Digital Transformation and Foresight


By Kee-Young Yoon

General Purpose Technology and Social Change

There are a lot of social-change driving forces including science and technological developments. Typography, steam engine, and electricity belong to general purpose technologies(GPTs). GPT is defined as a technology that has deep economic impacts across countries, regions, or globes, and has a lot of applications. The steam engine catalyzed the industrial revolution, which brought about fundamental changes in the political, economic and social sides of human history.

It is natural that the assessments on GPTs have been processed after their economic impact. For example, the term “Industrial Revolution” is denominated by Arnold Toynbee, almost 100 years after the invention of the steam engine. Richard Lipsey, Carlaw Kenneth, and Bekhar Clifford, who are economists, classified 24 technologies as GPTs in their book. According to them, business virtualization and so on are the 21st-century GPTs. To be more specific, some of the GPTs on the book are yet candidates for GPTs, as their economic impact has not been yet achieved. Furthermore, the authors did not and could not list all GPTs collectively exhaustively.

Diverse organizations including OECD, McKinsey, PwC and others have presented futuristic technologies. Some technologies amidst them have wide usage and  enormous economic impact, and all of them have relation with digital technologies, directly or indirectly. I would contend that some of them could be GPTs.

No. Source GPT Emerging Time Digital Y/N
1 Lipsey, et al., 2005 Three-Masted Sailing Ship 15th Century
2 Printing 16th Century
3 Factory system Late 18th Century
4 Steam Engine Late 18th Century
5 Railways Mid 19th Century
6 Iron Steamship Mid 19th Century
7 Internal Combustion Engine Late 19th Century
8 Electricity Late 19th Century
9 Automobile 20th Century
10 Airplane 20th Century
11 Mass Production 20th Century
12 Computer 20th Century
13 Lean Production 20th Century
14 Internet 20th Century
15 Biotechnology 20th Century
16 Business Virtualization 21st Century
17 Nanotechnology 21st Century
18 Artificial Intelligence 21st Century
19 OECD, Mckinsey, PwC, Gartner, etc 3D printing 21st Century
20 CRISPR 21st Century
21 VR/AR(Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) 21st Century
22 Blockchain 21st Century
23 Neurotechnologies 21st Century
24 Mirco and Nano Sattelite 21st Century
25 Internet of Things 21st Century
26 Big Data 21st Century
27 Drone 21st Century
28 Advanced Robots 21st Century

Table 1. GPTs in the early 21st-century.(Yoon&Kim& Park, et al., 2018: Yoon & Lee & Bae, et al., 2018)

Digital GPTs and Changes of Knowledge Lifecycle

In the above table, GPTs from no. 1 to no. 18 come from Lipsey, et al.’s book. GPTs from no. 19 to no. 28 are derived from the analysis of a diverse organization’s futures technologies anticipations. The below diagram is a time series analysis derived from the time of appearance of GPTs.

Figure 1. Time series analysis of GPTs.(Yoon & Kim & Park, et al., 2018: Yoon & Lee & Bae, et al., 2018)

It could be deduced from recent GPT trends that we, human beings are facing fundamental changes. Such a claim could be considered a cliché. Daniel Bell, Alvin Toffler, Jim Dator, Jehezkel Dror and a lot of futurists has anticipated repeatedly the fundamental changes from digital technologies. And GPTs could give us the competency to foresee human futures elaborately. The 21st-century GPTs are all digital techs and the number of GPTs is increasing dramatically and exponentially. It means that the societal, economic and political system would be transformed in the near future. Digital GPTs will transform the life-cycle of data, information, and knowledge. Capitalism is a kind of system for information flowing and decision-making. And with time, the digital GPTs will demand the meaning of knowledge to be transformed. Therefore, the meaning and value of the intellectual, including the futurist – (there might be debate on whether futurists are the intellectual or not) – will be changed. This will be a major thought shift with digital transformation.

Diverse Definitions on Digital Transformations(DX)

The operating and IT consulting industry responded to digital GPTs sensitively at first. Capgemini, IBM, PwC, Accenture and others have detected DX and have defined its meaning. WEF(World Economic Forum) also shared the DX report by industry. Accordingly, it is natural that there are rich definitions of DX. The time horizon could be deducted from the definitions. Although the border lines of horizons are not distinctive. It could be dared to break three horizons with 0 ~ 7 years, 8 years ~ 21 years, and 22 years ~ 42 years.

The table below shows the core variables transformed by digital technologies and a revolution for respective organizations or academics. I don’t think they won’t look beyond horizons but have tried to persuade business decision makers, political entrepreneurs, and readers for their books. I couldn’t say the below list are collectively exhaustive. The list shows only some cases.



Object of Transformation
Horizon 1 Horizon 2 Horizon 3
User Experience Process Business Model Organizational Structure Societal, Economic and Political System
A.T. Kearney
Bain & Company

Table 1. Digital Transformation on Three Horizons

On the other hands, the diverse definitions on DX meant a kind of terminologies battles to preempt the hegemony on futures. For example, Klaus Schwab’s 4th Industrial Revolution and Jeremy Rifkin’s 3rd Industrial Revolution shows the war to pre-occupy the futures images. And more, the futures for DX have been anticipated by a number of futurists, Daniel Bell, Alvin Toffler, Yehezkel Dror, Peter Drucker and so on. Concrete digital GPTs could make it possible for us to use foresight for more imagination and stand on the shoulders of giants of the futures studies.

What shall the futurist including myself deliberate about futures? How could we create the possible alternative futures on the ground of digital transformation? These represent our challenges, duties, and chances.


Ahmed Bounfour. 2016.  Digital Futures, Digital Transformation: From Lean Production to Acceluction. Springer

Chuck Martin. 2018. Digital Transformation 3.0: The New Business-to-Consumer Connections of The Internet of Things. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

David Rogers. 2016. Digital Transformation Playbook. Columbia University Press

Richard Lipsey & Carlaw Kenneth & Bekhar Clifford. 2005. Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth. Oxford University Press

Kee-Young Yoon and Sook-Kyoung Kim and Ga-Ram Park. 2018. Digital Transformation and Business Modeling. Pakyoungsa; 윤기영, 김숙경, 박가람. 2018. <디지털트랜스포메이션과비즈니스모델링>. 박영사

A.T. Kearney. 2016. Digital Transformation Methodology.

Capgemini & MIT Sloan. 2011. Digital Transformation: A Roadmap For Billion-dollar Organizations

IBM. 2011. Digital transformation Creating new business models where digital meets physical.

IDC. 2015. Digital Transformation(DX): An Opportunity and an Imperative.

Kee-Young Yoon and SangZee Lee & Ilhan Bae and Min-Ho Choi, et al. 2018. Understanding Futures Studies and Strategic Foresight Methodology. KAIST; 윤기영, 배일한, 최민호등. 2018. 미래학에대한이해와전략적미래예측방법론. KAIST

WEF Digital Transformation:

Kee-Young Yoon is a young Korean futurist and the chairman of the strategic foresight research center, FnS Consulting, Ltd. He have been working with Korean government, research centers and corporate sector for strategic foresight and is a regular contributor at Hankyorhe, a major newspaper in Korea. He can be reached at


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