Human Advancements: Introduction

ā¯¯Introduction to the series on human advancementsā¯˛


In 2018, fairly soon after it was published, I found a conference talk by Jeremy Rifkin on a resource-sharing economy. In the talk, he discusses the past industrial revolutions, a set of indicators that were present for the past industrial revolutions (and other similar events), consequencies for our economy, society and politics, and a triple that he used for classification: significant in past industrial revolutions, and possibly an indicator for what the next industrial revolution would be. That triple of (classes of) technologies: energy, communication, infrastructure would play a determining role in past industrial revolutions. Although not stated explicitly, one could think of the triple as being a necessary condition for a disruption, the likes of an industrial revolution, to occur. Or, at the very least, an accurate indicator.

In this one presentation, he manages to introduce a utility, this triple, and uses it to relate circumstances before and after such a disruption, with critical factors of the revolution and also how different aspects contributed. However, this triple got me thinking: How versatile would this classification be? Can it be used to predict? What are the criteria for the classification? How colloquially is the triple used? How reliable is it, in that sense? Can we use it for more ancient events in human history? The triple of technologies is an important indicator: it basically captured the break-throughs that make it possible for radical change to happen. However, it seems to be lacking in the ability to identify such advancements early. And, secondly, it seems to focus on something new, although I wonder if this requirement is too strict.

There were a number of signals that made me re-evaluate and look for insights at the roots of this triple instead of taking it as-is. The signals, mostly deviating opinions on critical developments:

  1. nuclear fission as energy source was already deemed irrelevant for next-gen energy production [1],
  2. the internet is not a big deal [2],
  3. there has not been a third revolution yet, and/or given a prediction for the third revolution but without clear source indicators. [3]

Understand that this is not an attempt to find a single counter-example just to disprove the ideas, but rather that, because some counter-examples exist, this may be be possible to evolve, or even just fine-tune these ideas.

The talks themselves are very valuable: he presents well, clearly elaborates his ideas, and the breadth of his scope and the ideas he works with give the impression that there are people who are interested in the broad picture and are looking at different concerns of society. He clearly indicates both the positives and the negatives, and makes clear that some things need to change, and other things will change invariably. Also, part of why I got interested is because he seems to be right, i.e. in matching my own ideas and directions, on many topics, including predictive statements.

Author’s context, perspective, motivation

In this series, I will go into my own thoughts on this topic that I formed from what I knew before and what I learned from these talks. I will change perspective on some of his ideas, and provide my own “reoriented” mechanisms that are derived from his triple, and document my ideas on indicators for human advancement. I am putting in this effort out of my own interest in such subjects, having no professional experience. These texts are written dumps of ideas and thoughts I have about the subject, rather than a series with a predefined goal. Any hints of persuasion exist only because of my own enthusiasm in learning to reason about and comprehend some of the mechanics of, what is/was very much intangible and subjective to me personally. As I mention in other posts, writing about this also forces me to flesh out the mechanics and details of the ideas that I am playing with. This allows me to produce a stronger, more consistent set of ideas. And, in the process allows me to constantly re-evaluate my ideas against earlier statements and fine-tune subleties, resulting a smaller, more consistent, more strongly connected network of ideas.

So far, I have discussed my reasons regarding the ideas of Jeremy Rifkin themselves that interested me. However, there is another reason, a parallel track: over the past twenty or so years, the ideas from the Zeitgeist Project, by Peter Joseph, and The Venus Project, by Jacques Fresco, have become less esoteric and conspiratorial. Partly, because society has had time to get used to the information presented there: it has had more time to consider and evaluate those ideas in a neutral context – as it should have from the start – instead of one of conspiracies. And partly because, in my understanding, society advances in a direction that converges with the settings as discussed in these projects. This makes that the ideas are perceived as less extreme, less radical as it used to be. In fact, the idea of resource sharing as discussed by Jeremy Rifkin, are central to The Venus Project. I want to relate these ideas that come from seemingly very different sources.


[1] I knew of developments in the area of nuclear fission reactors, as well as special use cases where nuclear fission would be especially useful.

[2] Although my gut-reaction would be to disagree, it is easy to come to the same conclusion after some consideration. However, dismissing the internet in its entirety is a mistake too. This means that the critical factor has not been identified yet.

[3] As mentioned earlier, the predictive capacity seems to be limited. In particular, it is easier to classify events that are happening in-the-moment, than it is to use the triple to anticipate an upcoming disruption.

This post is part of the Human Advancements series.
Other posts in this series: