Saturday September 18, 2021

The new (disruptive) world order

We live in a world of innovation and technological disruptions today. Life in the developed world is not possible today without the use of some form of technology in our everyday affairs: smart phones, artificial intelligence, cyber security, 5G, the internet of things, data mining, cryptocurrency and blockchain, CRISPR, genomics and genetic engineering, medical imaging and diagnostics, 3D printing, driverless cars, and the use of advanced materials through nanotechnology and metamaterials.

Within the next 15 years, computers will become more intelligent than humans, culminating in an all-knowing singularity. They will be able to think for themselves and integrate themselves into the next level of intelligence. We will be developing 3-D printed biological tissues from edible meat to human organs. Tesla’s neurolink and SpaceX programme will change the way we think and travel, and humans will compete to conquer the far corners of space.

Beyond electric vehicles, there are already driverless hydrogen-powered cars and planes. There will only be clean forms of sustainable energy, fuel cells will replace batteries, and the burning of fossil fuels will be a thing of the past. Future wars will be fought in cyber space with robotics using advanced weapons as small as nano-drones to large electromagnetic guns that could render any adversary ineffective.

Is Pakistan ready to face these technological challenges of the future? Do our four generations of Baby Boomers (born prior to 1965), Gen-X (born 1966-76), Gen-Y (Millennials, born 1977-94), and Gen-Z (born after 1995) understand these challenges? Our class of politicians, bureaucrats and CEOs, unfortunately, belong to the Baby Boomers while the West and the developed world is today driven by the Millennials and Gen-Z who live and breathe technology. Jeff Bezos started Amazon when he was only 30 years old and he is considered the richest man on earth worth over $200 billion. Elon Musk started Tesla when he was 33 years old and is worth over $170 billion.

Beyond the power of technology, we also see the disruptive power of social media. While Joe Biden and Donald Trump may be an aberration of the past, it is the world of Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube influencers that is driving the West. Vloggers like PewDiePie with over 100 million subscribers on YouTube are influencing the way Gen-Y and Gen-Z think and act. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson with over 250 million followers on Instagram (more than the combined votes secured by both Biden and Trump) may soon announce his candidacy for

US president.

When Cristiano Ronaldo with 307 million followers on Instagram removed the Coke bottles in front of him during a recent press conference, Coke lost $4 billion of its share value. Today finfluencers on Tiktok are teaching about the stock market, the meme community is creating its own cryptocurrency, and redditors are giving hedge fund managers a run for their money.

Many Western democratic countries are now led by young leaders who are Millennials: Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor of Austria, is 35 years old; Sanna Marin, the PM of Finland, is 36; Jacinda Ardern, the PM of New Zealand since 2017, who won the hearts of the Muslim World, is only 41 years old. Let this in no way be equated with the brand of young leaders in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, and other monarchies and dictatorships, who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and have inherited their positions. They may not have real-life experience of facing or resolving challenges of a free society where people vote on issues, past performance, and credibility. All the young Western leaders have worked their way up and received votes based on their qualifications, credibility and performance.

Our generation of Baby Boomers, who govern us, appear to be blind, deaf and dumb to the incoming realities of a technological and disruptive world! Do they, or our governments, really understand these challenges? Or do they consider these facts to be a fictional movie which they watch for entertainment? Do they consider these incoming technological disruptions to be YouTube, Netflix or Hollywood entertainment, or a script from a fictional novel written by a best-selling author?

The future belongs to the Gen-Y and Gen-Z who should lead Pakistan. Will they follow in the footsteps of their parents, the Baby Boomers, or take charge to lead Pakistan out of the dark ages? Are our youth ready and equipped to take on these disruptive and technological challenges? Will they be able to break their primitive, old fashioned, culture-bound shackles and catch up with the developed world?

Where do we stand in all this? The correct answer is: Not too far behind if we act now! For the Baby Boomers, we may be a whole generation behind the developed world, but for Gen-X and Gen-Y, we are not more than three years behind.

The half-life of advanced technology today is less than 18 months. It typically takes one year to learn any technology, and another one year to master it. If our youth

realizes and understands this potential and the relevant resources are made available, we are in for a different Pakistan.

The youth of Pakistan must wake up and move forward on a fast track. They must not procrastinate or be intoxicated by our demagogue leaders who are only in to save their loot. Covid-19 was a disruptive game-changer, and virtual education, training and meetings have become the global norm today. There is an abundance of free courses and training lectures available on social media, which is the best option for learning any skill and keeping pace with the fast-changing disruptions. The youth must break their shackles, grab this opportunity and lead Pakistan to the next age.

The writer is a former chairperson of the HEC.