Our embattled Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was at least right about the importance of innovation, even if that message did not resonate with voters in Western Sydney, Tasmania and other regions where the Coalition suffered heavy losses. One of the best places to learn about the profound innovations that are occurring is a book by a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, Alec Ross, titled The Industries of the Future. Mr Ross deftly illustrates his main points with interesting anecdotes from his exciting career, including meetings with tech industry titans and foreign officials, with one particularly interesting anecdote from the Russian White House.
The book surveys important innovations such as the platform technologies that underpin the sharing economy (e.g. Uber, Airbnb), big data analytics, the internet of things, and automation and robotics. These innovations will provide huge economic benefits and redefine our economies, but, at the same time, they will increase inequalities both within regions and between regions, as regions such as Silicon Valley will be major beneficiaries of winner-takes-all platform technologies. And these innovations will bring huge risks, particularly to privacy and security, as technology becomes an even more essential and integrated part of our lives.
In a terrifying passage in the book, Mr Ross alludes to the possibility of a future conflict being started by a private sector company retaliating against a cyber-attack by a foreign government. In fact, Google, among other US companies, has been subject to such an attack, by a Chinese Government operation. Mr Ross asks (on p. 143):
“…what would have happened if, when Google had identified the source of the hack, it had responded in kind with an attack designed to disable its attacker’s network and computers. The Google engineers are some of the best in the world. Would China have considered this an attack or some other form of invasion? It might have.”
Given the growing threat from cyber-attacks, Mr Ross suggests one of the best careers over the next few decades will be that of the cyber-security expert. His advice for young people is excellent, advising them that, if they want the best chance in today’s rapidly changing and interconnected world, they should study computer science, as well as a foreign language and a technical (i.e. programming) language such as Python.
This is a terrific book which I cannot recommend highly enough.