We live at the start of the 5th industrial revolution and the world is teaming with new technologies and new ideas on how to benefit from them, and yet also fear of the future unknown.
Back in 1879 when Franklin invented the light bulb the entire world started to get mobilized into exploring new possibilities and new ways of doing business, communications around the globe started to increase, and much more. In our time, some 140 years after the invention of the light bulb we seem to be at a similar juncture where the confluence of three deep technologies, Gene Editing, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain is creating similar euphoria across the globe!
While each of the three deep technologies by itself can bring radical innovation, it is the confluence of the three that is the most interesting aspect that I believe will profoundly shape the next generation and beyond.
The blockchain is a decentralized and distributed ledger that keeps a permanent and tamper-proof record of all previous transactions. As Don & Alex Tapscott, authors of Blockchain Revolution (2016) have put it, “The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” With numerous applications including, Cryptocurrency, Smart-contracts, Smart Property, Supply Chain, Digital-identity, Insurance Claims, etc Blockchain is poised to rejig virtually all business processes of value.
While Artificial Intelligence has been around for a while, the recent maturity of Big-data, machine learning, and NLP have significantly increased the viability of AI beyond simple programs. AI is perhaps the most pervasive technology that will power just about everything much like Electricity which first brought us the light bulb in 1879.
Gene Editing is the new kid on the block but potentially the most radical so far. At a simplistic level, gene editing is about correcting defective DNA using molecular scissors. The applications are numerous, including, precision medicine that is individualized, new drug development, improving agricultural yield, etc. What is more futuristic of course is the ability to correct defects before childbirth or potential for tailoring human DNA to increase some or all of our natural abilities. Creating something new! The need for natural procreation through reproduction may become a thing of the past as new humans could be created directly from a DNA strand.
The pace of innovation has been increasing. For over 200,000 years prior to the invention of the light bulb innovation was slow because humans could be productive only during the daylight periods and also geographically very localized within the small close-knit groups with virtually no communication with outsiders.
The invention of the light bulb suddenly doubled the potential human productivity by making it possible to continue working even during dark. With electricity and the telegraph inventions, the communications to farther lands and across the seas increased which further increased the pace of innovation with the possibility of idea exchange between peoples that had never known each other. The 100 years after light bulb saw unprecedented innovation across the world but still in geographical pockets of nation states and relatively slower communication speeds compared to today and then came the Internet.
The Internet along with mobile cellular inventions yet again revolutionalized our productivity through virtually instant communications across the globe and the possibility of complete transformation of business processes from the way they were before the Internet.
In our current generation, while we are working on technologies that are creating more intelligent robots/humanoids and reimagining business processes using Blockchain and Machine Learning and IoT we are also working on deep technologies that are creating even more superior living beings. From test-tube babies to superhumans and maybe even superplants.
As the saying goes, sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction. It remains to be seen how the three technologies will evolve. However, it seems virtually assured that the move towards co-opetition between superhumans and super non-humans has already started.
Ending with a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” Perhaps it is time for Homo sapiens to grow and evolve again ….