Our modern entertainment and pop culture have taken a distinctly, alarmingly dystopian spin. When is the last time you saw the future depicted as a terrific time and place, filled with people thriving thanks to creative solutions to today’s intractable problems? It’s much more likely that you see a trend or concern of today taken to its dreadful conclusion. Take, for example, shows like The Handmaid’s Tale or movies like A Quiet Place. The list goes on with stories of people and communities raging against their context.
Our fascination with dystopian fiction is a natural reaction to the ever-increasing pace of change and stressors that so many of us experience at work and at home. We feel as if things are getting out of control – so those are the stories that we tell.
Human nature has a long history of seeking scapegoats and focusing on the negative when we are in a position of stress. As we unite around a common enemy, we gain distraction from the issues at hand and we create a common goal. We see it today in contemporary U.S. political discourse, pushing us further into what can be called Tribalism. More effort is spent decrying the enemy than creating solutions.
On the other hand, we can take solace in the fact that we also have a history of turning our quest for the unattainable into a cause for unification. As we unite to pursue a seemingly impossible common goal, we emphasize what we can do to contribute and achieve the goal together.
In both of these examples, we see our human history of finding purpose and community in the process of striving toward a common goal. We see how much more productive it is to commit to spending more time thinking about how to solve problems together than it is to waste energy focusing on the problems themselves or on who is causing them.
To clarify; when I talk about thinking, I don’t mean the kind of mind wandering I enjoy when I’m weeding my vegetable garden or planting new hostas. I mean the deep consideration that happens when we bring together diverse perspectives and rich, orthogonal thinking about where we could go and what we could accomplish. These are the times when we create goals and agree to the actions it will take to achieve them. It’s when we come to the table knowing we are more than the sum of our parts that we really work together to work toward the amazing things on the horizon. We saw this in our original push to put a person on the moon and in the recovery of Europe via the Marshall Plan. We accomplish great things when we have a larger-than-life goal.
Case in point – AI is changing everyday life
Deloitte predicts that Artificial Intelligence (AI) embedded devices will grow from 79 million in 2018 to 1.2 billion in 2023. Those devices already are changing our lives in small and large ways – and that’s certain to continue. For instance, I may be able to allow AI to look at the schedules for our carpool families and just let us know who is driving on which day to swim practice. (I know that sounds trivial, but if you have multiple age group swimmers in your family, you may understand my pain – having reliable carpools has saved me more than once.)
On a more global level, consider what would happen if our genomes could be scanned at birth and then work with implanted AI devices to track our body chemistry? If that was the case, it’s realistic to think that my progeny could get daily guidance via alerts from their AI devices about ideal meal planning, exercise recommendations, doctor visits, and preventative health screenings. We could see personalized medicine combining with detailed, real-time self-knowledge at the chemical level to help us predict and prevent health problems. Just imagine how that would reshape human longevity, healthcare costs, and even the agriculture industry.
It’s realistic to ask whether this is invasive or too personal a use for AI and limited healthcare resources. It’s valid to consider whether the potential long-term societal benefits would make the effort a worthy collective goal for investment. And it seems that it is; particularly in light of reports from The Lancet and The Guardian that show wealthy Americans live 15 years longer than their poor counterparts. The National Academy of Medicine predicts that if precision-medicine can reduce the incidents of some diseases by as little as 10%, it could generate hundreds of billions of dollars in healthier, more productive lives.
We are a country in need of some collective aspirations. Irrespective of your political stance, there is no question that American citizens are at odds with each other. We’ve taken to dealing with the stress of today’s environment and the ever-increasing pace of change by digging deeper into our tribes. It is as the Tofflers predicted, we are experiencing FutureShock, “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”
Think about how we’ve pulled together as a country historically (e.g., the first Moon Shot, WWII, the New Deal, Post 9/11). An audacious national goal or set of goals would go a long way toward pulling us together and focusing us on the potential in the future versus the risks we must manage in the current state. We should dedicate more time and depth to thinking about what could go right and what we need to do to get there.
This is precisely the kind of work we are so fortunate to do at Toffler Associates. We host events ranging from intimate dinners to larger C-suite conferences where we examine a particular topic and discuss the issues we face – and most importantly, how we can work together to solve those issues. Our work has generated useful ideas about how to develop tomorrow’s workforce, create more resilient organizations in the face of more diverse threats, and ready our manufacturing infrastructure for the needs of the future.
Even as we have these discussions and ideas, we are aware that our current state is contentious and challenging. I am not naïve – we are living and working in difficult times. But that brings us full circle. Instead of turning our attention to trying to point fingers at who is at fault, let’s work together to spot realistic options (like AI) and the solutions those options present. Now is a great time to turn a quest for the seemingly unattainable into a cause for unification.
As yourself – what can you and your organization do to contribute to a better future? What issues are impacting your organization, its resilient future, and your success factors? Are there social, technological, civic, or other solutions you can mobilize to move you beyond your current state and into a world where you can thrive and make lasting positive change? Answering these questions takes a real investment of effort, but as history has shown, the payoff is worthwhile.
 Rich Americans live up to 15 years longer than poor peers, studies find, The Guardian, April 2017
 Realizing the Full Potential of Precision Medicine in Health and Health Care: A Vital Direction for Health and Health Care; Victor J. Dzau, Geoffrey S. Ginsburg, Aneesh Chopra, Dana Goldman, Eric D. Green, Debra G. B. Leonard, Mark McClellan, Andrew Plump, Sharon F. Terry, and Keith R. Yamamoto; September 2016