Last year, Simon Anderson, one of my favorite futurists–and a reverse mentor of sorts—said something that really resonated with me. He said, “2013 is the year the future arrived.”
In a literal sense, the future will always be, well, in the future; but let me provide you a glimpse into what Simon was driving at:
On April 16, MD3 announced a successful multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaign to build a 3-D printer for $299. To understand how revolutionary this may be, it helps to understand that just a few years ago 3D printers cost $100,000 and were owned and operated by only the largest companies in the world.
The same day, Amazon revealed it’s cloud computing services would be slashed by 40 percent. Why? Because continued advances in data storage make it possible for Amazon and other cloud providers to offer virtually unlimited data storage for pennies.
On Monday, Google announced the acquisition of Titan, a solar-powered drone company. Google’s purpose is to use Titan’s technology to help deliver high-speed Internet access to all 7 billion people on the planet.
Last Friday, researchers at Wake Forest announced they had grown human vaginas and successfully transplanted the organs in three patients.(If you’re wondering why a woman would need a vagina, there is a rare disease that leaves a few young women without one.)
The previous week Facebook announced the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift—an impressive and immersive 3-D virtual reality technology. The company was only an idea in a teenager’s head 18 months ago and now it is poised to transform a number of industries, including gaming, education and manufacturing.
Last month, the former president of Yale University, Richard Levin, was selected as the head of Coursera, an online university that is a mere two years old.
Affordable 3D printers, unlimited storage, grown human body parts, global Internet access, virtual reality goggles, and free high-quality online university courses. The list could go on–and it will!
Welcome to the future. It has arrived and it’s going to kick your ass if you don’t wake up to the fact that these advances are poised to change and disrupt virtually every industry.
If you are wondering what the first step you need to take in order to prepare for the future, it is this: Become aware of what’s already here today!
Interested in some other thoughts on this subject? Check out Jack’s latest article:
Business as Unusual: How to Prepare for the Coming Decade.
What will the coming decade look like? The honest answer is that no one knows. A glimpse, though, can be found in a promising new start-up, Oculus Rift. Eighteen months ago, Palmer Luckey was a teenager with a clever idea for a new business. Foregoing the traditional path of securing a bank loan, Luckey instead went to Kickstarter—a peer-to-peer lending platform—and, within days, raised $1 million from strangers. This success caught the attention of venture capitalists who quickly poured in $25 million to create a working prototype. So successful were the initial reviews of Oculus Rift’s virtual reality technology that Facebook purchased the company for $2 billion in March of 2014.
From an idea in a teenager’s head to a $2 billion company in less than a year-and-a-half, welcome to the future—where business as unusual will become usual.
The Big AHA
The pace and scale of tomorrow’s change begs the obvious question: How does a business leader prepare for a constantly changing future? The answer can be found in a simple acronym: AHA. It stands for: Awareness, Humility and Action.
First, leaders must become aware of the extraordinary changes taking place across today’s global landscape. For example, advances in nanotechnology are leading to the creation of new materials that can out-compete copper in terms of conductivity and steel in terms of strength. And soon, some of these exotic nanomaterials will even compete on price. Additionally, the extraordinary advances in 3D manufacturing show no signs of abating—Chinese manufacturers are already using a 12-meter 3D printer to create titanium aircraft wings and fuselages. Continued advances in wearable technology, robotics, big data and the Internet of Things also promise to transform global commerce. (In fact, the Internet of Things—also known as the Industrial Internet—has alone been estimated to be a $15 trillion business opportunity in the coming decade!)
Yield to Humility
Quick question: What two colors are yield sign? Did you say yellow and black? If so, that was the correct answer—up until 1971. That’s right. The yield sign has been red-and-white for 43 years. If you got the wrong answer, don’t worry—most people over the age of 40 do. Nevertheless, your outdated response should humble you enough to recognize that not everything you learned in the past about your business, your customers or your competitors is necessarily still true today. Consider, for example, how recent advances in hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling technology have changed the game in terms of global energy production within just the past few years. This startling change should serve as a reminder that the world—and even big industries—can change quickly due to unexpected technological advances. And when these advances scale, old ideas about business models as well as customer and market expectations may have to be unlearned quickly.
Once a leader is aware that the only “constant” in today’s world is change, and is humble enough to accept that unlearning will be as important as learning, what does he or she need to do to prepare for the future?
First, begin by setting aside time to think. Personally, I recommend taking an annual “Think Week.” Now, you’re probably thinking: “I don’t even have enough time to do all the things I need to do in day! How am I going to find a whole week just to think?” If that’s your mindset, what you’re essentially saying is that you can’t dedicate two percent of your time to think about the future. Well, if you’re not thinking about the future, who in your organization is? I’d argue that thinking is your most important job.
If one week a year is too hard, break the task down into smaller chunks. Take an hour a week, or 12 minutes a day, to read about advances on the periphery of your business in such publications as The Economist and MIT’s Technology Review and then reflect deeply on how various technological advances might disrupt your business or open up entirely new opportunities.
Another way to future-proof your company is to conduct a pre-mortem. A pre-mortem is the opposite of a post-mortem. Instead of waiting until your sales have plummeted, your old customers have left or a new competitor has ravaged your business to determine what went wrong, you take a more pro-active approach. Encourage your team to imagine it is ten years in the future and you are out of business. Then ask the provocative question: What went wrong? What didn’t we seeing coming? The dialogue this question unleashes will astound you. More interestingly, instead of it being a depressing question, it’ll generate a candid conversation about the threats and opportunities the changing world is creating and you can use these insights to take constructive actions to position your organization for the future.
By their nature, many of the actions are likely to be risky. I wish I could guarantee you that each one will be a success. I can’t. What will serve you well is a policy of conducting small experiments and pilot projects. In an ever changing world strategic planning is less and less helpful. What needs to replace strategic planning is a thoughtful policy of experimentation. Try new things, play with emerging technologies, and partner with different individuals and companies to exploit new technologies and explore new ways of doing business. There will, of course, be some setbacks and failures but there may also be some surprising successes. If you learn from the mistakes and build upon the small successes, your future might just be unusually successful.
Jack Uldrich is a professional futurist, best-selling author, keynote speaker and the “Chief Unlearning Officer” of the School of Unlearning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612.267.1212.
Yesterday, I delivered the opening keynote presentation at the American Technical Education Association’s 51st annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. The title of my talk was “The Ten Trends Transforming the Technical Education of Tomorrow.”
To demonstrate how fast the world of technical (and higher) education is changing I explained how Oculus Rift–a promising virtual reality technology company–literally went from an idea to $2 billion company in less than 20 months. I then shared this quote from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal to explain how Oculus Rift could transform education in the very near future: “We’re going to make Oculus Rift a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers or consulting with a doctor face-to-face–just by putting on goggles in your home.”
If you think this vision of using virtual reality goggles to educate people is far off, watch the video clip below which demonstrates how Tesla CEO Elon Musk is already using Oculus Rift to transform the future of design and manufacturing:
Interested in thought pieces on the future of education from Jack Uldrich? Check out these past posts:
Global Futurist Jack Uldrich Discusses the Future of Higher Education
Five Trends Affecting the Future of Higher Education
Harvard’s Plan to Dominate Higher Education
A common and popular vision of the Internet of Things—which I loosely define as the connection of billions of physical objects to the Internet through the use of low-cost sensors—is the example of an alarm clock smart enough to read your daily schedule, review the latest traffic and weather reports and then communicate this information to your coffee maker in such a way that you’ll be able to maximize your sleep while still getting to work on time with a piping hot cup of java in your hands. This vision of the future is entirely possible but it sells short the true potential of the Internet of Things (IoT).
A more comprehensive vision is one where a world of inexpensive sensors—embedded in your eating utensils, pajamas, mattress and home lighting system, etc.—work in concert to monitor and measure everything from your diet to your sleep behavior, and then use this information to modify your future actions in beneficial ways. For example, the system could tell you to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume after 6pm as well as train your bedroom lights to gradually increase their brightness the precise moment you come out of REM sleep.
The two scenarios might not seem that different but I’d argue that they are and the difference hints at the broader potential of the IoT. In the first example, sensors are collecting current information to modify present behavior. In the latter scenario, a myriad of sensors still collect information from present activities and actions but they now combine it with detailed records from your past behaviors to help shape a healthier, happier and more productive future. In other words, you’ll still get to work on time but in the future you’ll do it in a way that not only leaves you feeling refreshed for the day but healthier for the long term.
Here then are nine additional and unexpected ways the Internet of the Things may modify the future:
1. A New Literacy for the 21st Century. For the better part of the past three decades, educators have rightly placed an increased emphasis on computer literacy. Due to the IoT, however, the tide will turn away from making humans “computer literate” and instead toward making technology more “human literate.” One of the acronyms sure to become more prominent in the future is “IfTTT”. It stands for If This Then That and it hints at how technology—with the help of sensors—will start getting out of our way and begin doing what we want. For example, if you leave your house then your lights will turn off, the air conditioner will be lowered, your pet’s food bowl filled, and the security system activated. The individuals, companies and corporations that facilitate this smarter future will be the ones to thrive and prosper. Put another way, if you embrace how the IoT will create more triggers (the “ifs”) then you’ll appreciate how IfTTT can create more that’s—in the form of desired actions.
2. A Plethora of New Business Models. The convergence of the Internet and social networking platforms have created a number of new businesses and business models in the “shared economy” space—think Airbnb, ZipCar and Uber—but the IoT will place this revolution into hyper-drive. Sensors on automobiles, lawnmowers, and in spare bedrooms will make it even easier for would-be consumers to know whether near-by products are available for rent. And soon—thanks to sensor-based indoor positioning systems such as iBeacon—it will become even easier for these micro-entrepreneurs to accept micropayments. Longer term, in a world where even your clothing is embedded with sensors, expect entrepreneurial fitness coaches to use the information to keep athletes and exercise enthusiasts physically engaged and motivated throughout the day. Also, insurance and healthcare companies may soon request the right to monitor your daily movements in exchange for the promise of lower insurance rates or health premiums—provided your activity level meets their thresholds for the discounted rates.
3. A “Smarter” Transportation Debate. In legislative halls around the world countless elected officials, lobbyists and concerned citizens are debating whether governments should devote more public resources to the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges to facilitate an auto-centric vision of the future, or whether public resources should instead be allocated on buses and mass transit systems. This debate will continue to rage, but the IoT will enable a different—and smarter—discussion. In a world where automobiles are embedded with sensors and users have constant access to smartphones that can either easily locate people willing to share open seats in their cars (for the right price) or make their car available for rent for short periods of time, the number of people owning automobiles and overall usage may drop precipitously and negate the need for either more roads, buses or mass transit. In fact, in the not-too-distant future, many communities may find themselves “over-infrastructured” and begin to convert excess parking lots into green spaces.
4. You Will Care More About the Little Things. Even if you know you should brush your teeth twice a day for two-minutes you probably don’t closely track this activity. When your toothbrush is smart enough to do this for you, the result may be different and you may adhere more closely to the proper regimen. Something similar could happen when your smart thermostat informs you that you keep the temperature in your apartment three degrees higher than your neighbors—and this behavior is costing you an extra $58 a month during the winter. And when your fork and spoon become smarter? Well, let’s just say smaller and healthier portions may be in your future.
5. Goodbye “Senior Moments,” Hello Increased Independence. As ever more sensors are embedded in mundane products such as carpets, shoes and jewelry, one of the more practical implications is that seniors will be able to live independently in their homes and apartments for longer periods of time. Instead of fearing that no one will come to their aid if they fall, they will grow increasingly confident that their environment will be smart enough to know when a problem has arisen and contact the appropriate people for assistance. The IoT may even detect signs of a future problem. (A “smart” shoe may, for example, detect a change in the wearer’s gait and understand this is a strong indication of a worsening hip condition and a potential fall). Moreover, as prescription medications, house keys, and ovens are connected to the IoT the number of “senior moments”—e.g. forgetting to take one’s daily medication, losing keys or not remember to turn off the stove—will dissipate.
6. 85 Will Become the New 65 as Boomers Stave Off Aging. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first “smart pill”—a tiny digestible device capable of monitoring and reporting on activity taking place inside the human body. In 2013, Qualcomm and Intel both announced major health care initiatives to take advantage of their computer chip processor technology for the purpose of detecting diseases earlier; and, in 2014, Google unveiled a smart contact lens capable of monitoring a diabetic’s glucose levels. All three developments point toward a future where people can monitor their health in such a way as to proactively prevent problems from ever occurring and, thus, stay healthier for longer periods of time. One company, in fact, is already exploring how the IoT could use sensors deployed in the body of a patient with a weak heart to send a “heart attack ringtone” to the user’s smartphone to warn him or her of an impending heart attack.
7. Seeing Water and Carbon Everywhere. California and portions of Brazil are in the throes of severe droughts, and water restrictions and rationing are becoming commonplace. The droughts could be a harbinger of what may soon occur around the world as populations, economic development and climate change converge to place increased stress on the world’s already limited freshwater supply. One of the benefits of the IoT is that farmers, manufacturers, citizens and lawmakers alike will be able to more accurately monitor and measure things such as water usage and carbon dioxide output. Consider, for example, that it has been estimated that 1,800 gallons of water are necessary to produce a single pound of beef. With exports of meat from the U.S to China growing rapidly this implies the U.S. is “shipping” massive amounts of water to China—albeit disguised in the form of meat. As a result of the IoT’s ability to more precisely calculate this water usage—which many experts think the figure is much higher than 1800 gallons—policy makers may begin rethinking the wisdom of subsidizing meat exports. Alternatively, the true cost of water may more effectively be incorporated into the price of beef. On the home front, citizens may soon connect sensors on their sprinklers with sensors embedded in the soil in order to tell them the most opportune time to water their lawn. They may even have those sensors access the latest local weather information to determine whether it is even necessary to water because they’ll know if rain is coming soon. (Similar insights and actions will likely occur when sensors can detect the precise amount of carbon dioxide that power plants, agri-businesses, commercial buildings and automobile owners are contributing to the atmosphere.)
8. Better Wine. For decades, selecting fine wines has been the purview of individuals such as Robert Parker, sommeliers and wine enthusiasts. Contrary to what these individuals may like you to believe their ability to determine which wines will be great tasting isn’t that good. What has been demonstrated to be an effective indicator of future fine wines is accurate information about the rainfall and temperatures in which the harvested grapes were grown. In a world where sensors will soon be on nearly every vine, average consumers will not only know where to find the best tasting wines, they’ll no longer have to guess whether that $15 glass of chardonnay is really twice the value of the $8 glass at their local bistro.
9. Shorter Lines and No More Crying Over Spoiled Milk. Advances in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, near-field communication (NFC) technology, and other emerging platforms such as iBeacon are currently being used by innovative early adopters in the retail industry to allow consumers to pay for items directly from their smartphone. As these technologies improve and more retailers and consumers get comfortable with the technology, the well-known ritual of whipping out a credit card, sliding it through a payment terminal and signing a physical piece of paper will become as rare as finding a full service gas station. The short-term benefit: Shorter and faster moving lines at retail establishments. Mid-term, as the price of sensors and RFID chips continues to drop, and the devices are placed inside packaging, you can expect to stop wandering aimlessly through the grocery store in search of that obscure spice that a new recipe calls for because you’ll be able to get in-store directions directly to the item. And longer term, when the sensor in your milk carton is smart enough to detect if the milk is running low or about to spoil it will simply place an order to an entrepreneurial new mobile milk delivery service and a new carton of milk, along with the rest of the items your automated grocery list, will be delivered before you even knew you needed it.
Such visions may seem far off, unlikely to occur or, perhaps, even undesirable. A good way to think about where the IoT is headed is to contemplate where GPS technology was at the turn of the century. In 2000, President Clinton signed an executive order allowing GPS data to be used for commercial purposes. At the time, the accuracy level wasn’t very good and everyday uses—such as navigation systems capable of telling you turn right in 50 yards—seemed like science fiction. Today, such uses are commonplace and deeply valued by many users. Another way to consider the future of the IoT is to contemplate where artificial intelligence—in the form of technologies such as Apple’s Siri or Google Now—were in 2012. Just two years after their introduction the technology has already become the equivalent of an affordable personal assistant for many people, and it’s getting smarter every day. (Expect by the end of the year for artificial intelligence to be able to book flight, hotel and rental car reservations for you). In this same way, we are now just in the early days of the Internet of Things and as it matures its new capabilities will be astonishing. Don’t just expect to told where to turn or when to book your flight, expect to have these actions taken for you before you even think or know to take them yourself.
Jack Uldrich is a renowned global futurist, popular keynote speaker and best-selling author. His website is www.jumpthecurve.net and he can be reached at email@example.com.
As a futurist, I am frequently asked, “What will the future look like?”
My response, in two words, is: predictably unpredictable.
This then begs the question: How does a person prepare for such a paradoxical future?
The answer lies in embracing other paradoxes such as learning to unlearn, thinking about the unthinkable, embracing failure as a key component of success, and acknowledging that an awareness of one’s ignorance is a key component of wisdom.