Tipping Points in Human History

I’ve been talking lately about the two main tipping points in human history: from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, and agriculture to our industrial society. That second tipping point beginning about 1760 ushered in three revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution  saw the rise of iron and textile industries and the mechanization of production through the use of water and the steam engine. This second tipping point saw a reduction in physical labor and a shift in where new forms of labor were required. The Second Industrial Revolution started in 1870,  riding advances such as electricity, telephone and the internal combustion engine to drive rapid industrialization and globalization. A massive disruption followed, as established sectors were eliminated and new ones emerged.

The Third Industrial Revolution is said to have started around 1969, driven by nuclear power, microelectronics, space exploration, biotechnology, the convergence of information and communication technologies, and the rise of the Internet. Although the earlier revolutions fueled the second tipping point, nothing to date has driven a third. Now, the World Economic Forum and others are talking about a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Could this be the catalyst for that third tipping point? The current buzz surrounding artificial intelligence, robotics, Blockchain, and other exponential advances in science and technology drives speculation in areas of a jobless future, human-machine hybrids, space colonization, existential events, and more.

In the context of tipping points and human history, we could very well be entering the third tipping point: from an industrial to an automated society. The platform that supported the second tipping point (communications, energy, and transport) will change dramatically for the first time since the second revolution. We’ve already seen the profound impact the Internet had on our communication paradigm: and we haven’t seen anything yet; as mixed reality, brain communications, and broad shifts in our interaction paradigm (talking, gesturing, looking, etc.) change the game again. But this time, the energy and transport paradigms will change with it, leveraging the Internet of Things to create the next general purpose technology platform.

The decisions that we as leaders make as the fourth industrial revolution unfolds determines the magnitude of the tipping point. For example, are we heading toward an augmented society, or an automated society? In this transition period, Governments will play an important role, and a Business 4.0 agenda will be pursued. In each case, a framework for the future is required. The short video above describes the key elements of a framework that calls for us to see possible futures, rehearse them and adapt to their inevitable shifts – assuming business and society are capable of rapid adaptation. If they are not, will we attempt to slow the pace of change?

37 thoughts on “Tipping Points in Human History

  1. Wow, first let me compliment your team on the craftsmanship of the video. I found it interesting even on a purely technical level. Great graphics! Would welcome a “the making of” discussion should it interest you.

    So, you’ve proposed a strategy for managing our relationship with the future and succeeding in whatever environment emerges. Such suggestions would seem to be built upon an assumption that some set of strategies can be successful in adapting to an accelerating pace of change. If such an assumption is true, then a search for the best strategies is obviously logical.

    Should we also be asking whether that foundational assumption is indeed true?

    For now I’ll set aside my usual rants about existential scale powers, single points of failure etc. What I’m asking instead is, are human being intellectually capable of creating adaptation strategies adequate to meet _any_ rate of change?

    We all agree that knowledge development and the resulting social change is undergoing a process of accelerating change. But have we really grasped what the word “acceleration” means? Doesn’t it mean faster, and faster, and faster?

    Do our visions of the future include a leveling off of this acceleration? If so, how, when, why?

    If there is no leveling off of knowledge driven change, if it is to accelerate forever, are we proposing that human being have an infinite ability to conceptually adapt?

    Given the incredible vastness of reality and how little we currently know compared to what could be known, it does seem that knowledge development could conceivably accelerate continuously for a substantial period of time using new information technologies such as AI etc. I can accept that as a reasonable theory.

    What seems far more debatable is any assumption that human adaption strategies such as you present in your video can evolve at the same ever accelerating pace. Can they evolve? Yes, of course, they already have. But can adaption strategies evolve at whatever speed is required, no matter how fast knowledge may explode?

    Until we can answer that question with a confident yes backed up with considerable evidence, it seems that the adaption strategy we should be discussing is…

    How do we slow the pace of the knowledge explosion?

    As usual, my futurist prediction is that the paradigm shift being required of us is of a fundamental nature. The tipping point may be that we’re reaching the limits of our ancient “more is better” relationship with knowledge. At the least, we should at least be considering this possibility, and not automatically assuming that continuing the long established “more is better” patterns of the past is obviously the only path in to the future.

    “More is better” works great in a era characterized by scarcity. We are no longer in such an era when it comes to knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] When I first launched my Blog in 2010, it was titled Blurring the Boundaries. It was growing ever clearer that the lines between physical and digital, industries, business and IT, you name it, the lines were blurring. It was evident that our growing digital world would drive significant structural change. These new era structures would fundamentally alter our belief in long standing institutions like management, policy, process, procedure, legal frameworks, accounting principles, organization structure, business and operating models, governance, regulations, institutions, and the core characteristics of new era organizations. In essence, The Collapse of Traditional Structures will lead to a Third Tipping Point in Human History. […]


    • Informative posts about candidates for tipping points in the past. I would have wanted to understand the criteria you used to select them NOT because I dispute them but because if the difficulty predicting future tipping points. Is it possible to at all with these obstacles 1) No knowledge of outcome 2) It is difficult if not possible to separate the forest from the trees? Life always seems different, exaggerated, perhaps hopeless, while we experience events — terrifying, life-threatening, sometimes species threatening. Susceptibility to movements is high. The best predictions ill emerge when people who disagree are able to have a dialogue, layout criteria for candidates and their dependencies and track them dispassionately.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] The story begins with the broad notion of convergence and then focuses on the science and technology domains. Starting with the digital foundation, the curve moves into a distant and unknown future. Along the way, we encounter near-term innovation accelerators and an expanding set of emerging accelerators. The final build is a full view that now includes many science and technology elements captured in the Future Today Institute report. The full visual (click on visual to expand) is complex and highly uncertain, pointing towards a future of increasing pace and perhaps another Tipping Point. […]


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