Technologies and thereafter: An uncertain but exciting future


For most young people, it is not just a book that explains confusing technology but also what is going to happen to it.

Let me begin with the end of the book, “Innovative Technologies for Future Living”. It’s a prediction for the immediate. The authors say, in the next 20 years, we may see “resource shortage haunting the citizen” most. It will affect the world outside of the United States more, making the business of recycling “step out of the shadows”. So, we might well have a world where Doraemon, Dozer and other manga characters “perform imaginative storytelling across the massive landfills we created”, just like Astroboy and Captain Nemo did decades ago.
“They will connect with the modern-day scientists and engineers, and produce games and movies and animation films for startups who cleaned up the earth and built multimillion dollar businesses from scrap. That will inspire the next generation, brought up on stories of a clean, sustainable world, to create a circular economy and turn things around for the better. Profits, not activism, deliver solutions that are technology-driven and making technology and consumer waste sustainable and profitable is the next big barrier to cross.” This appears to be a hopeful note, leaving considerable amount of positivity with the reader.

However, the question that arises is, will this “big barrier” be crossed in the next twenty years? Will mankind take this leap of faith?

In their afterword, what the authors Sandip Sen and Aarohi Sen add, appears to hold the core of these answers. Like waste management, renewable energy today is at an inflection-point, the authors point out. “Burning waste to turn it into energy is a temporary measure and not sustainable in the long run. It must change into a pollution-free solution in the near future.” This comes from the horse’s mouth. Sandip Sen has been campaigning for long to halt the use of pet coke in small industries across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi NCR regions to somewhat control the winter pollution AQI in the national capital.

Last of all, they sound a cautionary note, “We also explore new opportunities in telehealth, distant education and metaworld, and the strides made in digital transformation that has, in less than five years, empowered over 2 billion people across the world, giving them access to cost effective banking, education, travel, energy, food and health services. But the same technologies are used to fight wars and disrupt supply chains that cause acute distress and worldwide recessions. The book is relevant because the changes happening now are not incremental but tectonic. This opens the door to a future that is more fascinating and threatening than fiction.”

They tell us an anecdotal story about Gordon Moore, Intel founder, who had in 1965 observed that at that point in time, “the number of transistors in integral circuits” were doubling every year without increase in costs. It was a prescient comment, it predicted today, when as a result of this doubling, data prices nosedived and data usage has skyrocketed. As of January 2023, the book says, there are 5 billion users of the internet, via computers or phones. And there are another two billion waiting to be empowered.

Nevertheless, they call this decade “the tipping point”.
They say, they wrote this book for “people who use technology and want to know about it—in simple language, without jargon. Many of those (both, the technologies and the people who use them) nurture dreams and aspirations to be quicker, smarter and ‘be the change’”. Had this book been written before 2020, the focus would be nine gung-ho technologies. But in 2023, they have added a discussion of the digital meltdown waiting in the wings and the energy sector, saying, mankind’s future depends on what happens in the energy front in the near future. And what happens in the energy sector is uncertain.

We asked author Sandip Sen, “You are an economic and policy analyst, also a qualified engineer. This is a rare combination. When and how did you decide on writing on technology?”
He said, “Yes but I am also a journalist. Journalists like to simplify complex subjects and write about them in simple language so that our readers understand it easily. So I research and dabble in many subjects, be it economics or environment, finance or engineering, geopolitics or technology like most media organisations or journalists. More difficult the subject, the more exciting it gets for me.

Over the past decade I had watched various technologies get sophisticated, opaque and disruptive. For example, the social media sites were using consumers as unpaid story tellers and data entry executives. I felt someone needed to tell the actual story of the technology world, which was getting more bizarre every day, covering not one but ten technologies.”

Technology has a huge cost. The cost of developing it, the cost on sustainability. In a new book, Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism, economist Yanis Varoufakis tells the story of  how technofeudalism enslaves our minds, how it rewrites the rules of global power and ultimately what it will take to overthrow it. We ask Sen, if he agrees with this analysis.

Sen responds, “I do not agree.” One possible reason could be because the word “feudalism” is an archaic word.
The authors say, “the quality of life of those who use technology has hugely improved in the last two decades… In 2001 the GDP of the four BRIC nations was less than 12% of the world’s GDP. Most of them stared at large forex deficits and were dependent on foreign credit to bail them out. Twenty years later they accounted for a quarter of the global GDP.” Further, the book gives data on how “2 billion people of the BRIC economies were benefited by digital transformation in those four nations.”

Emphasising that this decade is the beginning of the times of great uncertainties, the authors say, “We are suddenly moving from globalisation to localisation, from decades of trust and tolerance to a decade of mistrust and hostility.” The explanations are all embedded in their narrative and for most young people, it is not just a book that explains confusing technology but also what is going to happen to it.
What is going to be Sen’s next book?

He says, “The next book is going to be on the raging semiconductor supply chain wars and that is probably going to decide who will rule the technology world in the future. The Western world led by the US is way ahead today but China is fast catching up. Will the US be able to stop China or will China find a way to nose ahead in this intensely competitive field? I am writing this book with a few very senior industry executives based in the US as co-authors.”


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