Many years ago, between 1995 and 2000, internet businesses flourished then went bust. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief because it seemed we had arrived at some equilibrium understanding of what sorts of businesses were best suited for internet platforms. Most people who lost their jobs found similar jobs with businesses seeking to develop complementary online gateways for their brick and mortar platforms. The bust of 2000 turned out merely sectoral, not structural, confined to pure online businesses. Rather paradoxically, people who lost their jobs found themselves with more secure jobs doing similar things for mature brick and mortar businesses.
Fast forward to 2018, and it seems with investors floored with capital and having nothing of significance to pour funds into, mistakes that led to the market bust of 2000 once again are back in full swing.
Innovation today revolves mostly around social media or online trading. Don’t get me wrong, in an increasingly alienating world, social media is good, and should be here to stay. Online trading makes our lives easier. But social media cannot be source of irreversible economic development, neither can online trading.
Consider the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution ushered in irreversible economic development because no matter what happened subsequently, gains of mechanization and specialization — productivity and standards of living —were here to stay. Likewise, the computer revolution ushered in irreversible improvements in standards of living and productivity, improvements no one in their right mind would like to see reversed.
In order to move the entire world to new irreversible levels of economic development, we need new innovations, innovations which simultaneously improve standards of living and productivity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) trucks which enable truck drivers catch some sleep while said trucks remain in motion towards their destinations provide one such combination of improvements in standards of living and productivity. Goods get to stores faster, fresher, drivers are less worn out from the trip. Driverless cars may improve some societies’ standards of living yet not have any meaningful impact on productivity. Consider that a country has to be at close to full employment for driverless cars to not induce any social welfare issues within transportation sectors of economies. At the present time, there probably are no more than 20 countries whose economies can in next 25 years support driverless cars. If we are seeking to lift the entire world to new heights of economic development, it is unlikely the answer lies in driverless cars.
By the way, is it not the case that there are thousands of people making a ‘work on your own terms’ living through Uber, a new innovation?
In the search for the next big thing, it is important that rather than be satisfied with anointing of technologies which cannot achieve the objective, we are willing to endure a few more years of critical thinking, research, and technological innovation for arrival at better outcomes.
If ever we were in need of patience for arrival at technologies, products, and services which enable irreversible improvements in productivity and standards of living, it is now.