Guy Perelmuter is a computer engineer with a Masters in Electrical Engineering. He is also a deep tech investor through his venture capital firm, GRIDS Capital.
Below, Perelmuter shares 5 key insights from his new book, Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution† Listen to the audio version – read by Perelmuter himself – in the Next big idea app.
1. Our collective history has always been driven by technology.
We must dispel this myth that we “live in a period of change”. The entire history of civilization revolves around change – and more than that, technological change. This is what defines us as a species and propels us forward. Change is accelerating and is likely to accelerate even more.
It’s not like this is something new in our history. Progress is an unforgiving part of human nature. There are many technologies that will shape our world in the coming decades, and because of the blazing pace at which they are being adopted, there seems to be confusion about what these technologies are and how they work.
Current Future is for anyone interested in understanding the technologies shaping industries, governments, and societies around the world. From a high school student to a PhD, from an intern to a CEO, from a journalist to an engineer, from a lawyer to an athlete – anyone interested in what’s going on, how we got here and where this path is likely to lead. Take us.
2. The Deep Tech Revolution – where science meets technology.
The remarkable thing about current technological changes is that they are at the intersection of a series of extraordinary developments: faster microprocessors, cheaper digital storage, ubiquitous access to information, efficient algorithms and an increasing understanding of the laws of nature. These ingredients, decades in the making, are key drivers of the Deep Tech Revolution.
Deep tech is where science meets technology. Here, PhD students and subject matter experts can apply their knowledge and convert intellectual performance into systems, devices, prototypes, products and methodologies. Deep tech companies are effectively building the future of the global economy, one technology at a time: robotics, biotech, nanotech, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, energy, aerospace, agro-tech – the list goes on.
3. Learn from the past.
Did you know that by the late 1800s, a third of the cars on American roads were electric? Or that streaming has been around since the 1920s?
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” says Mark Twain, who explains how we can use the past to anticipate the future. If we can look to the past to see our future, then we will witness extraordinary changes in the coming decades. From law to engineering, medicine to journalism, entertainment to manufacturing, economics to education – no field of knowledge will be immune to transformations in processes, models, implementations, methods and results. The future has always been present in our lives because virtually everything we live with today was once part of someone else’s vision of tomorrow. More new jobs, careers, businesses and empires will be created. Others will disappear or evolve into something completely different. The speed at which the world will experience these transformations is accelerating rapidly.
What will these new technologies be? How will they affect our lives, jobs and homes? How will governments, brands, industries and services respond? How can we take advantage of the opportunities that arise and prevent obsolescence? The challenges we face in this rapidly changing world are enormous and no industry will get through this evolution without significant changes.
4. Understand the present and explore the future.
Will technology improve or worsen employment prospects? Throughout the history of civilization, new technologies have prompted a series of responses in the workplace. When modern economics was born, a practically answerless debate also began: is there technological unemployment (the shortage of jobs caused by the replacement of human labor with machines)? Until now, innovation has been the catalyst for the so-called creative destruction; that is, jobs are not eliminated, but rather are transferred to other sectors, for example from the agricultural sector to the service sector.
The onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has intensified the discussion about technological unemployment, as a wide range of new technologies have simultaneously reached many industries. The mechanization and modernization of agricultural activity has shifted a significant portion of the country’s workforce to cities – less than a third of the world’s workforce is on land and less than 5% in developed countries. New technologies allow ideas once limited to science fiction to gradually build a more current future: integration between artificial and biological systems, learning techniques for communication between machines and their parts, and the expansion of physical reality into virtual reality. The unprecedented speed and depth of this revolution is the result of a favorable combination of factors: the increase in processing power of computer systems, the falling cost of data storage units, the reduced size of equipment and sensors, and the evolution of algorithms.
5. Look for the inevitability: energy, longevity, urbanization.
“New technologies allow ideas once limited to science fiction to gradually build a more current future.” I try to focus on advances made to address ‘inevitability’ such as longer lifespans, population growth, increasing energy demand and increasingly complex systems. Understanding how these technologies work and their remarkable origins is critical to fully appreciate their impact on our future, and to ensure that their social and environmental impact is not lost to us.
Take energy for example. With our growing reliance on technology, the efficient use of energy and the development of equipment to produce, store and distribute it are critical. Since the First Industrial Revolution (which began with the popularization of the steam engine in the mid-18th century), society has increased its demand for energy, increasing pollution levels. Studies conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have shown that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 40% over the past 250 years, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. This is one of the main causes of the greenhouse effect, which has caused global temperatures to rise with potentially devastating consequences for biodiversity and the future of humanity.
Another good example is longevity. The decay process of the organism is seen as a disease itself. Rising life expectancy provides billions of dollars in research, diagnosis, medical procedures and drugs. Longevity has taken a leading position in research centers, universities and private companies. According to the US National Institutes of Health, nearly 16% of the world’s population (about 1.5 billion people) will be 65 years of age or older by 2050, compared to just 8% (525 million people) in 2010. Regardless of country, social class, or sex, we live longer.
Finally, consider that according to the United Nations, the world population has increased from less than a billion in 1800 to 7.7 billion in 2019, while the percentage of the population living in urban environments has increased from 3% to 55%. Population growth in urban centers and behavioral changes in society, including increased environmental awareness and new ways of using goods, are driving the demand for transformations to increase systematically. The nonprofit Population Reference Bureau estimates that by 2050, the percentage of the world’s population living in cities will grow to nearly 70%, and 75% in developed countries. This represents a migration to cities of nearly 1.5 billion people – that’s 50 million people per year, roughly the population of Colombia or South Korea.
Changes are happening all the time, right before our eyes. We don’t notice our children’s growth because we see them every day, but it just takes someone who doesn’t see us regularly to say, “They’ve grown so much!” and we are reminded of the relentless march of time. It is essential that we remain critical and monitor the developments of the exponential changes that are underway. These are essential skills for us humans, who are surrounded by our own works – the fruit of hundreds of generations of creators, dreamers and inventors. The future is not just present. It is a gift. Use it wisely.