The technological megashifts reshaping our world

Science fiction is increasingly science fact and exponential technological changes are rapidly altering our culture, business and society

Gerd Leonhard

ZURICH, Switzerland/ Troy Media/ – Science fiction is increasingly science fact and exponential technological changes are rapidly altering our culture, business and society.

Much of it is extremely promising – indeed, it has the potential to solve our biggest challenges, such as energy, water, diseases and global warming. But we are also facing myriad unintended consequences, such as the likelihood of widespread technological unemployment, a near-total loss of privacy and a dramatic dependency on technology.

The most powerful companies are no longer oil and gas enterprises or 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 and in combination – amplifying each other and reaching unprecedented magnitudes.

Megashifts are much more than paradigm shifts, which usually affect only one sphere of human activity. Megashifts radically reconfigure the age-old relationship between our past, present and future.

Here are some megashifts I expect in the next few years:

Digitization: Everything that can will become digital. Digitization creates abundance, which means lower costs. Yet it also means a scramble for new business models.

Mobilization: Computing is no longer at the desk. It is becoming like air: invisible, omnipresent and utterly indispensable.

Screenification: Everything that used to be physical (or printed) is now available on screens. A true #hellven challenge – is this heaven or hell?

Disintermediation: Technology increasingly makes it feasible to go direct, or indeed via new middlemen such as social media platforms or telecoms and mobile operators (such as Africa’s m-pesa, which is competing directly with banks).

Datafication: Much of what used to happen face-to-face is now being turned into data, e.g. electronic medical records versus talking to the doctor.

Intelligization or cognification: Everything that used to be dumb is now becoming connected and intelligent, such as gas pipelines, farms, cars, shipping containers, traffic lights, etc. 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 ill-prepared for it.

Virtualization: We no longer rely only on physical things in some room or location, but on 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.

Anticipation: Software can now anticipate and predict our behaviour, 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.

Dehumanization: Taking humans out of the equation by cutting a complex human task to its bare bones and giving it to machines.

Yet the most important megashift might soon be Rehumanization: Finally, are we just about to realize that our customers don’t buy technology, they buy relationships?

Technology is not what we seek, it’s how we seek – and we should embrace technology but not become it.

 

– Gerd Leonhard is a futurist and author of Technology vs. Humanity.