Engines of Change

[NOTE: Robert Scoble and I are rewriting the first four chapters to our new book: Beyond Mobile: Life After Smartphones.

We are big believers in crowd wisdom and we publish it here to get feedback from online friends and followers. Is this a book you would read? Might you recommend it to friends? Did you find a fact that we need to double-check? Do you know a company or a technology, that we should cover? Do you know a company who would like to associate their brands with this book?Please let us know here or by contacting me on Messenger at Shel Israel or at shelisrael1@gmail.com]

This is not our first rodeo.

Since 2005, we’ve been writing and speaking about how tech changes life. We’ve collaborated on a bunch of projects, all of which look at technology trends that could help business thinkers understand the near term future, so that they can adjust course accordingly.

We don’t tell them how to change, but why they should if they want to catch the next wave as it hits the shore. It turns out that, when it comes to technology, there seems to be an endless supply of new waves, each one rising higher and coming faster than the preceding one.

We tend to look forward in ten-year chunks. Looking back, we have been pretty good at predicting the trends, but our timelines seem to be altogether too conservative.

Let’s look at our two biggest hits:

We published Naked Conversations our first book in the first week of 2006. In it, we argued that blogs would change the way people and businesses talked with each other.

When we wrote Naked, this kind of thinking was considered radical and, to some, anti-business. But the advantages social media provided drastically improved the way businesses, customers and stakeholders could talk with each other.

We thought this process would take ten years or so to play out, but it didn’t.

Seven years later, blogs had emerged into something called social media, one of several terms we helped popularize. By 2012, it had become a mature platform and strategic books about it were about as valuable as fax machine user manuals.

The book’s value to business lasted seven years, not the ten we had envisioned: Still, we figured, that’s not so bad in an environment where the shelf life of many tech business books is sometimes just six months.

In 2013, we published Age of Context. This time, we wrote about why business thinkers needed to pay attention to five converging forces of technology: mobile, social media, data, the Internet of Things [IoT] and location technologies.

We argued that as these forces came together, brands and the enterprise could understand what shoppers and partners would want based on the context of time, place and intent.

This time, our ten-year prediction lasted a mere three years, less than half the time of the prior book. Once again, it had to do in part with the maturation of a technology platform — this time the smart phone.

Few businesses today exist without this device being of central consideration. In fact, many are still scrambling to adjust to what Forrester Research has called the Mobile Mind Shift.

In our view, those companies will need to hurry up.

Just as the storm of change fomented so recently by mobile settles into the processes and practices of everyday commerce, a series of even larger waves is about to hit the shores of the enterprise. The waves won’t come hard and fast, but long and steady: It’s going to be a real Lollapalooza.

Changes are starting with games on VR headsets and culminating, perhaps ten years from now, with a robot popping out of a self-driving vehicle to deliver pizza to your door — pizza you ordered by talking to a device.

This may finally become out ten-year book, but that doesn’t mean the pace of innovation is slowing.

In fact, it is moving faster and faster: more and more is happening and fewer and fewer things will not be affected.

The smart phone and all its wonders will not disappear any time soon, but it will steadily and irreversibly decline: It will become less important to life and business and we will start using it less and less. We see a future for it similar to the landline phone of yore. Someday, a decade or more into the future, you will wonder why you need the device and be locked into a carrier contract for something you don’t really much use anymore.

Mobile phones, along with social media, data, the Internet of Things [IoT], and location technologies — the forces of our last book — become the underpinnings for five new engines of change that we tell you about in this book.

Two of those engines will converge into one and they are the central focus of a large part of this book.

The 4 Engines

Here are our four engines as they will be viewed in the year 2025:

  • Mixed Reality [MR]. What is now VR and AR will converge into one technology MR. What is currently the AR/VR headset will look very much like an everyday pair of eyeglasses. These MR glasses will use IoT to connect with all things. By 2025, MR glasses will replace today’s smartphone. It will do everything a phone does today and it will do it better and more easily.
  • Digital Genies. We have coined this new term to describe devices and software that use Artificial Intelligence [AI]. Examples you may know include GoogleNow and Amazon Echo. Genies will get a lot smarter in the coming years, to the point where they will anticipate your wishes and treat them as commands.
  • Autonomous Cars. We’ll give you a roadmap of how they will reach full adoption — perhaps a few years beyond 2025.
  • Robots. It will be some time before they are changing your baby’s diaper, but they may soon be doing more repetitious jobs, providing greater security, eliminating dangerous work and filling positions currently done by humans, perhaps jobs that are uncomfortably close to what we do. For example, robots are now writing some books.

The world’s leading tech companies are investing billions of dollars in the belief that the sum of those investments will result in trillion dollar ideas. The majority of evidence we found indicate that they are right.

Products such as Magic Leap, HoloLens, Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR are just a few results of these investments. In 2016, those that will exist will be used mainly for playing games. By 2020, they will be understood as the game changers that they truly are: By 2025, they will be world changers.

The products that start revolutions are not always the ones that finish them. Someday, when MR glasses are the mature platform, facing whatever will go beyond, some of the products we discuss here will be gone.

Who will the winners be? We don’t really know for sure.

What we do know is that competition will be fierce, which means innovation will be fast and prices will fall causing adoption to rise.

When this happens, users win. As user champions, we consider the situation to be as good as it gets.

Millennials and Minecrafters

As Steve Jobs used to say: “One more thing.”

The massive changes we anticipate will not be universally embraced. While the Internet and reduced costs for digital services and products will bridge what is now the Digital Divide, we see something new and perhaps more divisive: We call it the Cultural Chasm.

The Cultural Chasm will divide people more by age than by income. It is a phenomenon that occurred in the 1960s as well, where the preferences and ethics of a younger generation clashed with those of an older declaration.

The timing of our four engines coming to center stage coincides with the emergence of the Millennials — the first generation of digital natives. There are 90 million of them in just the US and they are replacing 70 million aging Boomers, many of whom are now in their 70s.

Millennials will be followed by the second generation of digital natives. Demographers have labeled them Gen Z, which is a bland term that implies finality. We have decided to call them Minecrafters, and we will tell you a lot about them in a few chapters.

As has always been true, the young will inherit the future. We think the smart move will be for the rest of us to follow their lead.

Robert Scoble & Shel Israel

April 2016.

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