At some point, we must consider the basic needs of humanity and figure out how the economy is arranged to provide for it and what goods and services the markets can sustain beyond those of necessity. In America, we can predict beyond necessity because ours are so well spoken for. It is that interesting gap that I spend hours thinking when I try to distinguish our 9% unemployment rate from the poverty of the second and third worlds.
Several years ago, the NYT published a survey about the most prestigious professions. I was mildly surprised to see that Database Administrators ranked third, behind doctors and lawyers out of 447 job titles. But what has not been surprising is how much of our economy has moved into what I must call industrial dependency on computing services. We are at a point in our history where taking away the computers would be like taking away the automobiles. Information technology and telecommunications are where what we know must live or else die. The efficiencies and effectiveness of this industry too compelling to put aside. In this world there are as many microchips as grains of rice, and the trend is irreversible.
Clay Shirky, among many inquisitors into the phenomena of this age has written a book entitled 'Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age'. In i, he shows how many ventures on the internet capture human efforts quite effectively - in ways heretofore impossible. Imagine the creation of a global encyclopedia in fifty languages written by nobody in particular in their spare time. That's Wikipedia. The ability for a literate population of billions to create products and services for the intellect is the world historical process that is emerging now.
The Industrial Revolution as we know it come to be because it generated a great surplus in one basic human need, clothing. It turned out that once properly organized, ordinary people had the skill to produce in factories, a product everyone needed. By applying a process that scaled up the ordinary work of an individual tailor, people were able to earn more money, make more clothes and create for the population of ordinary people, choices in what clothing to wear. What started as clothing, once individually crafted, moved on to other sorts of manufacture with its ultimate expressions in the automobile and jet aircraft. For an ordinary person to have choices in how to get to a destination, and have many destinations to choose from drastically changed the shape of the world. We don't talk much about the 'jet set' because now frequent flying is commonplace. It's hard to imagine rolling back to a time when an automobile was not an option or when jet transport did not exist. FedEx overnight delivery was created in our lifetimes. In America, 'allow six weeks for delivery' used to be the standard.
In these ways the future of IT are certain to create surpluses for the common man. What is necessary is for the high cost of craftsmanship to be surpassed by the low cost of mass production. For manufacturing, that required the factory. For computing it requires the cloud. What is a factory but a streamlined and standardized version of a craftsman's workshop scaled up for mass production? The cloud is certainly that as compared to the typical corporate IT shop.
In 1908, the head of Cadillac in England famously put on a remarkable demonstration. He had three Cadillac Model Ks race around a track and then disassembled. Then he scrambled the parts and even took out some and replaced them with off the shelf replacements. He then had the cars reassembled. All three of them worked perfectly. Today, most software is built in such a way that this would be impossible, but the cloud and the open source movement are rapidly changing that condition.
Amazon is the leading cloud provider and I predict that the services, products, standards and practices that emerge from what it is learning about computing, networks, and security at massive scale will be every bit as influential in society as the paradigms that emerged over the 20th century for the automobile at Ford and General Motors. Moreover, the effect of these new ideas will provide similar surpluses.
It was 1903 when the Wright Brothers first succeeded. It was a mere 14 years later when the Red Baron emerged as the combat 'ace' of WW1. That is how quickly people can adapt and master something that didn't even exist, on a world scale. Amazon and its rivals now host the software solutions of companies like Netflix. 14 years ago, in 1998, high definition video on demand to mass markets of mobile devices was considered impossible.
General Motors became the world's largest business and ushered in a new way of thinking about business. Even today we have a hard time not thinking about those businesses organized around the automobile when we say the word 'industry'. Glass, rubber, plastics and steel were all made that much more important owing to their place in the autombility manufacturing. Today oil is king because it is the consumable part of the worlds automotive needs. But it is *an* economy, not *the* economy. The next economic progression will come from the real fact that we will have more literate people on the planet than ever before in our history. Their cognitive needs and wants will fuel an even larger economy than that based on the clever assembly of glass, rubber, plastics, steel and oil.
It begins with enabling a new class of database administrators, mathematicians, computer scientists, and all of the various kinds of creative, thoughtful knowledge and communications workers we can assemble and setting them loose in the cloud - the scaled up information factories of tomorrow.
Today, we sit on the verge of enabling the common man a choice of thought previously only available in the same ways a choice of clothing was scarcely affordable in an age of hand sewn tailored garments. He will demand his choice and those who provide it will profit. The economy of intellect is at hand and it will be the Americans, once again, who light the way forward by providing the infrastructure necessary - the largest and most advanced software factories in the world. Considering what Microsoft and Oracle have been, I do not see how Amazon can lose.