In Part 1 and Part 2 of this 4-part series, I discussed some of the trends that are predicted to create both disruptions and opportunities for businesses and individuals in the coming years. In the next two posts, I want to discuss some of the technologies that are going to spur those opportunities and disruptions. “One of the main drivers of economic growth through the millennia has been technology,” writes Felicity Duncan, Managing Editor at Moneyweb. “Technologies like seed planting and the plough made the turn to agriculture possible, technologies to harness fossil fuels ignited the Industrial Revolution. Technology has also transformed healthcare, our societies and families (think birth control pills), and the transformations just keep coming (my iPhone does more than the communicators on Star Trek!). Looking ahead, it’s interesting to imagine what’s next.” [“Three disruptive technologies that will change your life,” mybroadband, 26 May 2013] She continues, “Recently, McKinsey interviewed Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, asking him to predict what technologies will have the greatest impact on our world in the near future. He came up with three main ones.” Those three technologies were: Digital biology; new material and methods in manufacturing (e.g., 3D printing); and smarter computers.
If you think three seems like an unreasonably small number of technologies that will have a future impact, you’re probably right. McKinsey & Company analysts, James Manyika, Michael Chui, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Peter Bisson, and Alex Marrs, write, “The relentless parade of new technologies is unfolding on many fronts. Almost every advance is billed as a breakthrough, and the list of ‘next big things’ grows ever longer. Not every emerging technology will alter the business or social landscape — but some truly do have the potential to disrupt the status quo, alter the way people live and work, and rearrange value pools.” [“Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” 1 May 2013] In fact, they identified “12 technologies that could drive truly massive economic transformations and disruptions in the coming years.” In this post, I’ll discuss six of those twelve technologies and will discuss the rest in the next post. Before that discussion, however, I’d like to point out the criteria that McKinsey analysts used to select their 12 candidates. First, the technology had to be “rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs.” Second, the technology’s “potential scope of impact” had to be broad. Third, the technology had to have “significant economic value.” Finally, that economic impact had to be “potentially disruptive.” They began their effort with over 100 potential candidates and, using that criteria, whittled their list to the magnificent dozen. The details concerning these technologies were drawn from the executive summary of their report.
1. Mobile Internet
The authors note, “In the United States, an estimated 30 percent of Web browsing and 40 percent of social media use is done on mobile devices; by 2015, wireless Web use is expected to exceed wired use.” But it’s not in the United States (or the larger developed world) where the mobile Internet is going to have its greatest impact. As the authors state, “In developing economies, the mobile Internet could bring billions of people into the connected world.” For the most part, emerging and frontier market countries have leapfrogged into the mobile age and there is no turning back. Some analysts have even begun writing eulogies for the desktop PC.
2. Automation of Knowledge Work
The authors write, “Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural user interfaces (e.g., voice recognition) are making it possible to automate many knowledge worker tasks that have long been regarded as impossible or impractical for machines to perform.” At Enterra Solutions, for example, we offer automated business analytic solutions that perform tasks that used to require business domain experts, statistical experts, and data programmers. Enterra’s approach empowers the business expert by automating the statistical expert’s and data programmer’s knowledge and function, so that the analytical cycle can be dramatically shortened and more insights can be auto-generated. That doesn’t mean that statisticians and programmers are no longer needed. They help create the programs that automate processes that can be used by business people.
3. Internet of Things
The authors write, “The Internet of Things — embedding sensors and actuators in machines and other physical object to bring them into the connected world — is spreading rapidly.” In Part 2 of this series, Daniel Burrus identified the Internet of Things as a trend. Here, the McKinsey analysts label it a technology. It’s probably both. The Internet of Things is also referred to as the Internet of Everything and the Industrial Internet. The important point is that machines are going to be communicating with each other on networks that humans seldom use and their network will be larger than ours. For more on this topic, read my post entitled Machine-to-Machine Communication.
Cloud technology is another area that Burrus labels a trend and McKinsey analysts label a technology. The McKinsey researchers write, “With cloud technology, any computer application or service can be delivered over a network or the Internet, with minimal or no local software or processing power required.” Cloud technology is one of those areas that is having impact because of its rapid growth. The authors write, “The cloud in enabling the explosive growth of Internet-based services, from search to streaming media to offline storage of personal data (photos, books, music), as well as the background processing capabilities that enable mobile Internet devices to do things like respond to spoken commands to ask for directions.” In other words, every computer connected to the cloud can be a supercomputer because the processing power is located in the cloud.
5. Advanced Robotics
Advanced robotics was also a trend identified by Burrus. He predicted that, in the future, “robots will work with humans in new and productive ways.” The McKinsey researchers write, “More advanced robots are gaining enhanced senses, dexterity, and intelligence, thanks to accelerating advancements in machine vision, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, sensors, and actuators.” Like Burrus, they believe that robots will work side-by-side with humans. As robots become more sophisticated, they write, it will become more “practical to deploy them safely alongside workers.” They warn, however, “These advances could make it practical to substitute robots for human labor in more manufacturing tasks, as well as in a growing number of service jobs, such as cleaning and maintenance.” In fact, worker displacement is a far more likely scenario than worker enhancement. Maintaining robots will create some jobs; but, far more are likely to be lost than gained on the factory floor.
6. Next-generation Genomics
The authors write, “Next-generation genomics marries advances in the science of sequencing and modifying genetic material with the latest big data analytics capabilities.” As noted above, this was one of the three technologies highlighted by Schmidt. Paraphrasing what he said, Duncan writes, “The vast amounts of data we have collected (and are collecting) on biological processes, such as the data gathered by the Human Genome Project, will be used to run simulations of biological processes that will enable us to predict how diseases will unfold for particular people, how brains will respond to particular drugs, how particular genes will affect the development of children and so on. This will revolutionize the way we approach chronic and genetic diseases, and may even help us build better human beings using gene therapies. As populations live longer, changes to how we use data in biology may have a very dramatic impact on the quality of those now-longer lives.”
One thread that runs through the first six technologies identified by McKinsey analysts is connectivity. That connectivity is complemented by artificial intelligence and increased processing power that will generate even more breakthroughs in the future. In the final segment of this series, I’ll discuss the remaining six technologies identified in the McKinsey report.