Living a whole century and a half? Apparently, it's not as far-fetched as you might think, but it carries with it risks.
Yesterday I found myself in New York City at a Global Risk Network forum on "Current and Imminent Global Disrupters."
The event was sponsored by New York University's International Center for Enterprise Preparedness and included an array of Fortune 500 executives, government officials and a smattering of academic types like myself.
The topic: how can we tell that the "sh*t" is about to "hit the fan"? (Because we were in polite company, we used the word "disruptor" in place of "sh*t.")
For the most part the discussion centered around the usual disruptor suspects.
Cyber attacks (also apparently known as hactivism) was high on everyone's list and we heard a fascinating dissection of the Anonymous phenomenon (see here and here) by Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist from McGill University. (See a video of Coleman discussing Anonymous.)
Yes, it was fascinating, but I was a bit disappointed. On the scale of threats it seems to me that Anonymous is fairly benign. I would have preferred a high level discussion of the real threats of cyber attacks -- at the top of the list, sabotage. And I was somewhat taken aback when one participant attempted to draw parallels between Anonymous, the Occupy Wall Street movement and Al Qaeda.
There was a good deal of discussion here on the vulnerability of our infrastructure to extreme events and the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster set off by the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami events in Japan, Hurricane (a k a Superstorm) Sandy, and the recent droughts in the Midwest.
The bottom-line lesson was not reassuring: our infrastructure is crumbling and we are ill-prepared for disasters.
The basic premise of the forum's conveners was that it is possible and desirable for businesses to develop a "risk radar" system that would identify key disruptors and use various metrics and information systems to alert them when conditions were ripe for any of those disruptors to erupt.
I thought it was an interesting concept but, as I opined at the forum, perhaps not sufficiently proactive or imaginative. If one waits until the disruptor is erupting, it is likely too late to do anything about it.
An example I gave to support my contention was the floods in Thailand that put a virtual stop to the global supply of hard drives. Obviously, a radar system that warned a month in advance that Thailand would be severely flooded (if that were possible) would not have prevented the supply-chain disruption. But a forward-looking, "what-if" analysis might have revealed that the hard-drive supply chain was overly vulnerable to a flood (or other environmental catastrophe) in flood-prone Thailand (see also here), and may have induced some to develop alternate hard-drive providers.
I followed with something like this:
Perhaps it's somewhat pedestrian of me, but if you're worried about future disruptions you'd better worry about extreme environmental events because, regardless of what you think about climate change, they are going to happen. And in a global economy, we're all vulnerable to such events no matter where they occur.
By far, the most interesting issue for me that was raised yesterday was related to longevity -- human longevity, that is. It turns out that more and more experts are concluding that it is conceivable that, perhaps by the end of the 21st century, people will live for 150 years. (See here, here, here, here, here and here; and related articles here, here and -- on the bubble-bursting side -- here. One scientist bets we'll eventually become immortal like the immortal jellyfish).
You've probably heard the expression that "50 is the new 30" or "60 is the new 40" (see also here). Well, imagine a world where the new 60 is 140. Saving up for retirement is probably going to be the least of our worries then. Which reminds me, I gotta go. I'm late for an appointment with my financial advisor for a 401(k) check-up.