Union Square Ventures partner, Albert Wenger on technology, progress and the power of networks
Albert is a fascinating thinker. My favourite bit of this discussion comes at 12:15, when he is asked to ponder the future and technology’s place in it:
The thing I am most focused on right now is the future of how we organize ourselves and how we organize our social and economic activity; all this in the face of two very dramatic changes.
One – the Internet. It’s not like anything that has come before. For the first time it has put all of humanity in touch with each other instantaneously and for free. By free, I mean this call we are having right now is free on the margin.
Two – the incredible rate of progress (I disagree with Peter Thiel on this). It’s all around us and has resulted in our ability to supply anybody with food or facilities on the other side of the planet, for example. It does not exceed our technological capabilities and natural resources to provide living to everybody. If anything, that proves our capability for accelerating.
A lot of the old ways for how we think economic activities are organized are breaking down. The thing that has worked very well for us is some form of capitalism. There are subtle differences between capitalism in Germany and the US. The basic idea that individuals have some kind of work through which they generate income – they spend that income on things and experiences. The problem with that model is that we are getting good at getting machines to do what we were doing historically. This machine is not human – it is not a buyer or consumer of the things it produces.
These twin forces – being able to communicate, share ideas, organize ourselves, and the force of technological acceleration are enablers. These seem good for the long run, but disruptive in the short run. People who had a job don’t have a job, hence falling incomes, etc. My interests are in using the internet to use this technological force for positive outcomes. That’s more of an outline of the forces I think we should think about.
Another choice excerpt at 17:43, on Hans Rosling’s prediction that global population will top out at 10 billion, and how we might employ all those people in a technological era where machines eliminate jobs:
If you’ve got population decelerating, and if you’ve got technology accelerating, it’s very clear what these two curves do to each other.
We are going to have to figure out how to use the resources wisely for all these people and stay above global warming. The social challenge would be around what we spend our time on; I think that will be the biggest challenge. I do think there are positive forces such as cultural production – ways to undo some of the damage we have done to the environment. Fundamentally though, our belief in the fact that we will strive to consume more, own more and have more seems broken.
Albert’s productivity hacks and habits are also worth taking in.