Think We Won’t Recognize the World in 15 Years? Think Again

I just finished a great new book called Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Their previous book, Abundance, was also a big hit in the entrepreneurial and technology sectors.

I’ve heard Diamandis speak a few times at the Tony Robbins Platinum conferences, where I also speak. He’s the Executive Chairman at Singularity University, an institution that emerged from Ray Kurzweil’s research into how the power of computing has and will grow and overtake the human brain, making us literally inseparable.

Every time I read books like these it makes you think: “Oh my God, we will not recognize life and technology a few decades from now!”

But I disagree, from a broader view. The key insight from my demographic, technology, and economic cycle research is that innovation always comes in cyclical surges. Yes, it is exponential over time… but it starts in elite or small markets and takes decades before it affects enough people to fundamentally change the way we live.

Sure, we’ve got huge innovations coming out of biotech at four times the speed of Moore’s Law.

We’ve got new technology in development that will see humans living to be 100, even 120 years old.

We’ve even got a new jet engine that will go four times as fast as the standard model (New York to Shanghai in less than four hours!)

That all sounds great, and people like Kurzweil and Diamandis are famous and respected because they have predicted long-term trends with surprising accuracy, just like we have successfully predicted long-term trends in economies around the globe.

But I have some news for you: Innovation does not move in a straight line.

Yes, technology and human progress move exponentially. But one of my cycles accurately demonstrates that there’s a clear cyclical nature as well.

It’s called the Innovation Wave.

About every 45 years, major clusters of new technologies mature together into the mainstream arena, as the chart below illustrates.
Economy and Markets 45 Year Innovation Cycle Chart

What this shows is that it is not the invention, or early-stage evolution of technologies, that creates great surges in productivity across society. It’s only when they finally become ubiquitous, mainstream, even ordinary.

All of this happens in 45-year bursts.

There was a peak in steamships and canals around 1875, followed by a major drop off as innovation plateaued. Railroads and telegraphs came next, but didn’t peak until 1920, 45 years later. Then automobiles, phones, and electrical appliances in 1965.

And of course — most recently — personal computers, the Internet, cellphones, and broadband, which became ubiquitous by 2010.

Again, it’s not so much when these technologies were originally introduced. The first gasoline-powered automobile was developed in 1886, but it wasn’t until 1900 when they were first commercialized, and 1929 until most urban households had them.

Finally, by the mid-1960’s, 80% of households had at least one car. More had two so mommy could go to work for the first time in history.

It all boils down to the S-Curve. It takes as long for 10% to 90% of society to incorporate new products and technologies into their daily lives as it takes that first 10% from commercialization.

Productivity rises fastest during these mainstream accelerations. After these technologies reach 90% of the population, their ability to boost productivity slows and ultimately declines. And while one S-Curve is maturing, the next is beginning to emerge, but only in niche markets…

That’s why, despite their brilliance, I don’t think life, or our life expectancy, will change as much as Kurzweil and Diamandis forecast, at least not in the next 17 years when this cycle stalls.

For all the breakthroughs and innovations in biotech and transportation, are we living to be 120 yet? Are we flying halfway across the world in a quarter the time we used to? Have we found a cure for cancer yet? Or Alzheimers?

No.

It will be some time before these developments reach society as a whole. Right now, that jet engine is just emerging in NASA and defense industries. So before you make any huge life changes based on Kurzweil and Co.’s claims, consider this…

The year 2032 is when the 45-Year Innovation Cycle enters its next upward turn, lasting until around 2055.

When we enter that period, we’ll see biotech, robotics, nanotechnology, alternative energy and faster air-travel transform our economy as computing did from 1988 to 2010, and electricity from 1947 to 1965. And that’s a bet you can take to the bank.

That revolution will affect our kids and grandkids — not most of us.
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Harry

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Categories: Innovation

About Author

Harry studied economics in college in the ’70s, but found it vague and inconclusive. He became so disillusioned by the state of the profession that he turned his back on it. Instead, he threw himself into the burgeoning New Science of Finance, which married economic research and market research and encompassed identifying and studying demographic trends, business cycles, consumers’ purchasing power and many, many other trends that empowered him to forecast economic and market changes.