As some of you know, I’ve been punditing and consulting for many years, advising companies, agencies and groups as diverse as Microsoft, Google, the Defense Department and the Society of Complex Systems about future trends. And while my score is far from perfect, I do seem to have a pretty good track record overall (e.g. being among the few to predict (in 1986) both the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent 21st Century conflicts with “macho anti-westernism.” Then there are those accusing me and Al Gore of “inventing the Web”!
Society desperately needs better methodologies to track “prediction and outcome” and there will be more about that, below.
But first, the main point I was leading up to --
Getting people ready for 21st Century Citizenship
Speaking to defense and homeland security agencies, I point out how Hurricane Katrina exposed a deep flaw in our civilization’s resilience -- or robust ability to respond to emergencies. Nearly all members of the “protector caste” behaved terribly, during that crisis, not just FEMA. Almost by reflex, it appears that most agents of federal, state and local authority told common citizens the same thing;
“Do nothing on your own! Just sit there and wait for official help.”
(Help that often did not come.)
In contrast, I have been pushing the advantages of flattened hierarchies and of “smart mob” self organizing citizenry, capable of taking some initiative in a crisis. In doing so, I hearken to notions of dispersed responsibility and reliance upon citizen action that keep faith with American tradition, stretching from Lexington all the way to those old coots in Civil Defense hats, who we boomers vaguely recall from distant childhood. Before that whole network was allowed to collapse and fade away, amid a rising Age of Professionalization.
Do not misconstrue! I approve of professionalism! We need the intense skill of the Protector Caste (e.g. fire, police, military, medical) and every other supremely well-trained specialty, from pilots to teachers to accountants. Professionalization was a great trend - the great trend - spanning the entire 20th Century. It should be honored. It gave us everything...
...and it is fast running out of steam, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone smart enough to read a demographics chart. There must be a supplementary trend, in order to keep up our rates of increasing skill and competence in the face of rising challenges.
I suggest that the theme of the 21st Century will (or ought to) be a burgeoning Age of Amateurs.
But more on that elsewhere. To the point.
While participating in the recent Strong Angel disaster preparedness drill in San Diego, I realized that I was urging expansion of neighborhood-level citizen preparedness - rebuilding some of the old distributed “civil defense” capability - yet I was not involved myself!
(Well, except in Boy Scouts, with two sons who I am always urging to “be prepared!”)
All right, then. Upon realizing this, I promptly signed up for training with my local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), which is a relatively new nationwide program helping local fire departments organize local volunteers - giving folks a few meager supplies and a few dozen hours of training - so that they can organize their neighbors and do a few useful things in an emergency, till first responders can get around to their area.
We also may have duties in other kinds of crises, e.g. taking low-skill/low-risk jobs like manning checkpoints, thus freeing deputies to do other things.
Supplied with a green vest and hard hat and backpack (all labeled CERT), I’m supposed to try to keep things going in my neighborhood for as much as 72 hours, amid such chaotic situations as earthquakes or fires or terror attacks. We were taught simple search & rescue techniques, emergency triage and first aid, crisis psychology and a little hazmat...
...phew! A real case of “the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know!” It really increases your respect for the professionals... and shows how far we have to go before distributed competence can actually make a difference in the kinds of crises that WILL strike our communities, in coming years.
Hence the moral of this story. CERT is only a few years old and it has a huge task ahead, rebuilding a smidgen of the distributed citizen capability that our ancestors (members of the local militia and/or posse and/or Civil Defense) took for granted. Some locales, like Los Angeles and most of Florida, have very well-organized and advanced CERT teams. Others - like my area - are just getting started.
In any event, I wanted to let you all know what’s going on, so that some of you might look into it, yourselves. CERT (and related programs like TIPS) contribute to a great big puzzle... how to keep complex modern society working and robust enough to thrive in an era of rapidly accelerating change. The more we make use of citizen-based solutions, the less we will have to rely upon either an overstretched professional corps or a nanny state. The latter is a brittle approach.
It is resilience and robustness that we should be aiming for.
Back to prediction:
I do hope someday to post that large article about prediction. And possibly make a strong case that registries should get high priority.
Fads like “Delphi” and betting ought to be augmented by something very basic and comprehensive.... an array of public and private “prediction registries” that would help us to find out who tends to be right a lot -- at least in their public pronouncements. This may sound weird. But once we have such things, people will look back and consider us weird for not having them, or not making this a top priority!
Of course there are a few - ad hoc - efforts already underway. Here is one I’ve mentioned before, tracking modern events/trends that were first mentioned in science fiction. (Some of you are encouraged to (ahem) update that site with any “Brin hits” they may have missed!)
More specifically (as a few of you know very well ;-) there are two wikis that specifically talk about predictive hits found in my novel EARTH.
(And to all yanks -- Happy Thanksgiving.)