Have you ever thought what it must have been like to experience the Sixties? With its explosion of freedom and choice away from the frankly dull Fifties, when music, movies, creativity – life, even – seemed limited and in some ways constrained and controlled.
By the Seventies that explosion had become a revolution. Alongside political, social, sexual and creative freedoms came the new possibilities offered by travel, which gave freedom of movement. It was as if the brakes had been released by the sheer speed of new technologies, among them the contraceptive pill. So much freedom, so much music, so much of everything – and all to the alarm of government and the establishment who were left bemused and on the back foot.
It came like a burst of colour into a previously grey world.
Yet fast forward to today and what’s happening is like the Seventies on steroids. Computing power at every turn. Mobility at a cost all can afford. Internet and social networking on a global scale. We have never enjoyed so much freedom or been so empowered; there has surely never been a time of such creativity affecting every aspect of life and society.
Technology sets you free
Is there a price to pay for all this? Well, yes. We have collectively given up a deal of privacy and control. But we seem to have done so gladly because the benefits are clear and life is so much better.
It’s worth remembering that we can now communicate with almost anyone anywhere. It’s the norm to access information and content for free. We can order goods in the morning and have them delivered the next day – even the same day – without leaving our home or office. Meanwhile personalisation of items from cars to sports shoes is now standard.
Technology has not just set us free, it has empowered us to be able to do and achieve more than any other generation – and that power is derived from communication and connectivity. Working as a virtual team member across the planet? Job hunting online? Trying to find out the latest advances in medical treatment? It has become accepted and available.
So what happens now? Well, there’s no doubt that networked AI, robotics and automation are key to the next phase in the empowerment of our species.
There are those who worry that robots will put humans out of work. Yet up to this point in time, no technology has ever seen a net reduction in employment – and we have never been so short of skilled and capable people.
For most of us our technological empowerment will accelerate as we augment our limited human faculties with AI and robotics. This really does represent a new ‘power to the people’ with government and the establishment sliding ever further back in their ability to control populations.
Peter Cochrane is an innovator in both academia and industry. A former chief technology officer for BT, he has worked as a consultant for companies including Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, BMW, PwC and HSBC. He is a regular lecturer and a contributor to outlets such as the BBC, Financial Times, Wired and the Huffington Post.
He writes Futura, a regular column for pirelli.com