Baseball great Satchel Paige cautioned, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
I want to quote him every time I discuss with community leaders what work will be required on the regional infrastructure over the next 30 years. They need to look over their shoulders more often; technology is coming and it’s coming fast. And it’s changing not only how but where we live.
The growing competence of artificial intelligence, particularly when combined with robotics and autonomy, is going to accelerate the decline of jobs performed through repetition by humans. Simply put, wherever the challenge of execution is brute strength or speed, more human jobs will become obsolete. Instead, humans will be solicited to control or mediate A.I. and robotics applications. We will become valuable for our ability to see patterns and make associations, rather than our ability to act or think in a linear way.
Meanwhile, virtual reality as a form of entertainment is in its infancy. Since the invention of the telegraph, humans rapidly adopted new communication mechanisms (and abandoned existing mechanisms) when new methods provided greater immediacy. Virtual reality will do to the Internet and social networks what the Internet did to TV and TV did to radio. Yes, teenagers will be even more addicted to virtual reality games, but for many the greater impact will be the virtualization of office and commercial activities (why bother “coming to an office” when it can come to you through your VR goggles?).
Consumer supply chains will shrink thanks to drones. Just-in-time delivery will be the expected norm. Meanwhile, the ascendancy of additive manufacturing, the ability to create items as needed, will continue to extend into the mainstream. Imagine the profound implications on small manufacturing and logistics. Eventually, the need for delivery of basic items will erode as products can be printed when needed.
Need more examples? The emergence of higher capacity and efficient energy storage, more viable alternative energy production processes, the use of DNA to build “artificial life” to create energy sources or food stocks and personalized medicine based on an individual’s genetic composition. Each of these will bring profound changes to how and where we live. This is not some utopian (or dystopian) scenario — these technologies are being commercially deployed as you read this.
As these technologies become ubiquitous, they will challenge many assumptions regional planners are currently making on where and how to invest.
Imagine how important bandwidth will be as virtual reality spreads into more parts of our lives. Large shared office spaces with trophy lobbies may become irrelevant both for workers and clients who currently visit them. Our dependence on delivery will mean proximity to logistical centers will be essential and energy storage efficiency will put a premium on direct access to power sources. On the education front, once we find ourselves in a world where the abilities to think and make associations are our remaining advantages, worker training should not be vocational but broader.
So, constructing large office buildings, more highways and 10,000 square foot McMansions may seem silly in hindsight. Focusing on training employees to think laterally might allow them to better prepare for emerging jobs. Creating housing density to take advantage of access to higher bandwidth and access to shared energy infrastructure may be rewarding. The right answers are still to be determined, but the question of whether tomorrow will be like today has already been answered. It will not be. Not at all.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and chairman of Amplifier Ventures, a venture capital fund focusing on national security technology innovation. He is co-host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program launching nationwide on Sept. 20.