Shaping The Future


“Few things are less predictable or more dangerous than young men and women without hope, and there are thousands of these in so many of our cities.”– Governing Publisher Mark Funkhouser.

The images from Baltimore’s unrest are still very fresh in my mind.

The news cycle moves on-it always does—but crushing poverty persists. And so we will have another Baltimore. You can count on it.

I wonder if we will ever seriously make an effort to get at the root causes of hopelessness, drug abuse and crime in America. I wonder if we will ever have leadership capable of galvanizing our country again.

We seem so Balkanized and the polarization seems to be getting more acute, more sharp-edged.

The world is changing rapidly, some say exponentially and much faster than some of our institutions are capable of dealing with.

There seems to be two views of this kind of change.

The people at the forefront of technology are big believers that tech will save the world, by creating new industries and new opportunities. They see huge advances in health care, education, manufacturing and agriculture that will usher in a golden era of prosperity.

Then there are those who aren’t as bullish.

From the self-checkout aisle of the grocery store to the sports section of the newspaper, robots and computer software are increasingly taking the place of humans in the workforce. Silicon Valley executive Martin Ford says that robots, once thought of as a threat to only manufacturing jobs, are poised to replace humans as teachers, journalists, lawyers and others in the service sector.


“There’s already a hardware store [in California] that has a customer service robot that, for example, is capable of leading customers to the proper place on the shelves in order to find an item,” Ford tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies.

In his new book, “Rise of the Robots”, Ford considers the social and economic disruption that is likely to result when educated workers can no longer find employment.

“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate,” Ford told NPR. “So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”

While Ford paints a sobering picture, futurist Peter Diamandis of Singularity University, believes in a future filled with “abundance.”

“Abundance—the Future is Better Than You Think”—is a  book by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler (bestselling author and science journalist). The book serves as an antidote to today’s dark pessimism.

The authors rely on exhaustive research and extensive interviews with top scientists, innovators, and captains of industry to explore how four emerging forces—exponential technologies, the Do It Yourself innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billion (poor people becoming connected to the Internet and mobile technology) —are conspiring to solve our biggest problems.

The truth about what will happen is probably somewhere in the middle. We will benefit immensely—and have-from the advances we have seen in technology. But there will be winners and losers—as we are experiencing.

The key will be positioning our communities, states and nations to take advantage of exponential change and mitigate the downsides. We have to create a middle class again and we can’t ignore the poor.

While robots and computers are beginning to move from rote activities to those requiring dexterity, you have to believe that human capacity, empathy, emotional intelligence, creativity, love and nuance will still count for something in the future.

So yes, STEM education (science, technology and math) will be vital, but art will still be important too; maybe even more so in the age of robotics.

We are seeing trends in food—all natural, organic, locally grown. Products—craft beer (have you been to Saltwater Brewery, Copperpoint, Due South, Funky Buddha?), functional drinks (Boca-based Celsius, not Diet Coke, former Delray resident Jeff Rubinstein’s new beverage WTRMLN water), the rise of Etsy and the many entrepreneurs roaming Boca-Delray seeking and filling niches.

Years ago, when we did community visions and plans, we spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted to see happen. A lot of money was spent on infrastructure, parking garages, beautification, lighting, gateway features and things like improving water pressure, adding sidewalks and roads.

Today’s visioning needs to include capacity building and the importance of nurturing human capital.

I recently spent some time in a car driving through Delray’s southwest neighborhoods with my co-chair on the Downtown Master Plan: Chuck Ridley.

We saw a whole lot of things to work on: substandard housing and blight. But that wasn’t the purpose of the tour. We went to see the neighborhood’s assets: the Village Academy, Catherine Strong Park, Community Land Trust homes which looked great, the cleared site of Carver Square where the CRA removed sinking homes and more.

The job is far from done and the potential is visible for all those willing to see. But if you want to see unrest, violence and despair stop trying to build hope and let the future shape your community.

We see where the world is headed, the future can be abundant or it can be dystopian.

I’d like to think we have a say.