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Fred PhillipsRSS Feed of this column.

After a dozen years as a market research executive, Fred Phillips was professor, dean, and vice provost at a variety of universities in the US, Europe, and South America. He is now Visiting Professor... Read More »

Last month in Korea a computer scientist struck up a conversation on the subway. He told me in fractured English that he wants to take a PhD in theology. When I meet a theologian I usually ask, “Theoretical, or experimental?” This guy wouldn’t have understood, so I forbore. I did suggest, tongue in cheek, that he would then be uniquely qualified to determine whether A.I.s have souls.

“More than that,” he said, taking me seriously, “they could be intermediaries” between us and God. I allowed as that was an interesting notion.
To say ‘business ecosystem’ or ‘innovation ecosystem’ is to commit the teleological fallacy. That means assuming a purpose where there is no purpose.

Charles Darwin said species evolve to adapt to changing environments. Natural ecosystems – species and their environments – have no ‘purpose’; they just are.

Now, if you believe in a creator deity, you might hold that biological ecosystems do have a (divine) purpose. We’ll come back to this point.
KAIST International Forum on Asia’s Futures, Session 2
Seoul, December 13, 2018

I thank our conference hosts for the kind invitation to participate in this panel, and for the opportunity to assemble these thoughts on Asia’s Technology-Driven Futures.

Let’s outline a context for these futures, before diving into the three questions posed to the panel.

There is a global environmental crisis. For Asia, the most pressing consequences are water shortages in China and elsewhere, due to less Himalayan snow runoff, and coming mass migrations due to rising seas, stronger storms, and inundation of coastal areas.

Though it would seem that only global cooperation can solve global environmental problems, globalization in its current form works against sustainability. WTO-style capital liberalization causes investment to shift quickly to the site of highest returns, irrespective of national borders. To a far greater extent than in the past, fear of disinvestment causes CEOs to strive for maximum short-term profits.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that corporate short-termism is incompatible with long-term sustainability.

The Foundation for Economic Education, with the inevitable acronym FEE, aims to “promote new content and distribution techniques for free-market ideas. Fee has “distilled ‘economic thinking’ into 12 key concepts.” 

Let’s pray that the “distribution” fails and these concepts never reach America’s classrooms, because they’re all… well… wrong.

FEE’s words in plaintext, with my rejoinders in italics:

While responsible people work to stave off humanity’s ecological suicide, many young nerds write unimportant apps to do “things their mothers used to do for them.” The Elon Musks of the world – those who prepare for the long game while financing it with innovative products for today’s market – are so rare as to be anomalies. 

Today’s entrepreneurial scene suffers from a sick venture capital industry, a number of imponderable illogics, and, maybe, misplaced adulation from students and the public. Symptoms include: