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8 billion and counting

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Eight billion? Actually, at some point in the coming year, it will be 8.1 billion. That’s the number of human minds inhabiting our planet. Some will just be entering the population as clean, blank slates with an innate capacity for sensing, anticipating, responding, and learning. Others will bring a half-century or more of experience. Each has something to offer, generating new insights and strategies to be shared, adapted, and acted upon. Actions that can—and will—spark limitless chains of possible outcomes, some beneficial, some detrimental.

As our world becomes more highly complex, interconnected, and fast-changing, we can’t risk leaving everything to chance. But we know we can’t control everything either. We need to figure out how best to bring all of these minds together in ways that will move the event chains along the best path. Let’s take a look at how that might happen and what role KM can play in supporting and enabling this journey.

For starters, a mind needs fuel. According to various sources, the brain consumes approximately 20% of the body’s metabolic energy. Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, as many as 783 million minds are in a continual state of hunger, and 2.4 billion do not have reliable access to food, according to the World Health Organization. Despite numerous efforts, the problem continues to worsen. In 2019, just a little less than 3 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet. Today, that number tops 3.1 billion.

To address this problem, we need to start by looking at where we are as a society and what resources we have with which to work. While many factors are involved (politics, geography, climate, just to name a few), a key consideration is a person’s economic status.

Roughly 3.8 billion people live below what the World Bank considers to be the poverty line. Eight percent are living in extreme poverty, which equates to almost 650 million individuals. That’s down from a peak of 2 billion in 1995, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. So, we’re making progress. But when more than 210 million are chronically unemployed, that still leaves too many precious minds struggling to survive on a daily basis.

A new kind of menial labor

For most of our history, there were plenty of low-paying jobs available. Now, with the current trend in increased automation, especially with robotics and AI, many of those jobs are already starting to fade away. As a result, we can expect unemployment to continue to grow, along with even greater numbers of the “underemployed.” In fact, the very notion of a traditional job is coming into question.

That’s because a new trend in the notion of work and gainful employment has been quietly underway for the past 2 decades, spurred on as a result of the COVID pandemic. One result is the creation of a new class, which some are calling the “superfluous” class. Primarily in the so-called “developed” countries, the emergence of this class is partly the result of increased government assistance. The combination of job displacement and welfare income has enticed the younger end of the population spectrum to fight boredom through outlets such as TikTok, on which users currently spend an hour a dayor more, on average. Many combine their online time with the potential of making some extra money through non-value-added activities such as online gambling, in the form of sports betting, or trading in the financial markets, including crypto-currencies. Add to that the decade-long decline in standardized math and reading tests, and you can see we quickly need to reverse course.

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