Technology Tipping Points: How Software Has the Potential to Drastically Change Our Lives

Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report
Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report

Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report

Article written by Maria Fonseca and Paula Newton

As we have seen, and particularly over the last few decades, technology has the power to dramatically change society and the lives of those living within it. The degree of change in current times has been compared by some to the industrial revolution. According to the World Economic Forum in 2015, Erik Brynjolfsson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has stated that:

“Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power – the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments – what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power.”

Certain changes are considered by the World Economic Forum to be more important than others in creating a kind of “tipping point” to understand the impact on society. The conclusions of the World Economic Forum came about from its findings of a survey that was carried out with more than 800 executives and experts.

One of the major findings of the World Economic Forum study was that there are six megatrends which are having a remarkable impact on society at the current time.

People and the Internet

The first is related to people and the internet. The way that individuals connect with others and with society has been undergoing radical change as a result of a variety of different technologies, including wearable and implantable devices.

Computing, communications and storage everywhere

A second megatrend is the theme of being able to compute anywhere and at any time, as we are moving to a situation where everyone has ability to access a computer in their pocket with almost unlimited capacity for storage, and these devices are mobile.

The Internet of Things

The third is the Internet of Things, which refers to the sensors collecting data that are being installed everywhere. In the future, all things will be smart and connected to the internet, enabling greater communication and new data-driven services based on increased analytics capabilities.

Artificial intelligence and big data

Artificial intelligence and big data are the fourth megatrend, and in particular big data is facilitating better decision making, and robotics is also having an influence in this area. Exponential digitization implies exponential data about virtually everything and everyone. Software will be able to learn and evolve by itself

The sharing economy and distributed trust

The fifth change is the sharing economy with people starting to open up and share what they own with one another, which has created many business opportunities.This trend has been enable by trust. Another important emergent trend is blockchain, an emerging technology based on the bitcoin protocol that promises to substitute the need for third-party institutions to provide trust for financial, contract and voting activities.

Digitisation of matter

The final is the “digitisation of matter” where physical objects are created by raw materials using devices such as 3D printing. The digitisation of matter will create various opportunities particularly in the health sector.

When will we reach the tipping points?

Of interest there were a number of tipping points that 80% or more of survey participants believed would have occurred by 2025. The likelihood of 10% wearing clothes connected to the internet was considered to be the most likely, with 91.2% of survey participants believing in this.

Another very popular belief was that the tipping point of 90% of people having unlimited and free (advertising supported) storage with 91% of respondents believing that this would happen in the next decade. These maybe do not seem as far-fetched as some of the other tipping points that more than 80% of participants believed would occur by 2025, such as the first robotic pharmacist in the US, the first government to replace its census with big data sources, 5% of consumer products printed in 3D, and interestingly, the advent of the first implantable mobile phone available commercially.

Fig 4 Hard Drive Cost per Gigabyte Image source Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report
Fig 4 Hard Drive Cost per Gigabyte Image source Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report

On this latter point of the first implantable mobile phone being available commercially, it was expected by participants that this will occur by 2023, and 82% of respondents thought that it would happen by 2025. Positive impacts of such an innovation are cited to be the reduction of missing children, and increased self-sufficiency, but there are data security implications and also worries about the amount of distraction such devices would lead to.

The tipping point of 80% of people with a digital presence on the internet is also expected by 2023, with 84% believing it will have occurred by 2025. Benefits for society are cited as increased transparency and an increase in free speech, while negative impacts are believed to be challenges of groupthink and identity theft. The report pointed various shifts implied by the six megatrends, and its implicit challenges. One important challenge concerns work. According to a recent study done by Oxford Martin University, various jobs will be wiped off in our newer future, due to increased automation.

Fig 5: Distribution of US Occupational Employment over Probability of Computerization
Image source Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact : A World Economic Forum Report


In this post we just covered some of the many shifts and tipping points that are outlined in the fascinating World Economic Forum repor Deep Shift: Technological Tipping Points.

Ultimately, it is argued that these shifts will lead to two occurrences. One will be the digital connectivity of every person to anything at any time and in any place, and the second is a set of tools for analysing and using data for everyday life. The software-enabled shifts described in the report evidences how the world is increasingly being driven and enabled by software.

The changes that are taking place are monumental, and everyone will feel them in some way or another. It is extremely likely that the world will be a very different place within the next 2 decades.