Forget AI. It means absolutely nothing

Forget AI. It means absolutely nothing

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. You really should forget about ‘artificial intelligence’. Well, at least the term, as it is meaningless and often leads to confusion. It would, however, be unwise to neglect the technology itself. After all, the current development of AI technologies is bringing us ever more ways of improving our lives, as well as opening up new and exciting commercial and social opportunities. Indeed, many companies thrive on helping businesses introduce such new technological capabilities.

AI.com

That being said, though, I still believe that the term ‘artificial intelligence’ (or simply ‘AI’) says very little. Over the past couple of years, the term has been so overused that the hype is reminding us more and more of the dot-com boom in the late ’90s. The problem back then was that many companies and opportunists were making exaggerated claims about what technologies can really do, and it seems that this same feeling is in the air now with AI.

Not long ago, lots of executives were talking about ‘big data’ in their earnings calls so as to spark investors’ interest. Lately, though, AI has become the new buzzword to create excitement. I vividly remember that, at the height of the ‘dot-bomb’ boom, any company that added .com to the end of its name signaled upcoming corporate renewals or that they were en route to exploring new growth prospects.

In the Internet gold rush, there emerged a substantial number of new e-commerce businesses that were poised to unseat traditional incumbents, only to witness their own demise. “AI” now seems to be what “e-commerce” was once in the past. I am now seeing many AI startups claim that they are ready to help their clients build fully integrated AI capabilities when, in fact, they mainly only come up with proof of concepts and don’t have much to show beyond that (often due to lack of experience or even the necessary ability and knowledge for full implementation).

There is no I in AI

In fact, ever since the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first used by John McCarthy in 1956, when he held the first academic conference on the subject, the term has been misleading. Just ask yourself, what does ‘intelligence’ mean? You may associate intelligence with the following: logic, understanding, self-awareness, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity, problem-solving and learning. However, with the exception of the last two concepts, machines arguably cannot achieve any of these things.

Sure, machines can solve problems. But at the moment they can only solve well-defined problems. The level of intelligence of machines right now is mostly good for helping with automation – taking over the most time-consuming, repetitive and labour-intensive tasks, such as standard document reading for onboarding new customers.

The term ‘machine learning’, on the other hand, is a misnomer. Current technologies in use in deep learning do not mean that machines can learn like human beings can. They often ‘learn’ by gradually improving their ability and accuracy so that, as more data is fed into them, they guess the right answer with increasing frequency. Through such training, they can come to recognise pictures, but they will never understand what they are looking at, let alone the context. Machines can, at times, guess the right words to complete a sentence to a fairly accurate degree, but they never understand what the words or sentence actually mean.

Just consider this famous formula: king – man + woman = queen. Computers can figure out the ‘meaning’ of a sentence by knowing the relationship between the concepts of king and queen or man and woman. But the computer still hasn’t got a clue what royalty or gender are.

On this basis, in an upcoming book with my colleagues Mark Esposito and Danny Goh, we argue that there is simply no intelligence in artificial intelligence. Some machines and computers may be smart and excel in undertaking a single task superbly, but they are certainly not intelligent. For the moment at least, AI is much more of a mindless robot and much less a thinking machine.

“There is simply no intelligence in artificial intelligence”.

Buyers beware

I realise that I may sound pedantic and that this is all a matter of semantics. After all, what’s the big deal with using a term that is broad and telling, but that everyone can understand? “Policymakers don’t read the scientific literature, but they do read the clickbait that goes around,” said Zachary Lipton at a MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference. He warns that if they cannot separate hype from reality, it can lead them to put too much faith in algorithms governing things like autonomous vehicles and clinical diagnoses. It is necessary to have a good understanding of the technologies and perhaps, more importantly, their limitations.

For instance, a fundamental limitation of AI that doesn’t get talked about often enough is what happens if a model that is trained with a set of data collected in the past and yet the real world has changed? (Think driverless cars). How can governments get the policy and regulations right if they are not well-informed? How do voters make the right decisions if they can separate facts from fake news? (Think referendum).

The same applies to companies. With more and more executives saying that they intend to use AI to run this and that, we risk seeing AI-related technologies being turned into hyperbole and hearing many false promises. A telling illustration has shown that merely the announcement of pivoting to blockchain, an emerging technology that still has a long way to go, can lead share price to skyrocket. Just as important, if companies are unable to see the limitations of these technologies, they can potentially put technologies on the wrong paths in terms of business practices. In addition, if we don’t know better, we will be less able to fend off a widening mix of dodgy AI products and services that are at best useless and at worst harmful. Indeed, it has been observed that there is a growing number of unscrupulous business outfits that are happy to sell AI-related myths in exchange for profit.

Whereas there may be no intelligence in AI, it certainly exists among us humans. It is time for us to use it.

Written by our professor Terence Tse

Which Path Are You Walking? – Part II

Which Path Are You Walking? – Part II

This is a world of many masters! There are webmasters, harbor masters and gang masters. And we all remember our Headmaster! You can spend years at University and become a master of your chosen subject, and graduate with your Masters Degree. You can serve an apprenticeship and become a Master Craftsman. And you can serve your ‘discipleship’ and eventually become known as a Spiritual Master. However, if the Spiritual Master is a true master, they would be unlikely to allow others to give them such a title. They would probably shun all titles as it easily becomes another false identity and therefore a contradiction to authentic spiritual teaching and practice, the core of which includes realizing that a ‘title’ is not what you are!

Not so long ago, we explored the path that the majority of us find ourselves walking for large parts of our day, if not our life i.e. the path of the slave. In essence it means an absence of true inner freedom where freedom is lost when the ‘essential self’ attaches to something or someone and, as a consequence, becomes ‘emotionally affected’ when something happens to that something or someone. The result is always some form of emotional disturbance and therefore suffering. However, within the culture in which we are raised we learn that this is natural and OK, and we have an industry called marketing, dedicated to helping us create and sustain our attachments! Our life is filled with emotional ups and downs, highs and lows, and we come to believe that that is what life is about, and seldom inquire into whether that is true or not, or that perhaps there may be another way to ‘do life’.

At first glance it can seem that detachment and the absence of neediness must render us cold, uncaring and living a reclusive, dull, flat life. However if you do ask any spiritual master, if you do decide to explore almost all spiritual wisdom, they all affirm that the pathway to real human happiness, not the happiness that is often confused with excitement, can only be walked when there is non-attachment and therefore selflessness. Perhaps we give ourselves a small reminder of this when at least once a year we do much giving and only a little receiving. It is then that we refresh and affirm our awareness that the deepest satisfaction in life is in the giving and not the taking. This has, at its heart, the shift from ‘holding on’ (attachment) to ‘letting go’ (detachment).

Even our current so called economic and political ‘masters’ at this time are articulating the underlying reason for our current financial crisis and its ripple effects is a combination of acquisitiveness, greed and attachment. One of the most obvious signs that we are walking the highway of the slave is debt.

And so to the Path of the Master and the way back to true freedom, real happiness and what most of us seek… peace of mind. After a lifetime of slavery it’s not an easy path to see never mind walk. But then who said this grand adventure we call life was going to be easy? The path of the master, which really means the path of the ‘self master’, begins and ends with determination.

The master has realized their life is entirely DETERMINED by them, their internal destiny (state of consciousness) and external destiny (worldly circumstances) is in their own hands. They have realized the only real enemy in life is their own ego, and that the ego takes birth the moment the self forgets its real identity and identifies with what it is not i.e. things, titles, people, places, beliefs etc. So after a lifetime of creating the habit of ‘false identification’ the master practices DISIDENTIFICATION. In doing so they are able to remain DETACHED because they know that only then is their energy, their awareness and attention, their intellect, completely free to practice the inner skill of DISCERNMENT without distraction, because every day they have to make high quality DECISIONS that will determine the DIRECTION of their and perhaps others lives. And because they are not distracted by any attachments they are able to be consistently DETERMINED to follow through on every decision and… ‘make it so’!

DETERMINED

In many ways living a conscious life cannot begin until you fully realize that your destiny is in your hands. This sounds obvious but as long as there is the thought or feeling that you are a victim in any way, at any time, it means you have not fully realized and empowered your self to take full responsibility for your destiny. Most think of destiny as something that is external and to do with some location, a position and perhaps some achievement in the future. But this is secondary. Your primary destiny is to do with your state of consciousness, your state of being, the quality of your thoughts and feelings right here and right now. If they are negative in any way, and you are interested in being the master of your own creation, you will look for the cause of your uncomfortable thoughts/feelings and if you are prepared to look deeply enough you will always find the root cause is misidentification.

DISIDENTIFICATION

The most common mistake we all learn to make is to lose our sense of identity in something that we are not. It’s just that we don’t connect misidentification with our stress, our discomforts and our unhappiness,whatever form they may take. Our friends in marketing however, spend much of their lives encouraging us while making it as easy as possible for us to identify with something that we are not. This can be an object, a smell, a place or just a brand. But what happens then? Perhaps an easy example is in sport. Every weekend hundreds of thousands of mature adults will go and watch their team. When the other team scores they are sad i.e. unhappy, and when their team scores they become excited, believing they are happy. Why? Because their self identity is lost in the team. They are attached to and identified with their team. And the result is a swing in their emotions from sadness to excitement, where the excitement is confused with happiness. But it’s not real happiness, it’s excitement. And that is energy draining, not life enhancing.However we don’t realize the inner mechanisms at play and we come to believe all this is normal and natural. Therefore we become happy being unhappy, happy to be excited and drained, without being aware that we are creating an‘emotional addiction’ within our self. It’s not long until we crave the next game or the next purchase! The emotions become our drugs and we can’t wait for our next hit. All because we attach to and identify with something we are not.This of course happens with many other things including people, places and positions. Misidentification is our deepest habit, and therefore a challenging habit to ‘interrupt’ and drop. One of the first signs that you are in the presence of a self-master is a total absence of any ‘emotional reaction’ and the presence of true love. For they know, not only what they are, but what they are not!

DETACHMENT

In stepping back and ceasing to identify with what we are not, we are essentially detached. This is often confused with a cold and uncaring approach to life. It is sometimes interpreted as a form of avoid anceand a refusal to engage. But lets say a friend has had a ‘run in’ with their boss and they are angry at what their boss said. You are their friend so they come to you and it’s as if all their anger is in a little brown bag and they want you to look into the bag, because that’s what friends do…right! So you listen to their story and how they got so angry and of course you agree with them and become angry with them. Because that’s what friends are for …right? In fact you become even angrier than them, and feel you want to go and ‘sort out’their boss. Because that’s what friends are for … right! This of course is like the fire engine arriving at the fire and instead of water coming out of the hose petrol comes out, and you both go up in the flames of anger together. So what do real friends do? They don’t add fire to fire, they don’t add to the suffering of the other, neither do they walk away and avoid listening. They remain detached but involved. This is an inner skill known as ‘detachedinvolvement’. And it simply means you listen to your friend without adding to their story, without judging any of the characters in the story or becoming‘emotionally’ involved in their story. And as you listen they calm down naturally and become centred again. And that is one of the practical applications of detachment. It is not an uncaring response but a moment when greater care can be created, offered and given. Whenever you practice detachment, or non-attachment or ‘standing back’ or letting go, you will notice the diminishment and eventual disappearance of your own emotion. And it’s only when there is no emotional disturbance (love is not an emotion) that your intellect (not your mind) is able to see clearly what is the most appropriate response in the situation. And there is the stability to deliver that response in reality.

DISCERNMENT

Like a third eye, it is your intellect that looks, sees and discerns what is the right way to be, the right thing to do, the right response to give in any given situation. But if the self is lost and misidentifying with what it is not, and therefore attached, there will be some kind of emotional upheaval. And that is like a ‘fog’ in front of the intellect. Like wearing glasses with frosted lenses, in the context of anger we sometimes call this frost the ‘red mist’. Why do you become angry? Because you have an image on your mind of how you would like someone to behave, and you have attached to and therefore identified with that image. And when they do something different you take it as a personal slight, and you generate anger towards them. But if you were not attached to and identified with that image, you would remain cool and able to connect with them with clarity, reason, care and wisdom. You would be able to respond more proactively. It’s an unfortunate fact that most of our intellects have been fogged over so often for so long by reactive emotions that there is almost a permanent frosting of our inner eye. After a while it’s too much like hard work to clear this fog so we let the intellect shut down. It becomes lazy or goes to sleep altogether, and we allow our emotions to shape our actions in the form of ‘reactions’, and no longer allow our inner wisdom and our values to inform the creation of our responses. The master sees this inner state of affairs and corrects the quality of their actions by eliminating emotional agitations from their inner repertoire. This is why the self-master spends time in silence, in meditation, and turns the gaps between their activities into quiet moments of contemplation. They do this because every day,perhaps hundreds of times a day they, like all of us, have to make decisions.

DECISIONS

The master has taken time and given attention to disentangling the previously assimilated beliefs of others from their own values and their own innate wisdom. In due course their ‘rational machinery’gradually becomes redundant as they cease to need to think things through.Instead they are able to invoke and allow their deeper feelings, the intuitions, to emerge from their inner wisdom. Just as the hand of an experienced sailor on the tiller of a ship can ‘feel’ through the tiller the currents beneath, so the master, with an undistracted (detached) awareness on the tiller of their intuition can ‘feel’ the currents of their intuitions deep within themselves. And as they receive and contemplate those ‘intuitions’ they learn to trust their ability to shape their decisions based on those intuitions. The decision creating process is refined over time. Purified of its false beliefs (e.g. I am a victim…others are responsible for my happiness etc) and self centered intentions, decision making eventually becomes a natural function of intuition, a natural flow of wisdom, which crystallizes into doing the right thing in the right place at the right moment.

DIRECTION

To the master the direction of their life ‘in the world’ is secondary to the direction of their energy, their attention and awareness, within themselves. They know that if their thoughts, attitudes and actions a realigned with the right intention and motivation, which in turn are aligned with the true nature of the self (love and truth) then every thing that ‘happens’, everything they may create in the world, will be of the highest quality. Where the path of the slave tends to be locked into ambition, achievement and acquisition for ones self in the world, all future focused, the masters path is free of such tensions between worldly success and failure, between have and have not, between now the then. The master knows that real wealth is already present within them and is concerned only to ‘gift’ that wealth in whatever way is appropriate in the moment. Thus the master is free of the desire to acquire the best, and free to give of their best. And as they do, they arises a faith that the outer direction of their life i.e. whatever comes to meet them on their path, will reflect the inner state of their consciousness i.e. the quality of the energy they give out.

As we walk the path of the slave we tend to blindly believe and go along with the prevailing culture. Stepping onto the path of our-self-mastery means we dig beneath to see and challenge the principles, values and beliefs of that culture. As you do what you discover is a self perpetuating system based on either believing you are something that you are not (misidentification) or aspiring to become something that you are not (ambition/desire that leads to misidentification). And while it ‘seems’ we have been living this way for as long as history can recall you will also notice it is the root of unhappiness, suffering, conflict and disease. And you may realize it is not a way of life but in many ways a way of non-living. Much depends on how deeply one looks and what one is ‘ready’ to see.

And yet, once seen, ‘the master’ sets out not to fix the system through resistance and revolution, for that only perpetuates it. The master understands that is futile, a distraction and ultimately unnecessary. Their intuition reminds them that all is as it is meant to be in all places at all times. They simply live their truth, they live authentically, within the system, within the prevailing culture, knowing that if the way they live is authentic, if it is aligned to the truth of what they are, then that alone will have an effect called ‘influence’ upon the system, upon the culture. And if there is still any fear that it may not have an ‘effect’ it is the presence of that fear that reminds them they are still stuck in a false sense of who they are. The master has not yet emerged from the slave.

Question: What sticks out most powerfully for you in all that you read above? And why do you think it struck you that way?

Reflection: Using that powerful idea/insight as a starting point, write it in the middle of a blank page and then jot down around it any related ideas/insights of your own that come to your mind in association. See where it leads you. See what realizations you can spark within yourself for yourself.

Action: What two things could you actually do (turn into behavior) from the above?

Written by our professor Mike George

Which Path Are You Walking? – Part I

Which Path Are You Walking? – Part I

Are you walking the right path? Some say there is a pathway through life that will take you to the right destination. Some call it a spiritual path based on self-realization. Others see it as a religious path based on faith, and a yet others say it is just a human path based on right values. Path in this sense implies there will be an arrival, a destination that is defined by the reward of freedom, happiness and goodness, and the recognition that you walked the ‘right’ path i.e. you lived your life the ‘right’ way.

And then there are some who say there is only ‘one’ right path. It’s their way or no way! They spend much time in attempting to convince others to follow in their footsteps, otherwise they say, “There will be trouble ahead”! And then there are those who say life has no path. They believe that ‘real’ life is simply living from day to day and from moment to moment. They say that life happens in a pathless land, so forget all about ‘finding your path’ and just get on with it… they say!

And then there are those who say that we are here to carve our own path, plow our own furrow, and like the white water behind a boat we leave our own unique wake. They are convinced there is no one right way, just the way you ‘create’ as you go. This ‘can’ sound ‘righter’ than the others as it seems to honor the two callings or imperatives already present within us all. First our creative capacity, whereby true creativity is based on how we live our life, which means how we respond to people and situations around us. The second is an innate awareness of what is true, of how to act and how to create the right actions in alignment with our truth. And when we act in alignment with our truth then the way forward opens up smoothly and we are in harmony with ourselves and with the world around us. Sometimes this is called ‘flow’. When we act against the current of what is true then there is a ‘jarring’, an awkwardness, things do not proceed smoothly, and we ‘feel’ something is not quite right.

The reality for most of us is that our day-to-day lives are filled with moments of discomfort at some level. We see obstacles in our way, have stressful feelings and occasional if not frequent waves of negative thoughts. These are signs that indicate we are not creating our way forward in the right direction or in the best way. It means our creativity is either distorted, disabled, deluded or disconnected from our truth. We are not responding with wisdom to the world around us. It also means we are most likely to be creating and walking the Path of the Slave. It is a common path that has seven essential steps, not necessarily always in this order, and not always all in the same day. See if this path is familiar to you. In essence it goes something like this.

Something or someone gets your ATTENTION. You become ATTRACTED and go towards the object/person of attraction. You then lose your self in the person/object, which means you are ABSORBED. This seems nice at the time, it seems normal as you enjoy the stimulated pleasure of the object/person, but it also means you are becoming ATTACHED. This will be signaled by a craving/desire for more! Some time later if something happens to the object/person, or access is denied, you become AGITATED with emotion. But instead of seeing the emotion as a signal that you are on the wrong path, you become ADDICTED to it and crave more of the objects/persons. And that means that at some stage you will have to ATONE, which simply means ‘pay the price’ for your attachment/addiction.

This is not only the Path of the Slave, you may also recognize it as the way to all suffering, whatever form the suffering may take. As you explore each step a little more closely you may also begin to see the nature of your miscreation.

ATTENTION

As a conscious being you have the capacity to focus and ‘concentrate’ your attention at all times.  When you allow your attention, which is essentially your self, to be distracted, you are not exercising your ‘power of concentration’, you are not aligned to the truth that it’s your job to focus your attention. This is why a loss of concentration is a signal for mental discomfort. The first and recurring choice throughout day-to-day living is what you give your attention to. Where your attention goes your energy flows. And today it seems our attention is easily ‘pulled’ and impressed by the world and its objects. Our attention is up for sale and we allow ourselves to be bribed.  We ‘pay’ with our attention and as a result don’t pay attention to the quality of what we attend to. We are easily led. Modern technology is screaming for us to attend to it, and it’s multi-media messages. Lesson: If you want to maintain conscious choice in your life, strengthen your ability to concentrate and focus your attention.

ATTRACTION

As a conscious being you are first and foremost an ‘attractor’. You are at your most ‘attractive’ when you are not attracted by anything or anyone. Being constantly attracted usually means you are suppressing your own self-esteem. It’s as if you are bowing down to something/someone outside your self and saying ‘I am less than that’ or ‘I need that to make me more attractive to others’. Lesson: If you want to build and maintain your self-esteem practice not being attracted to, and not being impressed by, things and people. At the very least ask your self what is it about the object of attraction that seems to fill a neediness in me?

 ABSORPTION

As a conscious self-aware self, when you are in your highest and truest state you know and feel your self to be whole and complete. This feeling and ‘knowingness’ disappears when you allow your consciousness to be absorbed in or by something or someone. When we become absorbed in anything we feel overpowered, sometimes overwhelmed, and eventually we may realise we only disempower our self. Lesson: If you don’t want to lose your power don’t lose your self in anything or any one. That doesn’t mean you stop ‘caring’. Quite the opposite, when not absorbed you will be free and therefore able to discern and offer the most appropriate form of care.

ATTACHMENT

When we constantly allow our self to lose our self in others, in objects or in situations, we are initiating and creating an attachment. The original and true state of the self is freedom. You are a free spirit by nature and so it is unnatural not to be free! And real freedom at this inner level, what some call the spiritual level; means there is no attachment to anything or anyone. Attachment means the self is ‘trapped’ in the object of attachment and that is where happiness is lost and all fear originates. Lesson:  If you want to maintain your freedom don’t get attached to anyone or anything. If you don’t want to lose your true happiness or contentment don’t get attached.  If you want to be free of fear it’s a good idea not to be attached. Not so easy after a lifetime of…attaching!

AGITATION

The consequence of any attachment to any thing will be some kind of inner disturbance or agitation. This is simply because attachment will ‘always’ result in one of three families of emotion – sadness, anger or fear. The true nature of the self is peace. To be agitated is the sign you are out of alignment with your true nature.  All emotion is agitation so all emotion is a signal you are out of alignment with the true you. Lesson: If you want to be free of suffering, and therefore at peace with your self and the world, don’t express or suppress whatever emotion arises. Transform the emotion by first observing it, seeing the internal cause of the emotion and then detaching from both the emotion and the cause. This is process is sometimes referred to as meditation!

ADDICTION

Even though the emotion/agitation is not comfortable we will still become addicted to it, as it seems to be ‘enlivening’. We may even become addicted to a ‘deadening’ state such as sadness and depression. And eventually we will become dependent on what triggers these states and then to the states themselves. As a spiritual being you can only be truly, sustainable happy, which means content, when you are not dependent on anyone or anything. Any dependency at any level sets up cravings and desires, which are simply signals that you are compromising your true state. Lesson: Watch out for your cravings, see the addiction/dependency behind them, and experiment with letting go or doing without for progressively longer periods.

ATONEMENT

The true state of every human being, which means every point of consciousness, is to be whole, complete and ‘one’. It is a state of consciousness in which there is no sense of fragmentation within the self, there is no confusion about identity, no desire to subtract anything from the self or to add anything to the self. The Path of the Slave is the journey away from this inner natural state. Atonement means a return to this awareness of ones own oneness, to be ‘at one ment’…again! It is a deep inner state of your being that can never be lost or changed, only temporarily lost to your awareness. Lesson: If you want to feel whole and complete remind yourself you do not need to acquire anything from anyone to be content with your life. Find ways to give of your self unconditionally without wanting a return. In time you may see you already have, you already are, all that you can be.

But, as always, it’s only possible to ‘not’ walk what could be called the Path of the Slave when you realize you are the one who is actually creating it. In other words don’t believe a word you have just read. Go within, watch carefully, observe accurately, and see for your self. Then you will know beyond belief. And the power of knowing the truth that it’s you and not someone else that is creating your path may be the beginning of your journey along the Path of the Master. One thing you will see for sure is that the real path, the true path, is within.

Question: Which of the above steps did you recognize in your self most strongly?

Reflection: What is the most frequently occurring form of agitation (emotion) in your average day and what is the attachment behind it?

Action: If this is the Path of the Slave what might the Path of the Master look like?

Written by our professor Mike George

DRIVE – The 5 Megatrends That Set Our Future

DRIVE – The 5 Megatrends That Set Our Future

Our world is changing so much in terms of both speed and magnitude. “As the business landscape reforms itself quickly, CEOs have to make correct business decisions within a much shorter timeframe. At the same time, the visibility is not great as everything seems so uncertain,” the CEO of a global information services company confided to us. “One way to deal with this”, he said, “is to gain intelligence and insights into what the future lies”. My business partner Dr Mark Esposito and I cannot agree more.

But how can companies read early signals of change and adapt? We believe they can be found in 5 megatrends that we called DRIVE:

  • Demographic and social changes
  • Resource scarcity
  • Inequalities
  • Volatility, scale and complexity
  • Enterprising dynamics

Demographic and social changes

At the heart of all change is people. Demographic and social changes therefore matter. Most countries in the world are experiencing aging populations, leading to shrinking populations of young people. The challenges that these aging countries face include healthcare issues, social security systems and financing pensions. Meanwhile, some countries in the Sub-Saharan region would remain mostly youthful. Their challenges would be providing both education and employment opportunities.

More and more people are living in cities. Urbanization, while bringing new problems, could bring a great deal of economic benefits. In the future, cities, and not countries, would become the main unit of economic analysis. Cities are going to be more of an economic powerhouse than now.

Resource scarcity

Increase in consumption will make more demands on available resources. Contrary to what many believe, oil and gas is not one of them. There is an ample supply of oil and gas and many reserves are yet to be explored.

Water presents more of a problem. At the current consumption rate, it is possible that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.[1]This would have vast implications. At the society level, cities may experience difficulties in maintaining their supply and sanitation requirements. Water shortage could hit business too. For instance, each microchip requires 35 gallons of clean water to make.[2] Naturally, food production is also under pressure as water is an indispensable input – it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat.[3] Pressure on food supply could increase food prices, which in turn would account for greater portions of personal income, especially in developing countries.[4]

Inequalities

Income and wealth inequalities have got worse in the past few decades. In the US, the top 0.1% hold almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.[5] China, meanwhile, ranks very low in terms of the world’s richest countries, yet has the 2nd highest number of billionaires in the world.

But what about the middle-income earners? The bad news is that many of their jobs are gradually replaced by machines. In the US, the percentage of households earning 50% of the average income has decreased from 56.5% to 45.1% from 1979 to 2012.[6] The effectively means that middle-income earners would become low wage ones over time.

At the same time, there is a growing “age” inequality. A clear indicator of such is that youth unemployment, which remains stubbornly high – and indeed continues to go up – in many parts of the world. Often, this is the result that there are not enough jobs around. Other times, government policies tend to favour the older population than the young ones. On top of this, we argue that “capital inequality” – the reliance of borrowing as a means of financing instead of shares, at least in Europe – is making it difficult for innovative startups to get the funding needed, preventing them from flourishing.

Volatility, scale and complexity

Since the mid-80s, information communication technologies have changed the world dramatically. But the true power of such technologies is only about to reveal itself now: combining different components such as processing power, digital cameras, memories and sensor to create new technologies. Subsequently, such combinations spawn further new technologies as well as new combinations.

Evidence of this can be seen through the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence. As bulky and impractical as Google’s driverless car is right now, it marked the significant development that artificial intelligent machines are on the verge of taking over the many roles that was previously believed to be “human only”. The recent 4-1 victory of AlphaGo over the best human player over the game of Go, which is believed to be the game that is most difficult for computers to win, made it clear that the development of artificial intelligence has reached new height. It is certainly not stopping here. Shortly after AlphaGo’s win, AI in Japan has “co-written” with human a short novel that passed through the first screening of a literary award.

Enterprising dynamics

The speed of change has led companies to come up with new ways of doing things. This is not only restricted to advanced economies. Developing ones are also spearheading at various fronts. For example, while China is not yet very good at science- and engineering-based innovations, it is leading in customer-focused and efficiency-driven innovations.[7]

Take Alibaba for instance. In a move to help SMEs trade on its online platform, the company went to establish a financial services arm to provide these firms with financing. This might sound trivial. But we imagine that it would be rather difficult in the US or UK for online platforms to extend into financial services without running into regulatory concerns or competition from banks. Elsewhere, we are now witnessing an increasing number of new business models.

The five megatrends of DRIVE clearly demonstrate that our economic future can be, to a large extent, predictable. By paying closer attention to these megatrends, individuals, companies and governments could have a better understanding of what is in store for them. In this case, they will be able to take advantage of change and see a greater impact from their decisions.

 

Written by our professor Terence Tse, PhD, co-authored with Dr Mark Esposito.

 

[1] http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

[2] Hoekstra, A. Y. and Chapagain, A. K. (2007) “Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern”, Water Resource Management, 21(5), 35-48

[3] Robbins, J. (1987) A Diet for a New America

[4] Roland Berger Strategy Consultants (2015) Roland Berger Trend Compendium 2030: Trend 3 Resource Scarcity

[5] Congressional Budget Office (2011) Trends in the distribution of household income between 1979 and 2007

[6] ‘The Great Decoupling,’ Harvard Business Review (2015)

[7] McKinsey Global Institute (2015) The China Effect on Global Innovation

The Mythology of Self-Empowerment

The Mythology of Self-Empowerment

There is one slight problem with the idea of self-empowerment. There are not ‘two you’s’ as in ‘I’ empower my ‘self’. And it seems you can’t ‘take back’ your power, as is often suggested, because no one can ever take your power away! They may lock up your body but they can never lock up your consciousness, which includes your mind, as Nelson Mandela so brilliantly demonstrated.

But it’s not easy to see this clearly as the idea of self-empowerment seems to be almost everywhere. So many seminars, workshops, courses and retreats carry a core promise around the liberating idea of ’empowering yourself’ and ‘taking back your power’. But it’s impossible. Here is why!

Already Always

You are already powerful because power is what you are. In the context of ‘you’, as opposed to ‘your body’, your power comes from your consciousness and consciousness is what you are. Consciousness is energy and the power of that energy is expressed as creativity. You are a creator. And when the energy of consciousness, that’s you again, is focused by a clear sense of purpose or intent you could say it becomes even more powerful.

But then you may ask, “Why don’t I feel powerful and do powerful things. Why do I often do weak and unfocussed things? Why do I find it difficult to concentrate and hold my attention on one thing at a time? Why do I feel others easily overpower me, drain my energy and make me feel like a powerless victim? Why am I so easily tempted?”

There are five realizations that need to occur within our consciousness if we are to restore our self to ‘full power’. These realizations are not so much ‘you’ empowering your ‘self’, but they ‘up’ your power…so to speak! They are necessary if you are going to ‘clear the blockages’ to the ‘power of you’ that is already there. These realizations occur when you start to clear out the accumulated non-sense (otherwise known as nonsense!) that you have put in the way of your power since you were a child.

It’s sometimes referred to as ‘cleaning up your act’!

Realization 1 – Your Power is an ‘inside out’ phenomenon

Many of us mistakenly learn that we are empowered by some external source or force. Such as an inspirational person, or an opportunity, or a new responsibility or through some kind of training or coaching. But the power of one’s consciousness does not come from outside in, it comes from inside out. Yes, we may be encouraged by another, awarded a new responsibility, taught a new skill, offered a new opportunity, all in the name of ‘empowerment’. And maybe it even feels like we’ve been given power. But it’s not what others do or say that ‘gives’ us true power, it’s what we do with what others say or do that indicates our level of powerfulness in that moment. If we react emotionally we are not very powerful. If we act like we are a victim then we are not very powerful.  If we are blaming and criticizing we are not very powerful. But if we respond consciously, calmly and intelligently, we are demonstrating we are standing in our power.

Our power is already there, at the heart of our being, in full measure, but for a variety of reasons it is blocked or distorted by something we have already created and recorded within our consciousness.

Realization 2 – Who you believe you are will define your powerfulness

Here is the problem, otherwise known as ‘the mistake’! Because we do not know our self as we truly are we create a set of false identities. We ‘identify’ with things like our family, our job, our possessions, our nationality, our race, our (imagined) reputation, even our beliefs. But we are not aware this is a mistake that will result in the distortion and draining of the energy of our consciousness, primarily because it seems to be what everyone does to ‘fit in’ and ‘get on’ in life.

We than spend our energy trying to justify, project and often defend these identities. Or we fear losing what we are using to define our self. Justification, projection and defensiveness become habits. It’s such habits that hijack and consume, distort and waste, block and trap, the energy of our consciousness, thereby diminishing our powerfulness.

The most popular habit that distorts the energy of our consciousness is fear. In fact, most of our habits have a strand of fearfulness (anxiety, worry, tensions, insecurity etc.) woven through them. When one starts to understand what one is doing (creating) within one’s own consciousness it becomes clear that ALL such habits are the result of not knowing ‘who I am’ exactly!

All our blocking, distorting and draining habits are like an inner tree. They all arise from this one seed, which is a case of mistaken identity. But it’s not easy to see (realize) this.

Realization 3 – How your consciousness, that’s you, actually works!

They don’t teach us in school who we are because our teachers didn’t know. So they couldn’t teach us how we work i.e. how consciousness works. As children we generally learn that we are simply the material form we see in the mirror each day. ‘They’ couldn’t teach us who we are as beings of consciousness or conscious beings, because ‘they’ were under the same illusion/s.

So we didn’t learn to understand and manage the three main ‘applications’ of our consciousness, our mind, intellect and memory. Yes, these are the original ‘apps’, the applications of our personal power i.e. the application of the energy of our consciousness, over which we can, potentially, have complete control. Paradoxically when you are in control of these ‘apps’ you neither try to control nor think you are controlling them. To ‘think clearly’ (mind) and ‘decide wisely’ (intellect) are simply natural abilities.

So we grow up without knowing how to use our mind in the most creatively effective and efficient ways. Generally, we were not encouraged to develop and fine tune the ‘discerning’ and ‘decision making’ abilities of our intellect. Instead we are generally ‘told’ what is right and wrong and our decisions are made for us. So we become a bit lazy and don’t bother trying to work things out for our self.

In earlier days we allowed philosophy, religion and other people’s belief systems to shape our thoughts and decisions. In the modern era, the newer generations find it difficult not to surrender their mental and intellectual capacities to what is delivered to their consciousness by technology and the various media that are so desperate for our attention.

It’s a combination of mistakenly believing ourselves to be material entities and thereby believing ourselves to be limited by our physical form, which primarily sabotage the power of our consciousness. Assimilated in our young and formative years it results in our learning to believe that we are victims of material circumstance and events, and therefore powerless. From such beliefs comes the debilitating habits of blaming, criticizing and complaining. Just some of the behaviours rooted in a distorted state of consciousness known as the ‘victim mindset’.

Realization 4 – What are you doing that is sabotaging your power?

So, it’s all about habits. We all have habits. These are recordings that we create within our consciousness. The best metaphor is the coaxial cable that brings the television picture and sound into your home. Cut a coaxial cable, examine a cross section, and you will see it’s a series of layered plastic, metal gauze, aluminium, more plastic and wire. Habits are ‘layered recordings’ of personal behaviour, emotion, thought, perception and then the origin, which is belief.

It’s our habits of believing, perceiving and thinking that block, divert, distort and consume our power. They arise from the ‘original mistake’ which is the creation of a sense of self out of what I am not! Different habits for different people of course. Only when the self fully realizes ‘who I am’, not as a belief but as a reality, do these old habits atrophy and fall away, allowing the energy of consciousness to return to its naturally clear, undistorted and powerful state.

Realization 5 – The accurate application of your power

You feel powerless because you are not consciously using the energy of your consciousness. You are handicapped by your own reactive habits of belief, perception and emotion. But deep down you know this. You know that the habits you have created and recorded in your consciousness are diverting and disrupting the energy of you.

You may be brilliantly talented in how you use your physical energy. But that will count for little if you keep disturbing your own mind and thereby your state of consciousness. Just ask a habitually ‘angry’ professional tennis player, any habitually ‘impatient’ professional golfer or a habitually ‘preoccupied’ trapeze artist! They may be brilliantly talented but unless they drop such habits of consciousness they only sabotage their power and thereby diminish both their performance and their potential.

We all develop such habits because we all make the same mistake of identifying with what we are not. Habits then sit in our subconscious awaiting to be activated by external triggers. However, when you become more aware of this and decide not to allow your habitual reactions to take over, you start to clean the energy of your consciousness and thereby restore your power.

When you start to use your power consciously it will then define your ability to respond in certain ways. For example, let’s say you want to respond compassionately towards someone. But if you have created the habit of resentment towards them, or people similar to them, then that ‘resentment habit’ weakens your ability to bring forth your power (the energy of your consciousness) in the form of compassion towards them. Instead you will feel resentment, which is a form of anger. ‘You’ don’t weaken your ‘self’ as there are not two you’s. You simply become weakness itself.

When you recognize this (using your intellect) you start to restore your awareness of choice. You consciously choose to drop the resentment and that allows compassion to arise. But first it’s necessary to recognize that resentment is a form of suffering that is self-inflicted. It’s not created by them but by you.

Yes, you would be correct in thinking something else is required here. And that something is wisdom. Wisdom grows when you start to see and understand what and how you are ‘creating’ within your consciousness. That wisdom is already there behind the recordings, behind the habits, behind your memories, behind your creations. Inviting and allowing it to emerge is what gently and gradually restores your power in a natural way.

That requires the internal practice of some form of meditation, contemplation or reflection – usually a combination of all three.

One sign of a powerful individual is how free they are. When someone is free internally, which means they are no longer identified with any idea, image, belief or memory, they are clear and therefore able to respond in the most naturally loving way to whoever is in front of them or to whatever is happening around them. The belief that they are a victim has dissolved and they never ‘react’ but always have the power to choose a consciously calm ‘response’.

When absolute freedom and clarity is restored to consciousness there is no longer any need to choose a response. The natural response arises…naturally!

Love is not always being nicy nicy and sweety sweety. Love is another word for a consciousness that is pure and without distortion, feely expressing its true nature. It’s a heart that is clean and clear of any agenda and all judgment.

Easy, yes? Well…

Question: What does the idea of ‘personal power’ mean to you?

Reflection: Remember the last time you consciously responded with calm and clarity. Why do you think you were able to do so in that situation?

Action: During the coming week notice when you ‘react’ instead of consciously and choice fully ‘respond’ – write it down – keep a brief journal – as you do you will become more aware of the nonsense that is inhabiting your consciousness!

Written by our professor Mike George

A Golden Opportunity, for New Global Brands!

A Golden Opportunity, for New Global Brands!

Just a few times in the recent business history, we have experienced such wonderful opportunity for new brands, to position themselves in the global context.

Indeed, several research studies out there agree that in the years to come, one of the main threats for current leading global brands, is the diminishing of customer loyalty, coupled with price pressures coming from companies based in Emerging Markets. According to executives surveyed in an Economist Intelligence Unit research, competition based on price will be the most challenging business aspect (74% of respondents). The second in importance (60%), will be the need to build an stronger brand.

This fear from established brands, usually controlled by the so-called “Trilogy” (US, Western Europe, and Japan) that has been dominating the world’s economic, military, and business power since the end of the Second World War, seems to be well-grounded. Looking at different global brand rankings, we can clearly see the emergence of new comers from emerging markets, mainly, the ones from China.

 

Yes, China, the country that many for a long time disregarded as a serious contender quality-wise (some joked saying that “the only Chinese invention that lasted more than a week was the Chinese Wall!). The rise of Chinese brands in the most valuable brands rankings has no precedent. According to Interbrand, there are already five (5) Chinese brands in the top 20.

In this context, the events that have obscured (not just the skies) but also the VW brand, get another dimension, simply because consumers willing to explore new concepts and questioning their loyalty to previous brands, are ready to engage with new comers (even the ones from China!). The perception of quality “made in the Trilogy” comes under scrutinity.

So, putting together all the ingredients that are shaping the world context: a re-design of the world’s economic, military, and business balance of power; the emergence of a new middle class, that is willing to embrace a western-shaped lifestyle (even though not yet ready to afford the price-premium of top global brands); diminishing customer loyalty; and the access to technology, communication tools, and most important, information wherever consumers are around the world; we can foresee a very favourable landscape for new global brands to emerge, appealing to a newly available customer base, with a good price-quality ratio.

New comers, take your chances!

Written by our professor Nicolas Kfuri