order to better understand as well as predict the future, we need to look at the past and how technology has evolved. This makes sense as the only way we are able to create new knowledge is by recognizing old knowledge that we aren’t aware of. In this article, we will be taking a look a Kondratiev’s K waves as well as the patterns of technological development in order to understand where is technology heading right now and maybe even if we can predict the next wave.
Who came up with the K waves?
The man responsible for the K waves is Nikolai D. Kondratiev, a Soviet economist that came up with this theoretical framework in order to provide a better explanation for the growth of the economy in the Soviet Union. This framework, however, takes the technological advancements from the 18th century to the present heavily into account. These waves are portrayed in a way that technological evolution can be seen in different eras as it drastically changes the world, and therefore, the growth of the economy.
This is a simple representation of the framework, showing different stages in history where technological evolution took place. At each stage, you can see waves that are almost identical and this is because they all respect the four patterns of technological evolution.
- Stage 1: Prosperity
- Stage 2: Recession
- Stage 3: Depression
- Stage 4: Recovery(Improvement)
At each step of technology within our history, these four stages have always been present and as technology advanced with each era, the prosperity stage seems to become longer whilst the recovery/improvement stage seems to become shorter.
The first wave (1770 to 1830)
The first wave focuses on the era of the industrial revolution where the production of the most commonly used items or confectionary items has been transformed from a completely manual process to a more mechanized process. This was first introduced in the textile industry with the evolution of large-scale factories and companies that were forming the pillars of today’s monopolies.
This did not only allow for the creation of many new jobs, but also for high growth within the world’s economy, which overall improved the lives of most people around the globe and helped them shift from common labor jobs such as agriculture. The development of this era had seen quite long early stages, but with a sudden depression change followed by the need for improvement. The Labour force was good, but it simply lacked consistency within the levels of production or quality.
The second wave (1830 to 1880)
The major technological jump from 1830 was the implementation of steam-powered engines in factories which did not only revolutionize the transportation industry but also made the economy move a lot quicker. As everything moved at a faster pace, so did the demand created by the world. That is why such technology had to be implemented in all factories and in most industries in order to keep up with the demand. It wasn’t just that, but also the cost reduction within each industry with the use of steam-powered engines. It was proven that investing in technology was cheaper in the long run than hiring more employees.
This also meant better communication, as now mail could travel ten times faster, meaning more efficient processes around the world. With the constant use of steam, new water sources needed to be created in order to supply all the factories and services. However, the recovery stage came with the demand constantly growing, but not enough resources to create a larger production capacity.
The third wave (1880 to 1930)
This is when electricity was slowly but surely implemented around all major product lines. This led to great inventions such as the light bulb, the radio, the telephone, and even auto vehicles as well as aircraft. Electricity allowed a much faster and more efficient process of production which allowed the automation of tools which did not only make the worker’s life a lot easier but also enabled companies to achieve consistency throughout their production.
This wave once again revolutionized the transportation industry as well as the way people communicated, it seemed so futuristic to be able to ring someone on the telephone and talk with them live. It seemed that the world kept evolving to what 100 years before may have been seen as impossible, but as it has been proven many times in history, the ideas may be there, it is only the technology that isn’t advanced enough. What led to the next wave was that people started wanting more, as technology kept evolving at faster and faster rates.
The fourth wave (1930 to 1980)
The technological evolution rates went so fast that, with the creation of jet engines we’re able to cross countries in a matter of hours or have cars that possess hundreds of horsepower. We can also say that World War II, a major part of the 20th century is what actually brought forwards many technological innovations and the implementation of mass manufacturing in all industries across the world.
This was a wave of a technological era that proved that the future of technology is within machines which would hopefully make man’s life easier, as this is the key aspect of technology, to make our lives more efficient. The implementation of nuclear power in many systems just showed us how bright the future could be, as well as how dark. We have even been able to accomplish the most long-lived dream of humans, reaching space!
However, all machines require some sort of fuel, which gave rise to the petrochemical industry, one of the most profitable industries around the world although it is not even 100 years old. This showed the people that new technology would create new jobs which meant that there would be enough work for the fast-growing population of the world, hopefully leading to no wars in the future. Humanity had all of this technology, but it wasn’t yet at their fingertips, this meant that they would need to create new systems that would allow for even more efficient performance.
The fifth wave (1980 to present)
Information and communications technology (ICT) developments have given humanity the ability to source and manufacture flexibly around the world, meaning a more constant economical growth whilst being able to meet growing demand. Computers, phones, and even smartphones are what seem to be leading our technological present, showing us that interconnectivity between systems is what will bring us closer to even better technology.
The internet is the most magnificent and powerful piece of technology from the 21st century. It interconnects all systems and shows us that we are truly living in an age where information or data is our most valuable asset. Even manufacturing has reached another stage where most of the work is now done by robotics which allows for complex manufacturing processes that are very efficient and the best part is that they can function all day, every day.
Of course, all of this technology that is used towards production or which employs artificial intelligence still needs to be supervised by a human factor, which shows that with the evolution of technology, there is a higher demand for educated people and even higher education that can not only operate this sort of sophisticated technology but also improve it.
The sixth wave? (2030–2080)
In the first wave, technology was moving one step a year. Today, technology evolving by ten steps a day and it will constantly make more steps in shorter periods of time. However, we need to learn from each wave that there will be a period where we will reach the recovery stage, which in this present will most likely be the need for a new source of energy that can be a lot more efficient. Maybe that source will not be created by us, but by artificial intelligence that may have higher capabilities as it does not need to rest, love, or be entertained.
Another perspective for a potential sixth wave is predicted by “futurologists” as an era focused not on artificial intelligence, but on Human Enhancement Technologies, in other words, humans becoming cyborgs which would allow us to enhance our capabilities as humans and remove the potential of artificial intelligence taking over the world.
As much as we do not want to believe it, the future is becoming much easier to predict and maybe those “futurologists” are actually right. This would be scary indeed, but if there is one thing that I have learned from history is that you cannot stop the evolution of technology.