On Future Predictions…

I read an interesting post on Facebook yesterday by Robert Goldman, which you can read here, entitled Future Predictions. The post was a confident statement of his predictions for the future, most of which I agree with, although I think the timescales are a little optimistic. But it got me thinking about how rapidly changing technology will affect our lives, and how little we understand the enormity of the impending disruption.

To clarify: I’m using the term “disruption” as defined in this definition from Wikipedia, because there are a lot of people talking about disruption without fully understanding the contemporary use of the term; it’s not about interesting, creative packaging that stands out from it’s competition on a supermarket shelf, rather “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances.”

In his post, Goldman states:

“In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving…

Most car companies may become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels.”

There’s an interesting underlying theme there, which is that we are still trying to solve 20th Century problems with 21st Century technology. We are not thinking about the future enough yet, and how we can improve, innovate and enrich. But at some point, someone will, some precocious tech start-up is going to come along and completely throw another industry into turmoil.

There’s an article here by Dan Zhang called Smart Factories and the Industrial Internet of Things, which looks into how Audi are implementing IoT technology into their production lines and supply chain.

“Empowered by the Industrial Internet of Things, the factory of tomorrow promises to be a proactive, self-healing environment with increased responsiveness and ability to meet consumer demand. While the full benefits promised by Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing may seem far off, numerous case studies such as Audi’s smart factories show that increased connectivity, visibility and intelligent automation can provide immediate benefits to todays manufacturing businesses.”

Immediate benefits indeed. And therein lies the problem. Immediate benefits to todays manufacturing businesses. What they should be doing is researching how the technology could provide benefits to tomorrows businesses. Why invest in the technology to produce something that will be essentially obsolete in 20 years time?

Peter Diamandis, in his post Lessons From Kodak, states:

“Don’t be overly attached to your existing business: All existing products/services will be disrupted, and revenues will eventually go to zero. Don’t be attached to them. You have to move with technology and the market. This is hardest when you are profitable, like Kodak. You must be aware that you’re most vulnerable when you’re doing well.”

So for Audi, a company that has invested a lot of money in developing itself into one of the most popular brands in the world, change is difficult because they are profitable producing cars now, and they need to see return on investment. But Audi’s motto is, after all “Vorsprung Durch Technik”; “Advancement Through Technology”, so why are they investing so much in refining current systems, when really they should be investing in what is to come?

This, I think, illustrates the current stage we are at with the Internet of Things; it’s still very experimental, but it’s still a more or less short term outlook. We need, in order to innovate, to disrupt and not be disrupted, to think of the bigger picture. Existing models like Uber and AirBnB are just the tip of the iceberg. There is going to be a sudden explosion of businesses using the Internet of Things and blockchains to killer effect, completely changing our environment, the way we interact with it and the way we live in it.

Robert Goldman, using Kodak and their failure to anticipate the impact of digital photography as an example, states:

“So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs. Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age.”

In other words, it’s coming soon, and it’s going to happen very, very quickly.

Image: http://www.motortrend.com/news/2012-tesla-model-s-first-drive/#tesla-factory-2-2