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The Cloud Revolution

How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 464 pages
ISBN: 9781641772303
AVAILABLE: 11/02/2021

The Cloud Revolution
How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s

When it comes to predicting how technology will change our near future, there are three camps. One says that today we’ve reached a “new normal,” that we’ve already netted all the “low-hanging fruit”—where ordering a ride or food on a smartphone or trading in Bitcoins is as good as it’s going to get. The other camp foresees widespread job and business destruction. A third believes the only technological revolutions that matter will be found with renewable energy and electric cars. They’re all wrong, predicts Mark P. Mills.

History will call the 2020s “roaring” thanks to the convergence of technologies that will drive this decade’s economic boom. It doesn’t come from any single “big” invention, but from a convergence of radical advances in the three primary technology domains: microprocessors, materials, and machines. Microprocessors are increasingly embedded in everything. Novel and unprecedented materials, from which everything is built, are arriving, adding power to the silicon age. Machines, which make and move everything, are undergoing a quiet revolution. And now the advances in each of these domains is accelerated by the Cloud, history’s biggest infrastructure, which itself has emerged from the building blocks of next-generation microprocessors and artificial intelligence.

We’ve seen this pattern before. The structure of the technological revolution that drove the great economic expansion of the twentieth century can be traced to a similar convergence visible in the 1920s: a new information infrastructure (telephony), new machines (cars and power plants), and new materials (plastics and pharmaceuticals). Great, long-cycle booms never come from just one invention. Over history, there have only been a handful of convergent revolutions in the three core technological spheres—information, materials, and machines—from which all the rest of what makes civilization possible is derived.

It’s true that we’ve wrung much of the magic out of technologies that fueled the last, long boom. But the next great convergence will ignite in the 2020s. And this time, unlike any previous historical moment, we have the Cloud that amplifies that fusion. The next long boom starts now.

About the Author

Mark P. Mills, a physicist, is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University, and partner in Montrose Lane, an energy-tech venture fund. He is author of Digital Cathedrals (2020) and Work in the Age of Robots (2018), and he is the co-author of The Bottomless Well (2006).

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Fortunately for our future, technological innovation is wired into our nature. As historian David Nye succinctly put it: “Technology matters because it is inseparable from being human.”

Technology matters because it improves humanity’s ability not only to survive nature’s vicissitudes and assaults, but also to do so more easily. The overall effect of that is seen in the most fundamental of metrics: the doubling of average lifespans over the past 150 years. That progression began long before either the advent of germ theory or antibiotics or modern medicine. The epic and often-noted rise in average global lifespans happened because many more people make it to old age. And that has happened precisely because of technology, not least by minimizing and often eliminating destruction and death from many diseases and disasters.

And technology matters because it is the most powerful way to improve productivity. Improvements in management practices play a role, but it is technology-driven productivity that amplifies human labor and reduces total inputs (labor, land, materials, energy) while producing more outputs (products, services, activities). A coherent theory around this reality is what earned Robert Solow the 1987 Nobel Prize in Economics. We can see the effect of technology-driven productivity in the near-magical increase in the availability of everything, from food and fuel to every imaginable service since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

The net effect of such progress is visible in the profound decline in extreme poverty. Some 95 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty in 1820. By 1920 it was down to about 80 percent of a far more populous world. By the end of the twentieth century, that share had dropped to just 10 percent of a far larger world population.

The fact is that only in societies with wealth do its citizens have the ability and willingness to spend far more on such things as social and environmental goals. And we know both anecdotally and from serious studies that when people believe that they or their children have a decent prospect for increased wealth, they feel more optimistic.

Technology matters also because it makes life more comfortable, interesting, and entertaining, and makes it more convenient to do all those things, not just those that are needed for survival. How people are transported, work, and sleep today are all far more convenient and comfortable than common in all of history. And technology—from microscopes to supercomputers—makes it possible to learn interesting things about our universe, even when that pursuit is not for a purpose but purely because we’re curious.

And technology matters in entertainment, the invention of which may be older than the invention of tools. In Roman times, the “games,” music, storytelling, tourism all had the same characteristics as today’s trillion-dollar global entertainments industries. In his 1938 book, Homo Ludens—using the Latin referring to “sport, play, and school,” for which there is no direct English translation—Dutch historian Johan Huizinga pioneered modern thinking about the role of the “play element” of leisure, amusements, and humor as a critical feature of culture and society.

Technology-driven productivity has given more people more leisure time for entertainment, whatever one thinks about another person’s choices. Or, put differently: productivity emerges from finding more convenient ways to make and do anything. It’s not as if there aren’t moral hazards in the pursuit of wealth, material comforts, and entertainment. A lot has been said about such matters by theologians, philosophers, social scientists, politicians, and everyday citizens. A kind of Faustian bargain with the fruits of technology seems wired into the reality of the world we inhabit. From the printing press to the first movies to the Internet, communication technology can be used to disseminate knowledge and to morally entertain, but it can also be used to propagate pornography and terroristic manifestos.

Some people lament progress and prefer what they view as the “simpler” times of the past. But there’s no discernable correlation between a society’s technology and its morality. Yet there are powerful correlations between technology progress and the reduction of human suffering in all its forms, and in advancing well-being.

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