Talk of a Fourth Industrial Revolution has been doing the rounds for some time now. Some say we are at the brink of one, others tell you it’s already under way with technological advancements fundamentally altering the way we live, work and relate to one another.
“The First Industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third~ the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.”
Perhaps what is most amazing is the speed with which this transformation is taking place. With things evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace, what may have seemed science-fiction a decade or so back, is today a commonplace reality you simply take for granted. Think about it…at the turn of the century could one have envisaged a scenario where billions of people would be connected by hand held mobile devices that have unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge? Just recently in this engaging book i was reading, “The Most Human Human” by Brian Christian, i discovered about fascinating breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence. It further made me wonder about the kind of transformative, and in some areas even disruptive, changes we may be privy to in our lifetimes.
So how would this future unfold? Let me share just one scenario that came to me as an e-mail forward (though i must confess i haven’t really checked out the veracity of all the claims!!). We may or may not see this complete transformation in our lifetime and this better ‘futuristic’ world…till then lets just imagine one…
“In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they got bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years—and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. (As an explanatory note, this is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years). So, as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.
Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age.
~ Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years. Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.
~ Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected.
(To digress, Go, for those unaware of it, is an abstract strategy board game for two players, in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. Wikipedia tells me the game originated in China 2500 years ago and despite its relatively simple rules, is considered more complex than chess. In Mar this year shock waves akin to those that happened when Deep Blue defeated Kasparov at Chess in 1997, rippled across the scientific community. In a much publicised match, Google’s artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo beat Lee Sodol, counted among the top three Go players in the world, with a crushing 4-1 score. The conclusion was~ “an era is over and a new one is beginning for this victory of machine brawn over a single human brain has startling implications for the future of machine intelligence.”)
In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% less lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain. Watson already helps nurses in diagnosing cancer, 4 time more accurately than human nurses. Facebook now has a pattern recognition software that can recognise faces better than humans. In 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans.
~ Autonomous cars: In 2018 the first self driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will begin to be disrupted. You wouldn’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver’s licence and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we would need 90-95% less cars. We could transform former parking spaces into parks. Nearly 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 km. With autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year. Most car companies might become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. Just speak to engineers from Volkswagen and Audi; they are completely terrified of Tesla. Insurance companies will have massive trouble because without accidents, the insurance will become 100 times cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear. Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighbourhood. Electric cars will become mainstream by 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electricity. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but it is only now that you can see the impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than from traditional fossil fuels. The price for solar energy will drop so much that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025. With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter. We don’t have scarce water in most places, we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if anyone can have as much clean water as he wants, for nearly no cost.
~ Health: The Tricorder X price will be announced this year. There will be companies who will build a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which will take your retina scan, your blood sample and your breath. It will then analyse 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease. It will be cheap, so in a few years everyone on this planet will have access to world class medicine, nearly for free.
~ 3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from 18,000$ to 400$ within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies will start 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to have in the past. At the end of this year, new smartphones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they have already 3D printed a complete 6-storey office building(??) By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.
~ Business opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to go in, ask yourself: “in the future, do you think we will have that?” and if the answer is yes, then explore how you can make that happen sooner? If it doesn’t work with your phone, forget the idea. And remember any idea designed for success in the 20th century is outdated and doomed for failure in the 21st century.
~ Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.
~ Agriculture: There will be a 100$ agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in Third World countries can then become managers of their field instead of working all days on their fields. Aeroponics will need much less water. The first petri dish produced veal is now available and will be cheaper than cow produced veal in 2018. Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces is used for cows. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore. There are several startups who will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labeled as “alternative protein source” (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).
~There is an app called “moodies”, which can already ascertain your mood. By 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where it’s being displayed when they are telling the truth and when not!
~ Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the default reserve currency.
~Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years, now it’s 80 years. This rate of increase is itself going up and by 2036, there will be more than one year increase per year. So we all might live for a long long time, probably way more than 100.
~Education: The cheapest smartphones are already at 10$ in Africa and Asia. By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. That means, everyone has the same access to world class education. Every child can use Khan academy for everything a child learns at school in First World countries.”
A final comment ~ would all this lead to the next stage of evolution of our human civilisation, a better world?
Well that’s the hope…