The following is a summary of a
recent article in The Wall Street Journal that got my attention.
The last century saw several transformations: Electrification, telephony,
automobiles, radio, electronics and TV, and the dawn of the Internet.
In this new century, three grand technological transformations are led by
America: Big data, smart manufacturing and the wireless revolution. The era of
near-perfect computational design and production will unleash as big a change in
how we make things as the agricultural revolution did in how we grew things. It
will be defined by talent, not cheap labor.
Information technology has entered the big-data era. Processing power and data
storage are virtually free. A hand-held device, the iPhone, has computing power
that dwarfs the 1970s-era IBM mainframe. The Internet is evolving into the
"cloud" ? a network of thousands of data centers any one of which makes a 1990
supercomputer look like an antique. Astronomical feats of data crunching will
enable previously unimaginable services and businesses. We are on the cusp of
unimaginable new markets.
Smart manufacturing is the first structural shift since Henry Ford launched the
economic power of "mass production." We are just entering an era where the very
fabrication of physical things is revolutionized by emerging materials science.
Engineers will soon design and build from the molecular level, optimizing
features and even creating new materials, radically improving quality and
Devices and products are already appearing based on computationally engineered
materials that literally did not exist a few years ago: Novel metal alloys,
graphene instead of silicon transistors, and meta-materials that possess
properties not possible in nature; e.g., rendering an object invisible.
This era of new materials will be economically explosive when combined with 3-D
printing ? literally "printing" parts and devices using computer power, lasers
and basic powdered metals and plastics, soon leading to "printing" of entire
Finally, there is the unfolding communications revolution where soon most humans
on the planet will be connected wirelessly. Never before have a billion people ?
and soon billions more ? been able to communicate, socialize and trade in real
The implications of the radical collapse in the cost of wireless connectivity
are as big as those following the dawn of telegraphy and telephony. Coupled with
the cloud, the wireless world provides cheap connectivity, information and
processing power to nearly everyone, everywhere. This introduces both rapid
change ? e.g., the Arab Spring ? and great opportunity. Again, both the launch
and epicenter of this technology are based in America.
Few deny that technology fuels economic growth as well as both social and
lifestyle progress, the latter largely seen in health and environmental metrics.
But consider three features that most define America that are essential for
unleashing the promises of technological change: our youthful demographics,
dynamic culture and diverse educational system.