A number of commentators are voicing gloomy scenarios on the end of the economic growth, particularly in the Western economies.
Indicators show that the amount of jobs being cut by ICT is not counterbalanced by the number of jobs created, as it was the case till the middle of the last decade. The drive to economic growth fuelled by electronics, computers and cell phones seems to lose its strength bringing to
What’s hidden behind the bend?
a close the third industrial revolution.
Per sé this should not be a surprise. The question is not whether the 3rd industrial revolution will come to an end but when it will and whether we are already experiencing it.
The previous two revolutions, the first one fuelled by steam and railways and the second by oil, urban infrastructures, electricity and internal combustion engine, lasted for about 40 to 50 years each ( a bit more or a bit less depending where you want to place the boundaries). Our current ICT revolution has already lasted 50 to 60 years (again depending how you want to place the boundaries; did it start with ENIAC, the first computer or rathe with the IBM 360 that brought computer to real biz use?).
From a technology point of view we are still far from hitting the “game over” wall. Technology is actually progressing farther, as a whole, than it did in the last fifty years and cross fertilisation from one technology area to the other is going to further increase the pace of evolution.
Look at genomics: the sequencing of the genome is progressing much faster than the Moore’s law in electronics. The production of data and our capability to mine information out of them is also progressing at a faster pace.
Our fastest supercomputer today sports a processing capacity in the range of 100 PFLOPS, and a storage capacity in the order of tens of PB. If you look at all cell phone in Italy they, as a whole, have a processing capacity close to 500 PFLOPS and a storage capacity that may soon reach the EB. As communication becomes pervasive and abundant all of a sudden it is no longer a speculation of the overall capacity of cell phones but the concrete possibility of leveraging it.
The multiplying effect worldwide is a billion fold!
Interestingly, one of the commentators, Paul Krugman -see the link to his blog above-, points out that Big Data are likely to become for the better and for the worse, the game changer in economics in this decade. Not because you can do more of the same, but because you can do something different. We have tried to create intelligent programs to emulate human capabilities and all of the sudden we are discovering that you don’t need to create intelligent programs (algorithms) as long as you have sufficient data to mine.
Robots don’t need to be intelligent in the sense of being aware and object focused. They can just be sort of dumb terminals connected to a Big Data Cruncher and derive their intelligent behaviour from that.
Robots may circumvent the issue on the pro-capita GDP growth, they are not to be counted in the “capita” hence you can have a basically unlimited GDP growth just by producing more Robots.
However, and we are back to square one, what happens to jobs (and human beings that feed on those jobs) as robots make them redundant? Is the GDP growth going into the hands (pockets) of the few that develop and control robots leaving all the rest to starve?
Another gloomy talk is based on the observation that the wars have been engines of destruction AND development. If we are heading towards a warless planet we won’t have this engine at work anymore.
Personally, I think that we are going to face challenges an order of magnitude greater than those that were brought forward by the wars: larger population, climate change, water scarcity, …
Each of these can become the new engine of growth and technology will continue to be the tool to face these big issues and to fuel growth. I, personally, have no gloom about the future.