Automation breaking barriers
The more I think about it the more I am convinced that automation forces us to re-visit, re-evaluate and re-think some of the fundamental “building blocks” of society.
Think finance, business, work, energy, health and law.
But this is not going to be easy.
Take the example of work.
Broadly speaking, we can distinguish between two “schools of thought”, even amongst those who accept that automation will soon transform the workplace.
The first group points to the emergence of mass poverty, wealth inequality and new forms of social exclusion as a result of automation depriving large sections of the workforce of employment opportunities.
The second group takes a more “positive” view. They are convinced that we will find ways to deal with these issues. They believe that those groups that have traditionally performed “routine” work will be able to find alternatives.
But, in one important sense, it doesn’t matter which group you belong to. There is no “right” answer.
The crucial point is that the future is open and everyone is going to have to “Think Different” in the “creation of a new automated world”.
The use of a “Think Different” strategy to usher in a new era is not new.
In late 1997, Apple adopted the slogan “Think Different” to re-launch the brand, go back to basics and focus on “what really matters”.
Twenty years later, what strikes me is how relevant the slogan still is today. In fact, I believe the mantra of “Think Different” is even more important to society now than it was for Apple in 1997.
This Technological Revolution is Different
We are on the brink of a “new world” centered around digitization, automation and machine intelligence.
I have written about this before, but I genuinely believe that this technological revolution is different from previous technological revolutions of the last 250 years.
The challenge of coming to terms with these “differences” requires us all to “Think Different”.
#1 — The Complexity of Technological Change
Current technological innovations in the area of smart machines, sensors, big data, etc., appear to be faster and more wide-ranging.
The pace of digitization and automation is accelerating.
This makes perfect sense. The developments in the different “automation technologies”, such as machine learning, blockchain technology, Internet of Things and data-analytics, are all accelerating each other.
Not a single day passes by without me being amazed by new technologies.
Anyone who doubts the pace and complexity of change should follow one of the many websites that are now devoted to the daily chronicling of technological discoveries. My own current favorite is Futurism.
We are living through an era of the exponential growth of new technologies.
Moreover, technological innovation now has a global character, in the sense that significant discoveries can happen almost anywhere. And — thanks to the Internet — the dissemination of the latest innovation is also global and almost simultaneous.
This process of constant and unrelenting technological change will only get faster as more resources are devoted to developing even more technologies.
#2 — The Key Role of Consumers in Driving Innovation
Previous technological revolutions were, broadly speaking, spearheaded and controlled by a combination of industry and (national) governments working together to deliver innovation to the market.
But this time, things seem to be different.
Consumers play a much more central role in both driving technological change and determining its scope and impact.
Consumers today are often among the first group to “experiment” with new innovations.
Think of smart phones, drones, games, etc. What is interesting is that whenever new innovations make life more convenient or meaningful for consumers, they are very quickly accepted by society as a whole.
This widespread consumer adoption of new innovations has a number of interesting side effects.
Access to finance becomes easier. Professional investors, such as venture capital funds and “angels”, naturally gravitate to technologies with mass consumer appeal. But, increasingly, innovators can turn to the public for funding (through crowdfunding or initial coin offerings). This then feeds the “hype” which encourages even more professional investors to invest in what is perceived as the “next big thing”.
The “next big thing” argument plays a key role in convincing large corporations to invest heavily in new automation and digitization applications. Consumer success provides a powerful override to the in-built cautiousness of established corporations when dealing with innovation.
Finally, governments see innovations with broad consumer appeal as a powerful means to boost economic growth or other public policy goals. For example, innovation can provide an opportunity for a government to solve demographic issues (think Japan) or as a means to project a youthful and dynamic image to the world (think Singapore).
#3 – The Uncertain Social Effects of New Technologies
The social effects and meaning of new technologies today are more dynamic and complex than with previous technological revolutions.
As I discussed last week, we struggle to come to terms with how automation impacts on society.
The process of automation often occurs unnoticed.
From a consumer-user point of view, the “best” (i.e., most convenient) technologies facilitate action, but quickly disappear into the “background”. This transparent quality makes any assessment of the social effects of new technologies difficult to assess.
What is also different about the digital revolution is that whereas the social effects of previous technologies unrolled over decades, the social effects of the automation efforts today occur over a much shorter time horizon and these social effects are geographically more dispersed and affect every aspect of social life.
New technologies require us to “Think Different” about the most fundamental “building blocks” of society.
“Think Different” as the Mantra of a “Digital Age”
The urgency of responding to new “automation technologies” means that we don’t have time to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach.
We need to be proactive in determining how automation is affecting society.
This requires us to set aside traditional ways of thinking and — by “Thinking Different” — find new ways of thinking that are more appropriate for the new realities of a digital age.
More and more of us believe that issues regarding bureaucracy, middlemen, legacy systems, human error, corruption and fraud can be solved by automated technologies.
Particularly, the combination of blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence, robots and sensors offer a powerful and “convenient” alternative for business, consumers and government.
Here are just a few examples of the impact of “automation technologies”:
Centralized banking systems and financial organizations are slowly but surely being “replaced” by peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding strategies.
We see a growth in communities and smart grids taking ownership of renewable energy.
There is a shift in how we think about “ownership” and “organizations” as a result of the technology-driven “sharing economy”.
Life expectancy is gradually increasing, again as a result of technological revolution.
The use of smart (automated, code-based) contracts has the potential to transform legal transactions and enforcement.
Trust is being automated by the use of prediction algorithms, sensors and blockchain technologies.
The new world of automation means that we will have to re-think banking, tax, retirement and pension policies, as well as employment.
It will also have a significant impact on our legal systems, which will have to be re-visited in light of the sharing economy and blockchain. And the implications for energy and the environment are similarly far-reaching.
We need to “Think Different” in order to create a better future together.
Think “Different Education”
So, what’s next? Where do we begin?
Well, we need to start by giving everyone the necessary skills to “Think Different”.
I have written before about education and the importance of positioning myself as a co-creator, collaborator and influencer to inspire and pioneer tech in the SME space.
“Think Different” seems to be an appropriate and significant first step to introduce in all levels of education. It is a powerful way to think about the distinctiveness of a “digital age”.
Even more importantly, it can be used as a mantra to stimulate and activate the necessary combination of creativity and teamwork that we will all need to navigate the uncertain automated world to come.