I’m curious to know how you are thinking about our time. How are you counting what “age” we are in and what do you call it? Is this the fourth industrial revolution? The fifth technical revolution? The era of the Cyber Machine? The immediate prelude to the singularity?
In the Agrarian transition, starting 5,000 years ago, we removed ourselves from the food chain. We set ourselves apart biologically. For the first time we weren’t dependent on our natural surroundings for sustenance. We usurped biology to produce our own food, with domestic crops and animals. We went from nomadic to settled.
In the Industrial transition, starting 250 years ago, we removed the limitations of biological strength. With steam, internal combustion, electric motors, and chemical thrust, we availed ourselves of seemingly limitless power. We mechanized farming and developed mass production of goods. We put the equivalent power of 100s of horses in our carts, 1,000s in our boats, and propelled ourselves and our goods on land and sea. We learned to fly and soar to the outer reaches of the solar system.
Just as profound, I think, is this new transition. I’m not sure what to call it. If “AI” weren’t such a maligned term I might call it the AI transition. In this transition we remove mental limitations supercharging our ability to make discoveries, organize sharing on a global scale, customize products and processes for units of one while driving incremental costs to zero. This transition holds out the promise that everything can be abundant and universal, that the only scarcity will be human attention.
The transitions that removed us from the food chain and freed us of our physical restraints upended existing economic roles and models. They fundamentally changed our human experience and world view. Each yielded a step function in life expectancy and population growth.
The only other transition I can think of that may fall in this category is the use of fire for cooking. Evidence shows that cooking of food enabled us to unburden the brain in a way that lead to the development of the prefrontal cortex and rationality.
But for now I’m sticking to my big three – Agriculture, Industrial and whatever this thing is. What do you call it?