2017 will mark the eighth anniversary of Uber’s founding and the 20th anniversary of the victory of the chess-playing computer Deep Blue against the world’s reigning human champion, the Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov. While they are no longer new, these innovations (i.e. disruptive software platforms and AI) continue to be among the most important shaping economic and technological change today. So says Alec Ross, the man behind the highly effective technology and media policy of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential primary campaign. After leading that campaign, Ross went on to become Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — a position that Clinton invented specifically for Ross. In The Industries of the Future, named 2016 book of the year by the Disruptive Innovation Foundation, Ross shares his insider knowledge of global innovation, presenting a panorama of the most important, enduring innovations set to impact you and your business in the coming years, no matter who you are, what you do, or where you live.
Industry 4.0: the robots are coming
Like most technology pundits, Ross confirms that robotics and machine learning technologies are set to revolutionize the global economy and world of work, in what many are now calling Industry 4.0. At the same time, he admits, “We are at the beginning of something: chapter one, page one.” Just as in 2004, the year before YouTube was created, you couldn’t imagine the myriad uses that you would find for the video-sharing website in your daily life, so too the precise applications that robots and machine learning will take remain to be seen. Ross does confirm with forceful certainty, however, that robots are going to kill jobs. He provides the following sobering statistics: “45% of American jobs are at high risk for robot takeover, and another 19% face a medium level of risk (…) In the greatest peril are the 60% of the US workforce whose main job function is to aggregate and apply information.” But, of course, it’s not all bad news – at least not necessarily! These technologies will also create new value and new jobs – “but only so long as humans create the systems to adapt their workforces, economies, and societies to the inevitable disruption.” (See “The automation of knowledge work: What will your job be tomorrow?” Business Digest n°249, September 2014.)
Genomics: the world’s next trillion-dollar industry
“The last trillion-dollar industry was built on a code of 1s and 0s. The next will be built on our own genetic code,” predicts Ross. Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the mapping of genomes, whose “holy grail,” in Ross’s words, is “sequencing the entire human genome.”