Are we on the cusp of the 'Age of Freedom'?

Are we on the cusp of the 'Age of Freedom'?
Shana Rappaport
Thu, 07/23/2020 - 01:00

Anything with "technology convergence" and "climate change" in the same sentence captures my attention. Contextualize it in the "making or breaking of human civilization as we know it" and I’m hooked — and admittedly a tad skeptical.

That’s why I buckled up and dug into the recent 90-page report put forth by think tank RethinkX , co-founded by internationally recognized technologists and futurists Tony Seba and James Arbib. " Rethinking Humanity " makes the case that the convergence of key technologies is about to disrupt the five foundational sectors that underpin the global economy, and with them every major industry in the world. 

Super heady stuff, to be sure.

The vision Seba and Arbib detail reads somewhat like a distant techno-utopia. But the vision they lay out isn’t all that far off: Climate change solved and poverty eradicated within the next 15 years? Got my attention.

Given that Seba and Arbib have been impressively accurate over the past decade in predicting the speed and scale of technological disruption, I figured it was worth giving the analysis a closer look. 

From extraction to creation 

Focusing on the disruptive potential of emerging technologies in the information, energy, transportation, food and materials sectors, the report predicts that across all five — and within the next 10 years — we could see costs of key technologies fall by 10 times or more, production processes become 10 times more efficient, all while using 90 percent fewer natural resources and producing up to 100 times less waste.

What Seba and Arbib are calling the "fastest, deepest, most consequential transformation of human civilization in history" isn’t just a reframe of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which we know is underway and being enabled by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. Indeed, many of their predictions will sound familiar to those conversant in technological change. But it’s not just the march of progress of individual technologies that will save us.

The report does not introduce this alluring vision as an absolute — quite the contrary. Therein lies one big variable: Humans need to make it happen, and fast.


Instead, the report posits that we are on the cusp of the third age of humankind — what they describe as "The Age of Freedom." This new era will be defined by a shift away from models of centralized extraction to localized creation; ones built, they say, not on coal, oil, steel, livestock and concrete, but on photons, electrons, DNA, molecules and qbits (a unit of quantum information). 

They predict, for example, that the combination of cheap solar and grid storage will transform energy systems into entirely distributed models of self-generation in which...