[Book Review] The Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nation and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (2014)
Digital technology has begun to reshape nearly every sector of the global economy, from manufacturing to services and agriculture to healthcare. In their new book, The New Digital Age, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and digital strategist Jared Cohen discuss this transformation for people, nations, and businesses. The rapid emergence of digital technology is creating a simultaneously more connected and more fragmented world. The explosive growth of mobile Internet usage in developing countries; the proliferation of sensors, drones, and other connected devices; the ubiquity of artificial intelligence; the emergence of virtual currencies like Bitcoin; and the increasing prevalence of 3D printing are all examples of how digital technology is upending industries, economies, and communities around the world. This transformation may be even more profound than that brought about by the invention of electricity or the steam engine. It will not just change how we live, work, learn and communicate; it will change who we are as individuals and society. “Digital technology is rapidly becoming one of mankind’s greatest catalysts for change—and in ways that we have barely begun to understand,” Schmidt and Cohen write. The authors explore these questions further in their book “The New Digital Age.”
Who Will Benefit from the Digital Revolution?
The benefits of the digital revolution will be felt by people of all ages, from children to retirees. The growing availability of online education will allow people to expand their knowledge and improve their job prospects at any stage of their lives. Connecting with others worldwide will help people develop new relationships and improve existing ones. The digital revolution will also allow people to work remotely at times and in ways that were not feasible before, which will be especially beneficial in countries that lack the infrastructure to support many traditional office workers.
Which Countries Will Thrive in the Digital Age?
Two criteria will determine which countries will thrive in the digital age: infrastructure and human capital. Countries that invest in the infrastructure to support digital technologies will be best positioned to take advantage of them, including broadband Internet access and energy, transportation networks, and advanced manufacturing capabilities. Digital technology will also require a well-educated population so that people can take advantage of the new job opportunities that emerge. Countries with concentrated efforts to educate their people will be better positioned to prosper in the digital age, including higher education and efforts to make sure people learn computer skills at a young age.
Which Countries Will Suffer?
Many countries are ill-prepared for the digital revolution. These are often countries with underdeveloped physical or digital infrastructure. They may also be countries that lack the human capital necessary to take advantage of digital technologies. Countries that have failed to invest in their digital infrastructure will be less able to utilize digital technologies. In the near term, they may also suffer economic losses. Industries that rely on manual labor suffer the most as digital technologies replace people with machines.
What New Jobs Will Be Created?
The digital revolution will create new jobs and industries, but it remains to be seen which ones will become dominant. The first job to emerge in the digital age was IT, but others will follow. Industries that are likely to expand in the digital age include healthcare, education, and entertainment. Many new jobs will be created in sectors that had not existed before, which was the case in the first industrial revolution when new industries like telecommunications and transportation emerged. It is impossible to predict which industries will appear, but one thing is clear: traditional jobs are likely to become less common.
What Jobs will Become Obsolete?
The new industries created by the digital revolution will help offset the jobs that become obsolete due to digital technologies replacing manual labor. However, it is difficult to predict which jobs will become obsolete in the digital age. One industry that is especially likely to be affected is retail. Online commerce will become increasingly popular, putting many brick-and-mortar retailers out of business. Some industries that rely on manual labor, like agriculture and construction, may also be impacted.
How will the Start-Up Economy Change?
The rapid adoption of digital technologies will give many new start-up companies, especially in industries that have been difficult to enter due to high start-up costs. These digital start-ups will have several advantages over traditional businesses. One is the ability to reach large numbers of customers worldwide with a single Internet-based platform. Another is the ability to use analytics to optimize operations and increase profits. These start-up companies will also have access to significant capital. The emergence of digital currencies, like Bitcoin, will make it much easier for entrepreneurs to raise money from investors.
How will Consumers be Impacted?
Consumers will benefit from the digital revolution in many ways. Digital technology will make finding information, shopping, and accessing services easier. It will also make it easier to engage in social and collaborative activities, including learning, working, and volunteering. The ability to access information remotely will allow people to take advantage of the best opportunities in any part of the world. The digital revolution will impact some industries, including sectors like publishing, cable, and film, which have relied on physical products. Other sectors, like healthcare, will see opportunities for improvement as digital technologies allow for more precise diagnosis and treatment.
How will Businesses Change?
Businesses have already begun to embrace digital technology; giant corporations have invested in creating online platforms. Smaller business companies will benefit from digital technologies as well. One of the most significant changes in the digital age is that businesses will be able to track all aspects of their operations more precisely and use this data to inform decisions and optimize operations. In many cases, sensors, artificial intelligence, and other digital technologies will be able to monitor conditions more accurately than humans can.
How can Nations Prepare for the Digital Age?
The transformation triggered by the digital age will not be easy to navigate. The most important step that countries can take is to invest in their people, which includes investing in digital infrastructure, providing more people with access to education, and promoting entrepreneurship. It is also essential for countries to be transparent and welcoming to encourage investment, allowing companies to make decisions based on economic considerations rather than political ones.