Tip of the Spear: Part 4 – A Shot Across the Bow

Future Disruption Technology Questions Spear Innovation Inequality

This final blog post before the book Tip of the Spear is finished, stems from my worries about some of the global scenarios that are starting to play out right before our eyes.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my glass is usually three-quarters full.  So to go dark for me is hard and not the norm.

In this section of the book, however, I felt it was extremely important to remind my readers just how dangerous the upcoming period of time could be – and I am not talking about the next decade or five years.  I am talking about 2016 to 2017.  Right now. This minute.

So, given the US elections and the Brexit realities, I thought I might take a drive through worst case scenario hell and remind ourselves that the world is – as many of our media pundits remind us – a very dangerous place.

Warning:  The following gets depressing really fast.

There are three stages to this dangerous journey.  The first is a phenomenon that is all too real and immediate to most of us who spend any time online:  The Death of Discourse.

Stage 1:  The Death of Discourse

It really has snuck up on us hasn’t it?  While unruly behavior is not dependent on whether the conversation is online or offline (after all humankind is a tribal and warring species), the conversation tone has changed dramatically in recent years.  The causes are  multiple and inter-connected.

Individuals in our human collective are suffering from a full decade or more of digital-media inspired A.D.D. Many of us have forgotten how to listen and are slowly forgetting how to critically think. We fight each other for face time, space time and air time. Worse, we allow the tools to amplify the bullies who use our gloriously connected digital medium to lower discourse to unprecedented depths of biliousness and broadcast the basest traits of our species.

In a typical encounter it doesn’t start out that way, does it?  Watching the reaction to the devastating fires in Fort McMurray here in the province of Alberta in 2015 (as well as other traumatic and very public events) what occurs to anyone with a modicum of humanity is that what ALWAYS rises to the top – at least initially – is the extraordinary compassion for our fellow man/woman/child.  “How can I help NOW in the basics of human needs – food, shelter, warmth?”

What then happens – inevitably and most unfortunately – is that the discourse gets hijacked. When the conversation moves online – as it always does – commentary and passive aggressive trolling pushes the discussion off the rails. Base-level human behaviours inevitably show up and things devolve astonishingly quickly. What begins as a collective response to human need – spreading exponentially and positively – became a vitriol of the trolls.

In the case of Fort McMurray, online newspaper and Facebook discussion threads saw the deniers of climate change met head-on by the shouts of “karma” by the radical environmentalists.  The poor souls who happen to be in Fort McMurray in the spring of 2016 simply needed shelter, food and water.

In the face of this, the best of our humanness disappears, “I am out of here…” the best respond.   Worse, it puts another shadow on our belief and faith in the collective human experience. We start to back away from the very tools that give us access to the best and the brightest.

The reasons for this are complex but the cause and effect chain is fairly obvious: When large groups of humans remain far down the classic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for a long time – especially when observing – often in real time – a small but entitled group who are not –  they get grumpy. It takes time, but like all things exponential, it’s very, very slow at first and then boom!

And here’s the killer:  Combining this societal bitterness with the cold, passive aggressiveness of faceless and consequence-free technology! You don’t get punched in the face for calling someone a ______ in an online comment section – (fill-in the blank with a word or phrase never spoken out loud in public except by a drunk 19-year-old college boy). And that is the online bully, troll and thug.

And they are everywhere.

Here’s a scarier thought:  What will happen when the next 2 billion come online?  Will they witness the utter mess of discourse and run away or will they simple ignore and revel in their new found freedom of expression? I wonder and worry about this.

While the death of discourse is really nasty and depressing and it makes us want to stop reading crap online because we’d rather talk to our neighbours civilly over a pint (or punch them in the nose when you find out their online pseudonyms), it may frighten away the next generation of net users. But this is not the real problem.

Not by a long shot.

Welcome to Stage 2:  The Geopolitical Slide

History shows us that the human species requires a good kick in the pants every once in a while.  Or more accurately gives itself one. The past century saw three major wars. We solved the second one by dropping two atomic bombs that changed our view of technology, and war forever.  Further back as a species it appears we needed to beat the crap out of each other – religiously, militarily, ideologically every so often. We evolve our technology and advance our species but our true nature hasn’t changed very much.

We say, “Never again” – both to the bombs and to the gas chambers that created the conditions of one terrible war. What caused it?  Historians will disagree on all of the exact reasons but one of the most often cited explanation is the territorial and ideological expansions of nations lead by tyrannical leaders – and I am including the US in that category as it sought to exterminate the scourge of communism through the use of power and military in Vietnam and South East Asia.

Those of us born after 1970 have not had a world war to contend with in the traditional sense.  Except 9/11 changed everything, even the very nature of warfare, combat and the use of technology to deliver weapons of war – munitions as well as mass ideological influence on those most susceptible.  The very same conditions that spawned ISIS/Al-Qaeda have in turn spawned an ignorant, inward looking, nationalism in the West – closed thinking and lack of education make fertile ground for ideologues and propagandists.

This cycle repeats.

And if one starts to really look closely at 2016, we can see the potential for a daunting sequence of events that could lead to unthinkable aggression around the world or -worse – an escalation of the insidious terror from faceless and stateless terrorists.

But it starts innocently.  It always does.

Over the next 24 months:

  • Britain, fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric and a population fed up with being ignored, votes to leave the EU.
  • The US, fueled by similar divides and a unique political system, elects Donald Trump, thereby solidifying in the world’s two oldest democracies a minimum of a decade of nationalistic, ‘post-fact’, angry democracies.
  • EU begins a natural slide into irrelevancy following Germany’s decision to exit in 2018; then Italy and the rest shortly thereafter.
  • The emboldened Alternative-right forces find their foothold in the rest of European democracies.
  • China, sensing the void and lack of coherent checks and balances in the West, begins to assert the vacuum left by a nationalistic US, pushes harder into Southeast Asia dramatically raising tensions with a trigger happy US leader.
  • Pakistan and India struggling always to get along, begin to bicker – diplomatically and commercially first, then militarily in the Kashmir region. India, sensing its increased stature and importance in the region (i.e. about to become the world’s largest country by population) – decides to test it.
  • North Korea fires another short range missile into disputed territory while satellites confirm the testing of a long-range missiles capable of reaching the US; Trump orders a naïve and jingoistic military attack on the region.
  • Russia begins running out of cash reserves as oil & natural gas prices continue to stay stubbornly low. Putin – still in power – presses aggressively into neighboring regions including China.
  • Meanwhile, the protectionist trade policies of the US set off the inevitable decline in global trade leading to job losses.
  • Meanwhile, the nascent middle class boom in the emerging economies incomes begins to spiral down, causing significant unrest– especially in Africa – as fragile democracies and more open government falls to the opportunistic dictators and strongmen fueled by the acceptance and tolerance of Trump and others.
  • The Alt-Right – emboldened by their new voice online begins to open up the cesspool of the Dark Net – creating the way for the emergence and production of new weapons of mass destruction with simple to use instructions and suppliers.
  • ISIS moves fully online now – a generation of dislocated, nation-less and disaffected Net users generates a mass cyber-attack on the global financial systems of the world causing chaos and crippling online commerce.
  • The Open Internet becomes a wasteland as brands, organizations and ultimately individuals retreat to private communication channels and the inevitable technology innovation decline begins.


Not all of these will happen nor necessarily in the order presented but far too many can and will.  The best case is that we have a pissed off majority and a geopolitical tinder box fueled by a transparent and increasingly negative online world.  At worst, we have the beginning of our latest and likely last World War.

Just when we need the best of a collective, kind human response, the best have left the building and only squatters remaining.

But it gets worse:

Let’s add all of three of Gibson’s Laws of Disruption together and imagine the human species all woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day?  Remember what they were:

  1. The slope of the technology disruption curve is dramatically increasing.
  2. The technology “genie” never goes back in the bottle.
  3. Our linear systems of human organization are unprepared.

Stage 3:  Technology Fuels a Bitter Fire

Our venture fueled, exponential growth focused cabals have been spending several decades building technology for its own sake. Some technology is fueled by Open Source visions of greater good for all.

So Rule # 1 really begins to pick up speed – especially in non-information science such as biology and sensors and new devices.  We start using the combinations imagined by Diamandis and others and create unimaginable technologies and use our smart machines to create even smarter machines.  All of the Innovation of Things that we discussed earlier create all of the toys and more.

Now comes rule # 2 combined with rule # 3.  Because the technology genies are out and we never can put them back and because our traditional sources of checks and balances are completely incapable of managing, leading, legislating or frankly influencing, things get out of control.

Our broken capitalist system simply calls it ”progress” and blindly turns its eyes because frankly it’s not the nation state’s problem – that is, the “market” will look after it – remember we’ve just elected global ”less-is-more governments”!

We now put have poured jet fuel on a raging fire.  Because of the shrinking cost curve, we have technology-enabled a world that is now dominated by very pissed-off people with the same democratized access to the all of this technology. Individuals now try to understand and react to a world gone a little crazy – friends and colleagues start turning inwards and away from others – at the dinner table, the community hall, in our cities and around the world.

A pissed off majority, incapable of having sane, human conversation online or offline, meets a geopolitical tsunami and is fueled by technology that we are unable to control.

And guess what? We’re inviting two billion more people to this party ­–  many of whom have just risen to the earliest ranks of subsistence, more educated than before but still with a long way to go!  The slide back down their precarious and slippery slope is quick when things get ugly.

I told you this was going to be depressing – but it is precisely why I am writing the book.

So how the hell do we turn this around?  Stay tuned.  After I finish my scotch and the rest of the work, you’ll see. 

It {should} end well.



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