Way Beyond Facebook: Welcome to the Hybrid Age

Esquire |

By Parag Khanna

So Facebook's IPO fizzled. So its growth is slowing. So nobody's really sure what to make of the so-called second bubble in Silicon Valley, and you're sick of seeing Jamie Dimon on Capitol Hill, and have we mentioned that the job numbers aren't looking so great? But still, there's good news ahead: The world of trillion-dollar companies is still around the corner. The first to cross that elusive threshold could be Apple or Exxon, sure, though more than likely it'll be a company you haven't heard of yet. How about the manufacturer of a 3D "fabber" device that gives you the power counter to turn any design into a physical prototype — print your own car parts, right from the kitchen counter! Or forget Viagra — imagine the value of whichever pharmaceutical company can mass-market a life-extending version of the drug Resveratrol. A leading candidate is the little-known Sirtris out of India, which has run the longest trials to date. Indeed, our next Facebooks and Apples may come from the emerging markets, and with billions of built-in consumers.

We are entering the post-Information "Hybrid Age," an era when IT combines with and accelerates a host of other technology areas we've been ignoring amidst all the employment talk over green booms and Wall Street busts. Bio-tech, nano-tech, and neuro-science — these fields are about to become real industries, at warp speed. The hybrid economy will radically reshape our lives even more fundamentally than the Internet has. The applications are seemingly endless, from physical enhancement through prosthetics or gene therapy to artificially intelligent social robots that aren't going to seem so weird by the end of this decade. Technology will shape us as much as we shape it. It will certainly be watching us: IBM predicts there will be about one trillion sensors connected to the Internet by 2015, embedded in our cars, clothing, and coffee mugs, silently relaying information about our movements and responding to everything we do. So much for Siri on your dashboard; it's Rosie time, and your robot-butler dreams are about to come true.

Why is all of this happening all of a sudden? Partially because the world is now spending $1.4 trillion a year in technological research and development. That's a lot. But America's share of that — like our share of global GDP — is dropping to about 20 percent. And the fastest climber is, of course, China, where the "12th Five-Year Plan" has budgeted $1 trillion over the next half-decade to strategic sectors like bio-tech, nano-tech, alternative energy, and robotics. While we're debating whether or not to conduct research with stem cells, China will surely go straight to human trials.

Trillions in investment, trillions of sensors, and trillion-dollar companies. In the decades ahead, we will rightly start to see technology with a big "T," a force as powerful as mankind and nature. The only way to prepare yourself is by boosting not your IQ or EQ, but your TQ: technology quotient. So start saving as much for physical enhancement as for education and retirement. Get familiar with virtual currencies. Invest in a persuasive avatar, even, to represent you online. And welcome to the Hybrid Age. It will employ us all.

Parag Khanna is one Esquire's 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century and co-author of the new book Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, just published by TED Books.

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