Will artificial intelligence, the blockchain, and robots change the world? Or, is it all just hype? Are we expecting/hoping for too much?
Alternatively, should we be worried about the impact and effect of disruptive new technologies? Will they take over the world and (potentially) destroy humanity?
There is considerable interest in these questions about technology: “Hope, Hype or Fear?”
The most popular stories that popped up in my Medium feed recently seem to suggest that interest in the new technologies is greatly exaggerated. These accounts convincingly argue that the “4th Industrial Revolution” hasn’t happened yet.
These stories are probably correct. There are still plenty of usability, scalability and resources issues with most new technologies. We shouldn’t expect “singularity” anytime soon. Bitcoin — or any other cryptocurrency, for that matter — will not be a widely-accepted currency tomorrow.
But this doesn’t mean that there is no sense of urgency.
We should always remember that it isn’t only about what the future will bring. It is about understanding the extent that technology has already changed the world.
Something is happening between the hope, hype and fear. And that is why we need to take immediate action.
Digital technologies have already reshaped the world in which we live and work. This is already our new shared reality.
Here are five fast trends that we cannot ignore anymore:
Consumers have always demanded products and services to deliver efficient performance. What has changed is the pace of technology adoption and changes in consumer expectations. Both are speeding up.
Consumers love their smartphones and their applications. They love the speed, connectivity, and convenience that is offered by digital technologies. The consumers of today — and not just Millennials, but everyone- demand constant innovation and disruption in functionality.
The result? Much faster innovation cycles and development of new products and services.
For instance, consumers now expect all their devices to be connected. They need to be connected in a technical sense to the Cloud or other devices (the Internet of Things).
But there is more. Products and services need to facilitate connections to a community of users that “matters” to them. Community building takes on new importance in an age of social media.
The “winning companies” of today understand and adapt to these consumer trends (and those that don’t will die.) The best firms tap into the most fundamental “needs” of new consumers: Think marketplace (Amazon), information (Google), identity/authenticity (Apple) and relationships (Facebook).
These companies also understand that data we generate is the “new oil,” and data-analytics and intelligent information is the “new currency.” After all, data volumes are exploding and leveraging this data is vital.
As tech- and data-driven companies continue to invest in new and refreshing technologies, such as autonomous cars and drones, these two trends will continue to feed off each other.
Of course, there’s also a downside to this. Tech companies are becoming so powerful that they tend to behave as centralized monopolies. They have found a meaningful way to run our lives, control the choices that we make, and dominate the way we work. Talk of breaking up Amazon or Facebook, for instance, is everywhere recently.
And it cannot be denied that the enormous volume of data created and controlled by these new tech giants does result in more and more issues. These problems have become everyday news. Cybersecurity breaches, privacy threats, and data leaks are a daily occurrence now.
Inevitably, these concerns mean that governments increasingly intervene. We see more institutions and more rules and regulations designed to protect the interests of consumers and other stakeholders in a digital age.
But what is ironic, however, is that these institutions and regulations appear to have reached their limits in a globally connected world. “Truth” and “trust” were traditionally established by institutions, organizations, rules, best-practices, and brands, but in a digital age, trust and truth can no longer be guaranteed by these “old world concepts.”
Our trust in the willingness and capacity of government to protect our interests is at an all-time low. And, somewhat paradoxically given our love of new technology, our trust in the tech-companies is also declining.
Intelligence Augmentation, Intelligent Infrastructures and Networked Intelligence (Blockchain & Smart Contracts) have the potential to contribute to better communities, better environment, and better business. It is clear that technology will replace “old world” mechanisms for establishing “truth” and “trust.”
We need more technology to reap the fruits of other technologies. A good example is sensor technology. Sensors generate more and more data, but only with “Intelligence Augmentation” will we be able to understand the newly obtained information and use it for good.
Governments and other institutions also acknowledge the potential of digital technologies in improving society and creating a sustainable environment.
Notably, emerging countries embrace the technology bandwagon. Most obviously, it gives them the opportunity to leapfrog various stages in the development process.
For instance, FinTech leverages digital technology to improve the quality of, and access to, financial services for individuals in markets that have traditionally been excluded from such opportunities. Drone technology offers solutions in environments where a traditional infrastructure with roads and railways are prohibitively expensive to build. Blockchain technology provides a more effective way to maintain land rights data which can then serve as collateral for accessing credit or verifying identities.
Finally, technology has had an enormous impact on research and education.
First, “researchers” don’t have to work at universities or other research institutions anymore. Everyone can be a researcher using technology and smart platforms, such as blogs, online lectures and seminars, videos, podcasts and more. The traditional “platforms” and methods of teaching and research are becoming much less critical.
But, something more important is occurring. The most significant impact is now generated by studying and analyzing new digital technologies. This becomes very clear when we examine the rankings of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN).
I looked into the rankings of the Top Authors over the last four years, and the results were astonishing. For most of that time, the rankings were very stable. “Established” names from “established” institutions dominated the download rankings. However, we can observe an apparent shift from around 2017. The established names are overtaken by a new generation of researchers that are either tech-savvy or write about the development and application of new digital technologies.
My conclusion? There is an enormous demand for the ideas and intellectual resources to help us understand the new world that we are creating.
Traditional models of business, government, and education are fundamentally broken. They are ill-suited to this dynamic, new world. And by ignoring these trends or, at least, failing to adapt to them, they seal their fate.
The only answer is to develop and share ideas about how disruptive digital technologies are transforming the world now. Technological innovation is shaping our world, but the speed and scale of social change mean that we must be faster in understanding and adapting to this new reality. Everyone needs guidance to make sense of our fast-shifting relationship with sophisticated new technologies.
And, this is the main reason why I want my students to understand the new digital technologies and their impact on society today and tomorrow. I don’t want them to just scratch the surface. I really want them to obtain a thorough understanding of “artificial intelligence”, the blockchain and other potentially disruptive technologies.
Because, never forget: there really is something already happening between all the hope, hype and fear.
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