How Disruptive Innovation Is Leading Us To A Post-Capitalist World

Flavours Orchard, a project to a green city in China, done by Vincent Callebaut Architecture Image source – http://aasarchitecture.com/

Believe it or not the perestroika of capitalism has already started! But first, what is disruptive innovation? One definition of disruptive innovation is that it is:

“An innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades) displacing an earlier technology.”

Indeed, disruptive technology can be understood as a “technology progress/innovation that lets a product reach a new frontier. It could be also applied to the behaviour of people and it would eventually change the system currently in place.

Imagine that you are able to sustainably grow by yourself 60% percent of your own food. You can deduct that 60% from the sales in this industry and multiply by X people. If everyone was doing it that would probably hurt capitalism. Now, imagine this approach taken with  other products, goods and services as well. Then, imagine that the rest of your needs will be produced at zero marginal cost. Some technologies are doing that today and more tomorrow. I am not sure that our old friend capitalism would survive, but eventually it would change and adapt. This is a very short summary of what Jeremy Rifkin’s idea, “zero marginal cost” is, and it is a view shared by many.

Now, going a little further, imagine that a country, a big country with a lot of economic power, adopts this disruptive behaviour with a view to achieving full autonomy in all sectors. Saying, “Thank you” “to all its old business partners it would say: “We have everything we need and we are not interested anymore in buying your products,” and eventually it would say: “We can help you for free as well”. This is going to be hard to swallow for capitalism.

Maybe this sounds like a sci-fi movie, but if you consider how nowadays new thinking patterns and behaviours are emerging little by little everywhere in the world at all levels, it is not sci-fi. In fact it sounds that it might actually be possible, particularly if you consider the following technologies:

  1. Internet will soon be thought of as a basic human right as much as water is. Disruption created by progress in this domain will make it available for free.
  2. Learning with the MOOCs is already a widely known fact. MOOCs are mostly free and give great opportunities to everyone to develop their competencies.
  3. Energy will soon be able to be produced by all. One example is biogas. Did you know that we have the potential to produce energy by going to the toilet? There are already many projects around the world working on this. Another exciting possibility is that we will soon be able to produce energy almost for free with third generation organic solar cells.
  4. The multiplication of 3D printers to be used by everyone will allow everyone to build objects, like glasses, shoes, bicycle parts and more.
  5. Foods – by using more permaculture and new agricultural techniques such as those advocated by the Rodale Institute and urban-gardening it could be possible to produce more and better for less work.
  6. Down the line nanotechnologies and humanoid robots could have a role to play. Nanotechnologies  will help us to recycle all minerals commodities and to transform them into new materials with new properties. Meanwhile, humanoid robots will replace the notion of work and the need to work to live.
  7. Biomimetic technologies will also be a part of this new paradigm.

Those technologies are sustainable and will help us to produce all that we need at zero marginal cost – this ultimately means for free.

How to make a fair transition ?

Now the question is how to insure a fair transition and how would it be beneficial to all? I guess we should be able to surpass the consumeristic mind-frame and the idea of success by the acquisition of money and think about other ways of occupying our time than working. The opportunities to occupy ourselves in more creative and fulfilling ways are incommensurable. We just need to take the intelligent options that serve our needs and tastes.

So, today there is the emergence of an “antagonist” group to the consumeristic one that is gaining momentum. These people changed their mind set both by necessity, choice or raised awareness.  Even though they are currently still considered  a “marginal” group, they are visible and gaining a voice in contemporary society. They come from diverse groups such as the populations of unemployed, particularly the unemployed youth as well as unemployed seniors, or those that are outside the system (not registered in an unemployment office). On the other hand, we have the new thinkers that want to change the world, the ones that are just disillusioned by the current system. Then we have also the ones that I call “community of actions” which are not necessarily considered as a marginal group. They are the ones that like to do things for the benefit of all, on a voluntary basis and for free.

How Disruptive Technologies Promoted Urban Gardening in Detroit

For example, let’s look at the city of Detroit and its inhabitants that do urban gardening on the land that was abandoned due to the closure of many factories. Let’s discuss this group in link with this subject. It doesn’t seem that the effort to surpass their old mind-sets of consumers (with a goal of accumulating money) has been unmanageable, or that it has created chaos in society. Rather, it seems that the authorities of Detroit are less under pressure to feed their citizens with soup. Now, what we see with this example of urban gardening in the city of Detroit is that the action was born from a crisis, but the technology that helps this new system to emerge (internet) was not born from a crisis. Being able to share knowledge (how to garden) and to diffuse a “let’s do it together” message to create buzz in the city has created this disruption. We have seen a “communities of actions” taking life without generating chaos or crisis, with the help of technologies that were already present, so it doesn’t mean that disruption equals crisis at all.

Now, be careful, I am not saying that everybody will have to garden in the post-capitalistic society, but what I am saying is that with technologies, there are some perspectives for living in a post-capitalist system without any chaos. Therefore, I come back to the idea of gardening. If you garden and produce a lot more that you can consume yourself, what will you do with that surplus? Most of the time, you will share it with your neighbors, your friends and family. This is the idea of “zero cost marginal” with the help of disruptive innovations.

A World without money ?

Now, I do think that it is difficult to imagine today that we could live without money, especially those that have accumulated mountains of it. In addition, it is true that the concept of properties would have to evolve. This is fundamental, but I think this is quite simple ultimately. We could imagine depending of the type of object, to have a kind of, “utility right” in order for example, not to lose your home from one day to another because someone mean would decide to take it over. But ultimately, the loss of the property concept would be compensated for by technology’s progress. That would lead to a top quality concept of home, infrastructure and society, based on participation in a “conscience of the community” with the appropriate technology and tools. This would be certainly be the biggest “surpass action” to achieve. Nevertheless, there needs to be forerunners to this to be able to get to that point one of those is probably the “unconditional basic income” which was submitted to vote in Switzerland. It didn’t pass on its first attempt.

Finally, the closest disruptive technology that will force us to surpass ourselves will be the coming of humanoid robots.

A recent article published on BBC.com introduces this question.  But for me that is just the beginning. Even today, highly skilled jobs are supposed to be at no risk according to this study,  i.e. not replaced by robots. This conclusion seems wrong. It would mean that we should be all highly skilled to ensure that we have sufficient income to support our life. The fact is that we cannot all be highly skilled. This will be the king of possibilities to achieve in a post-capitalist society. We must only be highly skilled to have a job in the future to come to compete with robots that will in any case work for free.

Romuald Reber

 

 

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