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Transformative Technologies in the Early 21st Century



Throughout history, periods of intense innovation and technological advances have been followed by a relatively radical step-up in the human condition as new industries, processes, and services become commonplace. In the mid- to late-1800s, for example, the United States became truly united with the completion of the transcontinental railroad and a series of interconnected waterways.

In recent decades, a variety of individual technologies – among them computer processing, software, robotics, genetic science, biotechnology, quantum physics, and telephony – have emerged. While most of these technologies are no longer new, recent opportunities for interconnections and convergence have the potential to bring the entire world to a new and higher plane of existence.

This paper reviews the development of some of the most important enabling technologies, outlines potential uses and interplay within key industries, suggests investment opportunities, and reminds us of potential roadblocks and pitfalls that could disrupt progress.


  • The pace of change has accelerated in recent years, and many once-discrete paths are converging. Adoption of technology is happening in ever-shorter time frames and more of the world is participating.
  • Traditionally, the exercise of attempting to identify winners and losers amidst technological change would seem to be straightforward. However, participating profitably will likely prove more complex in the future. Expanding technological convergence could be accompanied by a myriad of consequences that may be difficult to predict.
  • The future in transformative technologies is exciting; however, these technologies are often called “disruptive technologies” for a reason. It’s important to be aware of factors that could slow or divert progress.
  • The pace of change and its integration into a single geometrically expanding force appears to have reached a critical tipping point. The broad impact may be felt across virtually all industries and in all walks of life, potentially lifting millions, if not billions, of citizens into an improved standard of living.