Technological Revolutions in the Exponential Age

Earlier this year I finally read Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. It had been on my shelf for over a decade. It’s a masterpiece. It’s super academic, but so insightful. I understand why people are obsessed with her work and underlined nearly half the book. (Here’s a book summary if you have not read it.)

While reading it I kept asking myself, “Where are we in the Information Age?” and “What comes next?” The Information Age is weird. We’ve experienced multiple crashes and frenzies, software and computers have come so far and changed so much of our lives, yet software is still eating the world. In some ways it feels like we are approaching the end of the Information Age (I think this is mainly because so much mainstream and visible innovation in software these days feels boring and on the margin), but it also feels like we are just at the beginning. We have yet to see what AI and crypto will do to the society, and those are just the obvious contenders for the next stages of this epoch. Ben Thompson wrote a nice piece about this, and Perez herself has shared her opinions, too.

As to the question of what comes next, obvious contenders are Climate/Energy – the implications of limitless energy by unlocking nuclear fission and fusion are vast – and Life Sciences – genetic engineering will change the world and humanity many times over. Both of these areas seem nascent, but are on the precipice of boundless innovation because cataclysmic events accelerate the pace of progress. The climate crisis is catalyzing investment in clean tech and energy creation and distribution, and the global pandemic has shown the world the importance of mRNA and all of the biological science that goes along with it.

A final thought I had was how the Exponential Age impacts Perez’s theories of technological revolutions. It seemed intuitive to me that because technological innovation is rapidly accelerating then the time periods for Perez’s technological revolutions to take place would shrink, but that has not been the case. In fact, it feels as if it may have the opposite effect. The Information Age is still going and showing no signs of coming to an end. Perhaps because technological change compounds and creates the conditions for even more innovation – and we haven’t even seen the impact AI will have on this cycle. Perhaps the Exponential Age won’t lead to an acceleration of individual technological revolutions, but simultaneously overlapping ones. It’s not inconceivable that we see an overlap of the Information Age, Energy Age, and Life Science Age within this century. The technologies that propel each of these revolutions are all interconnected. Needless to say, if you look at things a certain way then future is always exciting.