The industrial revolution of the 18th century was a major turning point. Steam power, along with other advances in areas like machine tools and chemistry transformed industry from the work of craftsmen and physical labor to that of managing machines. For the first time in world history, living standards grew consistently.
Yet during the 20th century, all of that technology needed to be rethought. Steam engines gave way to electric motors and internal combustion engines. The green revolution and antibiotics transformed agriculture and medicine. In the latter part of the century digital technology created a new economy based on information.
Today, we are on the brink of a new era of innovation in which we will need to rethink technology once again. Much like a century ago, we are developing new, far more powerful technologies that will change how we organize work, identify problems and collaborate to solve them. We will have to change how we compete and even redefine prosperity itself.
The End Of The Digital Revolution
Over the past few decades, digital technology has become almost synonymous with innovation. Every few years, a new generation of chips would come out that was better, faster and cheaper than the previous one. This opened up new possibilities that engineers and entrepreneurs could exploit to create new products that would disrupt entire industries.
Yet there are only so many transistors you can cram onto a silicon wafer and digital computing is nearing its theoretical limits. We have just a few generations of advancements left before the digital revolution grinds to a halt. There will be some clever workarounds to stretch the technology a bit further, but we’re basically at the end of the digital era.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In many ways, the digital revolution has been a huge disappointment. Except for a relatively brief period in the late nineties and early aughts, the rise of digital technology has been marked by diminished productivity growth and rising inequality. Studies have also shown that some technologies, such as social media, worsen mental health.
Perhaps even more importantly, the end of the digital era will usher in a new age of…