The business models and technologies that dominate the later part of this century will transcend old-fashioned thinking about value management and resource allocation. Connection and ephemeralization would make them appear downright magical to us. 

Four critical capabilities that will drive these trends:

  1. Anything can be made anywhere.
  2. Technical knowledge can reach anywhere.
  3. Advanced services will be highly distributed.
  4. Energy will be generated everywhere, by everything.

Additive manufacturing, or “3D printing”, will allow for local manufacture of an increasingly diverse array of complex advanced products. Even energy storage devices will be able to be 3D printed and adapted to substrates as diverse as silicon, graphene, crop-based polymers, even cotton.

Advanced wafer-thin fiber-optic foil lattices will be integrated into products giving them an auto-luminescence that makes new kinds of ambient communication possible. Such advances will allow for two-way energy transfer, creating vast new efficiencies across global device networks.

The hardware infrastructure of today’s Internet will seem as ancient as 1950s mainframe computers and punch-card computer programming do today.

Imagine making your own super-thin, translucent, self-powering high-speed laptop, in your kitchen, using only 4 input materials and one master design bloc of additive manufacturing code, pushed to your in-home 3D printer from your phone (whatever that looks like) with one touch. Imagine doing it without training in any of the relevant mechanical fields, the way you now print out your boarding pass before leaving for the airport.

Molecular photo-voltaics will become affordable and commonplace, and will help to achieve the biggest jump in energy production efficiency on record. Smart design of PV-infused composite materials will ensure that far less of total energy harvested or generated is wasted through thermal energy transfer or other kinds of kinetic energy leakage.

The structural materials in our devices, our buildings, our vehicles, will translate energy from one form to another. This will open the space for new, unprecedented kinds of kinetic energy storage—storage of energy that is moving and active.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will give way to nano-global hyper-convergence—a connective empowerment of every area of human activity. Security concerns will require that much of this planetary informational ecosystem be sequestered and protected by selective disconnection, but connection of some kind will still play a role in shaping these new advances in materials and production and service delivery.

One of the most widely applied mechanical applications for advanced AI will be the simple acceleration of processing power in information management devices—phones and computers. What this means:

  • The accelerating ephemeralization of such devices will not make them microscopic; we still need them to operate at the human scale.
  • It will mean they require far less hardware to generate a far higher information-management output.
  • In other words: They will require less onboard memory and storage to do far smarter work.

Thriving businesses will have noticed the following two facts of advanced AI-enabled high-sensitivity networked devices:

  • While governments may be very interested in facial recognition and biometrics to control the movement of people, these functions will consistently have the political problem of running against the high-value foundational rights required for open societies to function. This kind of AI will will be best applied in segmented or hyper-encrypted device-specific scenarios and may not be our favorite way to unlock personal information.
  • The higher value pathway will always be in the way onboard smart “sensory” observation of the environment allows devices to manage communications, storage, and energy usage with radical new efficiencies. Information and energy storage may begin to operate through similar schemes, and may even cross over into one another’s domain.

The real-time disaggregation and smart adaptive needs-based sharing of useful data will make smart networks of smart machines even smarter, enabling advances we cannot yet foresee. We should expect, however, that these advances will bring:

  • information, experience, capability, and mobility,
  • to more people, more quickly,
  • and at lower cost.

And throughout all of this new complexity, we should expect that energy is produced everywhere, at all times, by everything that uses energy. The most advanced technologies and best-quality services will be able to credibly claim that they have net neutral environmental impact.

Maximum efficiency comes with smart decentralization. The right approach to the above chain reaction of intersecting advances should:

  • protect human liberty and moral judgment,
  • as well as the sustainability of natural systems,
  • all while expanding access to knowledge and capability to a greater degree than at any previous point in history.

It falls to us at this moment in history to start designing the policies and business models that make these better outcomes most likely.

[ The Note for September 2017 ]

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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