We now face a century of change like no other in history. Technology will transform how we meet our needs for peace, dignity and community. This will shatter the global political equilibrium, and shift power away from governments towards individuals. States, ideas and industries will go out of business. Inequality could grow.
Already, the internet has changed the world faster than any previous technology. The smartphone has given a superpower to much of the world’s population. For many, the web is no longer for our downtime, but for all our time. We have access not just to more information than we can process, but more than we can imagine. From self driving cars to artificial intelligence, as Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Smalley says – “when a scientist says something is possible, they’re probably underestimating how long it will take. If they say it is impossible, they’re probably wrong.”
And we’re only just getting going. The patterns show us – data, computer chip advancement, global temperatures, demography – that change is accelerating at a staggering rate. Sociologist Ian Morris predicts that in just a century we will go through the equivalent technological tsunami of the journey from cave paintings to nuclear weapons.
For the first time, technology gives the prospect of the world’s population having an instant, global and unfiltered means of communicating, of consuming information, of forming opinions, preferences and communities. Digital technology empowers new sources of power, increasingly enabling the individual to take control of their lives. This connectivity could unleash an unprecedented empathetic force for global development. But it could also leave us feeling overwhelmed, unable to keep up, unequal, exploited by corporate algorithms, reduced to variables to be mined as big data, and our every networked action recorded by big-brother government surveillance.