What life-changing innovations will we see in the next 10 years? What about 50?
A new book by Alec Ross offers readers a tantalizing glimpse at “The Industries of the Future,” framing a world that challenges our current presumptions and surprises us with new solutions to complex problems.
A leading innovation and tech expert, Ross served as the senior advisor for innovation to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With years of experience meeting with foreign leaders looking to boost their economies, Ross expertly weaves stories from his travels into his projections for the future of innovation.
One of the most promising industries Ross discusses is robotics. More and more jobs are being automated — everything from robotic janitors at airports in England to home caretakers in Japan. In South Korea, where jellyfish wreak havoc on fishermen’s bottom line, researchers created “a large autonomous blender that hunts and kills jellyfish at a rate of up to one ton of jellyfish every hour.”
Ross describes the major advantages of robotics (“their operating costs are minor — robots don’t get a salary”) while highlighting the disruptive effect robots will have on the labor market as we know it. Some countries and industries will effectively embrace the robotics revolution, while others will be made completely obsolete.
“The biggest wins from new technology will go to the societies and firms that don’t just double down on the past but that can adapt and direct their citizens toward industries that are growing,” writes Ross.
Health care is also a prime target for innovation. Ross highlights major advances in genetic sequencing, which allow doctors to predict increased likelihood for certain diseases. Developing countries with a massive shortage of doctors have been transformed by mobile apps that allow doctors to do a remote diagnosis. With skyrocketing medical costs in the United States as well, entrepreneurs are already finding ways to make the typical doctor’s visit more efficient.
In the discussion over health care, Ross illustrates a key point often missed by Democratic presidential candidates. “While the wealthy generally benefit most over the short term, innovations have the potential to become cheaper over time and spread throughout the greater population,” he writes. The same was true with cars, cellphones, and washing machines.
The way we pay for things may be revolutionized as well. I’ve previously written on Opportunity Lives about the promising advance of Bitcoin, and Ross gives it its fair share of attention as well. Even though Bitcoin itself has been experiencing some turmoil recently, the “blockchain” or distributed-ledger technology behind it has the potential to completely disrupt our existing system of currency. Banks are exploring how to use blockchain technology to improve processing times for transactions or stock trades, while governments could benefit by keeping more accurate, searchable records of car titles or property deeds.
Ross doesn’t gloss over the dangers of a more tech-centric world. He devotes an entire chapter to “the weaponization of code,” explaining how cybersecurity will become one of the most important industries of the future. Already, hackers have shut down entire countries, and millions of customers have seen their credit card information stolen after attacks on major global companies.
One of the most interesting examples of innovation that Ross foresees is the movement toward instant translation. Soon, we could have a society where everyone can understand everyone else — regardless of language. “In ten years, a small earpiece will whisper what is being said to you in your native language near simultaneously to the foreign language being spoken,” writes Ross. “The lag time would be the speed of sound.” A development like this would be a monumental catalyst to globalization (and make foreign travel even that more interesting).
Although Ross is clearly a powerful ambassador for innovation, his old boss hasn’t exactly been the most supportive of entrepreneurship over the years. In a speech last summer, Clinton promised to fight the sharing economy — companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb that give people a chance to use their personal assets for extra income.
Clinton promised that, if elected, she “will crack down on bosses that exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages” and institute more government “workplace protections” — even though these companies already offer their workers a completely flexible work schedule.
Ross writes: “In the case of most sharing economy platforms, the product or service being sold is a latent good — something that isn’t otherwise going to be used.” Whether Clinton realizes it or not, the sharing economy is bringing more opportunity to diverse communities around the world.
Ross’s book gives a thorough overview of the exciting developments ahead in healthcare, financial services, and technology. For anyone interested in a glimpse of the future, it’s a must-read.
Published on Opportunity Lives