I read “Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future” by Jai Ito and Jeff Howe over the holidays. Joi Ito is a director of the MIT Media Lab. The MIT Media Lab was created by Nicholas Negroponte in 1985 to build an environment where best ideas from schools of arts and science can be married to build next revolutionary discoveries.
This book narrates anecdotes of how technology revolutionized human development in past and how it continues to disrupt our lives today. As a consequence of Moor’s law and the Internet, technology is changing at an exponential speed. In such rapidly changing environments, this book provides key lessons that can be used to prepare us for uncertain future and paradigm shifts. In such exponential times, the invention of new technologies far outpaces the moral and ethical consequences of those breakthroughs. As technologies can be used for both good and bad, they offer both salvage and demise of humanity.
Here are primary principles that authors present to shape the new world:
Emergence over Authority:
The invention of Internet has facilitated communication and collaboration all over the world, where best ideas can be easily shared and exchanged. As a result, institutes that had central authorities are disintegrating. The authors present several examples of Emergence vs Authority such as Blogs vs Newspapers, Wikipedia vs Encyclopedia and central governments vs social networks based political revolutions.
In emergent systems, participants use simple rules and exchange information to build complex systems. Examples of emergent systems are ant colony, slime mold, brain, flocking birds, stock exchanges, biology, etc. The authoritarian systems enable incremental changes whereas emergent systems are more adoptive and foster non-linear progress.
Pull Over Push:
Push-based systems control their access whereas pull based use transparency and two-way communication and are able to cope with the crisis far better than push based systems. The authors recited an example of pull-based when meltdown of Fukushima nuclear plant occurred as a result of severe earthquake and fourteen feet tsunami. Joi and a team of volunteers across the world collaborate and built Geiger counters to take accurate readings of radiation. Other examples of pull based systems are crowdfunding and crowdsourcing.
Compasses over Maps:
A map has detailed knowledge and an optimal route whereas compass offers more autonomy and offer more flexibility in an unpredictable environment. The authors stated examples of the education system where standardized tests and curriculum deprive students of creativity and passion for learning. They used the culture of Media Lab as an illustration where the vision is based on compass heading. It provides a framework for individual progress leaving flexibility for interactions between groups.
Risk over Safety:
Traditional businesses are more risk averse where new ventures are thoroughly analyzed and they spend millions in studies. However, the cost of experimenting new ideas has drastically been reduced in today’s market and it offers much better return on investment.
Disobedience over Compliance:
Innovation requires creativity and breaking rules so a high-impact institutes require a culture of disobedience. It needs a culture where criticism and diverse ideas are embraced.
Practice over Theory:
Due to low-cost of launching new products, an innovating organization requires a culture where experiments are valued more than detailed planning.
Diversity over Ability:
The authors provided lessons from biochemistry companies that used gamers to design protein molecules. They used gamers with diverse background and those gamers had better pattern recognition than the biochemists with PhD. Most organizations believe in diversity, but most organizations lack diversity especially in high-tech companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google.
Resilience over Strength:
Resilient organizations are like the immune system that can successfully recover from failures. The authors gave examples of cyber-security where there are threats from various sources and successful defense requires treating security systems as biological systems and building strong immune systems against those security risks.
Systems over Objects:
Systems over objects emphasize understanding the connections between people, communities, and the environment. Instead of optimizing an individual or an organization, we need to optimize the impact of innovations on an entire natural system.
In this final chapter, authors gave examples AI and machine learning where deep learning and reinforced learning has allowed machines to beat human experts in Chess and Go. The authors cite “The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kuzweil, who predicts that we will have intelligent explosion by 2045. In this world, we will have to think about how humans and machines will work together.