Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

The Road to Abundance-Innovation, Disruption, and Opportunity: 2016 IRI Medal Address: A Wave of Innovation, Driven by Technology, Is Democratizing the Tools of Breakthrough Innovation and Driving Revolutionary Improvements in the Human Condition

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

The Road to Abundance-Innovation, Disruption, and Opportunity: 2016 IRI Medal Address: A Wave of Innovation, Driven by Technology, Is Democratizing the Tools of Breakthrough Innovation and Driving Revolutionary Improvements in the Human Condition

Article excerpt

If you open the newspaper, the world seems very dark. Violence and poverty and societal stresses seem to rule the day, and the future can look bleak. But the data tell a different story. I believe we are on the cusp of an explosion of innovation and discovery and change. We are standing still compared to what we're going to have just a decade out, and I want to give you a sense of why we're about to undergo this massive change. Four forces are coming together to create an inflection point: a change in the global economy, a democratization of the tools to change the world, a massive increase in connection and collaboration, and the ability to take extraordinary moon shots like never before.

One of the most critical assets in the business world today is your mindset--how you think about your business, your company, your family, and so forth. The media is pushing a negative narrative, one that appeals to our evolutionary imperative to track danger in the environment. But the data tell a different story, one that's pretty extraordinary. Over the last century, the world has gotten better at an incredible rate, by almost every measure we have. That improvement, I argue, is not only going to continue; it's going to accelerate, driven by a wave of innovation.

The Changing Global Economy

I am positive about the future for two reasons: I don't watch the news, and I do look at the data. And what the data say doesn't match the impression the news may leave you with. In fact, the world is getting better: per capita income has more than tripled, for the world and for every nation on this planet; the human life span has more than doubled; the cost of food has dropped thirteenfold, energy twentyfold, transportation hundredsfold, communications nearly to zero.

Let's look at the data, beginning with global population growth. In the 1950s, a hundred countries had an average of more than six children per family. Today, only six countries do, and the global fertility rate has dropped from more than 5 to just 2.5 births per woman. There are two things that reduce population growth pressures: education and health, both proxies for wealth. That suggests that the world as a whole is becoming better educated and healthier.

People are also living much longer. Life expectancy, for most of human history, was about 26 years. Germ theory and better sanitation increased the average life expectancy over time. And then, in the 20th century, we started tackling cardiac diseases and cancer. It's also become far less dangerous to have a baby; both maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are dropping rapidly.

Death rates from sources besides disease are also plummeting. Airline fatality rates have gone nearly to zero and automobile fatalities are down dramatically, to 1.3 million per year globally. That number is likely to go to zero as well, as autonomous cars come on the road. Annual global death rates from natural catastrophes have also plummeted as we've developed better sensor data and vastly improved the ability to bring help in that golden hour after a disaster.

Global life expectancy is now up to 67 years, and I believe we'll take it to well over 100 very soon. At the same time, the quality of life has gone through the roof. The number of hours we work has halved, and poverty is decreasing globally. The Economist recently ran an issue declaring "The End of Poverty" and the New York Times has reported that we're at a 25-year low in global famine. The number of democracies around the world has gone from a handful to a hundred. In spite of ongoing conflicts and terrorism, we're living during the most peaceful time in human history.

So why is this happening? What has driven these rapid changes over the last couple hundred years? It's not better politicians. We haven't had a hardware or software upgrade in a few hundred thousand years. One fundamental thing is making the world a better, safer, more efficient, more enjoyable, better-educated place: technology. …

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