The Industries of the Future
Author: Alec Ross
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
We exist amid rough seas. The last decade alone has shown us several pathogens that earlier were had never even heard of, be it ebola or zika. And we are still struggling to find definitive cures for illnesses like HIV/AIDS, and cancer. In The Industries of the Future, Alec Ross sets on the task of explaining how key technological developments and investments across the globe are altering the landscape of opportunities, especially in terms of health care, for our future generations.
Ross was Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation when she served as the US Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013. It was a post specially created for him after Ross served as a member of the then Senator Barack Obama’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Policy Committee during the 2008 presidential election.
While in office, Ross helped the US State Department upgrade the ways in which it carried out its diplomatic endeavors. He helped the then Senator Hillary Clinton and the Director of Policy Planning Annie-Marie Slaughter decipher several cyberspace policies. He travelled extensively, assisting and aiding American allies with the use of communications technologies.
Unlike several of us, Ross seems to have developed a fixation on the influence and potential of modern technology and its benefits towards our society and culture. Thanks to the exposure he got while in office, Ross, even after his stint with Clinton, continued travelling and consulting, businesses and governments.
In Industries of the Future, Ross directs his attention towards the major implications of new developments in the emerging fields of robotics, genomics, finance, big data, and cyber security, and tries his best to put it all in a demographic and cultural context. Through the book, he shares a few of his thoughts on the economic and political states of several countries that he’s visited.
He correlates the approaching age of robotics to the communications and internet explosion we have witnessed over the past two decades. He pens the significance of the up-and-coming elderly population that will require robotic assistance and the potential for nano-robots to diagnose and treat disease at the cellular level.
As per the book, Genomics, another field with direct health-care implications, will soon enable earlier cancer diagnoses and genetics-based treatments along with new opportunities for treating mental illnesses and slowing the effects of ageing. As per Ross, cyber technology is another promising arena. Recent cyber attacks on large corporations have made cyber security one of the fastest growing industries in today’s world, with the market currently valued at $78 billion and projected to reach $120 billion by 2017.
Further on in the book, Ross talks about a different aspect of technology and its social reception. As per Ross’s perception, tomorrow’s world is the world of openness. It is a world that doesn’t need people like Edward Snowden. And only countries like Estonia, which have open technocracy, can survive. While the secretive states like Russia will have a tough ride ahead. According to his forecast, the future is diverse in terms of innovation, for new discoveries and researches will no more be confined to one geographical location. In short there, will be no more West-centric Silicon Valleys.
Ross writes, “How societies adapt will play a key role in how competitive and how stable they are. 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.”
Another good aspect about the book is that it talks about women’s roles in the economies of the various counties the author has travelled to. Considering gender equaliy is one of the major debates of the present century, and Ross’ book, too, adheres to it.
“There is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women. Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness,” he writes.
He further provides numerous examples throughout to illustrate his point. Example: Rwanda has experienced a steady economic growth and stability after its genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Among other things, its president, Paul Kagame, worked to modernise the economy from its agricultural roots by laying 1,000 miles of fiber. At the same time Rwanda modernised and reformed its laws to ensure equality for women. Ross also shares how Kagame reminded him in a meeting that women leaders constitute a larger percentage in the public and private sector as compared to men. He also points out, “Rwanda is the only country in the world with a democratically elected parliamentary body that is majority female.”
But the book still does seem like a pompous show of one’s connections as the author wears his might on his sleeves. He constantly talks about the influential and powerful people he knows or has known over the years and that too with no subtlety.
Overall, though, The Industries of the Future remains a well-balanced narrative, for it not just tells the reader about what the future would be like, it also gives us warnings on the kind of future we must avoid shaping for ourselves. Ross’s own ideas about the future are really very valid and precise.