As a SXSW newbie, I attended the “Intelligent Future” track, which covered everything from smart cities and our transportation future to ethical design for artificial intelligence. Somewhere in between these panels, I attended an interesting discussion on how to navigate our rapidly changing and connected world, featuring Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and CEO of Revolution, and Beth Comstock, Vice Chairman at GE.

The panel focused on how we are entering the “third wave” of the internet, which Case explained as a period where entrepreneurs will use technology to revolutionize sectors like health care, energy and manufacturing. To recap the different waves, according to Case, see below:

  • First Wave: 1985-1999 Building the internet. Laying the foundation; building software, educating the public.
  • Second Wave: 2000-2015 App economy and mobile revolution. Search, social and ecommerce startups grow on top of the internet (think Facebook, Snapchat).
  • Third Wave: 2016 – present (and beyond) Internet of everything. Everything is going to have connectivity to data.

So what kind of changes should we be prepared to see in this third wave of internet and connectivity? Here’s just a glimpse: Sensors that track a food’s temperature from source to store. Hospitals designed to avoid misdiagnosis. Traffic lights that actually respond to traffic.

The third wave could bring a new level of productivity and efficiency to longstanding industries, Comstock said. There’s the potential to disrupt huge sectors of our economy that we haven’t seen major changes in (yet) such as agriculture, energy, financial, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation – all fundamental parts of our lives.

Case described this disruption as essentially being “up for grabs” but will be reliant on different-sized companies working together. “The trick in this third wave increasingly is going to be partnerships between some of these startups that have really good ideas and move really quickly, and large organizations that have tremendous scale, credibility and understanding of the environment and distribution channels,” Case said. So the question is, “How do you bring those forces together so the small companies can get a lot more traction than they might on their own, and big companies can stay relevant and be more agile?”

Tech innovation first evolved from within corporations (first wave). Innovation then transitioned to venture capital markets in cities like New York City, San Francisco and Boston (second wave). Case has a boomerang theory that this next iteration of the internet will come from corporations (again) and their venture sectors that fund/partner with external startups to tap into new ways of thinking, ideas, and innovation. Comstock mentioned mHUB, a new facility for physical product innovation in Chicago as an example of how startups and large companies, such as GE are working together to disrupt industries (like those mentioned above).

Be on the lookout for partnerships such as these popping up all over the globe. This is just the start as we dive into the third wave of the internet.