The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

The Industries of the future is an important book as it talks about where our future generations can spend their time to make a living. I know there is a lot of talk about Robots taking over our jobs and a lot of books are coming out explaining this phenomenon. Obviously the key is to understand what humans can do better than machines. One of the important books in this genre is “Humans are Underrated” by Geoff Colvin. You can read the summary I wrote here. Humans are Underrated Review.
The author Alec Ross is one of the leading experts on innovation. He served 4 years under Hillary Clinton so he has firsthand knowledge on what is happening around the world. In the introduction he says that the last wave of innovation and globalization produced winners and losers. The losers were people who lived in high cost labor markets like the US and Europe whose skills were not able to keep up with the pace of change.
The first chapter is titled “Here Come the Robots.”  25% of Japan’s population is age 65 or older. All of these elderly folks would need caretakers.  There is a labor shortage and this will hit service industry jobs like eldercare. This is where the Robots enter. Toyota built a nursing aide called Robina which is a female robot that can communicate with words and gestures.  There is another robot called Humanoid which serves as a multipurpose home assistant. The amazing thing is Humanoid can do the dishes, and apparently he can even provide impromptu entertainment: one model plays the trumpet.
About 70 percent of total robot sales take place in Japan, China, US, South Korea and Germany.  The prediction is the big five will own the name brands in consumer robots and they will power the software and networks that enable the robotics ecosystem.
The author talks about Singularity here which is the theoretical point in time when artificial intelligence will match or surpass human intelligence.  Mathematician Vernor Vinge predicts that it will occur by 2023; futurist Ray Kurzweil says 2045.  This comment from robotics expert Ken Goldberg should give us hope “Robots are going to become increasingly human. But the gap between humans and robots will remain – it’s so large that it will be with us for the foreseeable future. “
The benefits of robots to society are discussed here. The benefits include fewer work-related injuries; fewer traffic accidents; safer, less invasive surgical procedures; and new capabilities like giving the power of speech to those who are deaf and mute.
The second chapter is titled “The future of the Human Machine.”  Genome sequencing is discussed here.  There have been phenomenal advances over the last 50 years including artificial hearts, new wonder drugs, organ transplants, and other developments which allow people to live longer, healthier lives.  The cost of mapping the first human genome was $2.7 billion. The size of the genomics market was estimated to have grown at a little more than $11 billion in 2013 and is going to grow even faster in the coming years.  The potential dark side of genomics is also discussed here. As genomics grows more sophisticated it will begin a process of creating designer babies. The author predicts that Genomics will become a trillion-dollar industry, extending lives and nearly eliminating diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of people a year today.
The third chapter is titled “The Code-ification of Money, Markets and Trust.”  There is a brief history of money and implications of coded money.  The example of Square is mentioned and the author calls Jack Dorsey a true visionary.  The code-ification of African economies is discussed. The devastation of Congo’s economy and Bitcoin are also discussed.
The fourth chapter is titled “The Weaponization of Code.”  Here the example of a shadowy group linked to the Iranian government which attacked Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company is discussed. They used a computer virus as their weapon of choice.  There are three main types of cyber-attacks: attacks on a network’s confidentiality, availability and integrity. We all know about the confidentiality attacked on Target during the 2013 Holiday season.  The hackers were never caught and the retailer suffered severely for the data breach. A career in cyber security may well be the best form of employment for the next 50 years.
The fifth chapter is titled “Data: The Raw Material of the Information Age.”  Big data is discussed in detail here. The main prediction is that the most interesting innovations in machine translation will come with the human interface.  There will be no jobs required for translators in the next 10 years. We would only need people who can work on the translation software. Precision agriculture is discussed here. The author says Precision agriculture offers the promise of a major reduction in pollution.
Palantir is sighted as an example which has moved into the corporate world helping companies in financial services, legal research, mortgage fraud, and cyber-crime through its analytic program.  It describes its core disciplines as “data modelling, data summarization and data visualization.”  The downside of big data is also discussed. Following quote from David Brooks in one of his articles is good “Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.”
The sixth chapter is titled “The Geography of Future Markets.”  New avenues of opportunity for countries and people alike will hinge on domain expertise – deep knowledge about a single industry, which tends to concentrate on specific cities or regions. For example Detroit has domain expertise in cars and Paris has it in fashion.  The author says that to thrive in the future you cannot be a control freak.  Instead a society must be open in order to exchange ideas, conduct research free from political interference, and pursue creative projects, even if they fail.  Estonia is provided as an example as it spends a larger percentage of its GDP on primary school education than the United States, the United Kingdom and nearly every other European country. School enrollment and literacy is at 100 percent. All school children are taught how to code from the first grade onward. It is an example how being open can help in overall economic development as well.
Finally in the conclusion the author says his most important job is that of a dad. He predicts that multicultural fluency is increasingly important in a business world that is global; kids should become fluent in a technical, programming or scientific language. This will be the only way to survive in the future market place. As Peter Drucker said a long time back the only skill that will not be obsolete in the 21st century is the ability to learn new skills. According to me everything will change but your ability to learn is the only thing that can make you valuable in the marketplace of the future.
This was a well-researched book which provides a nice peek into the industries that can drive our future. I hope you enjoyed reading this review.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.

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