In a recent book, Richard Baldwin takes us on a fascinating journey to the past, and then provides a peak into the next great transformation. In The Globotics Upheaval, Mr. Baldwin describes a cycle that has played out multiple times throughout human history. The cycle of transformation, upheaval, backlash and resolution (Let’s call it TUBS) was experienced each time the world entered periods of major disruption. Mr. Baldwin introduces the Globotics Transformation as the third great economic transformation to shape our societies over the past three centuries. As he describes, the first was known as the Great Transformation started in the early 1700s, and it switched societies from agriculture to industrial and from rural to urban. The second started in the early 1970s, shifting the focus from industry to services – the Services Transformation. I take a different view of transformation in the context of Tipping Points – but the cycle is the same.
In sticking with my theme of exploring the past to inform our future, I highly recommend this book. It is clear that the TUBS cycle is repeating itself once again. Beginning with the 1970s, society has found itself on another transformative path. Artificial Intelligence dominates the discussion these days, but Mr. Baldwin argues that Remote Intelligence (RI) will be just as impactful. RI represents a phenomenon where workers in advanced economies face direct international wage competition from highly skilled, low-cost foreign workers working (virtually) in their offices. He equates this to telecommuting gone global; telemigration. Until recently, most service and professional jobs were sheltered from globalization by the need for face-to-face contact—and the enormous difficulty and cost of getting foreign service suppliers in the same room with domestic service buyers.
The book explores this combination of the next phase of globalization and this new form of robotics, calling it Globotics. The most obvious difference is that it is affecting people working in the service sector instead of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors – and it is coming inhumanly fast. Mr. Baldwin tells a compelling story of a phenomenon that accelerates and injects pressure into our socio-politico-economic system (via job displacement) faster than our system can absorb it (via job replacement). The rapid pace of advancement in the sciences and technology creates the pace dynamic, while human ingenuity is required to replace jobs – and that moves at a much slower pace.
When we industrialized, we created a world where job loss meant poverty and perhaps starvation for landless workers. The resolution process was spread over two world wars and the Great Depression. In the process, individuals and countries across the world embraced fascism and communism as part of the backlash. People elected populists who promised authority, justice, and economic security—just as they do today.
Mr, Baldwin concludes that the jobs that survive will be those that require face-to-face interactions. He envisions a future where our communities are more local and urban. These new jobs will stress humanity’s great advantages. He provides the code to understanding the future, which is hidden in the Lessons of History. Those that follow my work know that I am a big believer in this type of Convergence. Mr. Baldwin describes this same dynamic in this manner: The massive changes that are coming will involve insanely complex interactions between technological, economic, political, and social forces. To put some order in this complexity, it is useful to group the changes into a four-step progression—transformation, upheaval, backlash, and resolution—all of which are launched by a technological breakthrough – we are in that place again.
So into my Book Library goes The Globotics Upheaval.