Al Gore can be very convincing. An Inconvenient Truth was a hard-hitting explanation of and rallying cry against climate change. In The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, Gore has expanded his mission exponentially. As the promo copy puts it, “It’s An Inconvenient Truth for everything,” and even if the end result is dense and overwhelming, it’s still a fascinating read for anyone who’s trying to jockey for a profitable, productive — and sustainable — position over the next few decades.
It’s no spoiler to reveal that Gore divides the six forces shaping the future into two groups. Three are economic/political, and three are environmental/resource-related:
- Ever-increasing economic globalization with a new and different relationship to capital, labor, consumer markets and national governments.
- The worldwide digital communications, Internet, and computer revolutions that have led to the emergence of “the Global Mind.”
- The balance of global, political, economic and military power shifting from a U.S.-centered system to one with multiple emerging centers of power.
- A deeply flawed economic compass that’s leading us to unsustainable growth in consumption, pollution and depletion of the planet’s strategic resources.
- Genomic, biotechnology, neuroscience and life sciences revolutions that are radically transforming the fields of medicine, agriculture and molecular science.
- A radical disruption of the relationship between human beings and the earth’s ecosystems.
“There is no prior period of change that remotely resembles what humanity is about to experience,” says Gore, but overall, he takes neither an optimistic nor a pessimistic position, choosing instead to lay out the situation at hand, point to historical precedents and suggest possible solutions going forward.
Nothing interests Gore more than “the global scale” of all the change he sees. In fact, “global” seems to be his favorite word.
What people do — their work, their careers, their opportunities to exchange productive activity for income to meet essential human needs and provide a sense of well-being, security, honor, dignity, and a sense of belonging as a member of the community: this basic exchange at the center of our lives is now changing on a global scale and at a speed with no precedent in human history.
Of most interest to a tech-oriented reader is Gore’s take on “the global mind” and its consequences for employment and business, governmental organization, security and privacy. As he digs into tech, he sings the praises of nanotechnology and 3D printing, explains the benefits of Big Data while worrying about some of its ramifications for privacy, and notes that future conflicts between nations may be fought with bits and bytes rather than with bombs. How amazing, he says, that the U.S. military has more pilots in training to fly drones than planes.
Gore is a pragmatist and is always willing to follow the money to see how change impacts the lives of the majority of citizens.
In the past, improvements in economic efficiency have generally led to improvements in wages for the majority, but when the substitution of technology capital for labor creates the elimination of very large numbers of jobs, a much larger proportion of the gains go to those who provide the capital. The fundamental relationship between technology and employment is being transformed.
From there, he goes on to explain the history of the formation of corporations and to rail in a non-partisan way against their ever-growing financial power over the political process. It’s a powerful part of the book and perhaps more relevant to the world at the moment than some of his more pie-in-the-sky hopes and dreams for the environment.
Gore is the smartest man in the room, and this is a smart and painstakingly researched book, complete with a mind-boggling 150 pages of end notes so that no one can accuse him of making stuff up. You don’t have to read all of it, but you may want to read some of it, especially the parts that relate directly to your own personal concerns about what the future may hold for you and your profession.
The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, by Al Gore, hardcover, 558 pages. Published by Random House.