These Technologies Will Shift the Global Balance of Power in the Next 20 Years

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Governments, businesses, and economists have all been caught off guard by the geopolitical shifts that happened with the crash of oil prices and the slowdown of China’s economy. Most believe that the price of oil will recover and that China will continue its rise. They are mistaken. Instead of worrying about the rise of China, we need to fear its fall; and while oil prices may oscillate over the next four or five years, the fossil-fuel industry is headed the way of the dinosaur. The global balance of power will shift as a result.

LED light bulbs, improved heating and cooling systems, and software systems in automobiles have gradually been increasing fuel efficiency over the past decades. But the big shock to the energy industry came with fracking, a new set of techniques and technologies for extracting more hydrocarbons from the ground. Though there are concerns about environmental damage, these increased the outputs of oil and gas, caused the usurpation of old-line coal-fired power plants, and dramatically reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil.

The next shock will come from clean energy. Solar and wind are now advancing on exponential curves. Every two years, for example, solar installation rates are doubling, and photovoltaic-module costs are falling by about 20 percent. Even without the subsidies that governments are phasing out, present costs of solar installations will, by 2022, halve, reducing returns on investments in homes, nationwide, to less than four years. By 2030, solar power will be able to provide 100 percent of today’s energy needs; by 2035, it will seem almost free — just as cell-phone calls are today.

This seems hard to believe, given that solar production provides less than one percent of the Earth’s energy needs today. But this is how exponential technologies advance. They double in performance every year or two and their prices fall. Given that California already generates more than 5 percent of its electricity from utility-scale solar, it is not hard to fathom what the impact of another few doublings would be: the imminent extinction of the fossil-fuel industry. Exponential technologies are deceptive because they move very slowly at first, but one percent becomes two percent, which becomes four, eight, and sixteen; you get the idea. As futurist Ray Kurzweil says, when an exponential technology is at one percent, you are halfway to 100 percent, and that is where solar and wind energies are now.

Anyone tracking the exponential growth of fracking and the gradual advances that were being made in conservation and fuel efficiency should have been able to predict, years ago, that by 2015, the price of oil would drop dramatically. It wasn’t surprising that relatively small changes in supply and demand caused massive disruptions to global oil prices; that is how markets work. They cause commodities futures and stock prices to fall dramatically when slowdowns occur. This is what is happening to China’s markets also. The growth of China’s largest industry, manufacturing, has stalled, causing ripple effects throughout China’s economy.

For decades, manufacturing was flooding into China from the U.S. and Europe and fueling its growth. And then a combination of rising labor and shipping costs and automation began to change the economics of China manufacturing. Now, robots are about to tip the balance further.

Foxconn had announced in August 2011 that it would replace one million workers with robots. This didn’t occur, because the robots then couldn’t work alongside human workers to do sophisticated circuit board assembly. But a newer generation of robots such as ABB’s Yumi and Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer can do that. They are dextrous enough to thread a needle and cost as much as a car does.

China is aware of the advances in robotics and plans to take the lead in replacing humans with robots. Guangdong province is constructing the world’s first “zero-labor factor,” with 1,000 robots which do the jobs of 2,000 humans. It sees this as a solution to increasing labor costs.

The problem for China is that its robots are no more productive than their counterparts in the West are. They all work 24×7 without complaining or joining labor unions. They cost the same and consume the same amount of energy. Given the long shipping times and high transportation costs it no longer makes sense to send raw materials across the oceans to China to have them assembled into finished goods and shipped to the West. Manufacturing can once again become a local industry.

It will take many years for Western companies to learn the intricacies of robotic manufacturing, build automated factories, train workers, and deal with the logistical challenges of supply chains being in China. But these are surmountable problems. What is now a trickle of manufacturing returning to the West will, within five to seven years, become a flood.

After this, another technology revolution will begin: digital manufacturing.

In conventional manufacturing, parts are produced by humans using power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, to physically remove material to obtain the shape desired. In digital manufacturing, parts are produced by melting successive layers of materials based on 3D models — adding materials rather than subtracting them. The “3D printers” that produce these use powered metal, droplets of plastic, and other materials — much like the toner cartridges that go into laser printers. 3D printers can already create physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. But these are slow, messy, and cumbersome — much like the first generations of inkjet printers were. This will change.

In the early 2020s we will have elegant low-priced printers for our homes that can print toys and household goods. Businesses will use 3D printers to do small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. Late in the next decade, we will be 3D-printing buildings and electronics. These will eventually be as fast as today’s laser printers are. And don’t be surprised if by 2030, the industrial robots go on strike, waving placards saying “stop the 3D printers: they are taking our jobs away.”

The geopolitical implications of these changes are exciting and worrisome. America will reinvent itself just as does every 30-40 years; it is, after all, leading the technology boom. And as we are already witnessing, Russia and China will stir up regional unrest to distract their restive populations; oil producers such as Venezuela will go bankrupt; the Middle East will become a cauldron of instability. Countries that have invested in educating their populations, built strong consumer economies, and have democratic institutions that can deal with social change will benefit — because their people will have had their basic needs met and can figure out how to take advantage of the advances in technology.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University.

His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. Follow him on Twitter @wadhwa.

Discussion — 32 Responses

  • RURALTY October 6, 2015 on 8:24 am

    The battle for machine learning networks will also be critical to regions across the globe.

  • SweetDoug October 6, 2015 on 10:58 am




    I’d like to hear your opinion on what we’re going to do with the rising population of unemployed in the very near future or rather, will they be, with these new technologies, and if there won’t be disruptive unemployment, structurally, that may never recover, what will they be doing in order to provide income for to survive?

    Please reference China and their less than savoury history of dealing with people.

    •∆•
    V-V

    • ideaguy7 SweetDoug October 13, 2015 on 11:48 am

      I suggest wage subsidies to artificially lower the cost of human labor relative to robotic labor to ensure that jobs of some kind remain for people. The link between work and economic rewards has been a staple of civilization for hundreds of years – we dare not cast it aside lightly.

      • DSM ideaguy7 October 13, 2015 on 1:46 pm

        Why assume that there is only one method for motivating people? What if we had a system where your reward was proportional to the happiness other people felt you induced in them? And that is just one idea off the top of my head.

        I am sure that larger numbers of people sharing ideas could come up with many others, in fact the number of useful and or interesting ideas, or even questions, a person creates could be used as a metric of their contribution to society. There could be a dozen different factors that contributed to your total remuneration.

        • ideaguy7 DSM October 13, 2015 on 7:19 pm

          “What if we had a system where your reward was proportional to the happiness other people felt you induced in them?”

          We basically do have this system – it is the price system in a free market.

          I don’t assume that money is the only motivation that people have. But it is a motivation almost everyone does have – if they don’t already have everything they need and want.

      • SweetDoug ideaguy7 October 16, 2015 on 9:22 am




        I don’t want to sound too tough on people, but all of these solutions, come down to socialism/communism and shaking the free money tree, and they won’t work.

        This is not a ‘hiccup’ a ‘tough patch’ or a ‘downturn’.

        This is gonna be foreva.

        Where do you think ‘subsidies’ come from? This is like the current drumbeat for ‘free education’!

        Where does ‘free’ come from?

        It’s a ponzie scheme from the left, who think money just falls from trees.

        We’re already 19 trillion in the hole. Predictions range from 2018 to 2025 that medicare, medicaid, and SS are going to be broke.

        I’ve been calling 2024, that election year, the ‘do or die’ year.

        Automation, autonomous vehicles, VR, 3D printing will be in full swing. Unemployment will be ramping up, radically, and won’t be able to be hidden. (You know, like the 90 million people not working now?)

        We’ll be 30 trillion in the hole in 10 years. God help us if they have to raise rates.

        How long will the subsidies last? What will more taxes to pay for these subsidies do, to the already stressed and deflationary economic environment?

        As we raise minimum wages, does anyone think that this won’t accelerate the transition towards automation?

        In your solution, with subsidies to prevent massive layoffs in the transition to automation, this will impact the pricing of goods, as this cost is passed on, making our goods both domestically and through exports, more expensive, creating a less competitive environment.

        Are we to believe, that levying more taxes on business, to pay for subsidies to lower the cost of labour, that will ostensibly be used to retain workers, instead of replaced by automation, will really, work, in a practical, logical application?

        Of course not. The companies will automate, pay the taxes and pass the increases along, thus creating higher costs, for people who won’t have the capital to buy the widgets which they are employed to make anymore. Or they will move to a cheaper environment.

        Do you have any idea of how high these subsidies are going to have to be to compete with robotics? Yikes.

        It’s a race to the bottom. That’s what’s beautiful about capitalism! But the problem is, with automation… That’s the bottom.

        Game over.

        We have finally reached the final stage of the game of outsourcing our labour.

        And, as with all socialist solutions, there will simply evolve the old rules, where dictatorship and control economies are put in place, at best, if the rulers of that time simply don’t kill off the unneeded people, as they realize they have robots to do their bidding, as people are just not needed.

        See China as a probable example… Amongst many regimes.

        •∆•
        V-V

        • genidma SweetDoug October 17, 2015 on 12:33 pm

          You are bringing far too many issues to the discussion.

          It definitely makes sense to look at a problem from a variety of different angles, but you are bringing disparate issues *and* you are *predicting* the future and your future of the future looks like there is going to be a lot of negativity associated with how things will turn out to be.

          Here are some flaws in your point of view, which I have to point out:
          1. It seems like you are predicting the future with an almost utmost certainty. As if, you are sure that the things you say and how you say and think they are going to happen, is how things will turn out to be.
          2. You are looking at predictors from the past *and* then using these predictors in order to formulate and present your version of the future. Case in point, the 90 Million Americans not working is a figure from 2013. http://on.wsj.com/1GM9FNX . Where as, as of two days ago (Oct 15, 2015) ‘Jobless Claims in U.S. have Fallen to Match Lowest Level Since 1973″ source: Bloomberg: http://bloom.bg/1LOEhj0
          3. Next, it seems like the assumptions you make are generally predicated on the foundation that no new industries are going to be created and that no new job types/market sectors are going to be opened up.

          In a nutshell, so not only are you using predictors from the past, but you are assuming that the status quo shall remain (point # 3 above that I have raised).

          On this forum, we have discussed many things. Most of which are related to the creation of new industries and helping open up new frontiers. As well, various and different mechanisms by which the economic system(s) can be re-architected.

          The key, imho, is to:
          – Look at what changes can be made that are going to be beneficial for as many individuals as possible.
          – Look at how society can be re-designed being cognizant of the opportunities that we have in front of us.

          It time that we started thinking beyond this rationale of slicing and dicing the same pie 7 Billion different ways.

          • genidma genidma October 17, 2015 on 12:49 pm

            On the issue of employment and unemployment.

            Overall, I do not think that we should look at the higher rate of employment and think that all is well with the economic system.

            Invariably and has been discussed many times on this forum and on other avenues. Automation is going to have an impact on the workforce.

            My sense is that a majority of the jobs (if not all the jobs) and as they exist today will be automated before/around 2050. So this requires multi-generational changes to the economic systems (amongst many other things). Specific to this issue, here on this forum, I have cited the research paper released by Professor Nils J. Nilsson (Stanford University and IEEE hall of fame inductee for significant contributions to the field of AI).

            The problem and how humans have designed the various systems is that there is nearly not enough focus on the longer term implications. Collectively speaking, humans (to the best of my knowledge) do not plan 20, 40, 100 years out. Outside of how certain think tanks operate and the contribution of private philanthropists and with the exception of certain institutions, the work being done is nearly not enough for the impact to be on the same magnitude, compared to what is going to be required at the time. The maturation of certain technologies takes time, the changes like the ones discussed above also take time. While plans be prove to be useless in certain situations, planning on the other hand is indispensable.

            This is not an issue about employment and unemployment.

            The problem can be reframed as one being: “What ought to be the goals for humanity” and “How do we ensure that our consciousness thrives and survives”. As well, “How do we create a better version of ourselves”.

            If you observe evolution, then only the life-forms that have been focused and intelligent enough to create a better version of themselves have thrived.

            Don’t form tunnel vision.

            More humans minds having more free time should translate into redirecting this cognition towards enabling a better future for our species and all the other species that share this planet with us.

            As the pace of change increases, please remember: “You get what you focus on”.

            Focus on the good and the good will happen.

            • DSM genidma October 17, 2015 on 1:00 pm

              “If you observe evolution, then only the life-forms that have been focused and intelligent enough to create a better version of themselves have thrived.”

              I’m sorry but, you clearly have no idea how evolution, specifically natural selection, works. For one there is not a single factor that determines how long a species survives (average is only 40 million years). The life forms that exist now do so because they are the result of self-replication combined with fortuitous mutations. Evolution has no direction, it is not a hierarchy and the “value” of an organism’s configuration is only relevant to the context of it’s environment.

              As far as humans are concerned natural selection has finished, that much is true, because we can now re-engineer our configurations without needing to reproduce, and that is the fundamental difference, we are becoming sentient machines rather than flukes of nature.

              • genidma DSM October 17, 2015 on 2:15 pm

                You are right. I do not understand evolution.

                But, I also suspect that there is a lot more that we need to unravel and understand.

                Since the roots (origins) of consciousness remain elusive. And that we have a somewhat fuzzy understanding of how thoughts are formed, but no idea of how they emerge in the first place. I would say that, it is an unknown whether we are/will be guiding our evolution or on the other hand evolution will be guiding us.

                And lifeforms have evolved and competition evolved into coopetition.

                Prokaryotes evolved into eukaryotes. Their perception may have been limited at that time. But a move from being a prokaryotes to becoming a eukaryotes would have involved a series of deliberate steps. It would be akin to making use of technology and how technology appeared to be to such a creature at that time.

                My sense is that, as life-forms build atop what existed before, that it somehow helps in widening the level of perception of such a life-form. That this cycle is on-going and it doesn’t stop. We will keep unravelling more and building more complex forms of sentience.

                In a way we are both saying the same thing. I guess the key difference stems from the fact and here my sense is that we do not know and/or it is difficult to hypothesize the infinite variety of consciousness that could emerge at some point in a near future state.

                Where as, you have, what appears to be a very linear point of view. That natural selection will stop, we will re-engineer our physical bodies and will in-essence become sentient machines.

                I mean, I like my body. But what about the mind. How will our consciousness evolve and what will it evolve to?

                The answers depend upon how one chooses to and manages to stretch one’s perception.

                • DSM genidma October 17, 2015 on 2:26 pm

                  “That natural selection will stop, we will re-engineer our physical bodies and will in-essence become sentient machines.”

                  We have already started to re-engineer our physical bodies (3 parent babies etc. ) and natural selection has already stopped.

                  Some would argue that natural selection was derailed the moment humans started to engage in self-predation and conscious, metric based, mate selection. There are groups of people who mate with people based on DNA analysis so as to avoid disease, this increases the number of individuals that are better adapted, but it is a conscious action therefore it is a form of engineering.

                  I am not speculating, I am documenting known facts, and that is the difference between us.

  • Joe Nickence October 6, 2015 on 5:12 pm

    “Instead of worrying about the rise of China, we need to fear its fall” The balance of global power oddly hinges on China, I think. Russia is content to play cat and mouse with America. But China has broader ambitions than to merely play 3rd fiddle, and is craftily positioning itself for longer term goals. As for tech? Bring it on.

      • Torben Iversen DSM October 15, 2015 on 7:50 pm

        How can`t you mention Russia … the Russians once Again clean up after the USA play big Brother off the World…. the russian people are honnest , hard working, and above all a force too Count on…..can you say the same about the scams usa i playing…shame on you !!!

        • DSM Torben Iversen October 15, 2015 on 7:54 pm

          The only shame is theirs, look at that terminal birth rate and the fact that they are drinking themselves to death. What a wonderful place to live. All the smart ones are leaving while they still can.

    • genidma Joe Nickence October 8, 2015 on 10:30 am

      I think, this is what could have been happening:

      1. Drawing forces in and keeping them engaged in the Middle East.
      2. Nation/states and extreme fringe groups build up their capabilities in the realm of asymmetrical warfare. Specially, as NATO and/or other Western nations continue being engaged in a long conventional warfare.
      3. Time is used as a resource in order to gain advantage. Insights and information gained using asymmetrical means (Cyber e.t.c) is leveraged in order to build parity in a conventional sense.

      If true, then, this is an extremely dangerous situation and the only solution is for:
      * All sides to disengage.
      * Upgrade the laws of war, keeping the evolving nature of asymmetrical warfare into consideration.
      * Upgrade and exercise the newly created set of laws with a specific focus on enabling human rights.
      * Pass a Universal law that gives the validity to consciousness being precious.
      * Take steps to enable a transparent global society.
      * Nuclear disarmament.
      * Less government. Not more. (Minimum government)
      * Communist countries and theocracies moving towards a Democratic form of governance (on a timescale). Not in a threatening way. But by exhausting channels of foreign policy and other channels and encouraging how Democracy is a better form of governance (At least for the next 20 to 30 years).
      * Work co-operatively on matters related to climate change. (And other matters as well: Nature of work, technology and it’s impact on the workforce)

      There is nothing powerful about members of the same species threatening to kill each other. These power trips are getting increasingly dangerous with the evolution of asymmetrical warfare. (Cyber, nano, neuro, AI)

      When we say balance of power, it is our ego talking. Not us. Yes, we have problems, but these problems are not large enough that humanity splits up into groups.

      Risks like climate change are indiscriminate. Tackling this risk and others is going to require a co-operative effort.

      It’s numbing to see a dead boy washing ashore. Increased warfare will only make this situation worse. Climate change is going to result into torrents of refugees created across the board. 50 to 200 Million as estimates vary (Source : Wikipedia : http://bit.ly/1L1WhsU)

      China, Russia and the Islamists have to wake up and stop fucking around.

      • genidma genidma October 8, 2015 on 5:23 pm

        Just to expand upon my previous comment (the last line):

        1. I do not understand why Russia (Putin really) behaves the way he/it does (Georgia, Ukraine, threatening to cut Europe’s gas supply, Syria… Now, I do not know anyone from Russia. As in, I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone from Russia. So this behaviour is completely alien to me. But either Russia behaves the way it behaves by ‘design’ or that Putin is an extremely irrational individual.
        2. China. I’ve had a number of conversations with individuals who have lived in China and/or are living in China. The way I understand it and looking at things from the Chinese point of view: China is concerned with the military buildup (US military bases) that it sees as threatening to it’s autonomy. Next, when I try and bring up a discussion about human rights, then there isn’t any response. Same with issues relating to Hong Kong and Taiwan. My sense is that a significant part of the collective Chinese psyche is still living under the shadows of Mao’s legacy. Which, if true, explains why constructs like Democracy fail to take root in China. And/or that mainland China does not allow to take root. It is also true that standards of living are improving for most Chinese, that a middle class has taken shape and surprisingly enough a majority of the Chinese approve of the actions of their government. http://pewrsr.ch/1EfeLjn But again, it is a big unknown, how the Chinese economy is going to be able to diversify itself with so much of it’s workforce (47%) engaged in manufacturing and construction. As with everything, China is a very large country with diverse opinions and perspectives. But, my sense is that how the Government of China chooses to operate is to largely advance it’s own agenda. Which is the agenda of the one single large monolithic ‘company’ that China has become. My worry is that as ‘China Inc’ continues to grow larger and larger and as it continues to expand it’s sphere of influence that the Communist value system is going to rub off on other systems. Communism is not a system that the world needs.
        3. The Muslim world. I have lived in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, I think I understand a small part of the Muslim psyche. If there is such a thing. Again, here too, there is a tremendous diversity of opinion. But, what I have noticed is that there is a lack of collective accountability. Every time something major happens, the tendency is to place the the blame on some conspiracy. The other big problem is that, quite often ‘reason’ is an after-thought. My sense is that that is one of the big reasons why secularism and science has failed to take hold in predominantly Muslim societies. The big question is whether Islam and the West would still be duking it out if the Middle Eastern countries were not sitting on such a large stockpile of oil. My sense is that the Arab countries increasingly lost and continued losing their autonomy in a post 1973 oil crisis situation. To counter this phenomenon, some of the Middle Eastern countries decided that they would fund Wahhabism by enabling Madrassas all over the Muslim world. The memetic transfer of information eventually gave birth to organizations like Al-Qaeda.

        The West too, has made colossal mistakes. There is a long list of blunders, from strategic blunders to things that are downright Barbaric. (Abu Ghraib, Canadian Afghan detainee issue, Guantanamo Force feeding). The biggest strategic mistake that the West has made was to engage in a long war. Unaware that the long wars are slowing chipping away at the freedoms and liberties that form the foundation of the Western civilization.

        Overall, there is this weird interaction between different cultures amongst the human species. It appears that some sub-cultures are working on undermining each others efforts. But there is inter-dependency and there is lack of trust because of many differences that can be explained in terms of cultural-anthropology at the very least.

        In an ideal world, there would be one single culture. The collective output of all human cognition would be geared towards the betterment of our surrounding and the expansion of our consciousness.

        I think that that the following challenges are occurring simultaneously. They are occurring as we speak:
        1. The first challenge is the issues related to peace and conflict. Which, is predicted upon a series of complex developments.
        2. The second issue will be the re-architecture of society in light of the high rates of unemployment that are to be anticipated.
        3. Climate change and how will contribute to item # 1 and 2 above.
        4. The design of society and how it prevents us from leveraging exponential technologies (across the board) for the betterment of all.

        I don’t think weapons development will do anything to tackle things like climate change.

        The big need is complete transparency, much more dialogue and like I have shared above, for all sides to disengage.

        • genidma genidma October 15, 2015 on 7:44 pm

          Perhaps that was my ego talking. It’s best that I do not talk about something I do not understand. Politics would definitely be one of those areas. The various developments across the world are not as black and white. It’s dangerous to use such broad brush strokes.

          It is true that I am really concerned about the global geopolitical situation and how it seems to be continually going from bad to worse. But I could have used a better choice of words and a different strategy.

  • Inquisitor Inq October 7, 2015 on 11:54 am

    You forget to mention LENR. That technology would be a big game changer. NAVSEA has recently published the receipt to reproduce the effect 100%
    http://www.e-catworld.com/2015/10/06/louis-dechario-of-us-naval-sea-systems-command-navsea-on-replicating-pons-and-fleischmann/
    See the NAVSEA slides
    http://www.lenr-forum.com/forum/index.php/Attachment/386-IEEE-brief-DeChiaro-9-2015-pdf/

    • DSM Inquisitor Inq October 7, 2015 on 1:21 pm

      e-cat is a fraud. There are ways to test the technology that would be quick and unambiguous but they have been avoided because those measurement systems would also make it impossible to skew the results enough to suggest that the system converted some of it’s mass to energy. i.e. the input initiated a process that resulted in a greater output.

      Give me even 1 mm^3 of the compound and I can heat it using a laser to ensure the exact energy input is known and given the small size the containment required to ensure isolation and exact measurement of heat output is also easier. But no that sort of actual science is avoided by the people involved because they would be exposed as fraudsters immediately.

      • Inquisitor Inq DSM October 9, 2015 on 7:34 am

        OK but it is strange that NAVSEA say that works. The reason that is not well verified could be that it is not public research it is a private discovery. I agree that is not well tested to say that it not a fraud but, at the same time, i would not say it is.
        Thomas Kuhn said that it is always difficult to shift to the next paradigm. XD

        • DSM Inquisitor Inq October 9, 2015 on 8:53 am

          I say that it is in fact a deliberate fraud, because they deliberately use measurement techniques that are prone to error or manipulation, when clearly better (more scientifically vigorous) methods are available. No amount of truisms can undermine that fact.

    • zawy Inquisitor Inq October 15, 2015 on 7:25 pm

      They don’t even know what physics might be producing the energy, let alone any commercial device 26 years after the “discovery”. This article stayed on track with known commercial technologies and existing exponential trends. Adding something like LENR would be like adding garbage. Thorium nuclear energy is much closer to reality with known physics and existing large labs in many countries. Not a mish-mash of questionable hacks by a few.

  • Vinay Rao October 8, 2015 on 6:14 am

    Foxconn did ‘replace’ a lot of ‘potential’ workers by making its connector manufacturing by special purpose machines (for both the typeC USB as well as the Apple connector). Those machines are self correcting for accuracies, which basically makes them robots.

    I still think we’re hopelessly bullish about 3D Printing though. Each head can carry only a single homogenous material. Even if we could load several heads on to a printer, we’re never going to replicate the outcome of current natural and industrial processes. Will still be good for printing your own iPhone rubber covers.

    We will see a lot more automation, of course. Not because there aren’t enough people, but because people can never be good enough to please us people any more. What this will hopefully free us to do is to spend our lives doing things with purpose, rather than be doomed to play out the economists’ rational choice, not theory, but syndrome.

  • Matthew October 8, 2015 on 3:30 pm

    zero-labor factory* not factor, right?

    the middle east is already a cauldron of instability

    and while free energy by 2035 seems plausible, I hesitate to be optimistic about it. how many times have we seen these amazing exponential revolutions in productivity and cost, only to get the short end of the stick? AND taxed. with decreased wages 1/3rd what they were in 1969 that require a correction (not a raise, wages were $25 an hour in 1969 in real dollars today). AND tax the poor/working class while the rich often pay nothing or very little comparatively with various loopholes.

    and that last article is describing the present, not the future.

    and this might seem random but what about the exponential growth of guns has been a huge problem since they’ve been mass manufactured and there is now 1 per every man woman and child in the US. not to mention their proliferation worldwide from America. US citizens have abused used guns rights and killed 1.5 million US citizens on US soil in 45 short years, more than all US casualties from war since the US existed. seems like kinda a big deal. what could possibly be worth all this carnage? our right to massacre after massacre? because it seems that’s the bigger impact than hunting or some trophy toy. what will become of that exponential technology?

    total US casualties from wars: 1,396,733 (in 240 years ~ 1775-2015)
    total US casualties from legal guns on US soil: 1,516,863 (in 47 years ~ 1968-2015)

    another similar study:

    total US casualties from wars: 1,171,177 (in 238 years ~ 1775-2013)
    total US casualties from legal guns on US soil: 1,384,171 (in 45 years ~ 1968-2013)

    also, what about the ecological/sustainability impact of these exponential technologies? the world doesn’t go on forever. as this shit scales up we have problems. we have ALREADY wiped out 52% of wildlife on earth in the past 40 years. “39 percent of terrestrial wildlife gone, 39 percent of marine wildlife gone, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife gone — all in the past 40 years [factored into that 52% average].” maybe the global markets know this fact and that’s why growth has become so volatile. it is not currently sustainable. and we’re screwing it up worse than ever. we arrived at “earth overshoot day” earlier than ever this year back on august 13th. (the amount of resources consumed by a planet 7.5 billion humans in 1 year per their ability to grow/replenish). not to mention aquifer depletion and pollution which further exacerbates desertification from global warming, which the pentagon has declared a ‘threat multiplier’ for terrorist activity because of the way it destroys agricultural and other economies and forces mass migrations. now look at all these migrants we’re seeing flood Europe, it is only the beginning. even if we changed everything for the best now there is already irreparable damage.

    it seems we are talking about all the wrong things. I am fed up with these articles lamenting problems we all know about. I get that 47% more of US jobs will be displaced by robots in the next 20 years. it SUCKS.

    what about universal basic income? since corporations like wal mart monopolize and disenfranchise any attempt at any business whatsoever. and then proceed to pay 1/3rd what we should get (at minimum, by 1969 standards. it should probably be higher that $25 an hour by now, not far lower) and since this plutocracy I mean capitalism isn’t going anywhere any time soon universal basic income is the only way to ensure human rights.

    what about basic income? what about guns? what about sustainability?

    we all know there are awesome new technologies proliferating and shaking shit up. but no matter how cheap solar gets it will never benefit us until we get at the root of these issues and vote in and purchase things that change the dynamic of economic disparity. at some point we’ll have to talk about the actual problems we face (ignorance of these issues and extremist racism and classism in in its place polluting our electorate preventing us from benefiting form all these changes) underlying all this chaos and god forbid discuss some solutions?

    basically, I feel like this article is all “the shit is going to hit the fan” … but it already has. what about the root problems, or solutions? (free solar and wind in 2035 is great, but it won’t solve all these problems we have already suffered here in the present, 20 years before that. in another 20 years we will only have 25% of earth’s wildlife left).

  • Donald Frazier October 11, 2015 on 7:39 pm

    I suppose we will all take turns with the handful of jobs left, with one millionaire keeping the rest of us happy, fed, and consuming.

  • Hirendrasinhji Rana October 11, 2015 on 9:50 pm

    Excellent Article Prof. Wadhwa. Where does India (with her ‘Make in India’) fit in. Does it has any chance of success. Would appreciate respnse !

  • Tylney October 19, 2015 on 10:16 pm

    I believe the internet, when more or completely freely and ubiquitously available, will change this currently daunting automation trend and its effect on society. The industrial revolution largely eliminated hard labour – this coming revolution will eliminate many forms of labour, both physical and intellectual. Human work and contribution will have to become more value focused and higher skilled, supported by ever more freely available education, which the internet already supports and gives access to. That does not mean all work will be mental, there is always room for art and high level artisans – in fact I believe these areas will increase in value as everything becomes “cheaper, more available, more customisable and machine made” – people will want more and more exclusive, one-off hand made things, and be willing to pay for it. However it will form a very small part of the economy. I digress.

    When less and less money gets distributed through work, there will be no other option than to fund society through taxes and redistribute differently than now, where we share through largely work-effort-based value creation. Society will have to adapt, just like it had to when the industrial revolution changes the game for just about every business. Machines and Humans have different goals. Machines do as they are told and even with AI they will strive towards more efficiency and productivity, at least until they become self aware, as that is their purpose we give them. Just like a computer they will relentlessly perform their purpose and improve what they do – incrementally at first. Does that mean we might have more changes of a fulfilled life? Might we not have to find our calling so we can excel at what we do, have different educations that nurture and support a persons purpose rather than mould a cog for a machine as in the past? Education will not be able to justify pumping out workers anymore. This change is happening now as people are becoming ever more aware that the old way of working does not satisfy the needs of the individual or society at large. In a way ubiquitous automation and manufacturing might become the biggest liberator and accelerator for human development to date. Yes, AI will at some place make human brains redundant, but that does not mean they will wipe out humanity Terminator style – unless we stick to our ways and try to destroy or control anything that is remotely a threat to us rather than learn to co-exist. Maybe our own technological advances will force us to revisit the ancient wisdom of the aboriginal cultures that managed to thrive and co-exist with nature. Only that we are creating “nature” now more than ever. How we shape the future and how we decide to deal with it is up to us, not the machines. We have all the power and all the responsibility for our future.

  • Joseph Knitter November 2, 2015 on 6:16 am

    Ok…a very interesting discussion with many opinions! Here is another idea that crossed my mind recently….What about the results of these economic collapses and the shift of power ‘on the ground’ with real people? Here is one practical possibility…China will possibly reorganize after a ‘workers revolution’ and decide on a totally capitalist economic model. Then…they will invade Russia to aquire all Russia’s natural resources to support their internal growth potential!! The Western countries will simply shrug their shoulders….Russia never did anything since WWll to promote our friendship…This is a natural evolution and follows a pattern thruout history….

  • vcrewchief November 27, 2015 on 9:39 am

    I thought the oil prices tanked because OPEC was trying to bankrupt Russia. My observations of reputable futurists (like Singularity) have led me to conclude that they’re often correct about the inevitability of the paradigm shifts, but also, they’re often way too liberal with their predictions about WHEN these advances will actually take place.

  • samdemarco November 29, 2015 on 4:25 pm

    Interesting article….

  • Daniel Ferra December 30, 2015 on 3:06 pm

    “Porter Ranch Ca. The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground and it shows no sign of stopping.

    As the pressure from weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area.

    According to tests conducted in November by the California Air Resources Board, the leak is spewing 50,000 kilograms of gas per hour—the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.

    At this rate, in just one month, the leak will have accounted for one-quarter of the total estimated methane emissions in the state of California.” Erin Brockovich

    There is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget !

    “Climate outlook may be worse than feared

    The impact of climate change may be worse than previously thought, a new study suggests.

    As world leaders hold climate talks in Paris, research shows that land surface temperatures may rise by an average of almost 8C by 2100, if significant efforts are not made to counteract climate change.

    Such a rise would have a devastating impact on life on Earth.

    It would place billions of people at risk from extreme temperatures, flooding, regional drought, and food shortages.
    Climbing emissions

    The study calculated the likely effect of increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases above pre-industrialisation amounts.

    It finds that if emissions continue to grow at current rates, with no significant action taken by society, then by 2100 global land temperatures will have increased by 7.9C, compared with 1750.

    This finding lies at the very uppermost range of temperature rise as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    It also breaches the United Nations’ safe limit of 2C, beyond which the UN says dangerous climate change can be expected.” University of Edinburgh

    Solar power is prevalent in California but, last month, the state made a move many are calling a big mistake.

    Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that requires the state to obtain half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

    However, rooftop solar panels were excluded from the bill, which means utility companies will have to pay more to find renewable energy elsewhere, because the surplus energy they buy back from individual homeowners will not count toward the state’s goals.” Cat DiStasio

    California Emitted 459 Million Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014.

    Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising.

    2020 Limit – AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan.” Ca. Gov. Data

    Ban Fracking ! Gov. Brown Stop Poisoning California Water !

    Close 100 of the 108 Bottle Watering Facilities in California !

    Golf on Gray Water or Close Golf Course

    Grow For Local and Regional Farming Circle, Federal and State Policies Must Change !

    Atmospheric Parts Per Million of Carbon is Now 404

    In the 1850 Carbon PPM was 260 – 280

    What will the Temp. be at 415 ppm ?

    “Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).” National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    There Are Over 400 Nuclear Reactors and All Their Fuel Rods ! At Sea Level Now !

    Relocate All Nuclear Fuel Rods and Contaminated Metals above 3,000 Ft!

    There Is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget !

    Arctic 80% melted, Greenland is Keeping North America Cool, For How Long ? Antarctica is Melting as Well, When Will It Melt ? and All the Glaciers used to keep the Mantle Cooler !

    We must transition to 100% Renewable Energy, and All Solar, Residential and Commercial Buildings should be Counted in the Stated Renewable Energy Mandate !

    Time to Level the Playing Field, With Time Running Out Preparing For Global Warming an Sea Leveling Rising over 220 feet

    Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff.

    California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from, Global Warming, Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

    A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.http://signon.org/sign/let-california-home-owners