The total information digitally stored in the world in 2010 was 1 zettabyte. The human brain can store 2.5 petabytes. This means 400,000 people can carry in their brains the entire digital data stored in the world in 2010.
When the information stored will reach 7.5 billions (assuming population will reach this level in the next few years) times 2.5 petabytes = 18,750 zettabytes, ( that is 18.75 yottabytes), the size of the total digital information will be equal to the total information stored in people’s brains. When will that be?
If information stored doubles every 18 months, the world needs 14.195 periods to reach that limit. This is roughly the year 2032.
The computing power packed into microprocessors has followed the same growth rate for a long time, and it is highly probable it will do so in the next couple of decades. That means not only the computers will store more data, they will become significantly more intelligent.
We haven’t considered the networking effect. This increases dramatically the computing power of networked devices.
The digital ecology will look very different in 2032. Attempting to make detail predictions of what will happen is fraught with danger of missing the mark by a mile. However, we can try to anticipate some general changes based on past trends.
In the year 2032, a small personal device will have the smarts of a super computer today. The computers will have sufficient intelligence to display quasi-human attributes: metaphoric meaning, low level of perception, complex meaning, natural voice recognition, real time facial recognition, etc. The last two attributes will probably be heavily used in super-high definition of video cameras for pervasive supervision. The computing power will be sufficient then to create realistic special effects that can simulate voice and images, helping trouble makers to fool supervision cameras.
The drones will be smaller, faster and ubiquitous. They can be deployed by thousands to cover designated areas to identify and destroy strategic targets.
Cars will think and drive themselves even in busy urban districts.
Will we still use petrol? Maybe, but there will be a lot more green and smart energy by then.
How will people be?
Affluent society will thrive in creative environments where imagination will transform into usable, consumable outputs almost immediately. Creativity will be powered by work in collaborative and dynamic groups. Highly creative groups will be very fluid, surfing the wave of complexity and sophistication, enjoying privileges that come with success.
Robotics will replace humans in doing repetitive, dirty and dangerous jobs, but it is not likely that this will bring the happiness that many are hoping for. People who made a living out of those jobs will find they have nowhere to go. They can’t cope, they don’t know what to do and the growing gap between the social cognitive abilities of the ones who can and the ones who can’t will slowly push the unfortunate into ever larger enclaves.
This will be the biggest challenge of the modern days in the future: what to do with those who cannot adapt to complex and dynamic society. As the computing devices become smarter, the mental health of humans become a bigger problem. The cost of health, education and civilian protection will not go down, but up.
This is not new, but following a trend that started thousands of years ago when cities were invented.
This problem will be the seed out of which a danger will arise threatening the existence of the whole civilisation as there will be those who will use the ignorant and the desperate to commit crimes, a practice the evil born in wealthy mediums has known for a long time. Anger makes a very good recruiting agent for all the wrong reasons.
Today Moody downgraded Japan’s outlook from stable to negative. I am not sure how many in the market are shocked by this news. Not many, I suppose. An interview on Bloomberg with a journalist from Kuala Lumpur was not much concerned with the news “shock” factor. However, the journalist looked a bit worried and he particularly picked on the tone in the language Moody used to announce the downgrade. In his view the word “inexorable” stands out and that is a strong warning signal. Japan is moving towards a moment of reckoning with its huge debt.
The interesting part of the interview was about why Japan cannot fix this problem, at least in the current political climate. For one, Japan is ageing fast. Many politicians are old and they will never adopt measures to hurt themselves and the ones closed to them and force measures that are going to drastically change the system.
And this brings me to a point that I thought of yesterday whilst pondering about a recent report on Japanese students’ apathy towards international studies. Japan has one of the most inflexible immigration policies in the developed world. Combine this with the negative population growth and the huge debt and the unwillingness to reform the political system and you get a lethal recipe. Stagnation is the word that comes to mind.
Japan had a vibrant economy for many decades after the Second World War. Starting from a very low level Japan grew at rapid pace to become the second largest economy in the world and leaders in many top industries. The Japanese worked very hard and had a dedication to discipline. The school system was designed with ambition to become the best system in the world that produces students with superior results in all universally accepted indicators.
Preparing students for a successful life, which sometime ago was defined as lifetime employment at the best Japanese companies, was demanding big sacrifices from parents and children alike. Studying during extra curriculum activities became the norm. A TV documentary caused consternation a few years ago in Europe and US when it showed young children studying all day until 10pm struggling to cope in a very competitive and stressful environment.
The results were impressive from the business point of view. Students who survived the tough school environment and excelled in their field were selected to become the leaders of tomorrow. The Keiretsu system helped their members to make sure they prosper and their workers had secure jobs for life.
All went well until the real estate bubble burst. Coincidently, at that time the world has entered the era of the internet and started to learn how to use the newly invented world wide web. The crash hit hard Japan because it came at a moment of demographic stagnation and the emergence of a new type of economy facilitated by the use of Internet. In the following years the deflation kept eroding the national wealth. The Keiretsu culture and the stagnating population level ensured that the deflationary period was to be extended for many years.
After a period of fast growth and population going through a hard schooling system, with extended deflation, high debt and almost zero immigration, what would Japanese society do and feel like? It is a question leaning on the soft side, I know. However, I think is an important one. Deflation is difficult to fight. It is slow and it spreads through many aspects of society influencing its behaviour. The question is about the background of the overall mood of the society.
In the new internet based economy, the term is a bit passé, but nevertheless useful in this context, the creative turmoil of Silicon Valley has started a global transformation with broad impact. This is the antithesis of rigidity. Creative entrepreneurship does not bode well with rigid schooling system. Challenging the norm has become the new norm. This is difficult to imprint into the Japanese disciplined system. This adds an extra challenge to its political leaders.
Japan has an obsession with its long term security. As an island nation, security has been a priority for a long time. With a strong culture, Japan has never embraced immigration like other nations did. Knowing that the ageing will become a social issue in a few years time, Japan is investing a lot of resources into developing robots that can be used in the household for all sorts of chores. It is interesting how many of the demonstrations run the scenario of helping old people, including robots carrying in their arms pensioners who have a high degree of immobility. The robots seem to be a solution for an ageing population that will face loneliness and a large debt burden in the future.
I wonder if in the long term the conservative tendency will not lead to a new period of isolation similar to Sakoku, the foreign relations policy initiated by Tokugawa started in 1633. In a business sense this does not seem plausible because Japan has many global companies, among the best in the world. However, these companies invest increasingly more overseas, especially in the emerging economies where the workforce is dynamic, hungry and creative. This trend could accelerate the isolation and strengthen the preference for maintaining a stable but rigid environment characterised by risk aversion and consequently limiting opportunities for growth.