Since the 1770s five technology waves, each lasting around fifty years, have made it possible for more people to live and live better off. We are now in the down swing of the fifth wave. The sixth wave, the Neurotechnology Wave, is quickly moving from an era of craft-based innovation in the biosciences to mass production-based biosciences.
Each wave has been driven by a new group of technologies, enabling dramatic efficiencies to bring new areas of complexity under control. Each wave starts as a craft industry in middle of the previous wave. The water mechanization wave in England from about 1770 to 1830 replaced handcrafted production with water-powered “machine-o-facture” and was accelerated by Britain’s distribution capabilities made possible by building of new canals. The second wave, from about 1820 to 1880, was powered by the proliferation of more efficient steam engines, making it possible for manufacturing facilities to be located away from sources of water power while also powering the locomotives that would bring the goods to distant markets in record times. From 1870 to 1920, electrification impacted the capacity to produce inexpensive, strong steel creating a third wave of industrial growth, changing forever the modern city landscape by making skyscapers and subways possible, not to mention electric lighting. The fourth wave, from 1910-1960, was the time when the mass assemblization of goods and the motorization of industrial economy took place, making inexpensive goods available to the masses.
The most recent wave has made it possible to collect, analyze and disseminate data and information, transforming our ability track and respond to an ever changing world. At its core the current information technology wave has been driven by the invention of the microprocessor and its capacity to compute and calculate any string of data put into it, making it possible to share information across the globe at extremely low costs. It is for this reason that this current wave is called the computization wave (1960-2020). The computization wave continues to be the primary generator of economic growth and change at this time, although profit margins are falling rapidly.
The coming Neurotechnology Wave (2010-2060) will be accelerated into existence by new profit making opportunities made possible by the development of a biochip that will make biological analysis inexpensive and pervasive. Still several years away, this whole biochip will be able to perform all the necessary bioanalysis functions (genomic analysis, proteomic analysis, biosimulation, and microfluidics) at a low enough cost that it will transform biological analysis and production is a very similar fashion as the microprocessor did for information and data analysis.
Today these biochips do not exist. However, evidence of their emergence can be see in the many craft-oriented developments that are occuring across the biotechnology, information technology, and material sciences sectors. Within the next decade we will begin to see the convergence of these technology creating biomedical breakthroughs that will extend life expectancy and raise the quality of life for many. Most importantly, these new tools will also be able to increase emotional and cognitive health in fundamentally new ways, creating new challenges for cultural and political norms.
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