7 great books on emerging technologies (for anyone)
The world is changing, and technology is driving that change. Today, that observation is about as compelling as the insight that water runs downhill. It’s just what technology (and water) does. But the speed and unpredictability of that change have left many feeling swept up in a flash flood of uncertainty and mass information.
To help leaders gain some purchase on the future, we’ve collected seven great books on emerging technologies. What makes these books worth a read isn’t that they accurately predict the future. (Futurology is more crapshoot than clairvoyance.) It’s that they manage to tackle these difficult, complicated, and potentially scary subjects in ways that will be accessible for most organizational leaders.
It’s worth noting that some of our picks are a few (but no more than four!) years old. Given the current pace of change, that means some of the authors’ examples and figures may feel a bit dusty now. Even so, the questions and concerns these books raise will remain salient for organizations trying to navigate the decade to come.
1) The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2017)
First came steam power, then electrical energy, then computers and electronics. Each technological shift revolutionized the ways industries did business and how people lived their lives.
In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, argues that we stand at the inflection point of the next seismic shift, and arguably the most disruptive yet. To make his case, Schwab lays out the technologies ushering in this revolution and how they’ll fuse the physical and digital worlds to change the world in unprecedented ways.
For Schwab, this is a cause for celebration but also concern. Celebration if we can ride the technological wave to a brighter future. Concern if we are too slow to adapt.
2) The Future Is Faster Than You Think (2020)
In The Future Is Faster Than You Think, Peter H. Diamandis, Big Think alum and founder of the XPRIZE Foundation, reunites with Steven Kotler (Abundance and Bold) to explore upcoming technological advancements. From there, the title says it all.
Diamandis and Kotler contend that technology will “turbo-boost” industries such as shopping, education, healthcare, insurance, and agriculture, consigning each to a near-unrecognizable state within a decade.
To Diamandis and Kotler’s credit, they don’t keep their eyes locked squarely on their crystal ball. Descriptions of how the technology works, alongside some real-world applications, make the book feel more like a guide for leaders than a call to a psychic hotline.
3) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (2016)
In The Inevitable, Wired founding executive editor Kevin Kelly dons his futurist’s hat to predict how the usual sci-fi suspects—artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cybernetics, virtual reality, the internet of things, etc.—will shape our future.
But instead of tethering his future to the tech itself, he focuses on the human forces behind these potential advances.
Kelly dedicates his chapters to concepts such as becoming, screening, tracking, interacting, and questioning (to name just a few) and looks at how these impulses propel technology forward. The future Kelly envisions may not be as inevitable as his title suggests, but the human drives he chronicles sure are.
4) The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (2017)
It’s not just emerging technologies we need to pay attention to. We must also keep an eye on the players responsible for shaping the market. Enter Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, the companies Scott Galloway, adjunct professor of marketing at New York University, crowns the Four Horsemen of tech.
In The Four, Galloway lays bare the histories and business practices that made these companies the political and cultural powerhouses they are today.
He also details how these behemoths have wielded their power to rewrite regulations and economic models to their advantage. These alterations will reshape industries in ways that, while more subtle than technological shifts, will prove no less consequential.
5) Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI (2019)
You could dedicate a personal library to books on artificial intelligence alone. To save you shelf space and time, however, editor John Brockman has brought together researchers across various disciplines to share their takes on AI and its future.
Possible Minds sports such high-profile thinkers as Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Max Tegmark, David Deutsch, and Alison Gopnik. After reading their essays, you’ll have a better idea of what AI is, the debates surrounding it, and its potential impact on the future of work.
6) The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation (2019)
With all the hype surrounding emerging technologies, it’s common for organizations to view apps as the solution to every problem. But the authors of The Technology Fallacy—Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, and Garth R. Andrus—have a different strategy. They say focus on your people!
Drawing on years of research, the authors argue that effective transformations result from cultures that promote innovation, risk tolerance, and adaptability. Only when teams embody these qualities can organizations reach “digital maturity”—the ability to properly take advantage of all that hot and trendy new tech.
7) Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019)
Social media may not seem like an emerging technology. Facebook is officially a teenager now (which explains a lot). However, the ways we use this technology—in our personal, professional, and political lives—remain fluid and open for potentially massive upheavals in the coming years.
To prepare for those changes, and our present predicaments, Cal Newport proposes in Digital Minimalism that we rebuild our relationships with these platforms. Doing so requires us to recognize our (quite literal) addictions to these products so we can digitally declutter our lives.
Does that mean we must become technological monks? No. Newport simply asks us to recognize which digital tools support our goals and values and use them toward those ends only.
(Bonus) Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything (2017)
Need a break from the heavy theory and occasional doomsday scenario? Then round out your reading with Soonish by husband-and-wife team Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. Kelly, a scientist and faculty member of Rice University, and Zach, a cartoonist, explore ten emerging technologies, how great it would be if they worked, and the likelihood that they won’t.
Brimming with science, wry asides, and humorous examples—did you know it costs roughly $2,500 to send a cheeseburger to space?—Soonish lets you have your research and enjoy it, too!
Nurture your organization’s “digital maturity” with lessons ‘For Business’ from Big Think+. At Big Think+, more than 350 experts, academics, and entrepreneurs come together to teach essential skills in career development and lifelong learning. Prepare for tomorrow’s technological shifts with lessons such as:
- Automation Apocalypse: Too Many Robots? More Like Not Enough, with Ezra Klein, Co-Founder, Vox, and Author, Why We’re Polarized
- Make Room for Innovation: “Wildcards,” with Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO, Futurethink
- Recognize the Limits of Virtual Collaboration: How Staying in Touch with Our Humanity Drives Innovation, with Douglass Rushkoff, Professor of Digital Economics, CUNY, and Author, Team Human
- The Power of Onlyness: Give Your People Permission to Co-Create the Future, with Nilofer Merchant, Marketing Expert and Author, The Power of Onlyness
- The Second Machine Age: When Science Fiction Becomes Reality, with Andrew McAfee, Associate Director, MIT Center for Digital Business, and Author, Machine, Platform, Crowd
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