Jeremy White: “Technology will revolutionise society, the business community and the way we live our lives 

Society is at the threshold of change that will democratise technology and transform humanity, believes Jeremy White, lecturer and editor at Wired magazine in London. He presents his best guess on the technologies that will change the world, and he explains why this would be a positive development.     

By Erik Holm

It is hard to read or watch the news media without coming across stories about rapid technological development. The 4th industrial revolution, also known as the digitisation of everyone and everything, lies ahead of us, and like an unstoppable tidal wave, it will wash over society and everyone’s lives; both our private lives and our professional lives.  

Someone with a sharp eye on developments is Jeremy White. For the past 15 years, he has been immersed in technology through his work as a journalist, an editor at Wired magazine and a public speaker. According to him, we live in a fantastic time.  

“We’re at the threshold of radical change. Technology will revolutionise society, the business community and the way we live our lives. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, machine learning and robot technology are taking quantum leaps forward; leaps that will change humanity. Just look at how a single technology like the smart phone has completely changed the way we do business and how we live our lives,” says Jeremy White.  

Raw computer power 

But are things moving too fast? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are both examples of technologies we have known about for a long time, but where very little has happened. For example, computers are far from having human intelligence. True, says White, but there are big differences between then and now. Not least because of the massive increase in computer power over the last ten years.  

“Since the 1990s, standard home PCs have become a million times more powerful. We’ve experienced huge reductions in the price of technology as well as mass production of products. These two factors combined mean that technologies such as machine learning have gone from something for the few to something everyone can use. The technology has been democratised within a very short period of time,” says Jeremy White and he highlights virtual reality and augmented reality. 

“We were familiar with these technologies back in the 1980s, and many people were fascinated by their potential, but we would have to wait more than 30 years before the technology caught up with our dreams. The same goes for artificial intelligence (AI, ed). We’ve been working on AI for decades, but not until recently could a company with two to three employees use the technology commercially. The floodgates are now open.” 

The same is true within additive manufacturing, AM, according to Jeremy White. After a slightly fumbled introduction to the market, the future is now looking bright.   

“AM used to be considered a kind of hobby. There were two camps at opposite ends of the scale: Enthusiasts, who used small machines to create small prints, and industrial giants like General Electric, who spent millions of dollars on enormous 3D printers to print components for jet engines etc. The technology is maturing now and it’s opened a whole new world for companies that can now produce quality components without it costing them millions of dollars. AMs – finally – beginning to add significant value for companies, and advances are being made in a plethora of different fields. This has only started in the past five years.” 

Huge potential 

Jeremy White foresees that AM will streamline and economise innovation for many companies. The benefit of traditional production is actually also its limitation, because the first product a factory produces will be significantly more expensive than the next thousand or million units. This is why innovation is often limited by access to capital. AM solves this problem. The technology will also contribute towards one of the biggest issues of our time: climate change and the Earth’s limited resources. 

“Companies are constantly sending products and materials around the globe. With AM, you’ll be able to use a single location to produce everything you need. This will have a hugely positive impact on the environment. Production will become more efficient, companies will use less material, and they’ll need fewer employees. We might end up with the giant companies of today becoming physically much smaller, even though they’re producing three-times as many products. This has only recently become possible due to developments in AM.”  

As an example of one of AM’s selling points, he mentions the US space agency, NASA. In 2014, NASA sent an email with a specially designed wrench to the international space station, and astronauts could then print the wrench while in earth orbit. This saved unfathomable resources compared with traditional methods of transport to the space station.  

A more down to earth example is the entrepreneurial company Hackrod. They created a sports car with a chassis that was radically lighter and stronger than traditional cars, and which required much less material. The chassis was designed after analysing test data from a speedster that was driven to destruction in the desert. The speedster chassis was so complex that it could only be built using AM. 

Technologies overlap 

Hackrod is also an example of how many of these technologies overlap each other in projects and find new applications together. The speedster, called ‘La Bandida‘, was designed in VR, tested using AI and produced using AM!   

Today, Hackrod has joined with the industrial giant Siemens, among others, and the aim is to establish an online platform, Autonomo, where in principle anyone can design and build whatever they want – easily, simply and without a large organisation and lengthy testing.  

“The great thing is that AM had almost disappeared. Many people laughed at AM in the beginning, but they’re not laughing now,” says Jeremy White, and he continuesAs a society, we have to learn how to use new technologies. Those who develop a specific technology may have an idea of its uses, but history has shown that technologies often end up being used completely differently once they have been introduced to the market, and people can view them with different eyes, get new ideas, etc. All this makes development enormously exciting.”  

Fascination or not. Jeremy White does not mention additive manufacturing when he’s asked to identify the technologies he expects to leave the largest footprint on the world. 

Quantum leap 

Instead, he mentions blockchain and quantum computers. Many people think of the financial sector and virtual currency when they hear ‘blockchain’. However, the technology is experiencing intense development and is being used for validation and project management in the construction and food industries, he points out.  

However, the technology that will have the biggest impact on society is quantum computers. These are some way off, even though IBM launched the IBM Q System One in January 2019, the world’s first integrated quantum computer.  

 “This computer is the size of a room and incredibly expensive, but just remember how fast we went from computers of that size to what we carry in our pockets today. Things changed fast, and quantum computers will accelerate the rate of change even more. This development will result in massive increases in computer power, increases most people can’t even fathom. Take standard encryption that a normal computer would spend a lifetime trying to crack. Such encryption could be cracked within months using a quantum computer, maybe even weeks,” says Jeremy White.  

And the revolution is already underway in both the EU, the US and China, who all are investing millions of dollars in research on quantum computers.    

“If people feel that changes are happening at a high pace within AI and machine learning now, just wait until quantum computers finally come along.”  

Open to abuse 

As with any other industrial revolution, there will be drawbacks and benefits, he points out. Jobs will disappear, others will change and new jobs will be created. Jobs we can’t even imagine yet.  

Finally, there are the legal and ethical aspects of the technology, as we see with self-driving cars, for example. We’re just beginning to delve into these matters, believes Jeremy White, though he is still extremely optimistic about the future.  

“Fundamentally, it’s up to humanity to define the effects of technology. Technology is a tool that can be used or abused. A technology isn’t good or bad in itself, it’s how we use it that determines that.” 

Jeremy White is the executive editor at Wired magazine, where he has worked since 2013. He has previously worked as the digital editor for How To Spend It magazine. Prior to this, he was the technology editor at Esquire magazine.  

Today he gives presentations on technological development and he regularly appears in other media such as the BBC, Sky News and the Daily Telegraph. Jeremy was born in 1974 and lives in Hertfordshire, UK.