We live in a fast-paced world where technology changes our lives daily. For some it’s invigorating. For others it’s intimidating if not terrifying. With news about AI (artificial intelligence) getting smarter and more accurate, self-driving cars and trucks becoming more reliable, and neural networks communicating directly with people’s brains, it’s easy to see how people are getting nervous.
That change is coming is inevitable. What we do with it and how we handle it will determine our future.
History of Innovation
Much has changed in the last 200 years. The industrial age brought new technologies and processes that completely changed how work was done. More recently, the technology world we live has completely changed at least three times: IBM was the major power in the early days. Microsoft took over the market from IBM and ruled the PC era. Then came Google, Amazon and Facebook that built their businesses on free (open source) software. They are the major players today, reducing Microsoft to a diminished shadow of its former self. New companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are changing the landscape yet again.
What does all this mean? Where do we go from here? Where will we end up? There’s no definitive answer to these questions. Fortunately, there is a new book that puts it all into perspective – WHAT’S THE FUTURE AND WHY IT’S UP TO US by Tim O’Reilly. This book is so insightful and has brought so much new wisdom on the topic of what technology has done, is doing and will do in the future I cannot begin to do it justice in a blog post. I will include key elements that both inspire and give reason to look to the future with optimism. “Be curious and treat curiosity and wonder as a guide to the future.”
Using the Right Maps
A major theme of the book is using the right maps. Maps describe the world around us, they help us see the world around us in a way that makes sense. For example, Tim wrote an essay that described Web2.0, for which he became known as a futurist because he identified so many of the trends that came together in the next generation of computing (after the dot com bust). But, he says, “I didn’t predict the future, I drew a map of the present that identified the forces shaping the technology and business landscape.” Using the right map is important to seeing clearly into the future.
Platforms are changing rapidly. Firms (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb) subcontract to individuals taking a percentage of the fee, thus cutting out the middleman; they use technology to eliminate the jobs that used to be an enormous hierarchy of middle management, or firms acting as suppliers, replacing them with a relatively flat network-based reputation systems and marketplace dynamics.
“Bit by bit, the global brain is getting a body. It has eyes and ears and billions of connected cameras and microphones. Data is coming in ways we never imagined. It’s changing the world we live in and the work we do.”
Focusing on the jobs that are lost is a mistake. Jobs are not lost so much as they are displaced and transformed. Uber and Lyft now deploy more drivers (many part time) than the entire prior taxi industry combined. Though banks have far few tellers per bank because of ATMs, many more banks have popped up, thus creating more jobs that before.
What about government, could it become a platform? O’Reilly says government should take the same approach as Apple, who created the platform on which apps can run. The vast majority of the apps are created by other people/companies who benefit. The consumers of the apps also benefit. And billions of dollars of value have been created through the Apple platform. If the government was run such that it was a platform on which anyone could build and offer services to pubic, where it was competitive, and the public could choose what services they wanted to use, costs would go down and services levels would increase.
A “thick marketplace” is the key to successful platforms. It requires both producers (e.g. app creators for the Apple App store) and consumers (people who want to buy the products/services).
Additional Thoughts and Ideas (somewhat random)
Education must become a life-long endeavor. The k-12-college approach to education is a relic of the industrial age and no longer applies in our current world.
One overriding theme is that people won’t be replaced—i.e. the work we do—as long as we keep learning, look toward the future and keep moving forward.
Wealth will grow—and people’s lives will improve—as new companies are created to provide high-end products and services.
Will the economy of the future be based on what people pay to do in the leisure time? O’Reilly believes this is key to an expanding economy over the long term.
Work on something that matters to you more than money. You should regard money as fuel for what you really want to do, not the goal itself.
Algorithmic fact checking doesn’t replace human judgement, it amplifies our power to exercise it, in much the same way as earth-moving equipment amplifies our muscles.
“If we let machines put us out of work, it will be because of a failure of imagination and a lack of will to make a better future.”
Questions: What about the future excites you? What scares you? What opportunities do you see for yourself in the future? Please leave a comment in the space below.
The Product Management Perspective: Building new products is all about the future. You know it and love it…that’s why you’re a product manager.