Will we Supplant the Steam Engine?

Please respond to the poll at the end of the post after reading the context below.

To transform is to make a thorough or dramatic change in form, appearance, or character. Society has transformed several times, but what was the most transformative period in all of history? The folks at MIT set out to answer that question. Through their research and analysis, they determined that the invention of the steam engine ushered in the most transformative period in history. This visual is part of MIT’s initiative on the digital economy and shows the impact of the steam engine on social development:


Over two centuries later, we are likely on the verge of supplanting that transformative period. Unlike the industrial revolutions, when a period of stabilization allowed companies to retrench and exploit the disruptors of the day, this coming period promises no such period. Several key drivers have positioned the next several decades to deliver a staggering – perhaps unprecedented – amount of change. That leads to a question regarding the intensity of the coming transformative period. Please take the poll  and add your voice to the discussion.

10 thoughts on “Will we Supplant the Steam Engine?

  1. The steam engine enabled the industrial revolution and radically transformed society. Before, population was mainly rural and people were working 7 days – 90 hrs/week. With the industrial revolution, population became more urban and machines made work more efficient which lead to a reduction of labour time to ca. 40hrs/week. Today I think we are truly starting the information age revolution because of the law of Moore being still at work. Through increasing miniaturization, computer power, networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, new machines will make a lot of current jobs obsolete and people will become again more mobile and work radically less.


  2. We are still living and developing things based on current technologies. Everything we do is based on everything we gained from advances made possible by the global availability of the steam engine. The otto motor, the wankel motor and the electromotor are based on knowledge gained from the mechanics of the steam engine.
    Real life changers will only come through if we find new ways of producing power, like fusion reaction and other ways some people are already dreaming about. This will only be possible after we learned what we really need to do:, really sharing wealth, and food, and leaving behind the still practiced colonial thinking. By focussing our human potential on finally ending all wars, all hostilities both foreign and domestic, by acknowledging that as individuals we are so different, but as humans so alike. By accepting this and making sure we all live by the simple, yet important rules of helping eachother and granting one another the possibility to improve each individuals longing for a better and improved living standard. By being positive and trusting eachother, and by making sure nothing will infringe this. Only then will we be able to see a new social and technological revolution.


  3. If you believe that society is on an exponential growth path, then the current time is continuously the most transformative.


    • Maybe so, but there have been periods in history that have brought significant paradigm shifts – those are not continuous. The level of change is dramatic and significant. We are on the verge of one of those shifts. The point being that leaders need to understand the magnitude of the coming shift. Viewing it as continuous would tell these leaders that it’s business as usual – it is not.


      • I didn’t mean to imply we are in a time of business as usual. Rather that the momentous shift we are experiencing will continue indefinitely.


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