The Big Leaps Coming to the World Economy

Brian Gongol

Five revolutionary changes (all for the better) coming soon for the global economy:

Moving the world's poor into the middle class

Scale: Probably moving from 2 billion to 7 billion middle class

Time horizon: Bill Gates estimates 25 years; he's probably right

Impact: 3 to 4 times the number of people with the luxuries of education, time, and resources to invest in new ideas. Staggering potential.

Incorporating the ideas and contributions of women into the world's economies and political structures

Scale: Basically, 50% of the planet

Time horizon: Progress is inconsistent around the globe, but once it starts, it tends to auto-catalyze

Impact: Doubling the world's store of ideas. The United States, celebrated for its liberal democratic freedoms, only adopted women's suffrage in 1920 via the 19th Amendment -- not even a full century ago -- and certainly has much work yet to be done to fully recognize and capture the potential value of women's contributions to society and the economy. As Warren Buffett put it, "America has forged this success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country's talent." It's acknowledged that even among the world's richest countries, women are simply not represented in the upper echelons of politics and business in proportion to their share of the population (or ability). Meanwhile, Saudi law prohibits women from driving, there are millions of "missing" women in India, and sex-selective abortion and infanticide in China happen on a scale that boggle the mind.

Automation extending its reach (self-piloted vehicles, factory automation, household automation)

Scale: Virtually everyone in rich countries, and a significant spread into many lives in the global middle class

Time horizon: Ten to twenty years for much of the impact to percolate through most people's lives

Impact: Potentially increasing our useful and leisure time by 25% or more, depending on how individuals already allocate their time. Should in many ways be comparable to the impact of the mechanization of agriculture -- dramatically increasing output per person.

Massive forward leaps in computing power

Scale: Everyone

Time horizon: We're likely to be completely blown away by the increasing capacities and declining costs over the next 10 years

Impact: Whether or not "quantum" computing comes to fruition, the continued progress of computing power and cost according to Moore's Law is such that we are basically on the brink of seeing more progress made in the next five to ten years as we've seen in the entire history of computing up until today. Many things will become economically feasible to automate/computerize simply due to the fact that a cheap computer doing things by "brute force" really fast will be able to produce more useful output than many real people would be able to achieve by thinking it through. IBM's Watson supercomputer is mind-blowing today, but household computers in ten to fifteen years will probably eclipse it. We are, as it is sometimes put by analogy, entering the second half of the chess board -- a reference to the power of exponential growth, in which doubling something (like computer speeds) is impressive in relative terms early on, but becomes inconceivably big in absolute terms once one approaches the 30th cycle or thereabouts. (It's a reference to the fable of the king and the grains of rice, and our incapacity to anticipate just how quickly something can grow when it expands at a consistent and compounding rate.) For reference, depending on how you count it, we're presently in the neighborhood of the 30th "doubling" of computing speeds, according to Moore's Law.

Mastering the subconscious mind

Scale: Everyone

Time horizon: Terribly uncertain today, but the impact of computing-driven research should help clear the way for a decent forecast. Quite possibly as soon as the next 25 years.

Impact: The "flashes of brilliance" we sometimes have are almost certainly the work of subconscious thinking, in which our brains process (behind the scenes) the information we gather in our conscious moments. Should we learn to control or focus or at least train our minds to make better use of that subconscious activity (including sleep), we would gain rather profoundly.