What Is The “Third Wave” Of This Generation?

When I was 14, my dad gave me a copy of Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave

It blew my fucking mind.

I then read the prequel – Future Shock – which was good – but since my mind was already blown, it was anticlimactic.

If you don’t know the arc of Toffler’s waves, they go as follows:

  • The First Wave: agricultural society
  • The Second Wave: industrial society
  • The Third Wave: post-industrial society

Future Shock was written in 1970 and The Third Wave was written in 1980. While the idea of post-industrial society seems obvious in hindsight, in 1980 it was a completely new idea.

Ever since then I’ve been wondering what the next wave would be. While Kurweil’s The Singularity Is Near is probably the closed book I’ve read that stimulated me the way The Third Wave did when I was 14, at some point I just felt hollow and disappointed when I read the latest futurist manifesto. Instead, I ventured further into the future with the science fiction that I have always read on a regular basis and used it as my stimuli.

Recently, a bunch of smart and famous tech entrepreneurs have been talking about AI and the impact of AI on civilization. I’ve read a few of the books that get tossed around, like Bostrom’s Superintelligence, and a bunch of the articles that people have written. But none have spoken to me, or blown my mind the way Toffler did 35 years ago.

I’m on a search for the “Third Wave” of this generation. Any ideas for me?

  • JamesHRH

    The 500 Year Delta is a mind blower, but its market based not product based.

    • Hilariously not available on Kindle (ironically maybe)? I’ve got the book on a bookshelf somewhere but I haven’t read it.

      • JamesHRH

        That is hilarious. No explanation for it.

        Watts Wacker is a gifted consumer researcher. He is 2nd Gen ad agency / consumer research guy. I was most impressed by the process that drove the insights and the commitment required.

  • JamesHRH

    That is hilarious. It was published in ’98 I think.

    Watts Wacker is a gifted consumer researcher. What I found most striking was the process and the commitment required to ‘see’ the changes. I am a marketing dude and I do not recommend any other futurism-y title.

  • I read The Singularity is Near when I was about 13 or 14. I instantly thought about that book when I read your first two sentences. It too blew my mind. Cool to see you mention it later in the post! It’s one of my all time favorite books that I still frequently recommend. Thanks for suggesting the other titles.

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  • Alistair Martin

    I haven’t read the books, but are waves necessarily tied to generations?

    Industrial and agricultural societies spanned multiple generations. “Post-industrial” seems like a temporary label – the kind you use when predicting the future. Perhaps “digital society” fits better (?), in which case we might be in this phase for some time – albeit progressing much faster than in previous waves. AI might just be an extension of this.

    Interplanetary travel and space colonisation might be the next wave, but they will take some time.

  • Paul Sondhi

    As simplistic as it may be…Tim Urban does an awesome job here: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html

  • Abundance by Peter Diamindis was recommended by email.

  • Tom O’Keefe

    Good morning Brad! I always enjoy reading your posts. Have you read Arthur and Marilouise Kroker? With Alvin and Heidi Toffler, they’re another far-seeing futurist couple who sometimes publish work jointly. Much of their work can be found at CTheory (I’m sure you’re familiar), and I might start with their recent essay collection, Surveillance Never Sleeps. Not always the cheeriest, but it certainly is stimulating:


    • I don’t know them. I will check it / them out.

      • Tom O’Keefe

        Enjoy! Hope you find them as thought-provoking as I always have

  • Corey F

    This reco isn’t the “Third Wave” of this generation but if you are interested in cycle work, Strauss and Howe’s the Fourth Turning is pretty mindblowing work putting forth their generational theory.

  • John Taranto

    Hey Brad. Believe I may be a neighbor of yours. Hope to meet you at some point. In the meantime, might have something for you.
    Remember this title, Decoding Tomorrow by LK Sabe.
    t’s a new book starting to make the rounds that is going through final rewrites.
    Scheduled to be published in January…. I was able to get my hands on it.
    If he’s right, everything is about to change in a really big way.

  • DaveJ

    Is the issue that no one has communicated it as well as Toffler, or that the AI Singularity is not mind-blowing enough for you?

    Remember also that once your mind is blown in some particular way it is fairly difficult to blow it again in that same way.

  • Ryan Smith

    This is a great book I’ve read on the subject that fits The Third Wave methodology of looking at historical developments: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-Marginal-Cost-Society-Collaborative/dp/1137280115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444774503&sr=8-1&keywords=jeremy+rifkin+the+zero+marginal+cost+society

    It discusses human history in terms of developments in their energy/communication matrices. We’re about to move to renewables and a more collaborative commons.

  • Charles Buscemi

    The semantic apocalypse – seek out R. Scott Bakker.

  • kevinmarks

    Stross’s Accelerando has the energy for it.

  • mbyrne

    The next interesting wave, I call it the Duality. The man-machine interface and emergent alternate reality is what is interesting, beneficial, and actionable now. The “singularity” is just a recent reiteration of Minsky’s failed model of AI and it is an intellectual rather than scientific take on the issue. Pretty clear lack of understanding of evolution thrown in there as well.


  • Glenn Neal

    I tend to take the “Columbo” angle to the
    singularity question (“something isn’t quite adding up here”). And I
    believe the parts not adding up — not ‘feeling quite right’ — are down in the

    Where most seem to concentrate on the extension side (where
    we are now), what tends to excite me is rather the basis of all our technology
    (where it starts). If you look at the sciences, all of them — physics,
    electronics, chemistry, numbers, etc — they all now have been extended over
    time into graphical representations. And it seems to me with a little additional
    thought on these, the representations will come together. Like puzzle pieces on
    a table that we all believe has no connection, but most certainly do.

    As for concentrating on the beginning, how do you know where
    you are or where you’re going unless you’re 100% sure of where you started? You
    shoot an arrow and if you’re good you certainly know where it will end up 20
    feet away. But 50 feet away? 1000 feet away? At some distance, you need to go
    back and do a more extensive analysis of your stance, footing, and arm position
    to assure it will hit where you want it to hit. And right now we’re very far
    away from the days of Pascal, Newton, and Leibniz who defined the footing,
    stance, position for our science and technology. A few — a very few —
    performed corrections, looked at the initial ‘footing’, found it to be off, and
    forced adjustment of the early mathematicians conceptual ideas (why is this
    math off when extreme distances are added in? [Einstein] / why are the only
    coordinates I can use dictated by my eyes? [Gauss]).

    I believe concentrating on where our technology began will
    start shedding the light on the singularity question. Without that I see us
    shooting arrows and missing a lot.

    As a side note, I know someone that has essentially ‘moved
    sound’ — not all sounds in a particular area (which would be hard to perceive)
    but some sounds with respect to other sounds in certain areas (and that was
    worth a few million dollars as a start). But our present math (a zero-based
    math), can’t tell you how to do that — it has no connection to when things
    begin just once they’ve begun. Our present as-is-today math failed to get this endeavor
    completed (and alternate ‘all-based’ as opposed to zero-based math and concepts
    had to be used in conjunction with our present math).

    I think whomever has the courage and perseverance to do the
    work that results in the next stronger adjust of our technological ‘stance’
    will get us closer to understanding the singularity and as an additional side
    note, will certainly make a fortune (if money matters when we get that close).
    And I’m very curious why nobody I have ever read talks about adjustment of the
    ‘where it started’ side of things, only the easier-to-discuss alternate
    ‘extension (from this point)’ side. I think the answer is simply because 1)
    it’s much harder to do that, and 2) a lot of people have monetary or political
    strength tied to the arrows missing their target at ‘our present distance’
    which only makes it that much more difficult (think of person inventing
    internet protocol when he had to ‘squash’ the virtually-unmovable-at-that-time
    7-layer communication model to bring in a brand new alternate 4-layer communication
    mode — true what he did was not at deepest science level as I’ve been
    discussing here, but still applicable and results were still damn good I would

    A few rambling thoughts… But you asked that question and
    my synapses got energized…

    Glenn (friend of mutual friend Terry Gold — who pointed me
    to this blog which I enjoy greatly)

  • William Rimmer

    I read Third Wave at about the same point in my life and its hard to find something that powerful. I think the equivalent for this generation must deal with resource scarcity in a deeper way than I’ve found. (For fiction you might try “World Made by Hand” series by James Kunstler).

    To challenge your soul I’d recommend “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    I still go back to Taleb’s “Antifragile” and Prisig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, which were both profound but didn’t seem to have the same “Here’s how we’re going to get through this” feel I got from Third Wave

  • I don’t think we’ll reach the singularity by 2030, but I do think we will integrate technology into the human body very intimately, and over the next few hundred years we’ll evolve into something like the Borg (but not as scary). Multiple borgs will arise like nation states.

    Edit: I also think the most successful Borg states will be those that adapt their governments to this new technology. The US has a bad habit of fetishizing institutions designed over 200 years ago. So perhaps Singapore or some other technologically forward, adaptable state will become the new hegemon.

  • I really enjoyed What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. It’s similar to Singularity is Near in scope.

    Haven’t read abundance yet, but that may be the more enthralling, less academic read. It’s on my list, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

  • Scott Nissenbaum

    Brad – Two good sci fi books that really get you thinking:
    Judas Unchained. The story is interesting but the idea of a complete “back-up” of self is an underlying concept in the book.

    The second book, who’s name I can’t remember, is about a man that invents small worm holes to see anywhere in the world. He eventually enables the tech to see anywhere and anytime. Great social commentary about the entire world apologizing for their private actions which are revealed. If you figure out the name, please let me know.

    • William Rimmer

      The Light of Other Days by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter?

  • oxidegeek

    Several sci-fi suggestions:
    – Wired (1) and Amped (2) by Douglas E. Richards
    – The Retrieval Artist – series, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    – Foundation and Earth, Asimov
    – Moving Mars, Greg Bear (quantum thinkers)

    and a whitepaper:
    Can machines truly think? – http://arxiv.org/abs/1504.07571

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  • nickwalt

    Hi Brad, I’m a new reader of your blog and wanted to say, thank you for all those years of work that I can read through now.

    I haven’t read Toffler’s books but they’re now on my list. I’ve been an avid reader of SciFi in the distant past and continue to enjoy it in the development of our science and technology today.

    There has been a lot of talk about Singularity recently and I can’t help but think that we are getting ahead of ourselves in believing that we are on the verge of creating consciousness. Are we mistaking an autonimous decision-making computer for an entity that will be capable of a truly profound level of self awareness and understanding of the unbelievably complex world as we experience it?

    I’ve heard about the purists that believe that Singularity can arise from a core program and exist on its own as a mental consciousness. Coded into existance like an operating system. A brain. A mind based around purely mental constructs. This sounds like an autonimous decision-making computer.

    That would seem to be equivalent to the human brain evolving without the sensory body that provides input and output. It might simulate consciousness and be incredibly powerful, but would it really be Singularity? I really doubt it.

    Every entity on the planet has evolved from the sensory experience of the environment it was created by and existed in. The organisms developed from the inside out and the outside in and the key factor in developing consciousness was the development of complexity through the senses. There isn’t any conscious entity that didn’t develop this way. Yet, we believe we have the understanding and processing capability to manufacture consciousness in the purist form of code creation? Is this just the theoretical mutterings of code writers and AI boffins that we have accepted as heralds of a new age?

    Do we really think that we are that close to achieving a level of AI that can awaken into an actual stream of consciousness?

    Something in me just doesn’t believe we are anywhere close to actual, profound, Singularity. I think that we are only just begining our development of robotics and sensory technologies and that true Singularity will come from a long process of development of AI in both pure code and sensory robotics.

    Honestly, I think that people have more to worry about from autonimous AI than Singularity.