The BINC Manifesto – An Emerging Technology Driven Global Transition?
A short introduction to the challenges we are up against, not only as nation states, organizations and individuals but as a species.
By Lene Rachel Andersen, economist, futurist & philosopher, Next Scandinavia, in 2015 research associate at University of Southern Denmark
and Steen Rasmussen, professor in physics, University of Southern Denmark & external research professor, Santa Fe Institute, USA (http://flint.sdu.dk/)
Our understanding of the postindustrial world is inadequate. The traditional job market is crumbling and so is the nation state. Solid economic and political structures of the past are deteriorating under the current technological development. In order for politics to be meaningful and for human rights and democracy to survive and thrive, we need to understand the greater patterns in this development.
Digital products and services, social media, mobile apps, etc., have changed our everyday lives in less than a decade. In fact, most of us use technologies on a daily basis that were wild science fiction 40-50 years ago when computer science first became established in Western universities. For most citizens and policymakers, the dramatic impact of the still exponentially growing information and communication technologies (ICT) is only starting to become apparent.
Today, a convergence between the bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- (BINC)(1) technologies develops the living and intelligent technologies of tomorrow. We are entering the BINC Age. All developed countries participate in the making of the BINC technologies and they are about to take off like computer science did a little more than a generation ago, and this development is enhanced by the already implemented ICT.
This is important, because democracy, politics, rule of law, human rights, the market economy, capitalism, the creation of money, the banking system, and even our schools and local communities are products of the industrial age and its technologies. As individuals we have learned to navigate the industrial economy and as societies we can somewhat control and define it with politics and legislation. But nobody has a clue what the global economy is going to look like in the postindustrial age of the BINC technologies.
The industrial economy grew out of austerity and a need for more of everything; more was simply better. Increased productivity satisfied real demands and brought cheaper goods, it also allowed for a development that meant fewer hard jobs, more fun and interesting jobs, shorter work hours, and longer vacations.
The BINC economy grows out of a situation where, in the richest parts of the world, more is not better. We are already sick from over-eating. Increased productivity may lead to cheaper goods but few need more, instead we just turn the Earth’s resources into trash faster and we must consume in order to stay employed.
The BINC technologies allow for a world of plenty with virtually no waste. Some 2-5% of the population will be able to develop, produce and distribute what everybody needs. It is a world where everybody could have their own personal fabricator, just like we have personal computers and printers at home today. We could design or download the code for goods we need and produce almost anything at home. As these goods have life-like properties most can be recycled; technology becomes like biology and part of the natural cycles in nature.
(1) In the sciencetific community, these new technologies are sometimes referred to as NBIC, and not BINC. However, having presented these technologies to thousands of lay-people, in our experience people both connect to and remember the word “BINC” and it allows us to talk about the coming BINC Age with non-scientists in a way that engages people.
Lessons from History
Throughout history, whenever new technologies have changed the means of production and communication they have transformed societies and cultures (see summary table below). We therefor anticipate that due to the development in the BINC technologies, societies globally face a transformation that could be as drastic as the transformation from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age or from the pre-scientific, agricultural society to the Industrial Age. Such changes redefine the very structures and workings of economy, governance, sovereignty of nation states, balances of power, environment, the human condition, religion, and much more. This time, however, these major changes will not happen over centuries as was the case with the transition from, say, the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. It may happen within a generation or two.
What we see happening
Within and between the nations we see indicators of this current transition. Among these indicators are the working poor, lack of privacy due to abuse of big data, challenges concerning secure and sustainable energy systems, international taxation issues regarding corporations, a rapidly growing and mainly speculative financial market, increased consumption of psycho-pharmaceuticals, and a radically transforming and diminishing job market mainly due to automation and digitization. The latter concerns not only blue-collar jobs, but also white-collar jobs. An even more worrying indicator is the number of people in the West who are attracted to fundamentalist religion and nationalist movements in search for simple answers to the complex changes.
The components that make up this critical transformation from the Industrial to the BINC Age are concrete and clear and can be grouped into four major areas: (i) the digital economy, (ii) the erosion of the middle-class and the nation state, (iii) the interconnectedness of the entire globe, and (iv) the narratives we use to make sense of the world. Please note that these four areas are not aligned along the traditional categories: technology, economy, environment, legal framework, or cultural narrative etc.; their interaction creates the global transition. We have summarized the development in 18 documented theses, which we believe make the transformation pattern easier to see.
The digital economy is a fundamentally different kind of economy:
- 1. Digital products and services represent an increasing part of the value creation.
- 2. Only the first digital unit requires capital, land and labor, the following copies are practically free of cost. This means profit without production and no need for employees.
- 3. Digital products have no transportation costs, they are global from the moment they are released, so the best product wins globally.
- 4. Many apps become better as more and more people who use them because their functionality is based on big data generated by the users. There is no market for the second best; winner takes all.
- 5. The digital economy (i.e. automation) removes more jobs than it creates. Increased global demand on highly skilled individuals, while competition for the still fewer available low-grade jobs does not raise wages but only working hours and employment insecurity.
In the developed economies the middle class is crumbling. This will eventually happen in the rest of the world too; as the jobs disappear, the middle class is getting poorer and the rich are getting wealthier and dominate the political power while the nation state is losing its sovereignty:
- 6. There is greater return on investment in speculation than in production, you become more wealthy from being rich than from working.
- 7. Information, humans and money can travel freely across national borders. The world is increasingly changing from some 200 national economies to one global economy for which there is no common rule of law. On the individual level, everybody participates in one global job market. The national economies are becoming communicating vessels regarding prices, wages and workers’ rights.
- 8. Businesses move to places where they don’t need to pay taxes. Nation states compete among each other to provide the lowest taxes; it is everybody’s race to the bottom.
- 9. The middle class can no longer provide the tax revenue needed to secure good nation state governance.
- 10. Economic elites are taking over the political power and democracy is deteriorating. Economic and hence political power gets concentrated on still fewer hands.
- 11. Big business, governments and international intelligence use the digital infrastructure to access private data from the citizens, which means loss of freedom and power of the citizens.
The global interconnectedness also means global interdependency and that no nation state can solve any of the challenges on their own:
- 12. Local consumption generates global warming, e.g. consumption in San Francisco generates CO2 emission in China where the products are manufactured. There is only one environment and as a species, we are in urgent need of a transition to a sustainable energy system.
- 13. The converging bio-, info-, nano- and cogno- (BINC) technologies will transform the world faster than ever before into something we have difficulties imagining as the pace of these new inventions increases exponentially.
- 14. The global population continues to grow and is predicted to reach 9 billion around 2050, accompanied by a wide range of poverty-, health- and migration issues.
- 15. It becomes increasingly challenging to align radically different economic, cultural and governance structures and get them to match, cooperate and embrace each other, i.e. traditional Arabic, industrial Russian and digitized Scandinavian. The levels of complexity among them do not match and neither do the narratives used to explain the workings of the world.
- 16. There are no global institutions or other structures in place that can handle this transformation, nor do we have the necessary economic theories or legal frameworks.
It becomes harder to make sense of the world as the technological development is out-maneuvering politics while changing the workings of the economy and society both nationally and globally.
- 17. The political spectrum of left and right used to be about capital interests, now it is about emotions. Left and Right emerged from the industrial society and the struggle for power between workers and capital. Today, in the West, from left to right there is consensus about the open society, liberal democracy, market economy, and some measure of public welfare; there may be disagreements about, for instance, specific levels of taxation or social benefits but overall, there is systemic agreement about the model. As a result, voters are uniting along completely different lines; political parties are increasingly attracting members and voters according to psychological and emotional composition, and less economic interests.
- 18. Postmodern deconstruction, globalization and the abovementioned erosion of the left-right political spectrum are undermining our grand narratives about reality, which used to keep societies together, i.e. religion, nation and class. As they lose their explanatory power, they are re-discovered in totalitarian form.
- 19. The only grand narrative that has survived is “the market”, which provides consumer goods efficiently but which is incapable of solving any of the above problems. In fact, it fuels them.
To preserve sustainable economies, human dignity, Human Rights, democracy, and social calm these issues must be taken to the forefront of practical national and international politics. In a world were knowledge is viewed as an indisputable asset for economic growth, this same knowledge must be put to work to understand the current transformation of the global economy and community and to address and develop sustainable and desirable paths forwards. A continued belief in the narrative that a free market and the nation state will resolve our current dilemmas is naïve. We need to recognize reality as it is and not as it once was.
The BINC Age offers us the opportunity of meaningful work, leisure time, prosperity, and freedom for all. With the right political, legal and economic structures and institutions and with the best possible implementation of the BINC technologies, we can shape the world to meet our highest hopes. We have to develop visions for inclusive and sustainable societies, while recognizing how the new technologies are in the process of changing the very foundation of the human condition. If we are wise, we can use the emerging BINC transition to move everybody beyond austerity and into a world of plenty. However, apathy could allow the BINC transition to bring our world into a new dark age, a dystopia controlled by a tiny elite.
Printed version of the BINC Manifesto: Det Andersenske Forlag, ISBN 978-87-92240-62-0 / 9788792240620
The BINC Manifesto posted at Center for Fundamental Living Technolgy (FLinT)
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