We are living in the most extraordinary times in human history. Transformative forces are creating massive changes in virtually every domain, making the next few decades the most life-changing of all times. These immense transformative forces are creating tectonic shifts that will impact every aspect of our lives, from our work to our values, social contracts, and relationships.
Every assumption in the way we conduct our businesses and personal lives today is about to be challenged. Every form of human organization from government to corporations is about to be questioned. Every economic model and means of production we have ever established is about to be unsettled.
These changes can drive humanity forward to a better place, but the transition will likely be difficult. Change is often uncomfortable, and the power of these tectonic shifts will shake our foundations to the core. We must get ready to face these unprecedented disruptions with courage, faith, and compassion for those who will struggle to cross to the other side.
The future is unknown. These transformative forces will find accelerants and inhibitors that will determine their impact and the speed with which they will take place. The point is not to try to predict the future, but to recognize transformations that are unfolding and signaling possible outcomes.
Here are ten tectonic shifts that will profoundly impact humanity:
1. Linear to Exponential
Our experience with change has been predominantly linear. We are very comfortable with linear progressions because historically most of our observations have been linear. Almost everything that humanity has experienced has been within a day’s walk and has changed very slowly. For many centuries, life was essentially the same from one generation to the next, and change just followed a linear progression.
Consequently, when we encounter exponential growth, we struggle. According to Dr. Albert Bartlett, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” The challenge with exponential growth is that it can be deceiving. At first, the exponential curve is mostly flat and it seems like nothing is happening. Then, it hits an inflection point and the curve goes straight up, unexpectedly.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate the point. If you take a regular 8 ½ x 11 inches piece of paper and start folding it in half, you will double its thickness with each folding. You will be able to do this about 6 times and will end up with a piece of paper that is about one inch thick. Now imagine if you could fold the paper 50 times. How thick do you think the paper would get? Many people use a simple linear heuristic to estimate the thickness of the paper and guess about 10 inches. A few may perceive that the doubling of the thickness with each folding represents an exponential progression, but most likely still guess a figure that would be less than 1,000 feet. They are all very wrong. If you could fold the piece of paper 50 times its thickness would be the equivalent of the distance from the earth to the sun! This may be hard to believe, but it is a simple mathematical exercise that exemplifies the deceiving nature of exponential growth.
Our inability to comprehend the magnitude of the changes to come is due to the shortcomings of a linear mindset confronted with transformations that are driven by exponential technology platforms, such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Blockchain, Biotechnology, and others. Our linear mindset induces the misguided extrapolation of past and present conditions and trends as a heuristic to predict the future. Advances in information processing double every two years, an observation known as Moore’s Law, and are at the heart of the exponential technology growth that is bringing change at velocity and scale beyond anything we have ever experienced before.
The power of exponential technology platforms drives the next tectonic shift: Extraction to creation.
2. Extraction to Creation
Throughout history, we have extracted resources from the earth and human labor. Extraction has been the prevailing system of production where we take what we find in nature and harvest it to break down, process, and produce what we consume, namely food, energy, and materials.
This model of extraction resulted in the centralization of the system of production, accelerated by the economies of scale inherent within it. Given earth’s limited resources, we have created a scarcity mindset where the winner takes all. We have pushed this system to its limit but only recently started to recognize this limitation which manifests itself in inequality, social unrest, and environmental degradation.
We are now entering a new phase in human history marked by a system of production that is based on creation rather than extraction. The creation system of production is characterized by the ability to manipulate matter at a molecular level to produce everything that we consume. The building blocks, such as molecules, photons, electrons, and genes are widely available and can be combined through innovative processes to create new matter that can be used to our benefit at a very low cost.
This is only possible due to the convergence of the exponential platforms described above. For example, 3D Printing and nanotechnologies will allow us to manipulate matter, energy, and information to create materials and products that are stronger, lighter, and more flexible, building from the molecular level, with far greater efficiency. Another example is food production. We are starting to experience a shift from a model of extraction, where we grow plants and animals to break them down into the things we consume, to a model of creation, where foods are built up from precisely-designed molecules and cells. Precision Fermentation (PF) harnesses biology to create new sources of food. The DNA of a single plant or animal will be enough to create an unlimited quantity of protein.
There are numerous examples of how we are shifting from an extraction-based to a creation-based production system. Gene editing and stem cell treatments will revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases. Solar power, batteries, sensors, and AI will enable the usage of abundant energy sources that can be distributed efficiently, with demand predictively managed to match supply. For an in-depth discussion on this subject, please refer to the RethinkX Humanity report.
This creation-based production system will result in the next tectonic shift: Scarcity to abundance.
3. Scarcity to Abundance
The ability to create rather than extract is a paradigm shift that takes us from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. These creation-based systems driven by exponential technologies will create abundance that will fundamentally change the way we think about the economy and the meaning of work.
Abundance does not mean a life of luxury. It means providing all of humanity with the possibility of escaping the need to work for sustenance so that we become free to pursue higher purposes. In a world where technology-driven productivity creates abundance, the standard of living will increase for everyone, and basic human needs like food and shelter will be available at a low cost.
Our mindset and belief systems have created the social-economic systems that we know today. We come from an environment where there are not enough goods to satisfy the needs of all of humanity. This resulted in a scarcity mindset which in turn created a belief system that is based on the principles of extraction, exploitation, and hoarding of scarce resources. For centuries we have been concerned about accumulation, and our entire societal norms, culture, and behaviors incentivize accumulation and admiration of those able to accumulate the most. Our current economic system is based on a belief, expressed in the classic words of Gordon Gecko in the film Wall Street, that “greed is good.”
One could argue that human selfishness will always lead to a desire to accumulate, creating an unsolvable conundrum where there will always be those who have too much and those who don’t have enough. If this is true, no matter how much abundance we produce, humanity’s basic needs will never be completely met. But there is a compelling counterargument that contends that our desire to accumulate is a result of our scarcity mindset. We accumulate because our society admires such accumulation – we are fascinated by those with superior abilities to accumulate in a scarce environment.
But what happens when for the first time in history we can sustainably produce goods on demand without much effort? What happens when there is so much abundance that accumulation becomes an irrational, grotesque, repulsive behavior? In an abundant environment, anyone can accumulate. But the question is why. If society no longer thinks of accumulation as a demonstration of superior capabilities and accumulation is no longer admired but snubbed by society, will our selfish impulses compel us to continue accumulating, or will an abundant mindset completely change the way we think and behave?
It is very difficult to imagine a world of material abundance because we have never experienced it. But we do have other facets of our lives that are marked by abundance and that can be used to extrapolate what it would be like to live in an abundant world. For example, there is an abundant amount of air for us to breathe. We consume air without even thinking about it. The thought of hoarding or accumulating air is absurd, even though it is a vital necessity in our lives. Just imagine a world in which all the other necessities are as abundant as air. How would it change how we think about the world and our attitude towards work, how we spend our time, and how we relate to other human beings?
Abundance will not change human nature. The human desire for power, social status, and political influence will continue to impact the way we relate to one another and behave. But perhaps an abundance mindset will be impactful enough to change a few social-economic fundamentals. For instance, abundance will likely stimulate the next tectonic shift: Inflation to deflation.
4. Inflation to Deflation
In 2021 the United States experienced the highest rate of inflation in 40 years. The Federal Reserve has recently been printing money at unprecedented levels, inundating the financial system with dollars and driving inflation. Even when inflation is not reflected in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), it is felt in the rising price of assets. Recent monetary policy and market manipulation via Quantitative Easing (QE) are pushing long-term rates down, forcing financiers to speculate on assets such as corporate bonds, stocks, and real estate in search of higher returns, driving up asset prices and creating potential bubbles. Wealthy people who own these assets benefit from these price increases. Members of the middle and lower classes, on the other hand, see their dreams of homeownership slip away due to overinflated homes prices and struggle to save for retirement due to overvalued equity prices and low-yielding fixed income instruments.
Despite the current inflationary environment, we are at the dawn of a new era marked by unrelenting deflationary forces propelled by exponential technologies. The creation-based system of production combined with the productivity gains from automation will drive down the cost of our basic needs substantially, deflating the price of energy, food, transportation, education, housing, healthcare, and more.
Technology is redefining entire industries, creating business models that are increasingly relying on digitization of their operations and production processes. Anytime a business becomes digitized, it leverages the power of Moore’s Law and its corresponding cost reduction. For example, the first whole human genome sequencing cost roughly $1 billion in 2003. By 2006, the cost had decreased to $300,000. In 2016, the cost reached $1,000, and now the human genome can be sequenced for less than $300. That is the power of exponential growth and its corresponding deflationary power.
In a deflationary environment, the general cost of living decreases, allowing more families to enjoy a higher standard of living despite lower wages. As technology continues to impact every aspect of our lives, we should expect the overall cost of living to decrease dramatically, as long as governments let the deflationary forces run their course. However, it appears that, at least in the foreseeable future, inflation-inducing government spending will continue to play a significant role in the economy, counterbalancing technology-driven deflationary forces.
The search for solutions that render government-driven inflationary forces ineffective is one of the catalysts in the next tectonic shift: Centralization to decentralization.
5. Centralization to Decentralization
The shift from centralization to decentralization can be witnessed in many aspects of social, political, and economic life. The gig economy, ballot initiatives, open source, and cryptocurrencies are a few examples of this shift. Even within large centralized organizations, we are starting to see how decentralization is gaining traction in the form of small, autonomous teams that drive innovation initiatives. Decentralization can also be observed in terms of diversity of thought and lateral thinking, where ideas from disparate backgrounds and domains are a source of inspiration for solving problems.
Blockchain technologies are enabling innovative capabilities that support this tectonic shift. Blockchain enables several new decentralization ideas that have been flourishing in the last several years, such as cryptocurrencies, Decentralized Finance (DeFi), smart contracts, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO), and Non-Fungible-Tokens (NFTs).
Blockchain technologies can potentially disintermediate the financial system and limit the ability of central governments to manipulate currencies. The first manifestation of this concept was the invention of bitcoin. The significance of this invention is that for the first time in history, we have created a hard currency that is decentralized. The bitcoin protocol limits the creation of bitcoins to 21 million, preventing the debasing problem of fiat currencies. It also solves the Byzantine Generals problem which is how to achieve consensus and maintain the integrity of the protocol in a decentralized environment.
Since the creation of bitcoin – the first generation of cryptocurrencies – we have seen the advent of other cryptocurrencies with additional capabilities, such as smart contracts, and new consensus protocols. These innovations are attempting to decentralize authority, remove intermediaries that broker trust, and provide the guarantee of property rights. They distribute royalties to intellectual property owners, disintermediate transactions, and remove the power of centralized organizations such as traditional banks and publishers.
DeFi can potentially replace or supplement traditional monetary and banking systems, taking power away from centralized entities. DAOs attempt to create new forms of organizations based on protocol-driven governance processes where no single individual or group can unilaterally change the rules of the game, and where all participants benefit.
These are still early days and these concepts will continue to evolve and certainly find resistance by incumbents. Whether you are a crypto enthusiast or critic, the big picture to keep in mind is that we are moving in the direction of decentralized systems and organizations, and we are starting to see how technology can enable these decentralized constructs.
Decentralization conveyed by the gig economy supports the next tectonic shift: Employment to expressive works.
6. Employment to Expressive Works
Millions of Americans have recently left their jobs in search of purpose-driven endeavors, a movement known as “The Great Resignation.” Others have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. This is a rehearsal for the next wave of joblessness marked by technical unemployment. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and robotics will displace workers at rates never seen before. The implications are enormous. The identity-defining, work-centered life that we have grown accustomed to is about to be unsettled.
These technologies will continuously encroach on tasks that are currently performed by humans. It is tempting to think that technology will create more jobs and that the complementing force of technology will more than outweigh the displacement of jobs. While it may be true that technology will create more demand as it produces abundance, the reality is that as machines become more capable in many areas of economic activity, humans will become increasingly less capable in comparison, and the new tasks created from this additional demand will be performed by machines instead. Most of what we think of as work today will be performed by machines and will become commoditized.
Economists used to think that value was something fixed, like the production output from agriculture and manufacturing. But economists like Mariana Mazzucato are challenging that notion, and more people are starting to question preconceived notions of value. As automation commoditizes work and production, value will become a more fluid concept that accrues to human activities that reflect creativity and originality. We are already seeing this concept of relative value manifest itself in the form of NFTs. Digital objects are being sold at extraordinary prices. The value is not in the digital object itself, but in the social signaling, sense of community, and unique self-expression that the object signifies.
Entertainment will continue to be an important part of our lives as we are freed from the toil of labor due to automation and creation-based production systems and their consequent abundance. Adam Smith thought that opera singers, actors, dancers, and the like were frivolous and created no value for society. Today, many of our most highly paid professionals are entertainers: actors, musicians, athletes, and social media influencers. Creativity has moved to the heart of today’s internet-fueled “attention economy.” This movement towards human expressive works becoming more valuable relative to commoditized production will become more prevalent as machines encroach on all forms of work.
A unique characteristic of expressive works is that it takes time. We can’t rush or schedule inspiration. This is in drastic contrast to the way we think about time today, intersecting the next tectonic shift: High time preference to low time preference.
7. High Time Preference to Low Time Preference
In economics, time preference is the concept that people prefer goods available for use at the present over goods becoming available at some time in the future. For example, future cash flows are reduced by a discount rate to arrive at the net present value because cash now is more valuable than cash in the future.
The concept of time preference comes to light in a hyperinflationary environment, as some countries have experienced. If the price of goods tomorrow will be much higher than the price of goods today, you are incentivized to spend all your money today. This shortens the timespan in which one operates. You don’t worry about saving for the future because those savings become less valuable than the benefits you can get today. In a hyperinflationary environment, people have a very high time preference.
We live in a world of short attention spans, busyness, and the desire for immediate gratification. We have accumulated an enormous amount of debt in order to obtain what we want now even if we can’t afford it. Dual income families have become the norm because it takes two full-time earners to keep up with the demands of modern life and to meet our cravings for immediate gratification. We live in an environment that incites high time preference driven by our materialistic scarcity mindset.
The migration to an abundance mindset and from employment to expressive works stimulates low time preference. Deflation is conducive to low time preference as it incentivizes savings and delayed gratification. This is because, in a deflationary environment, tomorrow’s dollars are more valuable than today’s. Busy work will be performed by machines and become commoditized, affording us the luxury of doing inspirational work that requires time. Increased life spans and healthier aging brought by advances in biotech and medicine will also contribute to this shift to a low time preference as we gain more time in the future.
Low time preference contributes to the next tectonic shift: Hedonism to Eudaimonism.
8. Hedonism to Eudaimonism
Hedonism is the practice of seeking pleasure as a source of happiness. It is also manifested in the form of immediate gratification. A high time preference lifestyle induces hedonism because when our timespan is short, we try to maximize happiness by engaging in pleasurable activities, even though we know that this happiness is not long-lasting. Hedonism is a form of escapism, a way to focus on present satisfaction and gratification while disregarding future consequences.
Eudaimonism, on the other hand, is a condition of well-being where happiness is achieved not by short-term pleasures, but by living a life that will lead to long-term joy and contentment. A low time preference is conducive to eudaimonism. So is a state of mind called flow. When we enter a flow state, six powerful neurotransmitters – norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, anandamide, and oxytocin – are released in varying sequence and concentrations, propelling us past the limits of our normal motivation.
In his book Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that “The [experience] lifts the course of life to another level… Alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control… When experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified.”
Once we find ourselves in a state of flow, the intrinsically rewarding nature of the experience compels us to continue working regardless of any extrinsic rewards that may be associated with the work. In other words, the work itself is its reward. Csikszentmihalyi explains it further: “In a culture supposedly ruled by the pursuit of money, power, prestige, and pleasure, it is surprising to find certain people who sacrifice all those goals for no apparent reason. By finding out why they are willing to give up material rewards for the elusive experience of performing enjoyable acts we learn something that will allow us to make everyday life more meaningful.” The science behind flow is quite compelling and will be fundamental to our wellbeing as we enter a new world order marked by joblessness.
This takes us to the next tectonic shift: Extrinsic Rewards to Purposeful Pursuits.
9. Extrinsic Rewards to Purposeful Pursuits
In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom is inspired to trick his friends into whitewashing his aunt’s fence for him by convincing them that this is such a captivating activity that they would have to pay him for the privilege of performing the task. From this story, Twain captures the following motivational principle: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
Based on Twain’s definition of work and play, if you provide an extrinsic reward to someone to perform a task that the person would naturally consider play, you may turn the play into work, and create just the opposite effect of what the reward intended to achieve. This weird effect, known as the Sawyer Effect, was confirmed in several studies that led to the conclusion that tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation.
Csikszentmihalyi’s interest in creativity led him to study play. What he found is that during play, most people enjoy what he calls “autotelic experiences” – from the Greek auto (self) and telos (goal or purpose). An autotelic experience is one in which the experience itself is its own reward. It is the type of experience that painters, musicians, and soccer players often enjoy. Interestingly, what Csikszentmihalyi discovered is that the highest, most satisfying experiences in people’s lives were autotelic, putting them in a state of flow. This discovery is critical in understanding our motivation to perform work in the future.
In algorithmic work – the type of activity where you follow a set of established instructions – extrinsic rewards work well. But this type of work will be mostly performed by AI and robots and will become commoditized. The activities that will remain available for humans to perform are the types of tasks that require inspiration, artistic expression, and originality. For these types of tasks, extrinsic rewards are not only ineffective, but they can also backfire due to the Sawyer effect.
Purpose will play a progressively higher weight as we consider how we occupy our time. As discussed, we are already seeing this being manifested in the “Great Resignation” movement. Increasingly, people are being more purposeful as they consider the jobs they want to do and the companies they want to work for. As work becomes automated and commoditized, our motivation will be driven by deeper reasons, leading to the pursuit of activities that are autotelic or that fulfill a higher purpose rather than for extrinsic rewards.
Seeking a purpose-driven life takes us to the next tectonic shift: Materialism to Spirituality.
10. Materialism to Spirituality
In modern times we tend to put a great amount of emphasis on our material needs. In western cultures in particular, there is an obsessive desire to find fulfillment through success, fame, money, power, prestige, and other worldly matters. We seem to have lost our ability to believe in the unseen, limiting our belief system to what can be explained by science. However, as people approach mid-life or encounter times of human calamities such as wars, or pandemics, we seem to become more open to accepting that there is a spiritual dimension to our existence.
Research suggests that faith leads to a happier life. This can be explained by the fact that pondering about the metaphysical or the transcendent removes the focus on the self. Major depressive disorder is associated with an obsessive focus on people’s own problems. Switching one’s focus from the self to the transcendent or metaphysical is in and of itself therapeutical regardless of what religion or belief one has. Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Duke University has done an exhaustive review of the benefits of religion, and what he has found is that religion and depression are negatively correlated. However, to obtain the benefits, one must engage and not just make a declaration of adherence to any particular faith or religion.
As we transition to a new world order where work is no longer a necessity and our basic needs are met through the productivity gains resulting from automation and the creation-based production system, we will have more time and energy, allowing us to focus less on our individualistic tendencies and more on the uniquely human desire to address the needs of the soul. Soulless machines will focus on the mundane – the things that don’t really matter – so that we humans can become free, rise above, and focus on what truly matters – the higher purposes sought by our souls.
We find ourselves in a period of turbulence, instability, and transition. But if we are resolute in our willingness to get past this transitory period by relinquishing policies, attitudes, and orthodoxies from our scarcity mindset, when we get to the other side, we will find abundance and purpose. We must find the pathway to cross this chasm.
Our fears and insecurities are at the root of what keeps us from getting there. Fear creates so much strife, division, and destruction in our lives. Change is uncomfortable, but once we understand and believe in what awaits us on the other side, perhaps we can let go of our fears.
The only thing to fear is fear itself.
As James Arbib and Tony Seba eloquently put it in Rethinking Humanity, “For the first time in history, we have not just the technological tools to make an incredible leap in societal capabilities, but the understanding and foresight to see what is coming. We have the choice, therefore, to avert disaster or not.”
Everything we need to advance humanity for the first time in history to a remarkable era where we can afford to spend our time seeking the higher purposes of our souls is within reach.
Let’s march forward in the faith that we will get there.
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 Mazzucato, M. (2020). The Value of Everything – Making & Taking in the Global Economy. Public Affairs, New York.
 O’Reilly, T. (2022). “Andy Warhol, Clay Christensen, and Vitalik Buterin walk into a bar.” O’Reilly Radar. https://www.oreilly.com/radar/andy-warhol-clay-christensen-and-vitalik-buterin-walk-into-a-bar/
 Brooks, A. (2021). “Searching for Spirituality.” The Art of Happiness. https://arthurbrooks.com/podcast/searching-for-spirituality/