The Plateau
John Biggs

Imagine Henry Ford’s potential customer — the man who wanted a faster horse. He was probably, mentally at least, writing articles about how there was a plateau on the buggy whip industry.

The reality is that we are into the second half of the exponential chessboard with an ever accelerating pace of technological change. It is looking awesome.

Just last week saw the most important event ever — when we created intelligence which could outhink the world’s best at the most complex task we have ever devised. This proved Erik Brynolfsson’s point “in the first industrial revolution, we overcame the limitations of human muscle, in the second, we shall overcome the limitations of the human mind”. But more — AlphaGo showed real creativity — proving beyond doubt that machines will beat us at creativity too. The race is on, now we have made the Zero to One leap to make this 1 to N, transforming every industry.

Uber this week launched its food delivery platform. And showed up the limitations of thinking only about products, not services. Just Eat, Deliveroo and others are transforming the way we eat, just as AirBnB is transforming our holidays, conferences and weekends and Uber and Lyft are transforming transport.

Datascience, meanwhile is changing everyone’s lives everyday. Suddenly the information at our fingertips is bang up to date — Google, for example, now puts funding raised against details of every political candidate so we know who is buying our votes. Real-time traffic and public transport info is informing our every move.

Best of all is that this is rapidly becoming both open and free. We are being given access to our Town Hall records, our publicly funded stats and real-time analytics on countless topics. This is transforming media, with new outlets taking over from the “we will tell you what to think” traditional TV and newspaper machines. Stats are fuelling a real debate on so many issues, from global warming, to racism, employment and health. The era of elitism — “we have the knowledge, you have to pay to get us to let you into our circle” is being swept away.

When the first industrial revolution happened, it raised the living standards of everyone. This one is doing the same to our cultural lives — we are richer every day thanks to a flood of technical innovations.

But some of us are still judging this from their own limited perspective. My new iPhone isn’t that much better than my old iPhone, so technology must be on a plateau. Think Different!

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