The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross, the bottom line:
What could the industries of the future be like? Is the world as we know it over? Is technology about to change everything?
If you are interested in these questions, The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross is a must-read book. Really!
Let’s face it, people keep talking about technologies. Robots are replacing humans, the blockchain this, cyber-security that… Don’t just let people let you what to think! Read smart, think smarter, and make up your own mind! The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross is a fascinating and eye-opening book. Read my book review and find out why!
Book suggestion: The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross.
After a book review of Guy Kawasaki’s Rules for Revolutionaries, I thought that discussing revolutions from another angle would be interesting. So, I opted for a book on technology. On the future of technologies, actually, and on what current and forthcoming evolution will bring.
The Industries of the Future by Alex Ross is one of those forward-thinking books everybody should read. The book explores the impacts of current technological developments on tomorrow and draws a map of what the leading industries will be as a result of such change.
Simply put? Technology is a trendy topic at the moment, and that book will help you open up your eyes (and mind). Go for it (but read this review first).
As often, I found out about Alec Ross’ book The industries of the Future on Amazon as I was browsing around. I bought the book together with others but left it on the side for a little while. A friend of mine borrowed it and loved it. He told me about some of the big ideas he had actually highlighted in a shiny yellow. And he got me a new copy so he could keep his annotations. His interest for the book and for the author’s ideas picked my curiosity, so I went for it as well.
To make things very simple, this book is one of my top reads. Clearly? You must read it. It’s that simple. Why? Because The Industries of the Future is one of those books that have the ability to make you think about tomorrow. Do you have an idea of what your life could be like in twenty years? Probably not… But this book could give you some hints.
Talking about hints, there are other books worth looking at if you are interested in the technology evolution debate. I’ll get to that point later, but for now let me start my review of Alec Ross’ book ‘The Industries of the Future’.
As usual, here is what you get on this page:
- A brief overview of the book (that includes my SMART takes).
- A much more comprehensive commentary of what the book is about, with the author's main topics explained in detail.
- The book's main themes, questions and conclusions in bullet points.
- Why the book was worth my time, why it will be valuable to you, and additional reading suggestions if you are interested in the topic!
Alec Ross’ Industries of the Future: a brief overview (for starters)
As usual, let me start with a breif book review. As I just noted, Alec Ross’ book The Industries of the Future is a must-read when it comes to technologies and their impact on the future.
Alec Ross is possibly one of the leading experts on innovation and technology policymaking. He has served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton (then secretary of state) on innovation-related matters. And he was Obama’s technology and media policy expert right before that. He is also an entrepreneur who’s done a lot of traveling. And he has a lot of experience when it comes to talking about both theory and practice… In short? Go for it.
In this book, Ross elaborates on a variety of issues related to what tomorrow’s economy, society and world could be like. Robots, human machines and genetics, codified money and algorithms of all sorts, not to forget data.
In short? There’s a lot of food for thought in this book. Plus, the style is perfectly approachable! The Industries of the future is an easy-to-read book. It is not particularly short (320 pages in paperback format) but frankly it is a real page-turner so don’t let the numbers scare you.
Now, I’m getting into the details with a much more comprehensive book review below (keep reading!), but to finish the brief overview here is what the book is about:
Alec Ross’ Industries of the Future: the comprehensive book review.
Alec Ross’ book The Industries of the Future is made of six chapters which deal with different aspects of technology change – and with what our future is going to be like. Obviously. But there are (in my opinion) three main themes here. One is the interaction between technology (robots), genetics and humans. Another is the role to be played by code in the future. The third theme, finally, focuses on data.
Let’s dig in!
The book in bullet points
Ross explores these major themes:
- Humans and robots
- Code: from tool to weapon
- Data and future markets.
He also asks a variety of questions, including:
- Did globalization serve everyone equally?
- Is the technological evolution there already?
- What can we think of the human / robot relationship?
- Are robotics necessarily bad for human jobs?
- What is the potential of genomics as an industry of the future?
- How will code change our reality?
- Is there an algorithm for trust?
- What to think about digital currencies?
- What are the challenges and threats related to those?
- To what extent can code become a weapon?
- What is the impact of the digitization of everything?
- Is data the basis of a new industry?
- How will data businesses spread around the world?
- What governance challenges will arise from data developments?
- How will cities be involved in this change?
- Can innovation happen without political freedom?
Interesting, uh? Now, let’s move on with the themes, shall we?
The Industries of the Future – Food for thought on globalization
The Industries of the Future starts with some practical ideas on what the current world looks like. Ross writes about the right and wrong sides of globalization, identifies those he sees as the winners and losers. Investors and innovators, as well as those who escaped poverty over the years on the one hand. Those who work hard and permanently compete with cheaper competitor all around the world on the other hand.
Ross doesn’t just talk about right and wrong and he is not judgemental here. He poses the frame, explains the basics, and introduces what the real change is going to be about. “And all this change will pale in comparison to what is going to come in the next wave of innovation”, he says, because “the coming era of globalization will unleash a wave of technological, economic and sociological change”.
In sum, The Industries of the Future is all about breakthroughs, about inevitable paradigm shifts. Shifts in standards, shifts from salt and fuels to data and technology-based services. In Ross’ words, again, “if you can imagine an advance, someone is already working on how to develop and commercialize it […] everywhere, newly empowered citizens and networks of citizens are challenging the established order in ways never before unimaginable“.
The Industries of the Future – Theme #1: humans and technology.
The first major theme in The Industries of the Future relates to the relationship between humans and robots, humans and machines, humans and technological innovation.
Work in Progress
Ross uses a variety of examples to show that – whether we like it or not – the human / technology / robots relationship is a work in progress.
We all know about robots replacing human workers in factories, that’s for sure. But could there be some positive developments in technological progress too? For instance, who talks about those machine ‘caretakers’ developed in Japan to solve an aging population problem? Ross does. He explores the geography of the current robotics landscape (who does what and where), he explores the pros and cons of what he calls “incorporating the next generation of robotics into society, work and home”. Interesting read.
Ross also uses the point as a way to introduce more technical concepts, such as machine learning (the ability of machines to learn from data and experience). The point is relevant because, with more and more funding available, machines will increasingly be trained to think like we do. There is a good example of that in your everyday life, actually. Think about Google, the number #1 search engine, which algorithm is developed and improved continuously to crawl websites and reference the articles depending on the value they create for readers…
Ross also looks at the difference between “weak AI” (artificial intelligence replacing routine work) and “strong AI” (artificial intelligence equipped with human-like cognitive senses). In short, Ross explains where we stand and where we (could) go. Driver-less cars, Uber, today is the “Chapter One, Page One” of technology. I won’t get into more details here, you should really get the book if you are interested in those topics.
An important part of Ross’ argument on the human/machine relationship also relates to the issue of genomics.
The point here isn’t about science fiction or fantasy at all. Ross talks about the ability of (now affordable) technologies to deal with genes. He describes the ongoing creation of what he actually calls a “genomics market”. An industry of the future, if you will. Why do cancers appear? How does the brain operate? From “medical tracking” to “designer babies”, Ross explores technological progress with a pragmatic look. He wonders to what extent humans ought to start acting in a “godlike” manner and asks what might happen when China – as the leader in the field – makes change a reality. Food for thought…
An interesting approach
One point is worth noting here. Ross’ view is not a random view or classical view on technology.
In contrast with other thinkers and experts such as Klaus Schwab or Martin Ford (see the food for thought section below), Ross goes for pragmatism. The relationship between humans and machines isn’t all black (see Ford) or white (see Schwab). To the contrary, Ross’ argument is that whatever happens in the future will not be a matter of technology only. It will be a matter of “whether humans accept the changes they bring about”. Have a look and see for yourself.
The Industries of the Future – Theme #2: Code, from tool to weapon.
The second main theme in the The Industries of the Future could be summarized with a very simple (yet challenging) question: “Is there an algorithm for trust?”. This part of the book spreads over several chapters obviously, but it is, in my opinion, the most interesting. Ross talks about the value (and role) of money and describes how, over the last years, it has evolved.
Codes and money
Once “something tangible”, money is now virtual, online, immaterial, easily transferable despite distance and frontiers. New technologies are re-shaping our relationship with money, and codes are creating new challenges. So? With what Ross calls “coded markets” come new opportunities from a business perspective and from a regulatory perspective alike.
Ross also discusses the (very interesting) idea that codes and technologies create a new form of trust, which allows facilitating business while reducing intermediaries and corruption risks. In short, new rules, new standards. But perhaps a lesser recourse to government and regulators too, and some governance challenges to come.
Ross couldn’t explore those issues without discussing the Blockchain, which he interestingly (and relevantly) describes as an opportunity to “break the national bond with the nation-state” or to “replaces banks or government as arbitrators of trust”. And his argument makes a lot of sense. [Note: for more on the Blockchain, please have a look at my review of William Mougayars’s book The Business Blockchain and at my review of Don & Alex Tapscott’s book Blockchain Revolution, as those two books are really worth a read if you’re interested in the topic].
Ross also writes about the issues surrounding the Blockchain and crypto-currencies in general. He comments on Satoshi’s foundation White Paper (the one from which the bitcoin originated, that is).
And he discusses the security threats that have already appeared in terms of trading. Not to forget questions related to whether or not the bitcoin has any value at all, and to the impact of those currencies in terms of sovereignty.
His description and analysis are precise, very relevant if you are interested in those issues. But, in short, here comes another industry and future.
Code, security and weapons
Ross describes the blockchain as “the next protocol”, but he doesn’t stop there.
Very interestingly, he considers the other potential impacts ‘of codes. Particularly in terms of weaponization. For instance… How to master viruses? What input on business attacks? How about oil production disruptions? Ross describes a scary new world of risks and opportunities here, possibly exceeding $400 billion every year…
Beyond the opportunities to harm, his point is that while codes will revolutionize the financial world (and industry), weaponization also opens new markets. A security market, of course. But also the development of a whole warfare industry is also to be considered, from cyber attacks to the insurance of the many potential costs and the absolute necessity to build an appropriate infrastructure for the greater good.
Obviously, the issue also has a major impact in terms of defense and politics. With “the digitization of nearly everything” comes a threat. Data, influence, elections, corruption… Remember Hillary Clinton’s adventure regarding emails and Russian pressure during the US Presidential elections of 2016? There you go…
>>Note: on this point, see also my review of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book What Happened.
The Industries of the Future – Theme #3: Dealing with data.
So, codes are opening new industrial paths. But so is data.
The information age
Again, Ross talks about what he sees as the premises of “the information age”. The information age refers to the larger debate on technology revolutions, and it implies that data is becoming a primary, “raw material”. The stake, however, is not to merely collect or produce data. No. The future is about structuring and analyzing data so as to facilitate decisions and make the world move using concrete information.
I was very surprised to read Ross ‘s notes on how Obama relied on data to raise funds far more efficiently than his competitors, for example. But his analysis of the future of translation tools is also very instructive.
The consequences are overall potentially massive! New forms of communication, new business methods, precision agriculture as a tool for poverty reduction, Fintechs (financial technology making current systems outdated). You name it, he explains it.
Then comes – in my opinion – the second most interesting part of The Industries of the future. Geography and, in particular, the forthcoming role of cities in the forthcoming chant wave of change.
Ross’ point is very similar to the argument formulated by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab here (see below). In sum, expertise and technology governance will happen differently. How distributed will industries be in the future? How will data-driven industries spread over the world? Can data-based activities “be a source of revitalization for old industrial centers?”.
Another question is worth asking here! If the data revolution can happen anywhere, to what extent wind will cities act as “innovation hubs” or as technology incubators, on a regional or even global scale? This question is essential, and with it comes a variety of questions relating to governance. Can innovation happen without political freedom? How will countries such as China, India or even Singapore succeed in empowering their citizens? Want more? Read the book!
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Alec Ross’ main conclusions
Alec Ross comes to the following conclusions.
- Globalization did not serve everyone equally, the past evolutions have not really delivered in terms of progress.
- The technological revolution is already a work in progress, but we are merely writing the first page of the book…
- The human / robots relationship isn’t just about killing jobs, there are other factors to be considered and other conclusions to be made.
- Genomics is an industry of the future, and the geography of genomics developments is being determined right now, with certain countries investing massively. Not where you would expect, though…
- Code will change our reality, and in particular our relation to trust and to business.
- Digital currencies are reshuffling some cards and pose some very interesting governance challenges, as well as very technical threats that need to be addressed.
- Code is also being transformed into a weapon, and the digitization of everything plays an important role in this evolution. This means that digital security is about to become one of the major industries of the future.
- Data is the basis of a new industry, but it is merely a “raw material” which now needs to be transformed and used.
- This will create major governance challenges, and cities will have an important role to play here.
Alec Ross’ Industries of the Future: Food for thought!
As usual, let’s finish this book review with some food for thought! The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross is one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I have read lately.
Let’s face it. Innovation and technology are everywhere, but who knows what really takes place? Who knows what tomorrow’s economic and social environments could be like? Well, The Industries of the Future is one of those books you need to read if you want to start making your own opinion.
As I just mentioned, however, The Industries of the Future is not the only book on the matter. There are lots of books on the issue of technology developments, in fact. But two books are particularly worth your attention, your time and your money, though.
One was written by Martin Ford, a futurist journalist who shows the negative aspects of the technological revolution discussed by Alec Ross, with a special focus on Robots. In sum, technology rimes with mass unemployment. Scary. [See my review of Martin Ford’s book The Rise of the Robots here].
The other was written by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, and it rather focuses on the potential of the revolution as well as on the related governance that will need to be put into place. I found that book very inspiring and actually included it into my top-books list. [See my Review of Klaus Schwab’s book The Fourth Industrial Revolution there].
Whilst those books tend to respectively elaborate on the bad and good impacts of technology progress, my opinion is that Alec Ross approaches the topic differently. He talks about the wrong and the good, tries to assess how things are taking shape, where, and why, and he concludes that most of the revolution remains to be provoked.
That makes The Industries of The Future a very constructive and moderate must-read book on technology. If you are looking for some food for thought on technology or on the next industrial revolution, this book was written for you.
In my opinion...
… a must-read book if what is about to happen to the world as we know it if of interest to you. It’s as simple as that!
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That’s it for now, but don’t stop here! My reading notes are meant to give you a very comprehensive overview of the books I read and some food for thought for the month. That’s why I’ll Make You Think SMART is the Kick-Ass Book Reviews blog after all!
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