Where is technology headed? Here are six ideas and one key concept to consider before making any bets or making predictions.
2004? Facebook. 2005? YouTube. 2007? The iPhone. 2009? Bitcoin. At the end of every year, tech leaves us with a significant impression in our minds. DVD’s were all the rage in’ 98. Self-driving cars captured our imagination in 2012. For 2019 it’s got to be Phones and Drones.
1. Let’s Predict The Future
At any given point in time, when we look at the latest and greatest technology has to offer, we begin to imagine its future trajectory. If current tech can do this now, surely X can be done in the future — Not so fast partner.
Using current technology as a springboard to discover what the future holds is a risky business. Sometimes the breakthroughs of yesteryear last (Google’s domain is withus since 1997), and sometimes they disappear into the void technology past (MP3 players, also the class of ’97).
Technology’s most sneaky trait, disruption, is most difficult to predict, and it’s also ever-present. There is no knowing how long a particular technology will hold fast. Will it go through the expected S-curve and die of natural causes, or will a revolution take place that will render it unusable within a short time? Nokia surely wishes it had the answer.
2. You Can’t Escape The Future
Instead of looking at the tech itself, or the products manifested by this technology as potential future indicators, let us instead consider the advancements these technologies offer. Regardless of whether technologies change by slow death or by immediate disruption, usually what follows is a better version of what was previously possible.
In every business school, the fate of Kodak is taught as a cautionary tale for how it missed the digital photo revolution despite being the company that made it possible in the first place. It is easy to be critical in retrospect. Kodak didn’t miss the opportunity. It understood the disruptive nature of digital photography and chose to bury it deep underground. The learning here is to accept that if there is a better way of doing something, that better way will eventually prevail. There is no way to escape the future.
The better future indicator of technology is not the technology itself, as it may change, but the doors opened for doing things in a better way.
So, what is this better way?
3. What Current Tech Teaches Us
The two most significant technology capabilities of 2019 are two very different products: phones and drones. The first is going into its 46th year if we consider the early Motorola mobile phone, or its 27th birthday if we look at what is accepted as the world’s first smartphone
Off the bat, most of us would probably think of a much later date, perhaps June 2nd, 1997, the date on which Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone. Regardless, we can all agree that this is a very long time for a technology to exist and still play a role in our lives.
Drones also have a long history. The primitive hot air balloons the Austrian army used while besieging Venice in 1849, the radio-controlled Ruston Proctor Aerial Target of 1916, the Aerial Torpedoes of the 1930s—all variations of drones. Leaving fact and history aside, here too most of us would give a much later date, probably the first time we heard of a drone attack or met a DJI drone enthusiast.
2019 is coming to a close. In my view, both of these technologies hold the key to what lies ahead. Not because of their features and product variations, but based on the potential future these technologies represent of doing things better. And, interestingly, each one of these technologies is pointing in an opposing future direction.
The Better You
Mobile phones have become an extension of our bodies. They enable us to extend beyond our human limitations and reach new knowledge and capabilities. Can’t remember which states voted for the Democrats? Looking to book a dinner table? Want to find a quick route back home? What mobile phones represent is better access to knowledge, greater independence and authority in managing processes, and a better way to communicate.
In their essence, mobile phones and their accompanying apps help humans streamline everyday tasks. The more repeatable the task, the higher the value we can squeeze out of our phones. Mobile phones enable a better organized, utilized, and optimized person. Yes, these gadgets are a distraction, and when misused (overused?) can cause us to lose more then we gain, but they can also help us to do a hell of a lot more than we used to do without them — a better way of doing things.
The upcoming Microsoft SurfaceDou is yet another attempt at helping users “do more”:
5. The Better Machine
Drones, on the other hand, represent a completely different set of opportunities for doing things better. The critical feature of drones is their autonomy. The hardest thing about flying is, well, having to fly. It means placing a person in the flying device, which immediately defines the size and lift power of the flying apparatus or remotely controlling the flying machine, which adds to its complexity.
However, if the flying machine itself could fly, a whole world of opportunities opens up. And indeed, once machine learning, computer vision, situational awareness, and a few other vital capabilities are made possible, autonomous flight becomes a reality. We no longer need a person to be involved in the operation of the machine. To this end, the “better way of doing things” drones represent is automating processes, behaviors, environments, supply chains, and machines to function without human intervention. Drones are the indicator for the future of smart, connected, intelligent, and automated assets.
Skydio 2 is an example of an autonomous consumer drone. Which would you prefer, better tools to fly a drone or a drone that can fly itself?
6. One Possible Future
The core advancement smartphones represent is how technology can augment the capabilities of human beings. The human is still in charge. Empowered by digital tools, this human can do more.
The future (i.e., “the better way of doing things) drones indicate, is that of intelligent machines that do not need a human for operation, and to this end, can replace a human in specific tasks.
This capability is not about designing a car which is better for a driver; it’s about creating a vehicle that does not need a driver.
The easy answer would be that in the future, both capabilities will coordinate and play hand in hand. For some scenarios, it will be better to have humans in control. For other use cases, it will be more beneficial to let the machines hold the steering wheel.
Consider our history (and the start of this post). After all the twists and turns in the history of technology, the better way of doing things will prevail. Which is the better way, augmented human or the intelligent machine? The list of apps presented to the mobile phone owner increases by the day. But so does the list of professions in which machines overtake humans.
Someone has to be in control and make the decisions. Will it be you and your mobile device, or the future generation of the processor buried within the mobile device you now hold in your hand?