Catching-up with Tomorrow

“I'm not trying to predict the future, I’m trying to prevent it” – Ray Bradbury.

Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years and yet we are all preparing for the future.  Studies of information-technology adaptation suggest there is generally a gap of between five and fifteen years, between investments we make in new technology and the appearance of measurable returns in productivity associated with that investment.

After decades of exaggerated prediction, the internet is finally transforming both business and politics, but not quite in the way the digital prophets expected. It’s twenty years this month since Gary Kasparov was beaten at Chess by IBM’s Deep Blue computer. In the interval since, the human Rubik's cube record has dropped to 5 seconds while the machine record is now an astonishing 0.637 seconds.

As computing has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, raw technological complexity has obscured our collective ability to grasp the much greater impact a rapid convergence in technologies, processes, ideas and materials is having both on the shape of tomorrow and the narrative of the present.

Intuitively speaking, our ideas have been formed by a set of experiences and preconceptions about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable.   However, what we have witnessed over the last 12 months or more, is that a new and significant technology threshold has been crossed. We are always on the cusp of transformational change and the present is no different. So while businesses struggle to understand how to exploit new machine capabilities to their fullest, the machines are being made more capable still.

For most of us, the most obvious manifestation of these changes today are our smartphones. We take them for granted but nobody would have suggested thirty years ago that we would have powerful AIs in our pockets in the form of telephones? But now that it has happened it seems rather obvious and just wait until devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, speaking agent of Cloud-based intelligence, become pervasive, not simply in the home but in the workplace too? Machines are learning to learn and in the process, are proving that algorithms can be faster and more accurate than humans in developing new goal-oriented strategies and business processes.

These powerful new forces reshaping our world are forcing businesses to shrink around their core competencies, if indeed they can define these clearly anymore, and the technologies that will reshape the world in less than fifteen years? These probably haven’t been thought of yet. Consider the iPhone in 2007, and that dramatic quote from Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft: “There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance ...”

So, it’s not the availability of technology the that’s holding us back, rather it’s a conceptualization of how we might use all these new tools in an agile, opportunistic and profitable way; For many organisations, the next step among many involves not simply data and what we can now achieve with it, but unstructured ‘Big Data’ analysis, informing us in ways never previously imagined; think algorithms, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence(AI) for a start. Researchers at Google’s DeepMind, recently taught a computer system how to learn to play forty-nine simple Atari video games—not “how to play video games” but how to learn to play the games. This is a profound difference.

Very soon, everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and a new service layer on the edge of the Cloud that will soon run seamlessly across consumer devices, powered by AI. And that intelligent future, now fast appearing on the horizon, like a gathering tidal wave of information, one that looks more like Google or Amazon Web Services; invisible, cheap, reliable, digital intelligence running behind everything with an electric current.

This will change everything with much greater impact than the internet ever did and we will be spending the rest of our lives living in this future.


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