The priorities of the new technology-based elite include access to larger groups of customers, such as those in emerging nations. Thus, one hallmark of the coming golden age will be its global inclusiveness. Although oppression and slavery may remain widespread, the social systems that reinforced a “haves” and “have-nots” status quo, holding back economic opportunities for the majority of the human population, will give way. A billion new people will gain a productive foothold that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.
A new global economic infrastructure is emerging, built on networked, shared computing resources and commonly called cloud computing. Google alone has more than 10 million servers, and other companies are building comparable cloud infrastructures. As enterprises exit the recent slump, widespread investments will be made in private clouds, shifting business from high-fixed-cost data centers, and reshaping many public and consumer services. A more responsible approach to the natural environment is also gaining ground, one that advocates using energy more efficiently and reducing pollution, greenhouse gases, and hazardous waste. Meanwhile, innovative new service offerings will displace entrenched but inefficient medical and financial practices.
Although the benefits will be widely distributed, not everyone will be happy. For those who would like to continue rolling the dice of global finance, a more planned and regulated future will feel like an attack on freedom. Adding a billion new people to the global middle class will add to the labor arbitrage that has already begun to affect many lawyers, journalists, software engineers, and accountants. It will now affect professionals in health, finance, and education. As cloud-based financial services spread, will we really need as many stockbrokers? As credible expertise becomes more easily available, will we still need so many intermediaries?
After a couple of decades, the silicon era will grow moribund, as the oil era did before it. Sometime around 2030, there will be a silicon equivalent to the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Then a new long cycle will emerge. This one will probably be based on the technologies just emerging now: biotechnology and nanotechnology, along with molecular manufacturing (the ability to cheaply build any material from scratch). Then the pattern of frenzied investment will begin again, with another cycle to come.
- Mark Stahlman is a Wall Street technology strategist who has been writing about tech-driven growth cycles for more than 20 years.