The secret hidden in full view
High-Tech is driven by five mutually-reinforcing trends – Digitization, Networking, Miniaturization, Simulation and the brand new entry of Boundaryless People-Power – and they are all explosively exponential
THE TRAJECTORY OF the global economy depends on a continuing cascade of immensely-long explosions. One of the most important of these first detonated over fifty years ago and triggered a chain-reaction that has been gathering pace ever since. The spread of its impact started small and was not even particularly noticeable for twenty years. Most people first felt its growing tremors during the 1980s as throughout the decade the great engines of the global economy powered up to full throttle.
Yet still today, with the global economy taking off and with the potential within another thirty years of it achieving escape-velocity into what could feel like a Global Renaissance, the escalating shockwave that increasingly propels it does not even have a name. ‘High-Tech’ is probably closest, and it has become a supertrend that dominates everyone’s lives. It directly drives not just the progress of everything involving computers and electronics, but most of science and technology as well.
However, the term High-Tech does not even begin to convey its full nature. It is in fact made up of five largely-hidden exponential trends ingrained into the complex system called Modern Society. Each of these trends is so individually powerful that when they come together they generate the awesome propulsion of the High-Tech supertrend itself. Each of these five trends is inexorably driven by its own chain-reaction of explosive growth. But each is also so strongly reinforced by the others that together – as a supertrend – they are effectively unstoppable.
You might have thought that these five extraordinary drivers of global society would be obvious to everyone. Yet in reality they are so heavily camouflaged that people tend not even to recognize them for what they are. Their enormity fades into the background because during our day-to-day lives we are only aware of those parts of the supertrend that impact us directly. Things like upgrades in computers or mobile phones stand out. Others – such as developments in wafer-fabrication or communication protocols (let alone advances in molecular biology) – may not even register. But in fact they are all linked. We cannot see that they are each part of something far more complicated because the overall mechanism that drives them is lost within the complexity of society as a whole – a secret hidden in full view. Unintentionally, and over many decades, the five trends that make up the High-Tech supertrend have become encoded and buried within the inner-workings of the global economy itself.
Nothing indicates this better than the everyday-language used to describe them. There is none. Probably the most accurate terms (even though they sound overly technical) for the four out of the five trends that are most deeply established are: Digitization, Networking, Miniaturization and Simulation. Exactly why each of these labels represents something that is in fact of fundamental importance is what most of this book is about. Suffice to say now though, the very fact that merely to name these crucial trends it is necessary to resort to jargon shows just how very well-hidden the full scale of each one is, and how unrecognized their individual significance and contributions remain.
As a result, some implications for how the future will develop have previously been misinterpreted or underestimated – albeit they have nevertheless sometimes been very well publicized. In the remainder of this book I will try to correct some of those errors you may have already come across. But mainly, I will reveal the findings of what is the first-ever comprehensive analysis of the future that is solidly based on confidentially-obtained insights into the otherwise-hidden workings of the world economy.
Four established boosters and a new one
I will progressively build up a full picture of the next few decades by working in turn through each of the five exponential trends that together form the overwhelmingly-powerful High-Tech engine that is launching the world economy on a voyage into completely unfamiliar territory. Each trend is a powerful booster in its own right, but they are very-largely working together like a multi-stage rocket. And that is now of vital relevance to everyone – even to those numerous people who do not really care very much about High-Tech or world economics at all.
How well the five boosters of the High-Tech launch-engine perform is no longer merely of direct relevance to scientists, politicians, economists and business people. It is equally crucial to those who are bored stiff by science, politics, economics and business. Our global economy is already taking off. We are all at extreme risk if it crashes. We are collectively unable to power down without catastrophe. Whether we are unaware of it, do not care about it, or even disapprove of it, we are all now committed to the launch.
Over the next couple of decades, each booster will further steepen the trajectory of the world economy – pushing the limits as it thrusts overall progress ever-upward on an exponential trend. At least for the moment. As I have already mentioned, as things stand our current trajectory just about allows the global economy to reach a form of ‘escape velocity’ by 2040 after which it breaks free from some of its current restraints (such as energy and complexity-solving ability) into a form of Global Renaissance. But there are no guarantees. If our trajectory over the next handful of years flattens too much, then our progress will not be fast enough to avoid all the turbulence that the economy’s acceleration is stirring up.
In the five chapters of this book that correspond to the five-stage boosters of our collective progress, rather than make the typical futurology mistake of treating the trends as if they were in isolation, I will instead build the analysis of each successive trend on what came before – reflecting the heavy interaction between the trends that will inevitably occur in reality. In the first chapter, you will see how Digitization is on an almost-unstoppable course to creating a polarized society that has virtual-assistants, robot cars, cyborgs and everything on-the-record.
In the second chapter you will see how Networking will combine with Digitization to lead by 2040 to computers capable of human-like interaction and an internet a billion times more powerful than today’s. The third chapter reveals how the Miniaturization trend offers nanotech breakthroughs ranging from cancer treatments to quantum computing – but not, as has often been suggested, Star-Trek Replicators or ‘grey goo’. And in the fourth chapter, you will see how exponential Simulation will support fundamental and sweeping advances that lead to almost limitless electricity and maybe almost limitless life-extension.
Finally, you will see how the backdraft of the High-Tech launch engine is stirring up a turbulence of unintended consequences that threaten to disrupt our trajectory so much that we can no longer outrun a growing onslaught of escalating global crises that risk eventually engulfing us. Rather than Global Renaissance we would then face Global Chaos. And yet, there is something extra. Out of that turbulence is also emerging a brand new exponential trend – Boundaryless People-Power – which looks like placing a fifth-stage booster directly under the control of the general public.
That includes you. It carries an implication though: For us to learn how to direct that power most effectively so as to give our world civilization the extra boost in the right direction that it needs, we must first understand just what the hidden forces are that are struggling to propel us toward such an extraordinary and liberating future. That is what this book is for. Certainly, the amazing future it reveals is a destination that we could miss. But it is also a destination that we truly can reach. And if we manage to get there, it will blow our minds.
Here is why.