What are the industries of the future?

Before I read this book I would say anything environmental, AI, robotics, biotech (that include genetics), IoT, neuroscience, space, gaming and health. There is an obvious overlap between those sectors. Just imagine a huge box full of Lego blocks, combining these technologies with mobile, nano, virtual reality, big data, augmenting, biomimicry, material science, quantum physics and you have a Pandora’s box of industries we have not even imagined.

Alec Ross

Alec Ross thinks that the industries of the future are robotics, advanced life sciences, the codification of money, cybersecurity, and big data. Not much to argue there, although in my view very limited and almost too easy.

North Korea or Estonia

What the book does do is show the countries that are ahead and the once that are behind, and the book puts the industries into a geopolitical, cultural, and generational context. All 196 countries in the world have a choice. You can be North Korea or Estonia. That goes for your company too.

Europe versus Japan

I would suggest it will make for unhappy reading for European policymakers and there is no doubt, power is shifting East. Japan already leads the world in robotics, operating 310,000 of the 1.4 million industrial robots in existence across the world. Driven by an increasingly older population, they have particularly focussed on elderly care and health. That includes augmentation, which is a growth sector all on its own. Other counties to watch in robotics are China, the United States, South Korea, and Germany.

Pandora’s box

What everyone needs to consider, and here is the Pandora’s lego box again, is when robotics get combined with big data, cloud (all robots connected and learning), AI, nano and biology. No wonder venture capital funding in robotics is growing at a steep rate. It more than doubled in just three years, from $160 million in 2011 to $341 million in 2014. The market for consumer robots could hit $390 billion by 2017, and industrial robots should hit $40 billion in 2020.


The number of robotic procedures is increasing by about 30% a year, and more than 1 million Americans have already undergone robotic surgery, and it is growing exponentially. It is quite amazing what robots are doing already, from hunting jellyfish and hunting cancer to hair washing, waiting tables, cleaning the floor but also teaching maths and anything in between. There is no doubt, as technology continues to advance, robots will kill many jobs.


Two Oxford University professors who studied more than 700 detailed occupational types have published a study making the case that over half of US jobs could be at risk of computerization in the next two decades.  Forty-seven percent of American jobs are at high risk for robot takeover, and another 19% face a medium level of risk. 

Singularity, when, not if

The level of investment in robotics (including drones, self-driving cars, etc.), combined with advances in technology are setting the foundation for the 2020s to produce breakthroughs in robotics that bring today’s science fiction right. Including singularity which is expected somewhere between 2023 (Vernor Vinge) and 2045 (Ray Kurzweil). We have moved from “if” to “when”.


That is why China is not just relying on forced urbanisation to produce low-cost labour; it is also investing heavily in the industries of the future. Every country needs to invest in growing fields like robotics but also invest in a social framework that makes sure those who are losing their jobs are able to stay afloat long enough to pivot to the industries or positions that offer new possibilities. Humans are not as easy to upgrade as software.

Life sciences

That is the robotics industry. Now for life sciences. The size of the genomics market was estimated at a little more than $11 billion in 2013 and is going to grow faster than anyone could imagine. We are talking DNA sequencing, precision medicine, designer babies, neuroscience (the genetics of suicide), xenotransplantation and Jurassic Park. With 78 organs, 206 bones, and 640 muscles, not to mention up to 25,000 genes, our bodies are complicated machines. We are hacking the machine, part by part. As a result, we will live longer lives, but our lives will grow more complicated as we manage


Including and particularly in the world of cybersecurity If you have read “Future Crimes“, you really want augmentation, DNA and robots to be secure. A hacked care robot hovering over your bed with a knife is not something you want. A hacked augmented hand strangling you is also not a prospect you would relish. Let alone someone hacking your voice, your DNA, or your brain. Hacking. Malware. Virus. Worm. Trojan horse. Distributed denial-of-service. Cyber attack. The terms for the weaponisation of code are by now well known, but we are just beginning to understand their full implications. 

175 billion industry

Over the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, the cyber security market will have grown from a $3.5 billion market employing a few thousand people working in IT departments to a $175 billion market providing critical infrastructure. Cyber has grown into such a mission-critical function that every Fortune 500 board chairman now should make sure he or she has a board member with cyber expertise. In five years, any board of directors without a board member with expertise in cyber will be perceived as a shortcoming of corporate governance.


Combine that with what will be a $19 trillion global market in the Internet of Things and we are creating an almost unimaginable new set of vulnerabilities and openings for cybersecurity hacks. For example, in July 2015, hackers managed to remotely infiltrate and shut down a Jeep Cherokee while it was speeding along the highway. Did you know that GPS is hackable? Don’t trust your Tom-Tom. Long term cyber attacks pose a greater threat to national security than terrorism. We have moved from cold war to code war.

Coded money

Alec Ross other favourite future industry is coded money, blockchain and fintech and how that will transform local and global economies, particularly Africa. M-Pesa and Shwari as examples. But also the sharing economy. At last measure, the estimated size of the global sharing economy was $26 billion, and it’s growing fast, with some estimates projecting it will be more than 20 times larger in size by 2025. Read “Machines, Platforms, Crowds“.

Big data

The last industry he mentions is big data, quantified self and algorithms. Did you know that an estimated one-third of all marriages in the United States begin with online dating which is run through an algorithm?  The best quote of the book is this one “Serendipity fades with everything we hand over to algorithms”.

Impact on your business

Alec Ross is spot on. None of those industries can be ignored and they will impact on your business. Robotics, cyber, big data, coded money will do so very soon.

What are we going to do?

The question is what policymakers are going to do about it. If you read “The Seventh Sense”, politicians are the last ones to understand what goes on. And it not about:

  • Technology parks
  • Mix in R&D labs and university centres;
  • Provide incentives to attract scientists, firms and users;
  • Interconnect the industry through consortia and specialised suppliers;
  • Protect intellectual property and tech transfer;
  • Establish a favourable business environment and regulations.

It is about broadband infrastructure, women (“women hold up half the sky”), openness, domain expertise, quality of life, the flow of ideas, innovation and yes, creating active serendipity.

What are you going to do?

Or look at some examples of good practice such as Singapore, Estonia, Japan and China versus Belarus, North Korea and Venezuela. Which one do you want to be?

I want to be Estonia (or Japan).

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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