We interviewed a futurist about net neutrality, Bitcoin, and how bad social media is for our future
The beautiful and possibly also one of the most tragic things about being young is that we can afford not to think about the future while having the power to shape that kind of future. It’s a conundrum: to choose between living in the moment or to think about the next 10, 20, 30, years.
Good thing we have futurists, and yes that’s a real job. They won’t pull you out of your couch and tell you to slap on some runners. They’re not life coaches; they think about the big picture. And they’re going to slap you with some highly probably truths about our collective future. Spoiler: it’s not going to be peachy.
Meet Jean-Christophe Bonis. He fits the futurist-visionary archetype to a tee: a cool name, a charismatic demeanor a la Tony Stark, an iconic item in his wardrobe, and a thick, charming accent: French. He has around two decades of experience backing him and five minutes after we got to talk to him we knew he was the real deal. He’s in town to do what futurists do, which means it can be anything between having a TED talk to meeting with some very important people to doing some consulting. Big picture stuff. We don’t really have any clue, so we’ll leave it up to him.
We get to talk to Jean-Christophe about his line of work, the eventual fall of Bitcoin but not cryptocurrency, and why participating in social media will screw all of us over in the years to come.
So tell me, what is your business exactly?
Ah that’s a good question. It’s based on something I’m doing, and it’s very famous in the States. I’m a futurist. A futurist, what does it mean? It means we are forecasting any kind of technology, innovations, all around the world, and we’re trying to understand the impact on society, on people. And we forecast the next 15-20 years on any kind of markets.
I will give you an example: self-driving cars. You know all these things about AI and Robert T. Swift speaking a lot about that, always making many stuff, and around, we have many many operations. What would be the impact of self-driving cars in the way you are building cities?. If you have self-driving cars, you are expecting 85 percent less cars by 20 years. It means we have to balance the space for cars and cars, and the space for humans. And in between that, is my job. Forecasting. Typically, that’s the job.
“Forecasting. Typically, that’s the job.”
From that, we are doing the lines of business. I’m giving lectures, I’m advising big groups building their visions with them. We are making mini-operational startups, we are creating content around the brand as you can see. Travelling the world. I’m hosting a TV show from home.
I’m trying to reach the world in my ways, meaning I’m trying to give people the right change. You know, in ’95, ’97—I’m trying to remember exactly—Nelson Mandela wrote a book explaining his vision. And inside this book he explains that education is the most powerful weapon ever. And I’m trying to give people knowledge, making them understand, helping them to see more than our daily lives, understand what that exactly because we are living in a very crazy world. And a lot of people are lost and need sense so much. And a lot from your generation and people from your age are very interested about that and want to seek because they need sense.
Based on your experience, what kind of skills or knowledge do you [need to] have to be a futurist?
Being able to feel and to understand what is going on. You need to understand technology but it doesn’t mean you have to be a technical guy. I’m not coding. I code a bit, but I’m not an expert in coding.
You need to understand the technology to be able to forecast how people will use it and how it will change our lives. All these things need a ‘sixth sense’ and at the same time you need to [know] how to control impact.
What are your thoughts on the recently approved rule on net neutrality?
I’ll tell you what I’m thinking… Trump is an asshole. And this guy will not be anymore, I hope as soon as possible, in power. Because touching net neutrality is giving the power to people who have money and making a big gap between people who have money and [the rest]. Giving power to communication companies means that everything around the web will cost us more money. Hopefully, this will only be in the States.
In Europe we have laws blocking that. There has just been a talk in France about the fact that there will be no way to touch net neutrality and the different parts of the web will stay safe in France and Europe.
[In] Russia… you know in Russia things are going all wrong. In Asia, it’ll be different because China is open and is controlled by the government and other countries like yours (Philippines) [will] depend on the government. By touching that [Net Neutrality] you will be putting the growth of the economy down. That’s like using, I don’t know, any kind of weapon for crazy stuff I… I don’t understand this guy [Trump].
Do you think the same kind of thing will happen here in Asia or Southeast Asia in the future? Because when it comes to digital space it’s like the Wild Wild West.
Yeah, I think we need to see these things on two different ways. One, you have the control of the web. Meaning, are you free or not on web? And do we have people censoring or following what we are doing? Obviously—and you know it well—that in China the government is controlling the web. You can’t use VPN anymore, you can’t use many operations, WeChat is controlled, and your country it’s sort of the same not as much as it is in China but the control of communication in general is also organized by the government.
Does it mean that the neutrality of the web is touched? No. What is neutrality of the web about? The fact that any kind of service or tool you are using—Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, WeChat or any kind of things, you are [using] the same. The same for everybody. We are just sending data and everybody is at the same level of service. Two things are different. I hope that the neutrality of the web will not be changed in Asia because it’s something very important for people, for the economy, and also for change.
With the net neutrality already being criticized all around the world, isn’t there already a sort of pseudo-net neutrality being imposed by global giants like Google and Facebook by the information they can get?
No I think those are two different stuff. Google and Facebook are all against the touching of the neutrality of the web. Why? Because that’s against them. They will need more money, they will spend more money, and that’s touching also the information they can give to people. So that’s typically something organized by big communication companies to win more money.
What will they do? You know it’s complicated in your country. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have access to everything. After you will have to pay for options, exactly like for TV, cable. You will need to pay options to access group of social networks like Facebook, etc. You will need more to pay more for other level of access… It’s crazy! Absolutely crazy.
Speaking of data, considering how much time and effort we spend on social media and how much data we send on social media, do you find any harm when it comes to that data in our lives in the near future when it comes to our own privacy and safety by the amount of information we ourselves put? Will it bite as back in the ass 10, 20 years from now?
Of course. I’m going on websites, and watching porn, and these kind of things like everybody. And tomorrow depending on what you do on the web, you could potentially influence companies, banks, to accept you or not. If you are trying to find a job, tomorrow, depending on who you are, you will be hired or not. It’s something that depends on the law of your country. For example in the States, if you have programs of [someone] else, banks can refuse to give you money.
In Europe, you can’t because it means you are mixing different databases and it’s touching your neutrality as a private person. European market for the moment is protected on that. I’m not aware about your market, I’m afraid I’m sorry about that. But I know that many markets in Asia you have this kind of protection but in many, also, you do not have this kind of protection. The fact is, in Europe, I had this information a few years ago. If you are asking someone in France to sell all your life data for a level of price, one shot, one price.
“Do you remember this series, Black Mirror?”
Do you know how much people were answering this question? The question was, “I want your data, for how much are you selling your data, your private data, to me, for your life?”
How much did they say?
Give me a price.
Almost. 150 euros.
Can you imagine that? It’s crazy. And now we can just [do that] by using Facebook. Facebook knows if girls are pregnant before themselves [know]. We can know just by forecasting what you do on the web you don’t have to be on Facebook. Forecasting your sexual orientation. If you are or not doing anything with someone. If you are going to do it with someone. Anything! Do you remember this series, Black Mirror?
It’s totally crazy. But that’s what happening! In China, [there’s an] application rating people! In China, they do it! And it means that the step between doing that… If you are someone good, depending on the state or the public opinion is thinking, politicians are thinking, you will have a good rate and it means that you will access some public administration or some money from the government and that’s crazy, where we are going. And it’s happening already. And it’s due to data. But at the same time it’s something with two faces.
Because what is used against us is also used against politicians, companies, and everybody because you don’t have a [?] and everything is open! That data can be potentially used against us but at the same time we know everything about brands, companies, politicians,cheating, and everything! So it’s a double-faced weapon. And it will be coming back on their face, some hour, tomorrow, some day after. Someday after. We just have to be clever and try to understand these things and to put ourselves outside of some box depending on the country you are living [in]. Obviously it’s not very serious to give data in countries where you are not protected. Using software like VPN, like making safety for your data, is needed.
Is not engaging on social media an option still? Or is it inevitable, mandatory?
I think it’s a dream to think about that. But educating people on what you can and cannot do on social media like not putting your private life online is basic. I will give you an example. We have a social media manager and she’s doing a lot of things and she’s almost the same generation as you. Your generation is using Snapchat a lot. For me it’s totally crazy. I will explain why. The first line is the fun part. Okay, everything on it is supposed to be destroyed. Of course it’s not, the data is still posted, but officially destroyed. The problem is what does it mean about information. What does it mean? It means that when you are sending information, stupid or good, one minute before it’s not existing. Then you have this information. One minute after it’s not existing anymore. So you are consuming the instance and the moment by itself not taking some distance. Meaning, your generation doesn’t think deep about information.
To look at information to look at any kind of stuff is like you are eating french fries. You know, superficiality. That’s why your generation now is problematic with distance, with moment, with information, with news, with anything, with our lives. And to just try to go deeper back to it. And that process is bad for me. For me Snapchat is bullshit. And that’s something if you remember, now Snapchat is down. They’re not growing as fast [anymore].
Instagram is just making a copy of Snapchat. Now Instagram is now crossing the 1 billion people active on that. And that’s what is happening. So you need to use this tool with cleverness. You need to try and think about the concept of personal branding. You have a picture of yourself. But you need to take care depending on who you are. I’m not saying you have to be nice [with] everybody loving you, that’s not the point. I’m just saying that personal branding is important and to try for your generation to understand that you need that as soon as possible to try to understand this concept and to manage it is very interesting.
“I’m not saying you have to be nice [with] everybody loving you, that’s not the point. I’m just saying that personal branding is important.”
What are your predictions or trends you are looking out for?
I’m not looking for short trends, I’m looking for big ones. But for the next four, five years will be about big moves about inside many many technologies.
Look at Amazon Echo, Google Home, everything is arriving inside the lives of people in each continent. Amazon Echo is now for business also, for personal assistants too. And that’s something that will arrive for the mass market. The movie Her, do you remember? That’s something that’s happening. And by five years you will have many markets having that on eye level. So my point, these things combined with robotics with big industries will put self-driving cars and trucks on roads. You will have in two years, 2020, already expecting all the taxis to be self-driving ones. You already have lifts using self-driving cars without any humans. In some cities in States, for businessmen, as training, and so on. So it will change lots of levels of society.
After, big trends for me will be virtual reality and augmented reality. Samsung will announce many things on the next year. Many things will happen. You will have a lot of people using this. There will be lots of start-ups using this and it will get inside mass markets. What I think is interesting is you’ll have plenty of stuff. The States will open, The UK will open, France will be more complicated though because questions of safety have been asked everywhere. By definition it is a problem, so I don’t know yet how it will be on a short time. But it’s going in a good way.
“In the future, having money in hard cash is [about] to be dead.”
Okay, so last question. Cryptocurrency…is it a bubble, or something sustainable?
Do you think trees are going to be on the sky? Of course not. I was paid in the beginning with Bitcoin so I’m very happy about that. But still it’s stupidity and you have three ways.
Your question needs to split into three parts. Blockchain is it good or not? It’s good in terms of concepts, it’s not good in terms of business and for everything else. Why? For big blockchain, any kind of blockchain, you need lots of power and lots of energy. Just for Bitcoins, it’s using as much energy as Nigeria. Just for the Bitcoins, by day. It’s crazy. So it means that it’s something I can’t trust for a long time because blockchain is a lovely concept for democracy but not so lovely for the environment. And what is happening? That’s the first part. Second part, Bitcoins. Everything is going up, [then] going down. And it’s going down as fast as it goes up. Does it mean that cryptocurrency in general is bad? No. I think it’s the future. In the future, having money in cash is [about] to be dead. And because we are who we are, we have a face, we can use eyes, we can use everything, we have a lot of tools. Look at that and I will give you information. And then you will we see we are going fast on that market.
“For big blockchain, any kind of blockchain, you need lots of power and lots of energy. Just for Bitcoins, it’s using as much energy as Nigeria.”
First one, the first country to not have anymore cash [is] Sweden. Cashless markets. Everything can be bought with your iPhone. Without any problems or cash. Second information, my country [France]. You are trying to go to one point to another one with a taxi in Paris. You can’t use the credit card because guys are not accepting it. You are buying your baguette, a French baguette. 20 euros… I don’t know how much it is… it’s around 100, 140 pesos. You can’t pay with any kind of cryptocurrency, credit card, only cash. It’s too low because the banks are taking so much money, so it’s not something good. You want to take a drink. Tonight we’ll go out. Drink is beer, Red Horse, 10 euro for example. You can’t pay with your credit card. It’s too low. That’s stupid. Third information, do you think it will not be like that tomorrow? Of course not. We’ll be able to do that. How much? I don’t know. But we would be able to sell information [in] China. And China is the big trend.
“Cashless markets. Everything can be bought with your iPhone. Without any problems or cash.”
Two years ago the Chinese market was using more than 60% cash. Now, in China, 2 years after, we’d AliPay and all these operations using your money just on your wallet and on your phone you can pay anything. And we passed from 60% paying cash to 30%. And even in Shanghai, Beijing, and so on, there are places where they are not accepting cash anymore in China. Where cash is gone. And it’s incredible how fast it’s going there.
The last information to understand the big trends is where we are going. Look at one market: Kenya. In Kenya you have one application called M-Pesa. M-Pesa that’s 50% of the VPN of the country. Meaning everybody, even businesses are using M-Pesa to do business, to buy anything. Everybody is accepting. You are going in a bus, you are using M-Pesa to pay anything with no contact and it means that it is the future. And as usual you have markets going very fast but clearly it is the future on cryptocurrency.
For me cryptomoney is the future, as blockchain as technology can’t. It’s the huge consumption of energy. It’s really in terms of social responsibility, is getting out of the trend.
You can reach Jean-Christophe at his website.
By Lex Celera
Special thanks to Skalyx