A new year begins. Indeed, a new decade begins. This is an especially appropriate time for some reflections on the past and some resolutions for the future. In the coming decade, I hope to achieve a sustainable balance between living in the past (reflections) and living in the future (resolutions) while spending most of my time living in the present.
A long, long time ago, a little child was born. That little child was me. It was in a different place and a different time. I was fortuitously born at a turning point in human history. I witnessed the ending of the last geographical frontiers and the beginning of the technological era and (imminently) the age of AI-assisted living. Compared to our current life in 2020, that old lifestyle is almost completely extinct. Today, as a much older little child, I have more opportunities, comforts, and conveniences, and many more choices than ever before.
But… that little child is also you. You and I are living in a golden age; in many ways, this is the best time ever. Problems and dangers abound, true; but so do magnificent opportunities and capabilities. As I wrote in China Bound,
Thought for the day: The past determines the person we are today; but our thoughts and actions today determine who we will be tomorrow.
I have had some interesting visions in the past few weeks as I prepared for the end of the year and the beginning of a new year and a new decade. In thinking about how I wanted to live my life – habits, routines, major goals, relationships, activities, lifestyle – I began by creating a new criterion: “Can I maintain this for ten years?” (Yes, I know it is ridiculous to think that nothing will change for ten years. In my home, I have to check with my wife and son every single morning to see what impulsive changes they have made that will affect my plans for the upcoming day.)
I cannot control the little details of my life over the next decade. However, I can visualize the major areas of my life and identify their salient points. For example, if I say I want to spend more time cooking, I won’t worry about which food items to buy, identifying supply sources, or selecting which appliances to obtain. Instead, I will ask myself how I can arrange my daily routines to make more time available to be in the kitchen.
When you begin to ask what you want to sustain for TEN YEARS – wow, that really changes your thinking. Then, as David Allen of Getting Things Done fame says, you have to look at things from the 50,000-foot level, not at the daily operations on the ground. The purpose of this high-altitude examination is to check your direction, not your daily processes or recent achievements. You need to make sure all your hard work is carrying you in the right direction. Only when looked at from a detached view – as if from 50,000 feet overhead – can we clearly see the progress towards an objective.
I challenge you to find a little quiet time for a similar reflecting/resolving/planning session and to do it for the whole upcoming decade. Ask yourself where you want to be ten years from today, in the year 2030. What lifestyle would you need to develop and sustain for the next ten years to achieve that vision? Of course, there will be inevitable changes in your life. Health issues, relationships coming and going, career challenges, financial fluctuations, and shifting political and social environments are just a few of the major areas where you must expect changes, but cannot know the specific details of those changes. Indeed, as our rapidly developing technologies proceed, attempting to visualize anything for ten years in the future becomes an act of futility. What we can do, however, is picture the kind of individual we wish to become – regardless of outer circumstances – and begin taking all our steps in that direction.
Caveat: I recently read an article that stressed how you should review your objectives and measure them according to how much passion you feel for them. The intention was to identify and, perhaps, remove those objectives which are no longer relevant or important to you, or objectives which other people imposed upon you. The implication was that you should only choose goals that you feel passionate about. (Examples: Since I hate to exercise and I always make excuses why I cannot find time to join a team, I guess I don’t really want to become a star athlete. Or… Mom and Dad always pushed me to become a doctor but I prefer to do something that will be more creative and innovative than dealing with sick people.)
I certainly agree with this advice about seeking your passion but I will add one qualifier. When you are examining your goals and objectives to see how much passion you feel for each one of them, be conscious that we often set goals and express wishes as part of an intense desire to cope with our unmet personal childhood needs or to escape from a current unpleasant situation. Those issues – strong motivators, but for the wrong reasons – will give some relief when they are resolved but cannot provide lasting pleasure and meaning. Just because you were often hungry as a child doesn’t mean that you have a deep desire to be a chef. Nor does it mean that hiding food under your bed will be a satisfying means of dealing with the emotional issues arising from your childhood experiences. I urge you to “peel the onion” and ask yourself why something is important to you. Then, deeply examine your response and ask “why” again to see what motivated your first answer. It may take several repetitions of “why” before you can see your true motives. WARNING: If done assiduously, this will not be a comfortable exercise.
There is another factor that will undoubtedly have a major impact on our opportunities, our lifestyle, and our worldview. AI (Artificial Intelligence) will bring unimaginable changes to our lives in the coming years – probably very soon. If you thought the smartphone brought huge changes in our expectations and lifestyle, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Many people are uncomfortable with what they have heard about AI; they fear that it will make unwelcome intrusions in their life. Indeed, the possibility for abuse and actual danger – Skynet, for Terminator movie fans – is a valid concern. However, I expect more benign results as AI continues its inevitable expansion into every facet of our daily life.
First, I suggest that you visualize AI taking over the dull, dangerous, or dirty jobs that we dislike but which are often unavoidable. Not all jobs can be replaced but anything that involves repetitive motions and procedures is certainly suitable for AI. Before you panic and decide that you will lose your job because you are going to be replaced by a robot, consider this fact from history: One hundred years ago, automobiles were becoming popular and were rapidly replacing the horse as the primary means of transportation. People with a conservative mindset were appalled and fearful. This meant the end of their way of life! Workers from entire industries were threatened. These included the people who worked in stables for sheltering horses, the feed and grain stores for their supplies, teamsters who drove wagons to deliver food and supplies, veterinarians whose work included the care and treatment of horses, saddle and harness makers, even the people whose job was to clean up the horse droppings from the street; they were all going to lose their jobs.
However, think also of the entire new industries which were created to accommodate the much more efficient automobile as it became an intrinsic part of modern life. It became necessary to hire thousands of people to work in factories to manufacture those cars. Thousands of more jobs were created to make and deliver the steel, glass, plastic, tires, electronic components, and paint used in producing the cars. This also opened up the need for our (mostly) smooth and safe streets and highways. How many jobs did constructing those streets and highways create? In general, the automobile replaced the horse because it was vastly more efficient. But, in the process, it created huge economic benefits to the labor force. Likewise, AI will replace very inefficient human labor in many areas… but will create many new job opportunities and a better society.
The second major impact of AI will also be a welcome addition. One of the biggest dilemmas in our daily life is dealing with the unending deluge of information. Information overload, it is called… and so it is. Current search engines are instantly capable of delivering a flood of answers to any question. Each day, we are subjected to far too much stimulation. This is often in the form of advertisements, literal and subliminal. We frequently receive biased answers. You cannot believe answers when someone is motivated by a desire to influence your purchase decisions, i.e., “Buy my product. It’s the best.” The dilemma can be distilled down to the matter of whom you can trust to provide verifiable, reliable, complete, and unskewed information to help you make a decision. Frankly, anyone with a personal financial incentive cannot be trusted to offer you facts that will be in your best interests.
But, in the future, you can think of AI as being your personal assistant who has the ability to examine and evaluate all the data available – including what is being called Big Data, which means everything that anyone, anywhere knows. This ability will include doing a deep dive into the relevant background of all the persons involved in any situation. Nothing will be hidden to AI. If it has ever been recorded digitally, your AI assistant will be able to access it. Plus, AI will know your own experiences and personality and objectives – even the right size and style you prefer when buying new shoes. Finally, you will have a supremely capable assistant whose only loyalty is to you and whose only desire is to present you with trustworthy, thoroughly researched recommendations. Think of the life-changing freedom this will bring. Imagine if it were as simple as speaking to your phone, “Hey, Seri! Check your resources then tell me if I can trust this guy,” and waiting a few moments for the response. This form of trusted, complete information will bring a quantum-level change in our society and our personal interactions. Imagine how things would be different if everyone was suddenly forced to be honest – because any dishonesty will be immediately detected. It’s called transparency, folks, and it is based upon the presumption that anyone will be honest if they know every action they take and every word they speak is being digitally recorded and will be available publicly and permanently.
AI is one of the biggest changes we can expect in the upcoming ten years – but it is far from the only life-altering development. Space exploration, progress in renewable energy which will vastly reduce energy costs, medical science, and many other fields will blossom.
And so, as we begin this new decade and, almost reflexively, to review our personal objectives and the means for achieving them, I urge you to be brutally honest with yourself and make some decisions that will guide you on your true path of the next ten years. The opportunities are boundless – bigger and better than at any time in human history. So, will you take advantage of them? How many excuses are you using to avoid making progress in the most important areas of your life? Why? Imagine that you were evaluating your life and your progress in ten years, in January of 2030. How would you feel about the choices that you made in January of 2020?