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Looking at the Future through the Past

In this chart the blue bars represent the total amount of years lived by humans in a given century (multiplying the number of people for the average life span). The dark bar represent the economic value of production of all people (global Earth GDP). Note the sharp increase in global GDP in the XX century and that in the XXI century first decade the Earth has produced 40% of the total GDP produced in the whole XX century. Credit: Angus Maddison, UN, published by The Economist

I run into an article on The Economist that caught my attention. I was actually looking at the kind of global progress we have experienced as mankind in our history and it is good to see that we have made incredible progress in many areas, life expectancy and wellbeing, education, food availability, economics with the only downside being our impact on the Planet (CO2).

Most notably most of the progress have been made in the last centuries, starting from the XVII century with the Agricultural Revolution and on in the XVIII century with the Industrial Revolution. More than that, the acceleration of progress in the last century has been phenomenal and it keeps accelerating, with the Digital Transformation knocking at the door and providing a way to sidestep the constrains imposed by atoms.
Indeed, if you look at the Earth GDP of the first decade of this century you see that it has reached roughly 40% of the all last century GDP. Even more staggering, in the first decade of this century we have produced as a collectivity more than it has been produced in the all centuries from year 0 to 1900 by a population that is half the one of the XIX century (calculated as I indicated by average life span multiplied by the number of people living -divided by ten in the case of the first decade of this century since the period taken into consideration is just 10 years).

Clearly the GDP is not telling the whole story, different areas of the world show major differences in the pro-capita GDP, yet overall it gives a macro view of the progress, considering that higher GDP translates in more resources to improve citizens well being (on the average).

The Digital Transformation will be in full swing in the next decade and will further accelerate the GDP growth, possibly decreasing the impact on the environment.  This will not come as a side effect, actually it will need to be planned and will require a strong policy and social support.

The amount of power (energy) we are using keeps growing but we have the possibility to make use of cleaner power (even if in some cases it may be more expensive). Dedicating part of the GDP growth to preserve our environment, achieve a better sharing to improve the living conditions of the have nots is not a technology issue but a social and political one.
Education is probably the most single important factor in the global equation. We need to create awareness, yes on what is happening but even more important on what we as single person and as a collectivity can do to steer the evolution towards the increased wellbeing of future generations.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.