The evolution of humans, both biological and cultural, has a deep connection with technology. Humans collectively drive technological change, while changing technologies, in turn, shape the way humans evolve. From the residences where you live to the roads you drive on and from the robots that do manual work to the rockets that push human frontiers - modern human life is shaped by technology everywhere along with its fair share of positives and negatives.
But wait. What is technology? Technology, simply put, is the ability to leverage tools, materials, and knowledge to solve problems and extend human capabilities.
The transition from using stone-age tools as primates in the past to building starships to become a space-faring civilization in the future wouldn't be possible without technological innovations. Neither are we primates anymore nor have we sailed across planets but during this gradual shift, we have observed progress and changes in the way humans function and collaborate.
Needless to say, cataloguing technological changes and their impacts consume a lot of books, and better writers have done a good job. I'll just try and summarize what I believe were some of the key turning points in technological innovation since the dawn of the human era.
Technology in the Foraging era - Hunter Gathering Tribes and the birth of religions
The control of fire and stone tools are, perhaps, the earliest known technological innovations that influenced humans in terms of geographic dispersal, and changes to culture, diet, and behaviour. Humans who lived as nomads in small bands, or termed as hunter-gatherer tribes, mostly foraged for food. Once they attained the ability to leverage fire and stone tools, religious rituals, socializing, cooking around hearths and art as well as communication through cave paintings, perhaps, started to take form.
Every time you’re around a campfire or have the ability to endure a stupid troll online, you know whom to thank.
Technology in the Farming era - Agriculture and the role of governments
Farming, the domestication of animals and plants for food and drugs, was another turning point that became the dominant force of technology allowing humans to settle down alongside river belts. This revolution saw an increase in the size of civilizations and served as a catalyst for the earliest form of government - Monarchy, Aristocracy, and eventually Democracy - take shape to govern tribes and offer protection in return for taxes.
Yes, I know. Annoying politics and tax returns.
Agriculture also paved the way for humans to exploit the environment on a large scale around and give rise to factory farming.
Technology in the Fossil Fuels era - Modern Capitalism and the end of slavery
The industrial revolution thrived on technologies such as coal, oil, and gas that drove economic changes. Fossil fuel-powered machines enabled the movement of goods and people across borders and oceans at a much faster pace. The rapid growth of the fossil-fueled economy gave rise to modern capitalism, open markets, and rapid industrialization that helped us scale industries, schools, hospitals, and more. Sadly, the education system in schools or the industrialized ways of working 9-5 hasn’t changed much yet.
Fossil fuels spawned unprecedented productivity outperforming humans and thus, perhaps, putting an end to slavery, but they seem to be accelerating climate change at an unfathomable rate.
Image Source: South African Stooz
Technology in the Information era - Software and the beginning of individual sovereignty
Why software is eating the world, an essay by Marc Andreessen, tells us about how software has been transforming industries - such as communication, entertainment and finance - helping create more market value. From e-commerce to mobile applications, the information revolution has connected people across the globe, brought down the cost of starting software-related companies and drastically increased the opportunity for individuals to be able to create value. The internet has been a great tool of leverage for an ever-increasing number of artists and entrepreneurs marking the beginning of individual sovereignty.
Yes, there is more to the internet than social media addiction and porn.
On the other hand, the software industry has also created tools for disarray and a platform for social mobs, fear of data privacy and psychological manipulations.
The current dominant technologies enabled by mobile and internet have created scope for applications such as Uber, Airbnb or Tinder that tap into new market opportunities within the existing frameworks.
That said we are now transitioning into an era of deep technologies that offer the possibilities to enable vertical innovations and re-configure entire markets. These radical innovations have the potential to revolutionize industries in the fields of life sciences, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, clean technology, information processing, advanced materials, transportation and chemical sectors.
Hold on! What is Deep Technology?
Deep technologies are those frontier technologies that depend on cutting edge discoveries in science and meaningful innovations in engineering. Characterized by lengthy time-to-market, high capital intensity and technology risk as well as complexity, deep technology companies are built around unique, protected, hard-to-reproduce technological or scientific advances and products.
Image Source: TechWorks
Just like software has been eating the world, we see the next layer in machine learning, gene-editing, quantum computing, electric transportation systems, etc. that are having high impact applications across industries. From autonomous cars and air taxis to lab-grown meat and cleantech solutions, deep technologies can radically transform the way we live and protect the environment around us.
My next newsletter will be about the intersection of progress and technology. But before we leave, we’re going to leave you with 4 recommendations.
Resources and Recommendations:
- Book: The Sovereign Individual- It is rightly called the defining book of the 20th century. Beyond predicting cryptocurrencies in the late 90s, the book maps the macro-transitional shifts and the role of the information revolution. They explain the shift of power from religious institutions to nation-states and then eventually from nation-states to individuals. The authors use the power of violence and myths in an evolving context to explain these transitions. Although they seem to have missed the power shift to tech corporations and generalize patterns a bit too much, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the power-cycle shifts between globalization and nationalization. PS: Ignore the initial pages of rebuttal by the authors against the critiques of their previous book.
- Deep Tech Ecosystem: Propel(x) - An investment marketplace that gives investors the power to discover and fund visionary science and technology startups. Focused entirely on deep technology, Propel(x) connects individual angel investors to industry experts and startups via an online platform. By connecting all 3 players, propel(x) is helping shape an inclusive future driven by science and technology.
- Deep Tech Startup: Lilium Aviation - The early 21st century was supposed to be exciting and futuristic beyond what we currently have but we haven’t yet lived the dream of the 20th-century visionaries. The advancements and innovations have been multifold in the world of bits world(software) as compared to the world of atoms(hardware). Flying cars portrayed in the movies of the 60s seemed a far cry even in the early 2000s but a sustainable, affordable and faster air transport might be in the cards within a couple of decades. Lilium Aviation is developing a disruptive and cutting-edge compact electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) technology. Their technology shall improve people’s lives with less stress, less pollution and even advanced rescue capability.
- Random Recommendation: Kurzgesagt - In a nutshell - If you’re a sucker for knowledge like me, I highly recommend this animated studio that beautifully explains concepts in science, technology, philosophy, politics and psychology to laymen like me.
And that’s it from us for today. See you next week. Subscribe for more.