Hold on tight. We are about to enter a period of unprecedented change, like nothing else you have ever seen in the past.
Now, I know that everyone says this, and usually they are overstating the case. Indeed, since the Industrial Revolution, we have had 200 years of consistent change. But while these changes have been astounding, they have often been based on the same concept – leveraging effort.
The Industrial Revolution was all about using energy to leverage human effort. Water power helped us grow and mill food more efficiently. Railways helped us to move things around and mass production helped us to make more stuff with the same number of people.
But, starting in the 1970s, something began to change. We began to use energy to leverage human intellect. Computers helped us to have better memories and the internet allowed us to access unlimited knowledge.
And it means that this time we might be witnessing something different.
A recent report by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society brings this difference out in stark relief. The report, Technological Tipping Points and Societal Impact, surveyed over 800 experts and executives on their understanding of when certain tipping points would occur.
And the results were quite amazing. Many things that would have been scoffed at only 10 years ago, such as driverless cars or implantable mobile phones, are expected by this group to occur within the next decade.
What are the implications of this deep shift that the tipping points are foreshadowing?
Some of them are quite positive. For example, some of the earlier tipping points, such as ubiquitous computing and storage for all, mean that humanity will have more computing power at its fingertips. We are already seeing the impact of this on service delivery, with business models such as the sharing economy disrupting the traditional way we use assets, and the on-demand economy allowing people to get anything, anywhere, immediately.
But there are others that will pose a more significant challenge to society. According to an Oxford study cited in the report, the advent of artificial intelligence could lead to almost half of all current jobs being computerized. And society must come to terms with issues such as privacy and trust in a world where everything can be measured and recorded.
And there are some areas where we don’t yet fully understand the implications of the shift. What will it mean if over 10% of the world’s GDP is transacted through the blockchain (of which Bitcoin is the currency)? How will this impact taxation and the power of nation states to manage their accounts?
All of these trends have something in common. They are all based on the rise of software as a platform for business, society and the economy. This will require us to have a new set of skills and competencies: in the future, all companies will be software companies and all of us will be systems integrators.
From harnessing effort to harnessing intellect, it might not sound like much but the implications are enormous. Hold on tight.
Technological Tipping Points and Societal Impact is available here.
Follow the debate: Lee Xiaodong, Fadi Chehadé, Matthew Prince, Wang Binying discuss Technology Tipping Points: Global Data Marketplace at the 2016 Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China. Watch the video here.