Technology & Innovation
I've spent the better part of my life either strategizing or delivering technology solutions for customers around the globe. There is little doubt that we are currently living in the age of technology. What an exciting time it is to be in the field.
With continually advancing innovation readily available, it's no surprise that every aspect of our lives is now subject to a range of progressively complex gadgets. These gadgets have without a doubt enhanced our lives making things easier and vastly more efficient. This does however bring about a whole range of evolutionary choices and considerations.
The benefits of technology are all around us and can be seen in everything from global communications, Social networks, Cloud Computing, machine to machine (M2M) interfaces, Big Data analytics and a number of other areas. Our cars, wearables, and smartphones have navigation systems to ensure that we do not get lost. We can pay our bills at the touch of a button on the Internet or on our smartphones.
We can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world through telephone, messaging, videoconferencing and email. With faster Internet connections being introduced on a daily basis it is clear that the only limit to what technology can do is our own imagination. These innovations seem to have several goals in mind:
- To make our lives easier,
- Enable mass customization,
- Deliver new value added services to consumers, and
- Create new ways to monetize technology.
It all sounds great, but there are plenty of risks to be taken into account. Cyber crimes are on the rise as criminals begin to take advantage of our technology dependence. People have their credit card numbers stolen and businesses have their information hacked or computer systems disabled. We are so dependent on technology that if for example the bank’s computer networks would fail, most day-to-day business operations would halt, not to mention our personal lives. While global communication is a great innovation it's also a dangerous one as the Internet affords everyone some degree of anonymity.
So is technology good or bad? The answer, from my perspective is both. Technology makes our lives easier, but it depends on how we apply its capabilities. It’s kind of like a hammer. You can use the hammer to build things or destroy others. In theory, technology is neutral. At the end of the day humanity is driving its creation and as such we must ensure that it's used in a manner that propels us forward in a positive manner.
There can be little doubt that technology combined with human development makes a critically important contribution to economic growth and advances in human development. All across the world, you see centers of excellence springing up with the goal of harvesting the socio-economic benefits that technology brings about. Unfortunately, not all nations are equally prepared to embrace technology. In some instances, just the fear of the unknown can destroy the most promising of projects. Too, the lack of proper funding and financial structures such as private equity and others may make it difficult if not impossible for certain parts of the world to develop the proper knowledge and intellectual base that is fueled by the presence of innovative technology enterprises - thus 'the great digital divide.'
The great digital divide
Technology over the next five to ten years will be radically different. Usability will increase dramatically as will the simplicity of interfaces. Take the Social networks – it’s likely that within the next 10 years we will see some form of three-dimensional virtual reality become available to the masses, if not sooner.
However, just as a mechanic who doesn’t have all the right computer software and hardware can no longer service today’s cars, so will technology become too complex to be serviced and integrated without the availability of highly trained and specialized engineers and technicians. Interfaces will continue to evolve to where speech and handwriting recognition become flawless. Computers with the power of today’s supercomputers will be available in your smartphone, thus enabling a whole new generation of interfaces and capabilities.
Today we talk ‘Big-Data,’ referring to the ability to store large quantities of data, enable sophisticated analytics and facilitate advanced business intelligence. However, this is just a stepping-stone. The ability to use, create, manipulate, and integrate large quantities of data will become an essential component of commerce and research, requiring investments in highly trained staff and software. Think about the implications hereof on bandwidth and the world’s present telecommunications infrastructure. This infrastructure, which includes wired and wireless networks consisting of switches and routers, will remain the foundation for all data communications for decades to come. The question is whether there will be sufficient bandwidth and infrastructure to carry projected traffic volumes especially considering the requirement to carry high volume video and three-dimensional virtual reality data streams.
Managing technology is becoming substantially more challenging. This is likely where we will see the greatest divide - a major speed bump in achieving unification of humanity. Some nations will produce, deliver and maintain these complex systems while others will be consumers thereof. Think about the educational implications. Some of the questions that must come to mind if you are a developing nation is how will you create the necessary skills locally to develop, deliver and maintain these new technologies? How will you train your people and how will they keep up? The advanced networks that must ensure the appropriate quality of service, the sophisticated Apps that run on smartphones, the complex interfaces, the underlying hardware – how will you be part of this revolution or perhaps next evolutionary stage in humanity’s history? As Universities in developed nations continue to gear up to train the next generation students on these subjects, how will students in developing countries where resources are scarce compete? Yes, providing access to the Internet and Social networks across the globe is great. But if all we are doing is seeding new consumer markets for the distribution of future technology products and services created in developed nations, then we have created a significant divide which may ultimately backfire as developing nations increasingly resent their position in the world.
Instead of referring to the digital divide as a scenario where some countries have greater access to the Internet and information than others, I think the greatest gap will be the lack of intellectual knowhow and capability to be part of and help mold next generation technology capabilities – the industrialized, knowledge-based economies produce, others consume. The Internet and Social networks are already facilitating this trend on a level never before envisioned.
One of the question that keeps me up the most when it comes to the future of technology is how humanity will use it and how it will impact our evolution. Contrary to biological evolution where survival of the fittest organisms and their reproduction is driven by their adaptive traits, technological evolution, at least for now is driven by humanity’s demands and needs. Unless we enter a discussion around artificial intelligence and its future impact, we humans drive what technology looks and feels like, what capabilities it delivers and how it is used. At least for the time being.
The rise of Social networks, smartphones, wearables and other gadgets is providing greater access to information and knowledge to the masses. The usability of technology is increasing, as is the simplicity of interfaces. There is obviously a long way to go before the Internet becomes widely available in every corner of our planet, however we are well on our way to achieving this. With greater access to technology and faster cheaper devices available to provide connectivity, the era of mass-customization of products and services has arrived. In fact it has become a key competitive factor for businesses who seek to establish a more trusted one-on-one relationship with their customers or business partners or who seek real-time feedback to adjust strategy and gain greater market share. Long gone are the days when marketing and product development teams sit together for months to come up with product strategies and campaigns. As a good friend of mine who works in the financial services industry puts it – “we can work for months on a service offering, only to find out in minutes on the Social networks and Blogs whether it is a success or complete failure.”
From my perspective, humanity through mass customization, access to cheaper end-user technologies, wider availability of the Internet and Social networks, is driving the face of technology. Technology, at least for now does not evolve by itself. Humanity is driving its evolution as a tool and enabler, in the same manner as we drove the evolution of for example the wheel, the printing press, the telephone, the light bulb and so many other inventions in our history. History has shown that in most cases our desire for comfort or to find more efficient ways to get everyday tasks done has driven the creation of new tools and technologies. The question than is - whether technology and in that sense humanity, will help drive a higher evolution and the singularity of our specie or simply cause us to become highly advanced couch potatoes.
Frankly I think our specie will evolve into several forms. And the couch potatoes will be around. However, I believe that there will be enough checks and balances to ensure that we use technology as an extension of our mental abilities and hence evolve into more intelligently advanced species - technology is already being biologically integrated. Without a doubt we need to define those checks and balances. What these will be is an entire topic worth exploring. However, for those of us who are in the technology field, I believe we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that the technologies and capabilities we develop will help take humanity to a higher plane, not just catering to its narrow comfort interests or consumer needs.