The Industries of the Future — Book Review

What if somebody told you what is about to come? Would you invest? Would you study? Would you found a business in that area?

If somebody would have told you in the early 1990s what impact the Internet will have on your life you would probably have become an early adopter. If Nokia had known smartphones are gonna take over — wouldn’t they probably have gotten into it?

Alec Ross makes an interesting point right in the beginning: He wishes that when he was younger, there would have been a book that would have told him about the impact the Internet will have on his life. He wishes his parents would have had a book that told them about Globalization and how it will change their lives — how it will change Viriginia’s economy.

This is why he wrote “The Industries of the Future”. It is the book that he wished he would have had. The book that helps the current generation understand what is about to come and get prepared.

What are the implications for me? I might make different decisions about my education, the place I choose to live, the investments I make, the businesses I found…. — LIFE DECISIONS. If only I knew what is coming I would become a millionaire.

When I first read the title of this book I got excited and Alec Ross didn’t disappoint me. He gives insight into his year-long experience as an advisor to Hilary Clinton on Innovation topics. I heard the audiobook on our daily commutes from Staten Island to Manhattan with NomadApp and Alec Ross turned them into the most educative time of my day. Here’s a summary of what stood out to me.

Already the chapter headlines give a feeling of what he considers to be the Industries of the Future:

  1. Robotics
  2. The Future of the Human Machine (Advanced Life Sciences and Genomics)
  3. The Codification of Money, Markets and Trust
  4. The Weaponization of Code (and the importance of Cybersecurity)
  5. Big Data

He ends with an outlook on the geography of future markets and gives actionable advice.


We lag behind! Education lags behind! People are still teaching how globalization will change the world and how the Internet is gonna affect our lives. The fact is: IT HAS ALREADY REVOLUTIONIZED OUR LIVES. Globalization was the revolution of the 1970s-80s. It has affected local economies. The chemical industry has moved from states within the US to countries such as Mexico or China. Coal mines were closed in the US and relocated to low-labor countries. The Internet was the revolution of the 1990s and early 2000s. I am a millennial. I grew up in a globalized, digital world. This is my reality. Tell me what is going to happen in the future.

Since then the speed of innovation has increased. Never in history have people experienced so much technological progress in so little time.

What does this tell me? We need to scale up. Tomorrow’s leaders will be fast learners. I love to learn. And it’s my generation that should set the curriculum. We should be selective about what we learn and who we learn from. Do I rather wanna learn from a middle aged Marketing Professor that studied at university back in the 1970s? Or do I rather learn from industry leaders that provide me with their content in real time, often for free on online webinars, udemy or focus classes? I tend to think that the value of our current Bachelor and Master degrees will decrease as the rate by which knowledge gets outdated increases. What we need are leaders that know how to stay on top of current innovations and trends; that are fast learners and can adapt to change rapidly. It makes sense to me to invest into personal competencies, find underlying principles rather than learn methodologies by heart — because the way of doing things will get outdated in no time. We need allrounders — people that know how to learn and navigate future industries.

Chapter 1: Robotics

Robotics is changing everything. Already today, robots are taking over a number activities in housekeeping, care, and routine tasks. They are getting smarter and will form an integral part of our lives in the future. Especially Japan is leading in this field. Due to its demographic structure robots do already play a role in caretaking.

Alec Ross jokes that robotics might be the first technology that is brought to us as consumers by our grandparents.Soon our robot house assistants will do daily chores like doing the dishes or waking us up.

Along with these developments comes an ethical question: what if humans start bonding with robots? Robots are becoming more and more human-like. Do we want to start bonding with robots like we are bonding with pets?Alec Ross mentions that it Asian societies might be more okay with this thought than Westerners.

Who will be the winners? On the one hand developed nations that lead in robotics (Japan, Germany, China…). On the other hand, interestingly, Ross argues developing countries may win, too. For them, there are fewer barriers to overcome in adopting new technology. Developing countries may have a last-mover advantage. As an example: many African countries never even built landlines for phones. They went straight to mobile and high-speed internet.

There are signs that with robotics it might be similar. There’s huge demand for education robots which are already in use. This may allow e.g. Nigerian students to access top, free, online education from the world’s leading universities while European students still learn from outdated textbooks, old professors in a society that is afraid that robots will take over. Frugal innovation is the term that Ross uses to describe innovation that thrives in situations of scarcity.

Another interesting aspect is that robots will get smarter at an increasing pace as they are connected to the cloud and learn from each other.Wow.. I think. What if we humans could do the same and tap into a pool of collective knowledge. Amazing.

Without a question, robots are getting smarter.

The Consumer Robots market will be $390 bio. market.

Alec Ross claims we are close to huge advances in Robotics. We are now where we were with the Internet 20 years ago. By 2020 Robotics will have changed our lives.

Will robots take over?

Humans and robots are distinct. There are many areas that robots suck at: emotional interpretation, strategic decision making, thinking… However, yes, many routine jobs may be replaced through robots. We’d better get used to it.

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