When the first humans set their foot out of Africa, the transition from an insulated to an interconnected world begun. Backed by continuous innovation, humanity moved from one dominant socio-economic state to the other— hunter-gatherers to agricultural, agricultural to industrial and industrial to the current knowledge and information-driven society.
From one revolution to another, a catalyst has been the backbone of the humanity’s progression. The ability to control and use fire catapulted the hunter-gatherers to develop innovative tools, build settlements and turn into an agricultural society. Once man learned to harness energy from sources other than animals, the agricultural society transformed into an industrial society. The advancement in computing and communications led us into the current knowledge and information society. The advent of mainstream Internet, a few decades ago, accelerated the pace of transition and pushing us beyond knowledge and information.
The failure of the Internet
Internet, the largest open source movement, unleashed an unprecedented wave of innovation. The world shrunk. Knowledge became unrestricted. Data exploded. Billions of humans found new means of communicating, conducting cross-border trade and creating new businesses.
Yet, somewhere along the line, the altruistic purpose of the Internet got hijacked. As technology advanced to harness the data, individuals became sources of data and a statistic. Larger corporations became custodians of the data. The lines between fake and genuine blurred. Stronger middle-men, owning the marketplaces to connect two parties, became the norm.
The rise of the bitcoin
In 2008, a nine-page whitepaper published in a cryptography forum, under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto, set the stage for the next round of innovation. In the 10 years since the release of the whitepaper, the technology has been ridiculed, predicted to be doomed and labelled as nefarious. But blockchain technology, the power horse behind the bitcoin cryptocurrency, has zoomed past the vile and successfully captured the imagination of the world. Along with the blockchain, there are two more technologies, that rose to prominence during the same period.
Three stars of the next revolution
As the humanity races towards a cognitive society, three technologies will be critical for the successful transformation — artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and blockchain.
Whether AI will overpower humans and become their master is debatable. But one thing is clear: in the not-so-distant-future, AI has the potential to outperform humans in many routine and, to some extent, in certain cognitive tasks. Copious quantities of data are critical for the success of the AI programs, which explains the mad scramble to acquire vast amounts of data, at any cost, by the companies.
The advent of cheap sensors, ubiquitous connectivity and big data technology heralded the IoT revolution. From cows to cars to corn-cobs, everything is fitted with an IoT device. The data from IoT is a critical source for AI programs. And we’ve just started collecting the world’s data.
With data, came the fear of the data — fear of the data and the technology falling into wrong hands. This fear has driven humans to build massive and complex infrastructure to protect the contents. We unwittingly believe the ones capable of building the infrastructure and trust our data with them. Lamentably, that trust is broken, again and again.
Blockchain as the catalyst for the future
Blockchain technology, the third star in the emerging technology, has the potential to fill the gaps and put us back on track. With the core tenets of blockchain technology — trustless, decentralization and immutability — as the backbone, AI and IoT programs, can innovate better and safe. Blockchain technology can serve as the bedrock in:
- Authenticating the source of data from IoT devices
- Building transparency in storage and access of the data by third parties for their AI programs
- Protecting the sanctity of the data and preventing manipulation.
Cusp of the next revolution
Many readers of this article would broadly fall into the two categories — the ones who were in their prime working age when the Internet took over; and the ones born in the age of the Internet. While Internet has been a boon, it has had its fair share of problems. As we are at the cusp of the next wave of revolution, learning from the mistakes of the past and building on top of it should be a priority.
In his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Harari envisages the end of Homo Sapiens and the emergence of a new species using intelligent design through re-engineered genetics and cognitive capabilities.
It remains to be seen whether humanity would encounter technological singularity but one thing is clear: The wheels of change have been set in motion. Why not build a beautiful world, when there is another opportunity?
This article was first published at Entrepreneur.com