The Industries of the Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Industries of the FutureThe Industries of the Future
Alec Ross
Simon & Schuster (2016)

A rigorous and revealing exploration of the industries that will drive the next 20 years of change to our economies and societies

As I read the Introduction to Alec Ross’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book, I was again reminded of an observation by Alvin Toffler in his classic work, The Third Wave: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” I don’t know about Ross but my own crystal ball imploded years ago. Moreover, in business, for example, I cannot recall a prior time when the global marketplace was more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous than it is today. That said, it seems safe to assume that much of what we think we know today will have little (if any) relevance or at least practical value in the future.

Ross is well-aware of all this, of course, and shares in this book an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that he hopes will help his reader gain a better understanding of what the Internet and digitization are likely to do to the world. He explores the industries that will drive the next 20 years of change to our economies and societies. The book’s chapters “are built around key industries of the future — robotics, advanced life sciences, the code-ification of money, cybersecurity, and big data — as well as the geopolitical, cultural, and generational contexts out of which they are emerging. I choose these industries not only because they are important in their own right but because they are also symbolic of larger global trends and symbiotic among them.”

The key issues that Ross explores include the impact of curbing-edge advances in robotics and life sciences on how we live and work; how the increasing application of computer code to new areas of the economy in the virtual and physical worlds will transform what had previously been state monopolies, money and force; and finally, both the expansiveness that big data will allow and the constraints that geopolitics will place within the global marketplace. Obviously there will be much to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” in months and years to come.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Ross’s coverage in Chapters One to Five:

o The Industries of the Future: A Briefing (Pages 12-14
o The Geo-Robotic Landscape (19-22)
o Humanizing Robots (22-28)
o The Machine of Me (32-35)
o Robots and Jobs (35-43)
o Genomics: Melting Cancer Away (47-52)
o Unintended Consequences (56-61)
o Keeping Up with the Genomic Joneses (64-69)
o Everything We Know About the Life Sciences Is Going to Change (74-75)
o Coded Money, Squared (78-81)
o The Sharing Economy: Coded Markets of Trust (90-97)
o The Blockchain and the Environment (111-115)
o The future of Coded Trust (117-120)
o Types of Cyberattacks (124-127)
o Cyberattacking Everything (132-135)
o Cold War to Code War (141-146)
o The Cyber-Industrial Complex: The Weaponization of Code as an Industry of the Future (146-151)
o Nine Billion People Will Need to Eat (161-166)
o All-Seeing Stones (172-174)
o Our Quantified Selves (179-182)

Here are Alec Ross’s concluding remarks: “For most of the world’s 7.2 billion people, innovation and globalization have created opportunity the likes of which has never before existed. The number of people who have recently moved out of poverty in China alone is equal to double the population of the entire United States. The number of people living in severe poverty and able to concern themselves only with meeting the needs of food, shelter, and clothing has decreased at a rate previously unknown in human history. These changes mean new opportunities for all of us — for businesses, governments, investors, parents, students, and children. This book, I hope, will help us make the most of therm.”

It is worth adding that the Chinese character for “crisis” has two meanings: peril and opportunity. It remains to be seen which meaning defines our response.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.