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Next: A Brief History of the Future

Next: A Brief History of the Future

By Avi Jorisch

Gefen Publishing House Ltd., 2022

235 Pages

Imagine yourself hovering above Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and try to visualize one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible: the children of Israel shouting in prayer as they recite the blessings and curses that will determine their survival as a people.

Now imagine yourself hovering there today. You are aware of the curses plaguing our planet – drought, hunger, pollution, disease – and you are becoming aware of the blessings that might save it – brilliant innovations that are largely driven by artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and digital advances in water, energy, and space.

According to tech futurist and global affairs strategist Avi Jorisch, we really are, once again, at a "Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal" moment in history.

"For the first time, we have the ability to play G-d, and that is a tremendous power," he said in a recent interview. "For the first time, we can genetically engineer anything we want. We have robots that we can program to do anything we want. We are going to other planets, and we can either deal with those planets as we should deal with Earth, or we're going to destroy those planets as well. We're going to have to grapple with these very important questions."

Next: A Brief History of the Future is a dramatic and fascinating account of 13 people who are literally changing the world through scientific innovations that directly remediate the threats to our planet's survival. At the same time, the book poses the philosophical and ethical questions that are part of the same package.

With Israel punching above its weight in this arena, will Israel also punch above its weight to ensure the technologies will serve as blessings?

"I really feel that Israel has the ability and the obligation to stand up and say, "We take responsibility. We are going to engineer a better future for our children, citizens of the world, and generations to come," he says.

These are powerful statements and a powerful, well-researched book. Yet, there's more: Israel is dealing with these issues while balancing on the tectonic shift of a re-aligning Middle East that poses additional threats and opportunities.

And Avi, with a background in Middle Eastern history and culture ‒ as well as business and technology ‒ seems perfectly situated to help us understand these issues as well.

Born in the U.S. and raised in Israel, he was educated at Binghamton University in New York, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the American University in Cairo and Al-Azhar University ‒ considered the world's oldest and most prestigious school for Islamic learning. He has worked with both the U.S. and Israeli policy establishments, is an expert in financial technology, and recently led an unprecedented delegation of over 50 mostly-Jewish CEOs from 13 countries to Medina to foster mutual understanding and technology development.

His previous book about Israeli technology, "Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World" has been translated into over 30 languages and is widely read throughout the Muslim world.

"Arab countries know that Israel can help solve the problems of our shared region and of the world," he says. "Arab countries are coming to the table because they realize they have a problem with Iran, and they also have a problem with these grand, global challenges."

For all the macro-issues involved, Next is a refreshingly practical book. There is no political agenda to push or axe to grind. Rather, 13 critical challenges are presented along with 13 practical solutions by trailblazers in each area – solutions that can certainly be replicated on a larger scale elsewhere.

The case studies include advances in space technology that will promote colonization; innovations related to food, water, and energy; digital applications in education and public welfare; inventions related to disaster resilience, shelter, hygiene and medicine, and creative ways to permanently lift populations out of poverty.

Perhaps the most telling chapter – the case that incorporates many creative technologies to address a network of intractable problems – is the story of Sivan Yaari, an Israeli who first went to Africa some 20 years ago, at the age of 19, to work in quality control at a Jordache jeans factory in Madagascar. There, she encountered a population in overwhelming poverty: children without food, clothing or clean water; hospitals, clinics and schools that lacked the electricity to provide light and refrigeration, and lack of financial means to address any critical needs, or even products to barter.

Sivan is representative of individuals who take responsibility. She did research and learned that bringing energy to African communities would address many of these problems at once. She obtained advanced degrees in energy management and international affairs. She volunteered with the U.N. Energy Bureau in order to do field research.

And then she devised and implemented her own solution: By 2008, twenty years after her stint at Jordache, she set up her first solar energy project in Tanzania. She installed two solar panels and a refrigerator in a local medical clinic, and as news of its success spread, and more communities and solar applications were added, she founded Innovation: Africa to bring Israeli solar and water technology to the entire continent.

Then, based on the newly available electricity, she initiated aquifer projects to locate, drill and pump water for cooking, drinking, livestock and – drum roll – drip irrigation, the technique first developed in Israel in the 1960s.

Today, Innovation: Africa has transformed the lives of over two million people in ten African countries. And it's all monitored and controlled – through the use of AI and cloud servers – from Tel Aviv, in coordination with local managers.

"The solution is simple because the technology exists, and the impact is priceless," Sivan says in the book. "It just has to be done."

Where does the will to do it come from?

Avi cites evidence that the entire Earth will face a future not unlike what Sivan saw in Africa – devastation from natural and man-made causes – unless good people use advanced technologies for the common good. Those in a position to do so include governments, entrepreneurs and investors, corporations, research institutes, techo-philanthropists and Do It Yourself inventors.

Next provides examples of each. At times, we see the potential danger, for example, the race to use AI to produce eternal youth or bionic soldiers. At times we see the same technology used for the common good, such as flood prevention or disaster resilience. At times we see shades of gray, such as driverless cars which, on a macro-level, are much safer than human drivers but, on a micro-level, can be problematic if they kill someone.

"I wrote this book in order to raise awareness of the issues we're going to deal with. It doesn't do any good to stick our heads in the sand," he says.

"Most individuals aren't aware of what the grand global challenges are and the solutions we have to fix them. This reality is coming, not even to a theater near you, it's coming whether you like it or not. And we have to deal with it."

Upon digesting this book, the reader will be hard-pressed not to say a prayer. And, hopefully, in whatever way he or she can, to deal with it.

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Wednesday, 30 November 2022

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