A German version of this article can be found here.
We are living in an extraordinary time, characterized by a continuous acceleration of (digital) progress. The emergence of various groundbreaking technological innovations overlaps. The time period within which their impact unfolds is shorter than ever in history.
The following trends are widely considered the most relevant and the closest to large-scale breakthrough:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality
- Autonomous vehicles
- Electric vehicles
- Automation & robots
- Drones (especially for shipping and logistics, but also in military context)
- 3D print
This list is not complete, but it contains the areas which currently receive most public attention, which constantly produce news and which could quickly push economies and societies into a period of much more radical changes than what we have seen so far.
However, the big question is this: Which of these technologies are really ready for prime time? The laws of hypes ensure that no large expectations, prominent backers, public attention and successful pilots can guarantee that a new technology or innovative approach won’t turn out to be unfinished and in need of several more years or even decades of tinkering.
For example, Virtual Reality is already going through its third wave of broad excitement and still hasn’t hit the mainstream. Anticipating of a rapid progress of Artificial Intelligence was big in the 70s and early 80s, before disillusionment led to what came to know as “AI winter”. Predictions about massive advances in automation have been around for maybe even a century, and still many even rather simple jobs require human labor (although, admittedly, most manufacturing processes are highly automated, no doubt about that).
I won’t make any predictions here about the readiness of emerging technologies, I leave that to Gartner and their hype cycle. But let’s look at the more safe conclusions that we can draw from the current state.
- The likelihood that all of the technologies mentioned above will reach mass adoption (or large-scale adoption among the leading companies which in turn impacts hundreds of millions of people) within the next 0-10 years is very low. I’d guess, below 10 percent.
- The likelihood that at least one of the technologies mentioned above will reach mass adoption within the next 0-10 years is extremely high. I’d say, higher than 95 %. It’s almost guaranteed.
- With each additional technology of those mentioned above that reach mass adoption within the next 0-10 years, the changes for our life and the grade of fragility of societies will increase.
So the actual level and intensity of the changes depends on which of the technologies will become mainstream and which will lead to another round of disappointment. Of course, only one of these technologies is enough to cause disruption to the structures that dictate today’s life. If multiple emerging technologies become widely adopted simultaneously, interdependencies can go in effect. For example, if self-driving cars will in fact start to populate our roads as fast as recent news from for example Singapore and Pittsburgh suggest, then companies might see less need for continued investing into delivery drones. And in case a new phase of advanced automation will end up eliminating millions of jobs, while simultaneously Virtual Reality cáfes start to pop-up on every corner (not only in China) and VR headsets find their way into every household, the massive loss of jobs and purpose might be mitigated by the emergence of a virtual economy bringing new income possibilities and new purpose to those who lost their jobs.
The shift that is ahead of us appears as imposing and intimidating as hikers would experience the sight of a huge mountain massif after having made it to the top of a comparatively tiny hill. But the actual dimensions will depend on the number of emerging technologies which advance from a state of prototypes and experiments to mass market at the same time.
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