The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross – Here are my Five Lessons and Takeaways

Industries of the FuturePeople have always had to adjust their work-life plans to the industries, and the geographies, that need workers. The world of work has grown ever larger; broader; far-stretching.  The Industries of the Future will be different from the industries of yesteryear. What will those industries be? How will we get ready?  Answering such questions correctly and wisely is the challenge confronting the current era.
• My thoughts regarding the book The Industries of the Future


I feel like I am awash in books about the future.  Books about Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning, and the Second Machine Age, and the appification of America.  (“Appification” — that’s a new word I learned from this book).

A while back, I tweeted a question to Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age, and said:  “I’ve read the following books… so, what should I read next?”  (and I listed quite a few, including two by Mr. Brynjolfsson himself). I was really wondering what key book(s) I had missed.

His recommendation was The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. I’m glad he recommended it.  I read it, and presented my synopsis at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas in April. It added to my understanding, my hopes, and, yes, my worries and fears.

I began my presentation with that famous quote from the movie The Graduate, the short dialogue between Benjamin and an advice-giver:  “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

This book helps us think about what advice might be the best choice in this new world we all share.

The book was written by Alec Ross, who served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation.  His job was to innovate, and to spread the innovation gospel to places in need of such.  Including, and especially, poor countries.

In my synopsis, I ask “What is the point?” – I said:  The industries of the past are being replaced – maybe quite rapidly.  What will the industries of the future be? This book points us in possible, likely direction(s). 

And I ask “Why is this book worth our time?”  Here are my three reasons:

#1 – We need clarity about what is coming down the road; both opportunities, and dangers.  This book provides such clarity.
#2 – We need to know the big picture connected to these industries of the future.  This book provides that big picture.
#3 – We need to prepare for the economic disruption; and career opportunities, of the future.  This book provides clarity on these issues also.

Here are a few of the best of my highlighted passages:

The world in which I grew up, the old industrial economy, was radically transformed by the last wave of innovation. The story is by now well worn: technology, automation, globalization.
And all this change will pale in comparison to what is going to come in the next wave of innovation as it hits all 196 countries on the planet.
The coming era of globalization will unleash a wave of technological, economic, and sociological change as consequential as the changes that shook my hometown in the 20th century and the changes brought on by the Internet and digitization as I was leaving college 20 years ago.
Advances and wealth creation will not accrue evenly. Many people will gain. Some people will gain hugely. But many will also be displaced. …the next wave will challenge middle classes across the globe, threatening to return many to poverty. The previous wave saw entire countries and societies lifted up economically. The next wave will take frontier economies and bring them into the economic mainstream while challenging the middle classes in the most developed economies.
A computer that can speed up analysis of legal documents can also shrink the number of lawyers in the workforce.
In the 21st century, the dominant divide is between those that have open political and economic models and those that are closed.
Robots will be the rare technology that reaches the mainstream through elderly users first.
MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson calls it “the great paradox of our era. Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs.
The mobile phone is eliminating the need for ATMs just as ATMs eliminated the need for bank tellers.
Land was the raw material of the agricultural age. Iron was the raw material of the industrial age. Data is the raw material of the information age.
(And, one of my favorite highlights):  World leaders take notice: the 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak.

In the book, we find a lot to make us think about the coming changes. Here are a few of those key thoughts:

  • He writes:
  • This book is about the next economy. It is written for everyone who wants to know how the next wave of innovation and globalization will affect our countries, our societies, and ourselves.
  • This book explores the industries that will drive the next 20 years of change to our economies and societies. Its chapters are built around key industries of the future— robotics, advanced life sciences, the code-ification of money, cybersecurity, and big data—as well as the geopolitical, cultural, and generational contexts out of which they are emerging.
  • Much more change and innovation is coming! —In business areas as far afield as life sciences, finance, warfare, and agriculture, if you can imagine an advance, somebody is already working on how to develop and commercialize it.
  • Note the booms: India; China; Africa; Pacific-facing countries of South America…
  • Look for openness in the society; look for signs of the empowerment of women: And there is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women. Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness.
  • Some “big signals”:
  • Consider Japan and its coming wave of care-giving robots. (Robina, the robot).Demographics will demand it.
  • the growing “acceptance” of blockchain
  • the cyber attacks we have not heard enough about – (Hint:  they are too “scary”). • e.g., Aramco, the Saudi oil company
  • An economic observation by me (R.M.): as soon as the robot is cheaper, the human worker will be replaced… And, the robot will be cheaper
  • Note especially “leapfrogging” countries: e.g., mobile phones “replacing” banks/leapfrogging banks
  • But, there will be dangers. The dangers include: “designer” babies – how will we really feel about this?
  • Maybe THE job of the future – (the threat of) cyberwarfare… The growth of cybersecurity into a large industry is the inevitable result of the weaponization of code.
  • And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – What will we teach our children to get ready for the industries of the future? – Hint; coding; Big data analysis… But also, maybe, the liberal arts…
#2 – Here are the “facts” — we are on the road to more and more robots, and automation.  And, we are on the road to greater and greater breakthroughs with technology; in every arena imaginable.
#3 – But, in the midst of the breakthroughs, the dangers lurk, and will come. Including a genuine change in the weapons of war.
#4 – Explained by Moore’s Law, there will be dramatic breakthroughs that bring big, massive change all-at-once.
#5 – The wealth will spread far and wide. But, there will likely be greater gaps between the wealthy (the uber-wealthy) and the rest than ever before. Maybe, unavoidably.

I read a while back that it takes reading five books (or more) to begin to even grasp the issues on a big-picture topic.  I’ve presented synopses of a bunch of books about the arriving and coming future.  Was this the best one?  These was no one best one!  But, this book added greatly to my understanding, and I strongly recommend that you add it to your reading stack.


My synopsis, with my multi-page, comprehensive handout, and the audio recording of my presentation, will be available soon at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  And, there are plenty more to choose from, including plenty about the coming future. Click here for our newest additions.


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