The times they are a-changing

by Dr Jurie Vermeulen

These famous words, sung by Bob Dylan for the first time in 1964, remain more relevant than ever in 2024. For us in media ministry, understanding the times and anticipating the future are critical skills if we want to stay relevant in the world we are helping to shape through our broadcasts. After all, we read, “The wise man looks ahead…” (Proverbs 14:8 TLB). 

Having an inkling of the future has great advantages. Think of Daniel, who was catapulted into fame and great influence just because he was able to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the giant statue revealing the future (Dan. 2). Joseph in Egypt is another vivid illustration of the value of this gift and skill. A friend of mine was writing software code to automate trading on financial platforms. By tweaking his code to peek only 5 minutes into the future, while back-testing historical data, his program made huge amounts of profit in no time at all! That just illustrates the potential advantage of anticipating the future and “understanding the times”, like the men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do…” (1 Chron. 12:32 NIV). Jim Hinojosa writes that the world is on a trajectory of “hyperchange”, but what exactly should we try to understand and anticipate?

Artificial Intelligence

We start with this element because it fuels much of the world’s hyperchange trajectory. Given the current rate of change in the world, experts suggest that we will experience not only 76 but thousands of years’ worth of change between 2024 and 2100. Step changes in technology – be it the mastery of fire, the discovery of the wheel, paper, the printing press, steam engines, aeroplanes, computers, or the internet – always lead to quantum leaps in societal transformation, i.e. hyperchange. The narrow AI we currently use has already led to huge breakthroughs in all fields. One of the holy grails of medicine, understanding the possible 200 million different protein-folding processes within biological cells, was solved in no time at all by DeepMind’s algorithm, setting the stage for previously impossible medical breakthroughs. This is just one example. Soon, our lives will be impacted even more by next-level AI algorithms, tailormade for us as individuals. If we believe thought leaders like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and Yuval Harari, we are on the cusp of another quantum leap, with AI and later AGI (artificial general intelligence) about to be unleashed worldwide. AGI could morph into something autonomous, coding its way into every nook and cranny of our lives. Don’t panic, though. It is too easy to fall into the trap of catastrophic thinking.

As alluded to earlier, AI brings many benefits. While the workplace will change and some jobs disappear, taken over by AI (think about coding and robots), new jobs will emerge where humans are indispensable. It’s important to understand that employees who use AI will take the place of those who don’t – the same holds for companies, because “smart” companies will quickly outmanoeuvre “dumb” companies. Strategy is much less about planning than it is about outperforming your competition. That’s where AI will shine, giving companies that edge in efficiency, impact, and profit – not unlike the advantage Joseph’s wisdom brought to Egypt, or Daniel’s to Babylon 2,700 years ago. We must simply position ourselves to make the best use possible of every new opportunity that presents itself.

Human Cyborgs and genetic mutants

Every human using one of the 8 billion smartphones currently active on our planet has already become digitally enhanced. If tech companies had their way, the functions of smartphones could become part of many humans’ anatomies – probably within the next five to ten years – directly connected to our brains via a brain-computer interface. Neuralink in the US is one of a handful of companies already conducting human trials. People with these interfaces will be able to browse the internet with the search results screened directly on their retinas. Genetic modification could also transform humanity if it is not carefully regulated.

Politics

Futurists agree that the days of relative political calm we enjoyed after WW2 are a thing of the past. Approaching the 2030s, we will see growing global polarisation with different alliances; Western-, Asian-, Eastern -, Arabic- and Southern alliances. These are not watertight divisions but dynamic and overlapping, with countries moving in and out of alliances as it benefits them. Political polarisation, tensions, and divisions are expected to multiply, leading to even more wars over the next decade or more, possibly culminating in the big one … after which the world might just be ready to embrace an impressive political “saviour” that will usher in something that looks like peace and prosperity on the surface. Near complete control of all the world’s systems could be possible with 6G broadband, which is exponentially faster than our current 5G and expected to roll out commercially by 2030. And, unfortunately, experts anticipate more pandemics afflicting our already buffeted global population in the future.

Finances

Physical money – the USD, Pound Sterling, Euro and other fiat currencies – is widely expected to be phased out over the next decade, with crypto- and digital currencies taking their place, making all global trade and transactions digital. Because banks and national governments currently benefit the most from the status quo, they will fight to keep control of the global money flow, leading to a time of worldwide financial instability, until it’s settled. Whether we agree or not, millions of Christians believe that this sets the scene for Rev. 13:17 to be fulfilled: “…so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name” (NIV). We will see soon enough.

There will never be a better time to preach the gospel than right now!

On a trip to Istanbul, I was fascinated by the fact that all the massive castles and fortresses of the ancient kings lie in ruins, while one of the oldest intact structures, the Hagia Sophia church, envisioned and initiated by Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD, still stands unscathed in all its glory. It brings to mind Daniel’s interpretation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s statue dream: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces” (Dan. 2:44-45 NIV).

All things considered, better days are probably not coming soon. That’s why RIGHT NOW is the best time to preach the gospel. Jesus warned that wars, earthquakes, and disasters of all kinds will always be with us (Matt. 24), but so will the gospel of Christ! We should not lose heart. All the advances in AI and connectivity will present unprecedented opportunities to preach the gospel more effectively and powerfully, to even more people, in more languages and more countries, with new technologies. People will be increasingly overwhelmed, confused, and searching for meaning in their lives, opening the door for Christ to enter. The eternal gospel will always be a beacon of Hope, a Light that fills hearts with Life, power, and clarity, ushering in the mighty spiritual movements and revivals of the future.

While traditional terrestrial radio broadcasts might become less prominent in places, communicating the gospel via the internet through apps, streaming, social media, and other channels, will not. Our delivery methods might change rapidly in the coming decade with AI, virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, and holographic projections becoming mainstream, but the life-changing power of the gospel will remain the same yesterday, today, and forever!

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