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The Megashifts Reshaping Our World
By Gerd Leonhard, Futurist and Author of Technology vs Humanity
Exploring a a key theme in Technology vs Humanity
And you thought Digital Transformation was the only new kid on the block?
Science fiction is increasingly becoming science fact and exponential technological change is rapidly changing our culture, business and society. Much of it is extremely promising and has the potential to solve our biggest challenges such as energy, water and global warming, while we are facing a myriad of unintended consequences such as the likelihood of widespread technological unemployment, a total loss of privacy and dramatic dependency on technology.
The most powerful companies are no longer the oil and gas companies or the banks, they are the big data / big internet companies and platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu and Tencent. These players are propelled to supremely dominant positions by what I call the Megashifts, a dozen or so drivers that are unfolding exponentially as well as combinatorially - amplifying each other.
Any organization looking to understand exponential thinking and to achieve future-readiness must have a clear picture of what these shifts mean, and what opportunities or threats may arise from them.
Megashifts are much more than paradigm shifts which usually affect only one sphere of human activity. They arrive suddenly to transform the basis and framework of entire industries and societies. Megashifts do not replace the status quo with a new normal – they unleash dynamic forces which reshape life as we know it. Megashifts radically reconfigure the age-old relationship between our past, present and future. (Visit my new Megashifts.com microsite to stay tuned).
Here are some of them:
Digitization: everything that can be will become digital. Information and media were the first, now it’s banking and financial services, transportation and mobility, health and government, and soon, energy. Digitization always creates abundance (witness the near-zero cost of a song on Spotify vs iTunes or CDs) which means much lower costs for consumers yet also a mad scramble for new business models because distribution or access is no longer an issue.
Mobilization: computing is no longer at the desk – everything is becoming mobile, and soon wearable or ‘hearable’. Computing is becoming ‘like air’, invisible, omnipresent - utterly indispensable.
Screenification is very much related to the previous two Megashifts: everything that used to be physical is now on screens. This also means that things are becoming increasingly mediafied (medialized); what used to be between people (such as conversations in foreign languages) can soon be done via a screen (such as a translation app like SayHi, Waverly Labs Pilot etc). A true #hellven challenge –is this a good thing, or a mixed bag?
Disintermediation: many incumbent middlemen are suffering because technology increasingly makes it feasible to go direct, or indeed via new middlemen such as social media platforms. Examples include record labels (musicians now launch their careers via Youtube) publishers and advertising (brands can increasingly tell their stories via digital / social media i.e. without mass-media TV or print) and consumer banking where millennials increasingly use mobile platforms and apps to make payments and organize their finances.
Datafication: much of what used to happen face to face i.e. things that were not recorded or mediated, is now being turned into data, e.g. electronic medical records vs talking to the doctor - the connected hiking boot that tells the store it needs new shoelaces, or the grocery delivery service that tracks all its products.
Intelligization or Cognification (as Kevin Kelly terms it): everything that used to be dumb is now becoming connected and intelligent, such as gas pipelines, farms, cars, shipping containers, traffic lights etc. This connectivity allows for intelligence to be derived from the aggregate output of hundreds of millions of sensors and devices - once artificial intelligence learns from this flood of data we will have a vastly different way of reading, seeing and directing the world.
Automation: the result of smart machines will be widespread technological unemployment. Everything that can be automated will be - including science and engineering. I believe this is actually a huge opportunity rather than a threat, but we are currently ill-prepared for it.
Virtualization: no longer just physical things in some room or location but an instance in the cloud e.g. software defined networking instead of local routers, virtual friends such as Hello Barbie etc.
Augmentation: humans can increasingly use technology to augment themselves i.e. to be omniscient, omnipotent, superhuman. Examples include my smart watch, smart Goggles, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Intelligent Digital Assistants and (sooner or later) Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) and implants.
Anticipation: software (IA/AI) can now anticipate and predict our behavior; thus changing the way maps, email and online collaboration work.
Robotization: even many white-collar jobs will soon be done by robots. Robots are leaving their industrial cages and entering our daily lives and homes.
De-humanization: taking humans out of the equation by cutting a complex human task to its bare bones and giving it to machines.
But the most important Megashift might soon be Re-humanization: finally we are just about to realize that our customers don’t buy technology – they buy relationships. Maybe this is the driving force behind the recent Partnership on AI to benefit people and society, initiated by FAMIG (Facebook/Amazon/Microsoft/IBM/Google).
Technology is not what we seek, it’s how we seek.
We should embrace technology but not become it.