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Disruptive Technologies Fueled by a Disruptive and Risky World

Last week, TAKE Solutions afforded their customers and invited guests an opportunity to spend two days thinking about the future, where they discovered that disruptive events can create interest in disruptive technologies.

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It is rare for us to be able to break away from our day-to-day activities and spend two days thinking about our changing world and the technologies that will fuel the future. What technologies in society, business and healthcare will be available to us? Why will some technologies take off and others, though powerful and useful, never achieve commercial success? How will technologies change the way we work? Communicate? How will they affect our social interactions? What impact does all this technology have on our values, our privacy?

What will our future be like?

Last week, TAKE Solutions afforded their customers and invited guests an opportunity to spend two days thinking about the future. We moved from the big bang to the present day—from the sublime to the everyday—with a variety of speakers, dialogue, and fun experiences all centered around this topic.

Our event launched with Michio Kaku, whom many of us have seen countless times on science programs about the galaxies on PBS’s Nova, the Discovery Channel, and many other programs. Dr. Kaku is famous for string theory, parallel universes and time travel, and educating the public about physics. Dr. Kaku also likes to explore our earthly future—how innovations will transform society. Dr. Kaku walked us through the technology eras of steam, electricity, the digital age, and something he predicted for our future that he called the ‘post-silicon era.’1

Key topics such as the cloud becoming cornerstone technology, microscopic intelligent devices being used to transform the world, and day-to-day enterprise technologies were discussed during the two days. Dr. Kaku predicts that we all will be sporting highly intelligent embedded devices connected to the cloud, receiving all sorts of remote intelligence clues.

These devices run the gamut, from glasses and contact lenses providing visual identification (products already available from Motorola, Google, and others) to remote medical diagnostics: from cloud to the tiniest ingestible devices, custom designed for each patient, which will target cancers and other harmful cells (as we remember from the movie Fantastic Voyage). We won’t need to shrink scientists—their intelligence will be embedded in these cancer-seeking ingestibles. New body parts, new cells, new skin will all be custom designed for each patient.

Of course, the highways of the future will also be enabled by cloud intelligence collecting all traffic patterns and guiding us to our destinations with hands-free driving. Most of these technologies exist, and there have been pilots. So the question remains that although they are the great ideas, how will they become everyday?

One of the key issues emerging from such a talk, I always feel, is that we are already a society of inactivity. Will we also become mental blobs relying on technology to do all our thinking?

But interestingly, our next speaker, John Underkoffler of Oblong Industries, spoke about “making a case for a new interface.” If you saw Minority Report, you have already seen this idea. In the film, the police team interacts with arm and hand motions rather than sitting at a desk moving a mouse. It turns out that this technology is no fiction: Oblong has this interface in commercial use, built into many solutions today. John talked about the ability of people to absorb multiple streams of information vs. a flat screen world (think tablets).

People like Ray Kurzweil (the singularity concept) have argued that we are becoming more intelligent. He sees us as sensory input devices, receiving intelligence through embedded devices to gain benefits such as assistance to overcome physical disabilities. We will be part human, part computer.

All these technologies rely on information and analytical services in the cloud. We will access intelligence which will consist of a variety of public (traffic management) and private (police databases) information.

Will the Future Happen?

Of course, we hope to be around in the future—but what kind of future will it be? How many of the brilliant ideas will actually become a reality? In our business we are often asked if a certain technology will gain traction—become commercially viable. Fortunately, we are a curious society and there is still funding for innovation. But not all great ideas reach the light of day. Bringing an idea from the drawing board to commercial use is a complex topic that will not be done justice by a short article, but there are a few key factors—key enablers—that need to be in place before adoption can take place. 

Disruption puts a damper on adoption; however, innovative ideas can get implemented if they have conquered the utility and ease-of-adoption issues. Cost is often considered an inhibitor to adoption, but in fact, it is not the major factor—we are used to paying outsized prices for the things we want—from life-saving medicines and procedures to the whimsical (think entertainment).

Innovations and technologies do not exist in isolation—they need supporting structures to go from idea to implementation. For example, Copernicus determined that the earth was not the center of the universe, but mathematicians like Tyco Brahe and Johannes Kepler improved the math, lending support and giving depth to his ideas. Later, we had telescopes to confirm these facts by observation. This was a very disruptive idea in society at that time, but the idea spread due to the printing press which allowed mass distribution of an idea that would have been locked up in a few ‘labs.’

Still, everyday acceptance of this idea would not have happened without a practical use. And what was that?  World trade. Navigators in those days had big dreams of changing the overland routes—the Silk Road—but did not have the technology or information to navigate the seas. Their impetus turned the scientific ideas of a few into big business and global economic change for many.

Here you can also see the symbiotic relationship between two critical communities: the innovators—sciences and engineering—and the practical business implementers. So we need utility—the useful application of ideas.

And ideas need demand. Take another category, big agriculture for example. Through modern agricultural techniques, we have been able to create more productive farming with higher yields. And that’s great—we have been able to feed the increasing population of our society. But many farmers were not too well rewarded for this increase in productivity. Today, through the huge demand to feed the industrial production of things such as synthetic materials and ethanol, many farmers have mega-businesses and have become quite wealthy. So the demand factor is huge!

An agricultural product, then, is no longer just food, but a raw material for new product innovation—a major paradigm shift in how we think about the product and its market. Not many, if any, could have predicted this market and these changes.

Conversely, we often don’t understand all the factors that drive success and we can quickly and easily fall from grace due to changes in a strategy gone awry.2

A Risky and Disruptive World

Planners think linearly. They look at market growth as a continuing saturation of a community until everyone has one—smart phones, TV, internet, social network participation, for example. And that often is so. But human dynamics and our planet earth have ways of disrupting these linear predictive flows.

The last few years have brought many unpleasant reminders that the earth is stronger than we are. And there have been other unpleasant global trends such as a volatile global economy, the rise of global crimes such as counterfeiting and piracy, and revolutions. In their attempt to mitigate these issues, governments and industries have piled on standards, regulations and requirements—compliance. These events have diverted many from the pedantic path and created interest in new technologies.

These issues also have diverted technology spending away from traditional enterprise software, to some degree, and created an economic opportunity for other technologies such as Auto ID, mobile and collaboration, and analytics, for example, to find their place.

Big Trends Moving to Mass Adoption

In multiple research studies (by us and many others) we see three big trends now moving from ‘big ideas’ to mass adoption:

  1. Intelligence Everywhere and Everything Intelligent—Auto ID, sensors, and embedded intelligence in use from supply chain to healthcare to high availability automated environments.

  2. Collaboration Convergence—a convergence of previously disparate technologies, such as functional applications, video, voice and social networks enabling education, remote diagnostics, and global business collaboration on anytime and anywhere platforms.

  3. Anywhere Enterprise—the breaking down of enterprise walls and changing the mode of work through mobile and cloud. Instead of being tied to an office, the ‘anywhere enterprise’ creates a flexible environment for work and federated value chains.

Into the Future…

Those who saw the recent movie Midnight in Paris will recall the key scene when Gil, the main character, travels to the past with Adriana. Adriana from the Roaring Twenties is now with Gil in the 1890s. She wants to stay in this past declaring it to be the Golden Age. Gil then sees the romantic fantasy that he, himself, was holding of the 1920s, and tells her, “If you stay here though, and this becomes your present, then pretty soon you'll start imagining another time was really your…Golden Age.” The current time is “a little unsatisfying because life's a little unsatisfying.”

Right now we are going through some ‘unsatisfying’ times, confronting a redistribution of work, of economics, of demographic shifts and societal change. And many people are declaring their nostalgia3 for better times of the past and how those times are not to be in our future. A golden era of the economic good times past.4

Rather than clinging to the past, we should use this time to be innovative. Or as Fareed Zakaria calls it, “reasons for optimism.” The ideas are here to change things for the better. This drive to innovate, to create, to change is present in all people, I observed at the conference, and with that drive we can solve the problems confronting us today, and ultimately create a better world.


1 You can learn more about these technologies here. -- Return to article text above
2 Take the disappearance of Oprah—from one of the highest-yielding programs to a big disappearing act. -- Return to article text above
3 “Nostalgia is denial—denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is Golden Age thinking—the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one in which one is living. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” Midnight in Paris.
4 This appears to be Western world myopia, and is not shared by many other parts of the world. Read Fareed Zakaria’s blog on Reasons for Optimism here. Or read about Niall Fergusun’s 6 Killer Apps in Civilization: The West and the Rest, where he concludes with optimism for open democratic societies and their ability to meet the big challenges.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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