What is behind the trend?
• Critical breakthroughs, like railroads, electricity and the Internet, have outsized impact by triggering changes far beyond their immediate uses. For example, the railroad network laid the foundation for the telegraph network, in addition to creating faster and more reliable transport.
• These breakthroughs free up resources and replace labor by automating physical functions, mental functions or both.
• Developments currently underway hint at upcoming breakthroughs, but are at least two steps away from commercialization. Examples include personal robots to perform household functions, 3D printers to create at-home prototyping and nanotechnology innovations across a wide range of applications including manufacturing and healthcare.
What does it mean for business?
• Big bets—and big wins—are on the horizon.
• A financial system that funnels capital to the right set of start-ups and smaller-scale opportunities, as “angel” and VC investors in the US do, may confer advantages in nurturing these wins. Larger players, like sovereign wealth funds, could use their greater resources to create idea incubators or portfolios, similar to how pharma companies run drug development, for example.
Recent history has shown that innovations tend to cluster and mutually reinforce into waves
Five major platform, or ”enabling,” technologies that may have discontinuous long-term impact are on the horizon
Nanotechnology looks the most analogous to electricity in terms of its fundamental transformative potential
Technological innovation could trigger many social responses that will transform how we live, work and play
Demographics, automation and inequality could dramatically reshape our world in the 2020s and beyond. Our insights discuss how executives can prepare for the new global economy.