Diamandis and Kotler predict the convergence of technologies and how it will shape the world, altering the course of human history. But is all this actually happening?
Right throughout the Nineteenth century and early Twentieth century, the best economists could envision was that one day dead labour (machines) would take over living labour. According to them, the level of mechanisation would be such that machines will be able to take over the mundane tasks performed by humans, thus robbing them of the social relations of production.
Jules Verne and Vernians could go a step ahead in thinking what technology could entail, but given that it was only in the late Nineteenth century that scientists and ‘wizards’, as some would call them, started using electricity, even their fiction had limits. Today’s futurists are not bound by such constraints. Technology has leapt over the last decade, making everything that one could envision in the 1950s or 1960s possible. In this decade, we may have spaceships taking people on a tour to the moon or Mars, and we may also see bionics envisioned in 1987 sci-fi movie Robocop.
Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler, being at the forefront of such innovations, are better able to talk about these game-changing technologies and many others that they believe will alter the course of human history. Diamandis is a serial entrepreneur, having founded over 20 start-ups. He is also the executive chairman of XPRIZE foundation, which leads initiatives that reward innovative solutions. Kotler, on the other hand, is founder and executive director of Flow Research Collective, a research and training organisation. The third in a series of works, The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries and Our Lives is a culmination of ideas. The book is divided in three parts and 14 chapters. The first discusses the rise of new technologies and concepts like Moore’s law to explain the fast-paced world of tech. It also discusses the convergence of technologies. The second is more focused on the future of things.
It discusses how these technologies will play a role in transforming education, healthcare, entertainment and shopping, among other fields. The last part is focused on how the world will change once these sectors undergo rapid transformation. More importantly, what the authors make of this convergence and revolution.
The book mentions all kinds of ideas and ties them to one of the sectors. There is a common thread throughout, and like a Hollywood plot, the authors build up the story till the end.
It starts with a background on technologies, linking it to anecdotes from the past, like the story about S Ramanujan and the recognition of genius. Then comes the part of which sector will require what technology and ultimately how the world will change. The good and the bad.
A couple of years ago, I set out on an ambitious plan to find out how many people recognise the term fourth industrial revolution. While everyone had an idea of what artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning meant, not many recognised the term blockchain or additive manufacturing. Even when they could, they only related certain phenomenon with it. The concept was more fluidic. My folly was assuming that everyone would be as enthusiastic about the fourth industrial revolution as I was. A few years ago, even the World Economic Forum had talked about it. Enthusiasm is infectious, ideas not so much.
While there is no downplaying the enthusiasm surrounding new innovations, whether ideas catch on and become pervasive depends on market acceptability. After all, it has not always been the Schumpeterian creative destruction that has worked in capitalism. Technologies, no matter how revolutionary, have failed, because it just was not their time. Take the case of music player and Sony. Despite Sony launching a product much before Apple, it was Apple’s iPods that became a rage.
Diamandis and Kotler’s book does well to highlight the ideas that may take shape in the coming years, but whether the market will accept or reject these ideas is not clear. Neither is it apparent if at all any or most of these ideas will find their way to the market in the coming decades. It may even take half a century before any of them become a mass-scale reality. There is no doubt that the future is fast approaching, but it may not be as fast as the authors propound it to be. The book, however, is a good read for anyone who wants to know what the future may look like. After a few years, you can always say the reality is much different. We are moving close to 2030, and there is still no car flying in Delhi.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives
Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler
Simon & Schuster
Pp 384, Rs 699