In the year 2000, if someone told you that in 15 years’ time, virtually everyone will have today’s super computer in their pocket, would you have believed it? If you read that each of these super computers will be wirelessly connected to the internet and have HD video, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and take phone calls, EVERYONE would ask, “what is HD Video, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter?” Many people would have asked what the internet is.
Depending on how old you are, 15 years ago may seem like yesterday, or it may be more than half your life ago. In either case, these innovations have transformed many aspects of our lives in a very short time frame, and the rate of these innovations is increasing.
How does this affect Engineers?
As engineers our job is to protect the public and the environment while making life better. As our clever marketing states, “We see more.” By seeing more, our jobs will get easier as time goes on if we have the right information. Unfortunately our human nature is to interpret the past to predict the future. We tend to do forecasting based on what we know, rather than based on what will be. In such a rapidly changing world, this has to change if our society is to thrive over the long term.
Why do Engineers have to look forward?
Well according to Peter Diamandis – author of the New York Times bestselling books “Bold” and “Abundance”, founder of the XPrize, Singularity University, chairman and investor in multiple disruptive technologies – 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be bankrupt in only 10 years. This can be attributed to the “disruptive” capacity of many of today’s “deceptive” technologies. Many of these “deceptive technologies” are novelties or virtually unknown about today, but make no mistake, their exponential nature means that they will disrupt and even eliminate many of today’s multi-billion dollar industries. In the process we all get to live more abundant and fulfilling lives.
Consider how technologies such as 3D printing will completely disrupt the manufacturing sector, not to mention the medical world with the printing of organs and custom prosthetic devices (already happening). Beyond producing many consumer goods (including cars and homes) locally, innovators are experimenting with 3D printing meat. While this may sound disgusting, successful predictions of bioprinting meat has huge advantages: 99% less land, 96% less water, 96% fewer greenhouse gases, and 45% less energy[i]. Such advantages make the inhumane practices of today’s industrial farms cost-prohibitive, barbaric and obsolete. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Imagine how self-driving, fully-electric cars (optimally powered by sunshine) will disrupt the automotive industry. Combine this will Uber and most people living in a city will no longer need cars. Wanna go somewhere? Simply pull out your smart phone and your location will be sent to a driverless vehicle in your area. You can order any type of vehicle that meets your needs. How will this affect city planning and traffic flow?
This is massively disruptive!! The cost of getting around will be greatly reduced while changing or removing many industries. There will be less vehicle maintenance and sales, no more vehicle insurance, very little need for parking (that doesn’t have electric charging), ¼ the cars on the road, no more parking lanes (increases traffic speed )etc, no more truck drivers or taxi cabs. Not to mention the reduced need for mass transit (in smaller centers) as traffic will be far more efficient as every vehicle will know where every other vehicle, pedestrian, bike, obstacle and construction area is – in real time. Lost time in workplaces is reduced and goods move faster as the truck drivers no longer need to sleep.
Other innovations that will rock our world are solar and battery technologies, artificial intelligence, drones, advanced sensors and networks, infinite computing, robotics, genomics and synthetic biology. This is just to name a few, but consider how further advancements in computing will change everything.
With the continual cost and size reduction in computing, we are rapidly approaching a time when computers will be more intelligent than humans. This has already been demonstrated to some extent by IBM’s Watson as it dominated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of Jeopardy’s top players of all time. Imagine the problems that can be solved when any human can have access to this level of intelligence with their smart phone. That day is coming much faster than we anticipate.
What can Engineers do to accommodate and profit from these innovations?
So with all of these advances coming our way, is it intelligent for us to forecast our projects using technologies and methodologies of the past? Is it reasonable to assume that our projections of the future should account for the rise of these technologies? Do you want your company to invest in the mental security of the typewriter when the computer has already been invented and is just around the corner? Can we Future Proof our infrastructure to reduce our liabilities as these disruptions occur?
For a very long time, Saskatchewan was considered a “have not” province. Now we are in an advantageous position with regard to our wealth, resources and access to the best solar resource in Canada, not to mention one of the best wind resources in North America. As we grow forward, let’s “see more” and use our wealth and collective intelligence to Future Proof our society and economy so that we aren’t left behind, digging ourselves out of a hole from the past.
Whether you are an engineer, entrepreneur, decision maker, policy maker or change maker, I highly recommend you read the books “Bold” and “Abundance” to understand how we can intentionally create a healthy, vibrant and equitable future. Also check out http://peterdiamandis.com/ to sign up for one of the most insightful and important newsletters on the internet.
[i] Statistic from: http://peterdiamandis.tumblr.com/post/117525203843/disrupting-food