I'm an optimist. So writing about a bleak future is wholly uncharacteristic. My hope, like anyone else who is concerned about the state of the world, is that by addressing potential realities--we might escape the inevitable.
Three leading professors have been urging us to wake up and smell the coffee. When we do take a moment to see the signals, it's clear that if we don't deliberately change our course, everything is not going to be alright.
In over 26 city jails in Los Angeles County, prisoners can pay to upgrade their cells and secure more attractive digs (complete with a flat-screen TV). These 'pay-to-stay' jails are open to offenders who can afford to buy themselves a safer and more comfortable stay.
Fancy earning an easy $50 bucks? Simply hop over to a blood donor clinic and drop off some of your red juice. Compensation is set according to the volume of plasma you're able to donate. At private American clinics, you can donate twice a week, which lets you double your earnings. Be careful not to faint.
Moral corruption is seeping into every facet of our social life. Harvard Law professor Michael Sandel has been crusading for all of us to seriously think (and then act if so inclined) on the controversial ways that money has influenced us. Sandel continues to fuel a public conversation on the role that markets play in our society.
Are we going to continue to marketize society or take action to protect it from being commodified? The answer, it seems, rests with us examining or re-examining our values.
Our Current Oligopoly
A whole heap of the world's wealth is tied up with a select few companies. NYU Stern Professor Scott Galloway calls these key holders "the Four" horseman: Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. Their combined market capitalization is the same as the GDP of France ($2.8 trillion).
The distribution of wealth (and that's not just money--but the power, resources, influence, and more that comes with it) is currently locked up within the walls of these mega-corporations. As they bulldoze their way to more job destruction, tax avoidance, and dubious penetration of our minds, hearts, guts, and genitalia - they dangle the keys before our eyes.
This time around, market forces are not going to re-balance things. While these tech giants gobble up the world we can look on helplessly with jaws dropped, or demand their long overdue break-up.
In a popular episode of Black Mirror, everything is recorded all the time. This is not implausible. With our smartphones and huge advancements in surveillance, everything we do could be rewound and viewed in "redos."
Hebrew University professor Yuval Harari cautions that it's not so much about our social media habits (and brands peddling stuff we don't want, or don't even know we want). It's about biometric data - it's direct access to our minds vis-a-vis biohacking. So the question is really: who will own this data, and how do we regulate it?
In the 20th century, democracy trumped dictatorships because the governing system was better at processing data and making decisions. However, in the 21st century, technological conditions (namely artificial intelligence) "might swing the pendulum in the opposite direction" warns Harari.
In this scenario, it may be more efficient to centralize the process of information rather than distribute it. The result would be more concentrated decision-making and power, with a select few digital dictators coming out on top. Indeed, it would make Orwell's Big Brother scenario feel like child's play.
The future is not already here, it's waiting to be created. We can look to guiding principles to help us navigate, but they can only go so far. Today, we all have a voice in the debate and can speak up. Our destiny depends on it.