There are 6 technological revolutions beyond Digital that will bring uncertainty and change to our world in the next two decades. These revolutions are already proven and working and are in the process of being deployed across the world.
In the traditional view of technological revolutions, like the one espoused by Carlota Perez in her “Technological Revolutions”, it takes 70 years for each cycle to fully deploy and the next one to come to age. If this were true we would spend the next 30-40 years deploying Digital fully. It would be a time of less uncertainty because Digital is mature and predictable already.
However, there are six technological revolutions that stand ready to cause radical change over the next couple of decades. They will bring most of the uncertainty and change as they start deployment while Digital runs its course. The change they will bring will be more fundamental than Digital, as they will touch our physical reality more deeply, even reaching our bodies and minds. These changes are also obscure for us at this point. We cannot fully imagine them, so they will be difficult to adapt to.
These six revolutions go well beyond just the next extension of digital. All of them are empowered by Digital and build on its complexity. At the same time, they bring very different disciplines to bear: AI, biology, chemistry, display technology, sensors and actuators, cryptography and even psychology and neurology. All these disciplines transform and extend the potential of digital beyond its current capabilities.
The 6 key paradigm shifts that are coming are:
Intelligent Processes. Digitally empowering with AI helpers all the processes in our world, both business and personal. All our actions will be empowered by virtual intelligences that will record, automate and support our decisions. Software-as-a-service enhanced by AI will be deployed to every corner of our world, eliminating most manual and repetitive tasks and giving us unforeseen wisdom in our decisions. Many processes will take care of themselves as if we had an army of helpful elves at our disposal.
Integrated reality. Fully merging and integrating the digital and the physical world. Recording completely the physical world through sensors, and enhancing its perception for humans through digitally augmented reality. Allowing for programming and action in the physical world by deploying actuators and robots that can do our bidding with the same ease that they do in the digital world today. Eroding the difference between “real reality” and “virtual reality”, as the real is enhanced through digital and the virtual can have a real counterpart.
New Energy-Transportation Matrix. Continuing the journey of more energy and transportation capability per human. Using solar power and storage to make energy practically free and nonpolluting for everyone. Leveraging autonomous transportation to reduce the real and cognitive cost of travel and transport by at least an order of magnitude.
Digital Governance. Using blockchain, integrated reality, marketplaces and AI to make laws and contracts automatic, self-enforcing and intelligent. Substituting human based adjudication and decision-making by code-based laws and enforcement. Reducing the cost and time of the legal system to a fraction and eliminating non-compliance. Substituting fiat money for cryptography-enabled intelligent mediums of exchange. Making corruption impossible, but our governments and companies hackable.
Bioprogramming. The control and programmability of organisms including our own bodies and genomes, allowing to transcend health and access biofabrication. Being able to create new lifeforms and alter existing ones. Making biology the equivalent of web page programming. Impacting life expectancy and quality of life dramatically. Opening up digital ethical questions about reproduction and identity
Neurogamification. The full leverage of our knowledge of our brains and psychological control mechanisms to increase engagement and attention in all settings. Understanding how we can be influenced and motivated. Making superhuman feats of willpower, learning and concentration routine. Revealing advertising and manipulation as the next super-weapon. Opening up difficult questions about free-will and meaning.
The impact of this six can be expected to be astounding, much deeper and broader than what we have experienced through digital. The tail end of digital deployment combined with the big 6 will probably create a world that is difficult to recognize. It might be a world of Abundance, like Peter Diamandis and Singularity University defend, or it might be something else we cannot understand today. For sure, it will bring difficult ethical debates and questions as we get closer to our core as beings.
Companies, individuals, and investors will see the ground shift massively, many losing their position if they don’t move fast enough. The best proof of this is Google’s and Facebook’s obsession with some of these trends. Google’s shift from Mobile-first to AI-first shows the lessons learned from the deployment of mobile and how even a top 5 company feels it needs to transform or die. We can apply the same to the most valued jobs or sectors. Will there be a need for programmers when AIs are being taught to code? What will be the value of gold, the euro or the dollar when you can use cryptocurrencies as a value reserve instead of trusting politicians?
These paradigm shifts are not idle speculations. Rather they are realities that are routinely leveraged in some corners of the world. As William Gibson famously said, “The future is here, it is just unevenly distributed”. What we will see is the extension and perfection of these existing technological revolutions across the economy.
Based on a broad survey of many futurist analysis and trends these six seem the most relevant for the next couple of decades. However, there are another five paradigm shifts that could be relevant in the longer term (20-50 years). Hopefully for many of us still well within in our lifetimes. These additional technological revolutions are Nanoscale Technology, Commercial and Residential use of Outer Space, Mind-machine Interfaces and Integration, Quantum Computing, and General AI/Virtual People. These technology revolutions are still in the theory, science fiction, and initial experiments stage. We should watch them emerge over the next decades.