It’s no secret that the world is changing, and changing fast. We have seen tremendous technological advances within our lifetime.
Ten years ago, high-tech phones had miniature keyboards that allowed the user to input data on a static screen. That seems archaic now, when even schoolchildren have touchscreen devices a million times more powerful than all of Nasa’s combined computing used to put humans on the Moon. And we’re just getting warmed up.
Just as the Internet was a game changer, there are fields of technology currently in development that will be equally disruptive.
These Industries Of The Future are the subject of Alec Ross’s eminently readable book.
Ross is former senior advisor for Innovation to a US Secretary of State – Hillary Clinton. In this role, he had the chance to meet experts working on the cutting edge of technology. He synthesises the insights gained and presents them lucidly, divided into distinct themes: robotics, genomics, crypto-currency, cybersecurity and data analysis.
If you are working or studying in any of these fields, your future is bright. If not, it’s time to brush up on them. This book is an excellent way to do that.
I only had a vague understanding of crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and the encryption involved in making them secure before reading this book. It’s a complex topic, but Ross tackles it with verve and vigour and I now have a much more detailed grasp. (Interestingly, one of the direct consequences of Brexit was a drop in value of the British pound and surge of interest in Bitcoin, so in terms of predictions for the future Ross seems to be on the money, so to speak.)
“Here come the robots”, says the title of the first chapter. If that sounds more like a warning than a prediction, you are on the right track. Increasingly, machines are taking human jobs, at a time when the world’s population (and immigration) is increasing.
A simple example: Until last year, my local airport had a booth at the entrance to the carpark. Three men worked in shifts, taking payments and dispensing tickets. They were replaced by a machine that dispenses tickets and raises the barrier, while another machine takes payments and validates the ticket.
This might seem banal – we’ve all seen it. But it’s precisely because we readily accept it that we can see how easy and pernicious the replacement of our jobs becomes.
Millions of potential bank tellers were deprived of work by ATMs. Those jobs simply don’t exist because we trust machines to do the job better.
Hospitals in Japan already have robots that chat with patients or help them get in and out of bed.
Japan and Germany are two countries investing heavily in robotics. They both have highly developed economies and the resources. But it is also an attempt to counterbalance an ageing population. There are no longer enough young people, particularly in Japan, to take care of the elderly.
The chapter I found most interesting was the one dealing with the implications of mapping the human genome. Our genetic code can be deciphered at a fraction of the cost or time it took in the (recent) past.
This opens the door to move beyond one-size-fits-all medicine. Medication will be tailor-made to match the specific quirks of each patient’s genetic code. Potential illness can be spotted much earlier and cures will be more effective.
The Industries Of The Future is a fascinating book, well worth reading for anyone pondering a career path, an investment opportunity, or even simply for those of us curious about the brave new world that awaits us in the next few decades.
The Industries Of The Future
Author: Alec Ross