The Coming Technological Upheaval

Without the myriad technological marvels of today, we would be a failed society as human species. Every aspect of our daily lives is made possible by the various technologies we use from our smartphones to driving a car to online classes and to undergo medical treatments. Use of technologies has not been new. Over the last two centuries, we were able to achieve step changes in the quality of our lives due to technological innovations. However, each period was enabled by a single most important discovery of its time be it steam engines in 1700’s, electricity in 1880’s, automobiles in 1900’s, digital computers in 1940’s and the internet in the 1980’s.

These technological breakthroughs while causing a lot of pain helped humanity in general to make significant progress across the world, were very tangible with sufficient time for people to adapt and take advantage of them to improve their lives. For example, industrialization helped us to transition from largely an agricultural society from the 1790’s to 1830’s where 90% of the population lived on farms to around 1% today. Many technologies that enabled this successful transition were tangible in the sense we were able to physically see them like the automobiles, computers, airplanes etc.

The current technological innovations are extraordinarily unique in the sense that many equally or more powerful breakthroughs are happening concurrently for the first time. For example 5G connectivity, cloud computing, smart phones, autonomous electric vehicles and drones, cryptocurrencies in finance, cell and gene therapy in medicine, and on top of it all artificial and machine learning are all happening in a massively integrated and overlapping current environment.

Another unique dimension to this extraordinary cluster of technologies is that the underlying foundation that enables all of them is something intangible which is software. For example, AI and machine learning “software” enables natural language based voice interaction with machines or helps us use digital maps for navigation but is not tangible on the outside. The combination of these two forces will drive change exponentially with limited time for people around the world to come to terms with quickly. This rapid change will also be extraordinarily difficult to adjust to and will cause significant upheaval in the world with widening and deepening chasms between people who can adapt quickly and those who cannot.

How can we adjust to these massive changes and adapt successfully to take the fullest advantage? I believe the only way is to prepare in advance, train to develop new skills proactively and create adequate safety systems for people who could fall through the cracks. For example, all curriculums should have a strong STEM focus, basic computer science and coding courses should be mandatory in all schools for students, training and learning should become a lifelong endeavor versus the current notion of learning only in college, skill-based training in areas like robotics, system security, EV automotive repairs etc. should be provided for interested students who cannot afford to spend four years in college and many such initiatives should be undertaken by the government to achieve effective transition to this new world.

This century will drive tremendous technological progress and upheaval. We must not underestimate the degree and rapidity of change that will entail and we must proactively prepare to capitalize on them to make our world a better place.