Former Vice President Al Gore stopped by South By Southwest Interactive Sunday to talk about the future.
But really. Gore’s new book is titled “The Future,” and tackles what he calls the “six drivers of global change.” The issues were discussed in his appropriately named panel, “Al Gore on the Future.” Here is an abridged version of what Gore thinks the future holds, from extreme environmental damage to terrifying farm animal/arachnid hybrids.
1. Emergence of Earth Inc.
Gore said the world is in a new stage of economic globalization with much tighter interconnectedness across all borders. This will affect labor, capital and natural resources. For example, not only do people have to worry about their jobs being outsourced, they could also be replaced by machines, which Gore calls “robosourcing.” For example, there is now an algorithm that allows databases to be turned into a news story. A casual reader cannot distinguish the algorithm’s story from one written by a human reporter (which is really bad news for aspiring journalists like myself).
2. Emergence of the Global Mind
Billions of people around the world, including their thoughts and feelings, are connected to each other through increasingly intelligent devices, Gore said. There are programs on mobile devices and computers designed to track peoples’ movements on the Internet. Gore referenced school districts in Texas where students are required to wear RFID chips. Another example of the “emergence of the Global Mind” is the real-time chat app SnapChat. Its appeal is that it reduces the risk of a permanent digital record.
3. Dramatic changes in world political, economic and military power
China will shortly surpass the United States as the largest economy. Economic power will be dispersed to emergent countries around the world. Gore said the size of economies in developing countries is now larger than those in the advanced industrial world. He said these power relationships need to be re-sorted, and feels strongly that “the United States remains the only nation that can provide the kind of leadership the world needs more than ever.” Which is too bad, because then he went on to say that Congress is “utterly and completely incapable” of passing any reform of significant value.
Progress and growth are pretty much the same thing, Gore said. He than gave a brief refresher course for everyone about Gross Domestic Product, from which all corporate business accounting is derived. Economist Simon Kuznets created the metric GDP in 1937, but told the nation not to use GDP as a guide for economic policy because it leaves out important negative externalities, like pollution, and positive ones, like the research and development of science and culture. The issue with GDP is when there’s a huge increase in national income 99 percent of it goes to the top one percent of the population.
“We are using a compass to that points straight of the edge of a cliff, which is an extremely serious problem,” Gore said.
5. Reinvention of Life and Death
“We are now acquiring the ability to change the fabric of nature and makeup of all solid matters on an atomic basis,” Gore said.
He then introduced the spider goat, and reinforced my belief that science is scary. Genetic engineers have taken the genes from orb-weaving spiders and spliced them into goat DNA. Spider goats look like normal goats except they secrete spider silk from their udders along with milk. The trait is then passed along to their children, so now there are herds of spider goats out there. Gore reassured everyone that spider goats and other freaky scientific advancements are creepy, not scary. *
“It is not necessarily a bad thing,” Gore said. “There’s a difference between scary and creepy. Creepy is not fear, creepy is pre-fear. It’s like something is going on and you don’t know what it is.”
6. The Edge
Gore spoke about global warming during the entirety of his panel, but talked about it one more time in detail for good measure. Gore said humans are using the atmosphere as a sewer. Gore said he was delivering a message that comes from the global scientific community.
“We’ve filled (the atmosphere) up with enough pollution to trap enough heat energy to equal the energy released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every single day,” Gore said.
“Every global national academy of science” agrees with Gore’s sentiment, he said. You can find some contrarians, but even they are changing their minds. Gore reminded the audience that Mother Nature ultimately has the most powerful voice in this debate.
So there you have it. The future of the world according to Al Gore.
*Author’s note: Spider goats still sound really scary to me.