we choose to go from here?
On the one hand we have managed to break the equilibrium of the planetary ecosystem resulting in a high possibility for another extinction event on the planet. Not the first one she has endured, but the final one for humanity. The interesting thing about this situation is that it can have entirely unforeseen and therefor un-plannable consequences.
Just consider the case of the Saiga-Gazelles. In 2015 200.000–60% of the population — died within three weeks. The cause was the bacterium Pasteurella multocida which most of the animals carry within them. It was unclear, however how and why this usually harmless bacterium could suddenly have this massive effect on the animal. It turns out that due to changes in the climate conditions resulting in more humidity and higher temperatures, the bacterium found the perfect conditions to rapidly multiply and kill its host along the way.
On the other we have introduced an entirely new species to the world — let’s use Kevin Kellys name for it: the Technium — with which we live in a co-dependence with an uncertain future. It is not unlikely that the Technium decides to reverse roles and turns human beings into tools — another looming extinction event.
Just consider the following two situations. Exhibit A: At Columbia University a team of scientists created a robot with actuators, sensors and a basic neural network and then watched what it decided to do. It learned how to walk. But it also learned another thing. It learned to track human faces. Exhibit B: When the engineers at Google hit a wall in energy optimisation of their datacenters, they created a system that would manage the datacenters in order to achieve even higher performance. Datacenter management involves things like updating software, routing requests of 85% of all smartphones on the planet.
Both developments move at incredible speed. And we literally find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. If either of the sides go wrong, humanity is in serious if not final trouble. And the probability of both going right is 25% — not an outcome one would base a life decision on. Unfortunately, if you are alive today, the decision is not yours. It has been made.
One possible reaction to this setup can be observed by voter decisions across western democracies which can be interpreted as a symptom of panic and the desire for resolve. While the proposed political solutions try to offer this by trying to roll the world back to times during which things were still “working”, the reality is that we cannot escape the reality of today.
At the same time it becomes more evident through our increasing connectedness that the current structure of our political systems is not effective enough to deal with fast and large scale change. While new ideas of developing our democracies to new levels are being discussed — and sometimes even tested — it takes time and requires a lot of trust, perseverance and effort.
Another reaction is to look forward and describe a new world, a light at the end of the tunnel. A tunnel framed by fear of the Technium and global warming. A world in which the symbiosis between humanity and the Technium works to the benefit of both. A world in which through the cooperation of the Technium and humanity we have recreated planetary balance — again. Something like JFK did. Just bigger. A lot bigger.
Given the odds, this effort needs to be highly focused and incredibly fast. To be successful under circumstances like this, we need a common and clear vision of what needs to be achieved in order to backcast clear action. Many efforts in this direction have been undertaken already and an awakening is clearly underway.
However, it is not only extraordinarily difficult to put this into a clear and compelling vision that can be understood and supported across cultures and agendas but it is maybe even more complex to identify the person, people or organisation with the credibility and legitimation to offer such a vision.
The following describes two observations i have made and an image that results from these observations. An image that could be a starting point for a discourse towards the creation of a compelling image.
# Unfixability — Human versus Machine
A couple of years back i spent the year with the hobby of thinking about what differentiates humans from machines in the long run. I came to the conclusion that machines will (given sufficient interest on their part) be able to do anything a human can. I am aware that not only the feasibility of this claim, or portions of it can be discussed at length, but also the necessary conditions like fitness functions, etc need to be in place.
If you allow yourself the thought experiment of what it would be like if machines were capable of absolutely everything a human can do at the same level and then try to find what might be unique to humans, what might the answer be?
The answer i found is that for humans it is almost always hard and sometimes impossible to heal our physiological, mental and emotional wounds. This makes us vulnerable. We are vulnerable in every aspect of our being. Our bodies, souls and minds can break. When they do they need a long time to heal, if ever.
Machines on the other hand could pretend to be vulnerable but they inherently are not. They can move their software to a new substrate, fix the substrate, fix the software, roll back, whatever they like — but the inherently are fixable.
I found that this thought experiment and the resulting insight is very powerful in bringing people onto an equal (human) level by reminding them that (a) every human is vulnerable and (b) everyone has been hurt/injured before and that as a result © we all long to heal our wounds through love and recognition.
# The Pareto Law of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
A while ago i was asked to write an article about SDG1 — No Poverty. While thinking about the topic i came to realise how limited our view on poverty is. We usually look at it from a purely physical and physiological perspective. We consider someone poor if they don’t have the means to provide for food, shelter and other basic needs. While this is a very important part of a humane human existence, we are definitely not limited to it.
In fact, if we project it onto Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework, it turns out that we are only talking about 20% of the potential of a human being when defining poverty in this way.
While almost our entire economic system is targeted at organising this portion of the human condition, it feels fair to say that we are using 80% of the global potential to solve 20% of what we really need.
Could it be that the looming crisis of depression and similar emotional disorders predicted by the WHO are pointing at the extreme poverty on the upper 80% of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Our needs of safety, love and belonging, esteem and self actualisation can hardly be fulfilled by the way we currently handle things in our societies. And they are almost entirely social functions which express themselves through recognition and love.
# What if?
What if we could put the machines to work in order to organise the bottom layer of the hierarchy for us? What if we would put human imagination and spirit to work to fulfill the upper 80% of the pyramid? What if?
Imagine a world in which all human beings on the planet are equally rich on all five levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I believe such a world is not only possible. I believe it must be built. Let’s build it.