Why software really will eat the world--and whether we should worry.

AuthorRoberts, Russell D.

Predicting the future of the economy is a fool's game. Go back fifty or one hundred years and imagine trying to see where we are now. Our Internet-connected world, with its consequences for business and entertainment, was unimaginable even twenty-five years ago, so talking about what comes next demands humility. What I will try to do here is not predict the future but rather suggest what trends and processes may prove important in the coming decades and what might interrupt those trends along the way.

Some economists--Robert Gordon (2012), for example--have suggested that the rate of productivity growth has slowed significantly, so we should expect low growth rates for some time looking forward. I have a different perspective. Much of the improvement in the quality of our daily lives cannot be captured with traditional methods of data collection using standard economic variables such as gross domestic product. The explosion in low-cost entertainment via the Internet, for example, has been extraordinary, and much of that pleasure and delight is scarcely monetized, if at all.

And I think the best is yet to come as the digital revolution, ubiquitous smartphones, and Moore's Law continue to change our lives. Personalized medicine, online education, and transportation are just a few important areas where I think technology is potentially transformative. Let's look at each of these areas briefly.

In medicine, you can use your iPhone to take a picture of the inside of your child's ear, upload it to the Cloud, and have a doctor tell you whether your child has an ear infection. You can monitor whether your elderly parents are taking their medication from a thousand miles away. A single drop of blood can now be used for dozens of tests at lower prices than those charged by the current laboratory duopoly, Quest and Laboratory Corporation of America. You can consult with a doctor online for general health issues. You can even bring a doctor to your house, Uber style.

Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and EdX are beginning to change the world of education. They offer low-cost, high-quality pedagogy. Many problems remain with testing, certification, and classroom interaction, but we are at the very beginning of this revolution. Much trial and error are under way, and the best techniques will survive and thrive.

In transportation, the driverless car and truck will save thousands of lives each year, potentially making human driving obsolete, reducing the...

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