AIHce Opening Session Speaker Places Digital Revolution in Historical Context

By Ed Rutkowski

San Antonio (June 2, 2014) — Speaking to a capacity crowd in the Grand Ballroom of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Leyden described the digital revolution as one of the most disruptive, life-altering eras in history, with repercussions that we are just now beginning to understand. Leyden, who is the founder of Reinventors, a startup company in interactive video, presented statistics, data, and infographics spanning hundreds of years to demonstrate what he characterized as the biggest technological transformation the United States has ever experienced.

“To understand the technological changes that are happening around us, we have to put them in an even bigger context,” Leyden said. “We’re talking about rhythms of national history, or even world history.

“We are going through a very rare global transformation. From an American perspective, it’s something we’ve gone through only a handful of times.”

Leyden quickly summarized the few such eras in American history when technological developments brought about deep structural changes within society in a jarringly short timeframe. In Leyden’s telling, the digital revolution is on a par with America’s conversion from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, the explosion of innovation in the mid- to late 19th Century with the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and the creation of the modern economic and social systems following the Great Depression and World War II.

In characterizing the pace of recent change in communications and computing technologies, Leyden made some staggering comparisons. The fastest supercomputer of the 1970s, which cost approximately $31 million, is eclipsed in computing speed by today’s $200 iPhone. And in all of human history from 8,000 BC to the year 2005, humans generated 5 exabytes of data—an amount we now produce every two days.

These developments are converging with demographic trends such as the rise of the green-conscious, civic-minded Millenial generation and the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change to produce a uniquely challenging era of American history, Leyden said.

"Five hundred years from now,” he told attendees, “people will look back on the early part of the 21st century and say, That's when the world went digital, that’s when the world became sustainable, that’s when the world went global, and that's when America reinvented itself and led us into a new age."

Approximately 5,000 industrial hygienists and other occupational safety and health professionals have made their way to San Antonio for AIHce—the first time this premier event has been held here. In a fitting testament to the power of technology, another 1,000 attendees are experiencing AIHce virtually.

Ed Rutkowski is AIHA's managing editor, periodicals, and editor in chief of The Synergist.