Friday, August 5, 2011

Aspen Trees or Jellyfish, it's All Digital Economy at PARCForum

Had the pleasure of attending PARC Forum talk yesterday by "How Technology is Recreating the 21st-century Economy" by W. Brian Arthur of the Sante Fe Institute. I assume they will also post the slideshare here.

Anyways, essentially Arthur argued that 100% of our economic growth comes today from the digitization of business processing, sprouting what he calls a 2nd, underground economy. His prime example is to think of all the digital transactions/look-ups etc happen between the time you swipe your ID at a Airport Kiosk and it spitting out your boarding pass. He uses the metaphor of an Aspen forest, where 10 miles of roots exist for every acre of trees. Not only that, the Aspen forest grows new trees from it's roots, like he says new processes are always invented, making the roots thicker.

I found a few things very interesting in no particular order:

1) This is the intersection of cloud computing and the "internet of things".

2) This is very likely a root cause of some of the new structural unemployment / jobless recovery we are experiencing, the job simply arent there anymore, think secretary, paralegal, ticket counter rep, is the death of process white collar jobs.

3) Arthur firmly believes are cars will drive themselves in 15-20 yrs. I feel like this is a bit unrealistic, not from a perspective of technology, but from both cultural/psychological and infra investment reasons, hmmm....

4) Depending on your view, this could be utopian (we are freed of all grunt work), dystopian (we look like the people in Wall-E*) or somewhere in between.

5) If Arthur is right when he says this is the BIGGEST technological disruption ever, wow, someone's gonna make a lot of money...

6) I'd admired Arthur's use of metaphor to communicate, especially the Aspen forest one. However, while he quoted some "stats" he had done, he didn't share his model, that would've been nice, I was left wondering...

7) I'd encourage everyone to view this content once the PARC folks put it up.

I've been to 2 of these in the last year, but really need to make a point of getting to more of them, PARC brings in some amazing Thought Leaders.


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