New models

23.01.2012

06.40 hrs on the train journey to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Pooran Desai gives his thoughts on the event's topic – The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models.

Sue had bought a new radio alarm clock.  Just as predicted, I awoke to its gentle light, simulating dawn breaking, just before the radio kicked in. Five minutes later - not trusting new technology when we were booked to catch the Eurostar to Paris and a train from there to Zurich, where we would spend a night before catching the shuttle bus to Davos - the disconcerting blare of the alarm on my Blackberry sounded. It was much less civilised.  Sue had showed me how the new clock radio worked. The magic of new technology means that you don't switch it on and off in the usual way, but simply place your hand on the touch sensitive casing.  This is one, perhaps not very exciting example, of technological progress - but every week now I am flabbergasted by how our experience of reality is starting to exceed the bounds of our imagination.

I can't remember exactly when, but it was only a few years ago that we decoded the whole of the human genome which took a number of years at presumably great cost.  It was therefore with great surprise when just before Christmas I read that a company has launched a machine that will decode a person's DNA is one day at a cost of 1,000 dollars! Add to that 3D printing and talk of the creation of synthetic life and the possibilities boggle the mind. In his book, The Singularity (which I read at the end of last year at the recommendation of my friend, Nick Parker, Chairman of the Cleantech Group, the world’s largest network for green investment) inventor and successful entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, describes how the exponential rate of technological progress means we are exceeding the limits of what we thought possible, including limits of our biology. Well, if it isn’t an everyday reality today it sure will be very soon.

Why am I writing about this on the train on the way to Davos? It is because we can scarcely imagine what our lives will be like five years from now.  All the assumptions we have held dear are under question. Just as the world order is changing - with the rise of China and India in particular, as resource scarcity , climate change and global overpopulation come into play - the theme of this year's World Economic Forum is 'The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models. As Klaus Schwab points out, it is not so much about managing the future, but looking at opportunities to influence it. Even confronted with the facts of environmental degradation, things are moving so fast there seems no time for doom and gloom. Nothing could be more exciting than the age in which we find ourselves – provided, that is, we put aside all our preconceptions. I personally had never imagined these new vistas might open up in our lifetime - but the human brain is not good at comprehending the exponential, the so-called 'hockey stick' graph. The only advice I can think of (to give myself, as much as anyone else): Enjoy the ride!

For Sue and me, it will be our first World Economic Forum, but it promises to be a good one.


Pooran Desai is co-founder and International Director of One Planet Communities at BioRegional

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