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Disruptive or Not

Occasionally, I'm asked how I define a 'Disruptive Technology' and the answer isn't always as straight forward as one might think.

Simon Moores - Disruptive Technologies - Ritz Hotel London 2012
It's easy to say, that it's the introduction of a new technology that changes the way we do business or represents a sudden evolutionary leap forward in a social, technical or informational sense.

In the past, it was easy to point at the steam engine the electric light, the telegraph, television or the Internet and describe them as 'disruptive' without any shadow of a doubt. Today it's a little more complex for several reasons.

Take 'Twitter' for example. Is it disruptive? After all, if you look at its impact on the Arab Spring and the libel laws in the UK, it's certainly having a disruptive effect.

What about Apple's iPod, iPhone or iPad? All of these individually and in concert represent an evolutionary step forward in the computing and software industry, not least of all the iPad, which in the space of two short years is becoming rapidly ubiquitous.

Our rapidly growing universe of “Things” is being linked through wired and wireless networks to the Internet. GSMA estimates connecting 24 billion devices by 2020, while Cisco and Ericsson think we will hit 50 billion. Altogether, these networks are churning out huge volumes of data that flow to computers for analysis. When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly. And then there's the convergence between, GPS, social media and fast developments in camera technology as well as rapid advanced in nano-engineering and DNA sequencing.

This is a subject I'm thinking more deeply upon for one of my presentations at the Ritz Hotel in December but what immediately strikes me is the sudden arrival of inflection points.

In the last century the pace of advance was more dramatic but much slower and has been accelerating rapidly, almost geometrically, since the 1980's. As the digital world expands and interfaces with every aspect of life that surrounds us, it's both raw speed and code that make makes a big difference as computer's follow the inexorable path of Moore's law.

So what happens today is that we see incremental and then very sudden, swift leaps forward, as technologies converge and arrive at an inflection point. The door suddenly opens to a raft of new opportunities and applications that might never have been imagined twelve months previously. All of a sudden, a large swathe of humanity is touched by one new product or feature or another and you might pause to consider, that reportedly, last year, 24 percent of the population of Mogadishu checked into Facebook once a week.

And so that's where we are today, inflection points are starting to arrive faster than companies and governments can deal with them in a modern day equivalent of Pandora's Box. Most of these opportunities, like the arrival of 3D printers, are dazzling and exciting but a few have a darker side which can be missed among the prevailing sense of excitement, until like computer viruses, they return to bite us.

So let's be optimistic but let's also learn the lessons of the past that sudden disruptive change frequently brings unexpected consequences in the business and social ecosystem.

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