So Long, Information Age. Hello, Hybrid Age
Answer the following question, with confidence if you can: from which sector will the first trillion-dollar company come? Your choices: IT, shale gas, 3D modular design/printing, pharmaceuticals. Apple and Exxon may lead the pack today, but would it be wise to bet against the companies inching closer towards breakthroughs in life-extending drugs, or tapping into North American energy reserves that dwarf even Russia’s?
What these few examples reveal is that we’re moving beyond the “Information Age” and its conflation of IT with technology itself. Instead, we are entering an era of technology with a big “T” in which various fields, from physics and biology to mathematics and neuroscience, are combining with one another — and being accelerated by IT — to produce powerful new offspring.
This Hybrid Age, then, is the frontier of the Information Age. We will witness how humans co-evolve with technology, making ourselves the template for advances in medicine, prosthetics, neuroscience and other fields. And we’re turning into a man-machine civilisation, as robots, avatars and even humanoids become ordinary social and professional actors in our lives. Technology will shape us as much as we shape it.
What’s more, this is not just a narrow, western phenomenon. Our increasingly human-technology civilisation is a worldwide event. In just three decades, mobile phones have become a more pervasive technology than toilets. This means huge disruptions not just in communications but even in banking and medicine. Witness how traditional retail banks in Kenya have been displaced by Safaricom’s mobile banking services.
With technology spreading everywhere faster than ever before, so too is power. Just look at how leading-edge innovation is no longer only “Made in America”. China’s most recent five-year plan is a powerful example of how, if you want to understand geopolitical shifts, you should start with “geo-technology”. The plan commits $1 trillion (£640 billion) to strategic sectors such as biotech, nanotech, alternative energy and robotics. This means not only technology acquisition but also commercialisation and strategic leverage. You don’t have to invent to innovate and capitalise.
We are already going through a civilisational trial of human-technology co-evolution with no single nation or company in charge. In the future, dexterous robots could be used for cleaning homes but they will also drive cars, tend to children and the elderly, and perform sexual tricks. We will be able not only to physically enhance our eyes and repair failing organs, but replace them with enhanced cyborg-like ones generated by synthetic-biology techniques. Many jobs of the future have been named, but we’ve yet to be trained: virtual-services broker, avatar coach. Speaking of work, which “you” will do your job: your physical self, your robotic agent, your avatar, or some genetic doppelganger? Nor do we know how we’ll be paid: sterling or BitCoin?
As we accelerate into this Hybrid Age, it’s worth taking stock of our own preparedness. We all need higher TQ — technology quotient — to adapt to rapidly changing technological conditions. This means focusing on constant educational upgrades, potential bio-enhancements, making greater investment risks beyond IT companies, and global professional mobility. Ready or not, the Hybrid Age is coming.