A mathematical theory of communication” of Claude E. Shannon, published in 1949, by the Bell Systems Technical Journal marks the beginning of the digital era or the information age.

In this paper, Shannon advances the theory that information can be qualitatively encoded as a series of ones and zeros. He showed how information from telephone signal to radio waves, to television could be transmitted using this framework.

Shannon is considered the “Father of the Information Age” and all the technological developments that followed like the fibre optic and the microprocessors only accelerated the transmission of information. In 1989, when the World Wide Web was launched, it was used by companies as an electronic board for products and services, later on to become an information exchange platform. Email permitted near instant communication and became one of the most popular methods of personal and work communication. Digitisation transformed information into a digital format making it easy to preserve, share, and transmit. It impacted many industries and the companies built entirely on digitised information have become successful and valuable shortly after establishment.

In recent years, the internet has become a background commodity noticeable in its absence. Everything that was disruptive in the beginning will sooner or later become mainstream, thesis sustained by Justin Fox who in an article for Harvard Business Review writes that every age has technological breakthroughs that changed life on earth, but with time they become obsolete. So will the digital age.

Technological advancements fall into three phases of development: discovery, engineering and transformation. Technologies with massive impact are complemented by other developments that make them usable. Even though discovered in 1752, the rise of electricity began in 1830 when Michael Faraday invented the electric dynamo and motor. Fifty years later, Edison opens the first power plant, and only forty years later, during the 1920s, electricity started to have a measurable impact on productivity.

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In “The great stagnation” , the economist Tyler Cowen writes that the digital era has been an age of stagnation if we compare it with the technological advances of the first part of the 20th century when the discovery of electricity, quantum mechanics, new materials that changed industries,  have made a considerable impact on our everyday lives.

The vast popularity of 3D printers, the interest in asteroid mining ventures and the biotech revolution, all projects funded by wealthy investors, signal a return to the physical word.

According to Greg Satell, the digital age is near for three main reasons:

  1. The emphasis on technology has decreased. In Satell’s words “What’s driven all the excitement about computers is our ability to cram more and more transistors onto a silicon wafer, a phenomenon we’ve come to know as Moore’s Law. That enabled us to make our technology exponentially more powerful year after year. Yet now Moore’s Law is ending, and advancement isn’t so easy anymore. Companies such as Microsoft and Google are designing custom chips to run their algorithms because it is no longer feasible to just wait for a new generation of chips. To maximise performance, you increasingly need to optimise technology for a specific task.”

  2. The democratisation of technology brought commoditization. The technical skills needed to create disruptive technology have decreased dramatically. With the so-called “no coding” platforms, working with tech products has become a broadly used skill.

  3. The market has reached a maturity point. Digital technologies that were in vogue several years ago are still useful today. A five-year computer or phone can do most of the tasks a computer released in 2018 can perform. The new technologies and the speech recognition features are considered something nice extra but nothing more.

The new era will be marked by the use of the amazing technology discovered so far to re-invent domains like manufacturing, energy and medicine. We'll be using machine learning, algorithms, and new computing architectures that function very differently from digital computers.

For technological advancements, speed and agility are the primary competitive attribute but methods like rapid prototyping and testing cannot be applied to quantum computers for instance, and there are many ethical concerns regarding genomics and artificial intelligence.

In conclusion, while the digital age was about agility and disruption, the new era of innovation will focus on solving the big problems of humanity through exploration and discovery.