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Earlier this month an article in the Financial Times by John Thornhill, the paper’s innovation editor, caught my attention. Thornhill was relaying an intriguing set of ideas expressed by the authors of a new book, What To Do When Machines Do Everything?
Before discussing the future impact of today’s unfolding industrial innovations such as driverless cars, robotic surgery, precision agriculture, or automated beer service (as in the photo above), the three authors – Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig, and Ben Pring – make their first key point, citing the example of an early 19th century innovation that enabled an entire industry that generates $620bn. in annual revenues today. What could this invention have been – The steam engine? The airplane? The sewing machine? Or maybe the telephone? Theoretically, you might expect not be too far off with any one of these answers, but in fact the invention in question was … the lawnmower.