Gerd Leonhard is a European futurist, speaker and author who specializes in the debate between humanity and technology.He currently lives in Zurich. Born in Bonn, Leonhard studied theology at the University of Bonn before migrating to the United States in 1982 where he studied at the Berklee College of Music and later established a career as a professional musician, arranger and composer. He also set up an early internet business in music, which provided first-hand insights into technology disruption and inspired his first book, co-authored with Dave Kusek, The Future of Music in 2005.
Leonhard evolved his futurist practice, applying these insights to multiple other industries and social environments. Influenced by classic futurists such as Alvin Toffler, Leonhard’s work also shows the influence of science fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson.
In 2016, he published Technology vs. Humanity, a manifesto for digital rights and an investigation into the many areas of life currently impacted by technology disruption without regulation or policy. Leonhard has expressed views critical of transhumanism and technology centralization. Emphasizing a European tradition of humanist values and philosophy, Leonhard pursues a path of technological balance as evidenced in earlier eras such as the Italian Renaissance. His Open Letter to the Partnership on AI was published in the British magazine Wired in October 2016, calling on technology leaders at IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon to embrace digital ethics in the emerging era of cognitive automation.
FUTURIST, HUMANIST, KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Gerd Leonhard is not just a leading expert on the future, he is also a humanist who believes that all scientific and technological progress should further collective human flourishing. People, Planet, Purpose and Prosperity is Gerd’s credo. As Gerd likes to say, humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300 years – let’s make sure that we can still maintain what makes us human.
When Gerd Leonhard speaks, it’s not just a presentation, it’s a unique and gripping performance. One of the most remarkable and unique keynote speakers in the world today, Gerd’s talks are honed by thousands of hours of experience in front of a combined audience of over 2.5 million people in 50+ countries. His passionate exploration of our relationship with technology ensures an unforgettable experience for the audience.
Gerd is the author of 5 books including the bestseller ‘the Future of Music’ (2005). In his latest work, ‘Technology vs. Humanity’, futurism meets humanism in a ground-breaking manifesto of critical observation; exploring the megashifts that will radically alter our society, economy, values and even our biology. Wherever you stand on the scale between technomania and nostalgia for a lost world, this book is sure to challenge, provoke, warn and inspire you.
One of the top 100 most influential people in Europe
Listed by Wired Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in Europe (2015), Gerds work focusses on the future of humanity and technology, digital ethics, artificial intelligence, future-leadership and communications. In his keynotes, presentations, workshops and advisory sessions Gerd addresses topics such as the what it means to be human in a world of machines and algorithms, the coming redefinition of human-machine relationships, the future of work and jobs and many more.
Gerd is a much sought-after speaker, having presented at more than 1700 events in 60+ countries since 2004. His list of clients include Google, Sony, UBS, Mastercard, Unilever, Lloyds Bank, WWF, Nokia, The Guardian, Telkom Indonesia, Siemens and many others. Gerd Leonhard is a member of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA, London), and an advisory board member of the Indian and Canadian Research Institutes. He resides in Zürich, Switzerland.
Interview with Gerd Leonhard
Analysis of the situation
The cities of today are transforming constantly and quickly, because to continue as we are makes unviable their development in a sustainable way. Many and important are some of the challenges we currently have: social, technological, economic. environmental, security, immigration, employment, training and transit of thought, among others.
On the one hand, the presence of some of these challenges, whether related to climate change, natural disasters, depletion of natural resources, security, among others, is causing us constant concern. On the other hand, some others, such as the challenges related to security, immigration, pollution, cybersecurity, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence … to say some of them, are already surpassing us all, as these challenges can not be addressed if it is not from a strategic approach of a global nature, and if I hurry to say it, in some cases, they are acquiring an existential character.
On the contrary, the structures of the current economic, social and political model go far below technological development. The increasingly social dimension of poverty, the need to incorporate into the traditional model of research broader systems of innovation that encompass other actors, the fragmentation of knowledge systems, the need for modernization of many institutions around type, which brings all this to the need for a paradigm shift and societal model.
1. Do you agree that many of the current challenges can only be addressed from a strategic approach of a global carácter?
– Of course, that goes without saying: data regulation, artificial intelligence, geo-engineering, genome editing – these are all global issues. But they must be started in countries!
2. Why do you think, as you say, that there are no global regulatory bodies?
– I’m not. There are many global bodies that could be / will be involved with this, but the key difference in my view is that we need a group of people that ONLY does this – a council of wise people that are independent thinkers.
ICT / Circular Economy
If there are two recent events of our economic and social development, which are causing an authentic revolution in our society, they are on the one hand the “Digital Economy, thanks to the advances of the Internet and other technologies. The other is, without a doubt, the “Circular Economy”, as a new development model, which identifies a series of processes in our economy.
With increasing intensity, it is necessary to carry out an authentic transformation in the way our social network is interacting with each other, in some of the key issues of economic and social progress. Technological innovation, the increasing introduction of ICT and the commitment to a digital economy, are on the one hand altering, and on the other, transforming the behavior of all economic and social actors, especially companies.
3. Do you believe that the “digital economy” is properly incorporated into our society? Why do you think there are no social networks of a public nature?
– Very good point. I think we leave way too much of this to private entities because they are fast and they create powerful, ‘free’ products. The best social network I can think of would indeed be LIKE a perfect country – no ads, no data-mining, no investors, no IPO – but we would need to pay a ‘taxt to be a member! I have tried talking to people about this for a long time but until now… nobody wanted to go into the Facebook ‘kill zone’.
The Circular Economy as one of the greatest exponents of the resilience of cities, since it represents a new model of economic and social development, which identifies a series of processes of our economy in relation to the production, consumption and recycling of products that we use, in order to respect and repair natural resources, the renewal and reuse of products and their components.
But above all, the circular economy is also a concept that has to do with the economy, which interrelates with sustainability, and whose mission is that the value of products, materials and resources (water, energy…) stay in the economy for as long as possible and minimize the generation of waste.
4. What do you think about the Circular Economy, as a new paradigm for the functioning of our economy and society?
– I believe this is very much the solution we need to apply – but it will only work IF we also apply that to economic logic, what I call people planet purpose and prosperity — THAT is what every company should be measured on, and that is what would make the circular economy truly realistic read https://www.straight.com/life/1161616/global-cooperation-essential-slowing-climate-change-futurist-gerd-leonhard-reveals
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and represents one more threat that cities, societies and the environment have to endure. From extreme weather events, which threaten food production, to sea level rise, which increases the risk of catastrophic floods, the effects of climate change are global in scale and unprecedented in scale. If drastic measures are not taken without further delay, it will be much more difficult and costly for cities to adapt in the near future.
In the face of all this, urgent and forceful action with climate change is urgently needed, but Institutional Governance is in many cases looking the other way, its inaction is eternalized over time.
5. Do you think that Institutional Governance is going to dare to face this challenge, or on the contrary, do you think that it will be necessary to wait for some regrettable misfortune to occur at a global level so that action can be taken then?
– I think that we will only make these changes (such as 100% carbon offsetting of airplane travel) when the pain is big enough; and it will get there soon. The good news is that science and technology is moving very quickly to provide solutions for renewable energy, food, water etc. I think that FORESIGHT is what we need to work on, urgently – maybe we can save some pain that way.
6. What do you think about the latest movements represented by adolescents, such as the “Friday on the Future” movement and similar movements about the inaction on the part of many governments around the world to act immediately on the effects and consequences of climate change?
– I think it’s great and just at the right time.
It is necessary to define, analyze and understand the importance of the challenges in cities from a holistic and strategic point of view of the process of economic, social, environmental and political development.
All this, in order to integrate these challenges in the Development Strategies of Multilevel Governance, in order to have an appropriate fit in our economic system and job creation, to ensure the deployment and effectiveness of it. For this, we must acquire systems of innovation, ethics, thought transit, collective intelligence and leadership in Institutional Governance that favor this process of change in cities.
You state that “We have to agree on what we want, we have to orchestrate the future, administer it, preserve it. If we are guided only by technological progress, we will come to merge with technology and will lead us to the end of the human species as we know it.
Regulation is a very big word, you prefer to talk about social contracts: principles, ethics, rules and regulation. In that order. The principles, the values of society, do not need to be laws.
7. What do you think we should do to better establish the objectives, taking into account that technology is on the way, and economic, social and political structures go for another?
– We need a lot more people debate on these issues We need to establish a ‘future license’ for politicians – have them pass a test that they UNDERSTAND the future.We need a lot more public and democratic discourse on technology vs humanity, and in a good way, not in a dystopian way – such as in films and shows!
Education is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we have, since the achievement of the other objectives that our society currently has depends to a great extent on it. How to deal rigorously with an adequate education is therefore key to this.
You say that we have to radically modify the educational model, that should start preparing new generations in school for a future dominated by machines. The education system is not prepared for this change. We are realizing that we are creating people with the same skills we had in the past”.
8. Why do you think it is so difficult to incorporate some detected competencies into the education systems, such as creativity, systemic thinking, transdisciplinary communication, as well as the capacities related to change management?
– We are running on a pre-internet system of downloading knowledge, of working like robots – that must end, and it will, because robots will be able to do anything that is not truly human. Education is no longer something delegated to schools – it’s a lifelong thing we all do, all the time!
Innovation systems have to be based on concepts, but also on processes and tools, since they depend on many actors: researchers, scientists, technicians, business people, financiers, development agencies, politicians, users, citizens. All these actors act in different contexts and levels and in general do not have the same interests and ambitions.
Innovation systems must be able to link citizens, with an environment that is being built (Smart Cities), of existing public organizations, as well as the collaboration of all of them with private initiative, which are the companies.
In order for this to be successfully developed, this innovation system must be part of a medium- and long-term development strategy that links to the problems, challenges and objectives of this development process.
When it comes to finding solutions to problems related to current challenges, the sum of knowledge coming from the triangle of knowledge and Institutional Governance is missing. Many of the challenges it is essential to unite the whole community of global character through the realization of a systemic approach, where the parts and the whole, innovation and collaboration are fundamental.
9. Do you trust that collective intelligence will be effective and help effectively in the development process?
– Kind of yes, partly no. I think we need WISE LEADERS as well as a strong collective intelligence, but it will be hard to get the general population to SEE THINGS enough in order to vote on it. Think of Alvin Toffler, Arthur C Clark, Einstein etc… We need to make sure we cultivate and empower people of that quality.
You propose that “We need a digital ethics board in each country; perhaps have one in each city, so it would follow the following order: city, country, then Europe and then the world; and sooner or later it would soon become a world government, not in a sense of government, but as a philosophical government.
10.How do you think all this can be achieved in the current international panorama?
– This is already ongoing; many companies now have ethics boards (even of they use it for ethics-washing, mostly), cities and governments are forming them (look at Denmark). But here again, some really difficult things may need to happen first so that we see the need to act, and invest on this. Societies are driven by technology but DEFINED by humanity!
The great challenges that we face on many occasions, do not have a direct and simple solution. There are many interests at stake and not all economic and social partners, and institutional governance itself have the same interest in solving the problems we currently have. The same policy developed by the different levels of government in many cases becomes in many cases a brake that hinders the achievement of objectives.
11.Do you think that the current institutional and spatial forms of multilevel governments in many European countries and the world are appropriate to effectively address the large and complex urban challenges in an integrated manner?
– Not sure about that – they may need a boost to really achieve this. But it’s not an either/or situation –when something gets really urgent, we will find ways.
12.Do you think it is necessary to experiment with new forms of Institutional Governance, to be able to find a balance between that and a technology in constant evolution, which at the same time win the trust of the citizens?
– I am a proponent of direct democracy AND a ‘council of the wise people’ that would be nicely paid to find acceptable ways to move forward.
In the process of evaluating public policies related to the economic planning and employment process, we find that it is normal for projects, programs and actions to be evaluated, but in almost no case are the policies that make such programs possible evaluated.
The change towards Sustainable Development, constitutes an important transition of thought, whose main objective is that this transition reaches the hearts of people, organizations and institutions, and especially must reach especially the core of the policies of Institutional Governance. This inevitably happens through the realization of new behaviors, be they political, economic and of the citizenship (Social Innovation) in favor of that sustainable and inclusive development.
13.How do you think a turn can be made towards a new model of social, political and economic development?
– This turn is happening right now: look at Facebook – it’s made many people very rich; it’s a high-earning stock, but it is being threatened to the core of its existence in a global TRUST CRISIS. To make life human again or to keep it HUMAN is a movement!