The Sixth Wave by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady, Vintage Books Australia 2010
Using the analogy to the famous waves of technological change modeled by Nikolai Kondratiev, these authors, both Australian experts, look at the global technological future. The tragic life of the brilliant Kondratiev, a minister of the Russian government and founder of their Institute of Conjecture, ended with years of imprisonment and his execution under Stalin in 1938. His Kondratiev wave theory, published in 1925, predicted the 50-60 year cycles of boom and bust in Western capitalist economies starting with Britain's Industrial Revolution around 1780. As the authors point out, Joseph Schumpeter picked up on Kondratiev's waves to add his theories of creative destruction and innovation.
Our current global wave of technology and innovation comprises electronic communications, computers, fiber optics, satellites, the internet, the worldwide web and the continued miniaturization of user interfaces: PCs, smart phones, tablets, based on Gordon Moore's famous 1965 law predicting that computing power would double every 18 months while costs would remain constant. Today, in our high-frequency trading in financial markets and cloud computing. We are living in the Fifth Wave.
The Sixth Wave, as correctly identified by the authors as one of Resource Efficiency, is well underway. In my first visit to Australia in 1970 hosted by their Institute of Architects to speak at their conference in Melbourne, I was impressed by many of the scientists I met from CSIRO, Australia's national research agency, of which co-author James Bradfield Moody serves as Executive Director of Development. I recall the CSIRO scientists understood how the great transformation of industry from its earlier reliance on wood, whale oil, coal and then oil, would eventually evolve toward learning to reduce throughput of all resources to a very minimum. They saw, as I did, how low-entropy economies would emerge by re-designing infrastructure, products, building, transport, cities and lifestyles.
The co-authors of the book have captured in exciting detail all the progress in Australia and elsewhere toward this design revolution marching toward efficiencies of this Sixth Wave. As in the US, the incumbent industries based on earlier resources, mainly coal in Australia, are fighting to retain their political privileges, economic subsidies and their business models based on "externalizing" the social and environmental costs of their production methods to taxpayers society and the environment. The current stalemates in climate change debates in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010 are as evident in Canberra as in Washington. Yet, the authors describe all the exciting scientific and technological progress and viable new sectors emerging in recycling, re-manufacturing, re-use, solar, wind, ocean, geothermal and energy-efficiencies now quietly transforming our 300-year fossil-fueled Industrial Era toward the information-rich, cleaner, greener, low-entropy economies of the what I termed Solar Age.
This greening of our economies is largely based on better information and the Fifth Wave: our Information Age. This wider learning included understanding how our planet operates and how to re-design our economies to take advantage of the life on Earth's 4 billion years of evolution and optimization. We are now learning that biomimicry (this process of designing with Nature) is advancing our technologies of harvesting the free daily flow of photons from our Sun – even exceeding their capture by photosynthesis by plants – which underpins our food supply. The co-authors work with CSIRO is evident in their wide interdisciplinary approach and integration of global trends, with their wide research of new technological choices and companies.
I highly recommend this book, not only for its command of the massive whole-system, accelerating changes humanity is undergoing but also for their clear writing. They make such complex phenomena clearer, and this book is a great read as well!
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.