Summary: A new industrial revolution has begun. Here are two small examples to illustrate what it will be like. Extrapolate these a thousand fold. Then do so again. That’s what will happen in the next 70 years. Let’s start to prepare now.
“One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”
Industrial revolutions have created modern history. Waterwheels and windmills powered the 18th century launch of the industrial revolution. Coal powered steam engines drove the 19th century. Oil powered the 20th century.
But new technological revolutions are coming faster. Mechanical calculators did much of the rote arithmetic for the first half of the 20th century. Electronic calculators and computers played a larger role in the second half. Intelligent machines are already carving out an even larger role in the early 21st century.
The singularity comes
The “singularity” assumes that the rate of technological progress will accelerate, with industrial revolutions coming every few decades instead of over centuries. Especially watch the potential breakthrough technologies of intelligent machines, communications, energy (e.g., cheap solar, fusion), genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and transportation (e.g., magnetic levitation for trains, practical supersonic aircraft). See the links at the end for more about this.
At that rate the world will be unrecognizable to us in a few generations. We might already be seeing this happen, on a small scale. These give us a look at what the future holds for us.
In 1977 Andre Blay’s Magnetic Video Corporation persuaded 20th Century Fox to license fifty of their films for home video release in VHS and Betamax formats. The video store revolution had begun. By 1985 the US has 15 thousand video rental stores, and Blockbuster opened its first chain store to start the great consolidation.
They peaked in 2004 as the largest in America, with 9,000 stores. They closed in 2013, destroyed by online sales of DVDs and direct online delivery of entertainment by cable and the internet — by subscription, rental, and purchase. Peak to crash in nine years!
The number two video chain, Movie Gallery (4700 stores), went bankrupt in 2010.
In 1975 Borders opened one of the first superstores for books, a two-story, 10,000-square-foot storefront at 303 S. State Street in Ann Arbor. By 1998 the mega-chains had exterminated a large fraction of the independent bookstores and enlarged the market, a process lionized in that’s year’s hit film You’ve Got Mail — as Tom Hank’s chain destroys Meg Ryan’s beloved second-generation small store.
By 2004 they were the second largest book seller in the US, with 36 thousand employees in over 1,200 stores around the world. They closed the last of their stores in 2011. Peak to crash in seven years!
Many other bookstore chains have also folded. Crown Books, formerly number 3, Booksellers in Cleveland, Oxford in Atlanta, Kroch’s in Chicago, Scribner’s in New York, and many others. All destroyed by the same process of creative destruction that brought them success.
Looking to the future
We see these changes as isolated events, each with an individual story. This is like viewing the first few snowflakes as individual events, and studying the unique design of each for insights about winter. This is the future. Rapid change creating a new world during a single lifetime.
Perhaps on the same scale as 1875-1945. In that seventy-year long revolution people born in log cabins died in a world with running water, electricity, refrigerators, telephones, radio, cars, airplanes, ballistic missiles, and atomic bombs). If that happens, the small question is what will the world of 2077 look like? The more important question is how we will get there — with changes like the video store and bookstore revolutions happening across society with fantastic speed.
I have no answers. But I will bet big that our descendants will consider our actions today to be quite mad, as our politics becomes bickering about trivial personalities and exchanging insults — while the next industrial revolution begins.
For More Information
- — Comparing our stable lives to the previous period of rapid disruption.
- Our future will be Jupiter Ascending, unless we make it Star Trek.
- Potentially horrific effects of drugs and machines making people smarter & stronger.
- Has America grown old, and can no longer grow? Or are wonders like the singularity in our future?
- Looking at technological singularities in our past & future.
- Good news: the singularity approaches!
Two books show our future. One fiction, one fact.
Here are two books about the accelerating growth leading to our unimaginable future. The first is science fiction; the second is fact. Eventually the difference will blur.