Political economist and journalist Dr Angus Hervey believes our future is brighter than the media would have us believe. As the co-founder of think tank Future Crunch, Angus shares updates about disruptive technology and the power sharing good news. We caught up with Angus ahead of his appearance at summit SingularityU, to ask him a few burning questions.
So what exactly does a political economist do?
A political economist tries to understand what happens at the intersection between politics and economics. Politics is the study of who gets what, where and when. Economics is the study of how you divide up and distribute all of societies’ resources. When you combine those two things you get a very rich, interesting picture of the world, why things happen in ways that might seem counter-intuitive, and why individuals and groups make the kinds of decisions they do
Specifically, I did a degree called Politics, Philosophy and Economics. It was believed that this degree would give you a very sound understanding of the world—particularly good for a career in politics or business. In addition to politics and economics giving you an idea of the way the world works, you also have an ethical understanding of why those decisions are made. This is incredibly important no matter what field you’re going into today.
How did you get the job with Future Crunch?
The job was an accident!
After my first degree I went on to do a PhD in Environmental Economics. But then I finished and I couldn’t get a job. I spent 18 months working in a bar, and was completely broke.
I jumped through all the hoops I was told too, had done very well in my qualifications but I couldn’t get work. What I discovered was that at the end of studying no one cares how well you did; you’re on your own.
The thing that matters is whether you can explain what you can offer the world. Once you know what that is, you have to make your case. But I didn’t know how to do that.
Fortunately, while I was trying to figure that out, my friend Tane and I decided to do a talk for a group of friends about the future, technology and why the world is a much better place than we think.
Someone who was there said they enjoyed what we had to say, and that they wanted us to do the same thing for their business—and that they wanted to pay us for it! This’s how Future Crunch was born.
Future Crunch are science communicators. What does this mean?
Science is a great subject to talk about because it is inherently interested in solutions. As such, science communication has three aspects to it.
First, it’s about telling stories of optimism and solutions rather than fear-mongering.
The second part is operating on the Most Advanced Yet Accessible (MAYA) principle. This means explaining a smart concept in the most simple way. MAYA is like a super power.
Finally, it’s about understanding that listening is hard work. A lot of people forget that regardless of how big or small the audience is, paying attention for any stretch of time is difficult . So the job of any communicator is to make the hard work of listening as easy as possible.
What is the role of optimism in managing future global challenges?
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to start changing the stories we tell ourselves.
Right now the stories we tell ourselves are stories of chaos, degradation and doom. They are stories of climate destruction, societies splitting apart, discrimination and disconnection. Fear is a good way to get attention, but a terrible way to drive action.
It’s easy to get cynical about the world, but it takes consideration and effort to search for a different perspective, and engage with all the good things that are happening that no one is telling you about.This doesn’t have to be naive – you can do it in a way that’s smart, and backed by really solid evidence, showing us how , the future presents us with opportunities, and that’s how we like to look at things at Future Crunch.
With optimism, the world starts looking really different and solutions appear everywhere.
What are some of the most fascinating stories you’ve worked on?
A global example that comes to mind is the rise of electric vehicles. This is a good news story happening faster than anyone realises and on a huge scale, and multinational companies are getting on board. Norway became the first country where electric vehicle adoption started to affect the oil industry, with consumption of gasoline and diesel falling in 2017.
The second one is the largest community-led beach clean up in Versova Beach in India. It was started by a lawyer who began picking up rubbish each night after work. 85 weeks and 5.3 million kilograms of rubbish later, one of the dirtiest beaches in the world is now rejuvenated and welcoming back hatchlings from a once endangered species.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom about the future of work and what it means for young people. What are your thoughts on how we can prepare for the new work order?
We hear stories every day about how much work is changing and the types of skills we need to succeed. It is very difficult to predict what work will look like.
What you can do to prepare yourself is to train your brain to adapt to change.
Educators like to talk about our IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient), but what will be important in the future is a high Adaptability Quotient (AQ)—that is, the ability to thrive in unpredictable environments. Instead of being really good at doing one thing, adaptive people are really good at learning how to do new things.
What would you say to your younger self?
The things that you are curious about are just as important as the things you think you’re good at.
We often end up getting qualified or learning technical skills in areas that we are good at. We find ourselves drawn to things that we are curious about or enjoy but aren’t necessarily good at. For me that was music and image editing. I tinkered with both of those, but never imagined I would use them for work. At the time my course had no need for that, but 10 years later it became incredibly useful.
That’s what I would say to younger me: Follow your curiosities as passionately as you follow your qualifications.
How can technology disrupt and improve education and employment systems?
As machines take over more tasks, the things that machines can’t do are the things we need to be prepared for, and developing skills in.
In a classroom that means instead of focusing solely on building STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills, in fact we should be learning how to be a great human. This means developing our communication skills and our interpersonal skills—all the things machines can’t do.
You’re speaking at the SingularityU Australia Summit, which explores the latest in exponential technologies and how they’re used to disrupt industries and address the global challenges. Talk us through some of these technologies.
Well, we’re not sure what specific technologies we are going to cover, but one that has our attention at the moment is generative design. This is a process where the human designer inputs all the boundaries and restrictions for a design into a computer program, then the artificial intelligence takes over and finishes the design off.
The interesting thing about this design process is that it creates thousands of designs that we as humans are unlikely to come up with. In fact these designs more closely align to what occurs in nature. It turns out the most magnificent designer of all is nature itself.
Then there’s satellite technology, where mini satellites are released into orbit, giving the public access to data that previously only governments and military had. This means that everyone on the planet can see the planet. For example, we can use image recognition to spot power plants around the world and get an accurate reading of their emissions. This means we can hold global players responsible for their actions. The potential for change is enormous.
Want to hear more from Dr Angus Hervey and Future Crunch? Head to the SingularityU Australia Summit this October.