The McKinsey Advisory Institute released a report in May titled “Breaking Technologies: Advances That Will Change Life, Trade and the Global Economy”. In this 180-page document, twelve innovations are listed, all capable of changing the world by 2025. A so-called “disruptive” technology has a peculiarity: as its name indicates, it breaks with the existing market – that it alters or destroys – and modifies the economic landscape in depth. Examples are not lacking in recent history: the engines have made the animal force obsolete, the phone has signed the death of the telegram, digital photography has buried the film …
Economic impact and breaking capacity
The 2000s also had their share of technological breakthroughs “in the making” with, for example, downloading in the face of the purchase of physical formats, digital books, e-commerce …
The list drawn up by the McKinsey experts is not exhaustive but is based on two criteria: the importance of the economic and societal impact of these innovations and their ability to really break with the existing market. The twelve innovations:
- Mobile Internet: increasing and decreasing the cost of connectivity between the Internet and mobile devices
- Automation of intellectual work: creation of intelligent software and systems with refined judgment and knowledge processing capabilities
- Internet of connected / connected objects: creation of low cost sensor networks collecting data, analyzing and acting on them
- Cloud computing: a system for hosting files and services on remote servers
- Advanced robotics: robots with improved senses, dexterity and intelligence, used to automate more spots or even “increase” humans themselves
- Autonomous vehicles: vehicles capable of moving with little or no human intervention
- New-generation genomics: improved, faster and cheaper genome sequencing, thanks to innovations in data analysis and synthetic biology
- Energy storage: systems and terminals capable of storing energy in greater quantity and for a longer time (mainly batteries)
- 3D printing: additive manufacturing technique that consists of creating objects from a digital model by superimposing thin layers of materials
- Advanced materials: materials with superior characteristics and functionality (hardness, strength, durability, elasticity, conductivity …)
- Advanced exploration and drilling: techniques for exploiting previously inaccessible oil and gas resources
- Renewable energies.
A creation of astronomical wealth
According to the report, the gain for the global economy will be considerable: between 10 trillion and 25 trillion euros per year in 2025. Mostly from the mobile Internet (between 3 trillion and 8 trillion euros) euros), followed by the automation of intellectual work, connected objects and the cloud.
McKinsey Report Projections on the Economic Weight of New Technologies – Screenshot
Experts do not just boast huge growth in profits for the global economy.
The cost of treating chronic diseases could be reduced thanks to connected health sensors, electricity and water would be managed more efficiently, exoskeletons help people with disabilities to regain their motor skills, GMOs will be more efficient … we could even proceed to increase the capabilities of the human being.
And the jobs in all this?
Except that a detail comes to black the table. This process of rupture described by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 responds to the name of “creative destruction”. And it is necessary to wait for the conclusion of the report so that it is evoked the other side of the room: what about jobs become useless, obsolete or non-competitive?
Without even addressing the ethical issues that will necessarily arise around the use of these technologies, there are practical imperatives that do not really respond to the authors.
In the world described by the report, what do we do about:
- Teachers when the learning software will be so effective that it will fit perfectly to the needs of the child?
- Doctors and surgeons when implanted health sensors will keep you informed of your state of health and machines will take care of you?
- Housewives and people helpers when domestic robots can fill most of their stains?
- Workers, handlers and engineers when the automation of manual and intellectual work has replaced them or the 3D printer has destroyed some industrial ecosystems?
- Drivers of taxis, buses or trucks when the cars will be autonomous?
Idleness, unemployment and inequalities
According to McKinsey’s experts, this process has always benefited society, creating more jobs than it was destroying. However, they are alarmed that the rise of automation is reversing the balance, increasing unemployment and widening inequalities between highly skilled workers and those with lower quality training.
The report urges governments and employers to take the time to think about the best way to understand these technologies whose growth can not be stopped anyway.
The middle classes sacrificed for the benefit of an elite
While McKinsey’s experts seem to minimize the impact of information and connectivity technologies on employment, other writers are much more alarmist.
In a book titled “Who Owns the Future” – published almost at the same time as the report – the American essayist Jaron Lanier, pioneer of virtual reality, warns against the digital technologies used to break markets, eliminate jobs and concentrate wealth in the hands of an elite.
The solutions proposed by the author – stop delivering our personal information to companies for free, or even monetize them – may well be considered too light or taxed utopian, they have the merit of creating the debate on one of the major problems of the next decade.