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The Megashifts

Part Two: Humanity vs Technology
by Gerd Leonhard

The Megashifts

Technology vs Humanity: The Megashifts

Because of exponential technological change and how its forces are combining with each other, these 10+ trends are absolutely essential to understand as they may create huge new opportunities – or challenge existing business models, social contracts or humanity at large.

Megashifts are more than paradigm shifts, which affect one sphere of human activity. Megashifts arrive suddenly to transform the basis of whole industries and societies. Megashifts do not replace the status quo with a new normal – they unleash continuously dynamic forces which unpredictably shape and reshape life as we know it. As such, Megashifts radically reconfigure the age-old relationship between our past, present and future. (Visit my new Megashifts.com microsite)

  • Digitization: Everything that can, will become digital.
  • Mobilisation: Computing is no longer happening at the desk – everything is mobile.
  • Screenification: All that can…will be screenified.
  • Disintermediation: Many traditional middlemen are suffering because technology makes it possible to ‘go direct.’ Examples include record labels, publishers, advertising (brands can now tell their stories without TV or print), etc.
  • Datafication: What used to happen between-people, i.e. not recorded or mediated, is now being turned into data, e.g. electronic medical records vs talking to the doctor.
  • Intelligization: Everything that used to be dumb is now becoming connected and intelligent, such as gas-pipelines, farms, cars, shipping containers, etc.
  • Automation: This is a huge factor in regards to technological unemployment.
  • Virtualisation: No longer just physical things in some room or location, but an ‘instance’ in the cloud – e.g. software-defined networking instead of local routers, or virtual friends such as Hello Barbie, etc.
  • Augmentation: Humans can increasingly use technology to augment themselves, i.e. to be omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and become kind of super-human. Augmentation examples include my smartwatch, smart Goggles, Augmented and Virtual Reality, intelligent digital assistants and (sooner or later) brain-computer interfaces BCIs and implants.
  • Anticipation: Software can now predict our behaviour, even crimes.
  • Robotization: Even many white-collar jobs will soon be done by robots.
  • De-humanization: Taking humans out of the equation by cutting a complex human task to its bare bones and giving it to machines.
  • Re-humanization: Finally realizing that your customers don’t buy technology – they buy relationships! Thus, brand value is defined by being more human, not less!

The Global Brain

Everything we do is already being tracked, logged, recorded and analysed – and this will only get worse. The largest technology companies around the world are all building their own ‘Cloud OS’ that can be thought of as a huge and constantly learning ‘brain.’ Billions of users contribute via data feeds and mobile devices. Facebook already runs a global social operating system (OS), and LinkedIn runs a work OS. Google is truly building a Global Brain, and they even call it that. A new company called VIV says that ‘intelligence is a utility’,  and IBM Watson wants to be the brain behind pretty much everything: medical/ health, legal, government, media/advertising, and energy.

What will happen to our own brains (think of it as a neural network of merely 100 Billion neurons capable of 10-quadrillion calculations per second) once we are constantly connected to the global brain? Will we become useless or irrelevant without it? Will we increasingly ‘forget ourselves’? And who is in charge? If your ability to calculate numbers mentally has weakened over time, if your skills in real-world orientation and sensing directions has atrophied as the Sat Navs have evolved, just think of this as the merest hint of what’s to come.

Is software (machines, robots, AI…) increasingly cheating the world?

Riffing off Marc Andreessen’s very prescient meme of ‘software is eating the world’ (2011 WSJ), I recently started worrying about whether in the near future a) software or algorithms will promise us things they can’t ever really deliver, or b) whether we will soon anthropomorphize technology way too much, i.e. increasingly feel (and act) that  these algorithms and machines are indeed kind of ‘human.’ In particular, the changing interfaces to powerful technologies such as the imminent shift to voice control will mean that we can actually interact with machines like we do with our friends – a trend which will only increase the confusion about what is real and what isn’t. Software could very well end up cheating us, i.e. offering something as great value that is actually not humanly valuable at all, such as all the ‘quantified self’ tools that are starting to appear everywhere now.

Beware Exponential Abdication, Deskilling and ‘Forgetting Ourselves’

The average pilot on the average commercial flight now spends less than 3 minutes actually flying the plane. Pilots ‘forgetting to fly’ has become a major concern for airlines as the so-called glass cockpit problem is growing exponentially — increased automation has made it virtually impossible for a human to jump into a dangerous situation in often less than 45 seconds, and still make the right decision.

Many people stopped trying to learn or even understand the city they live in because Google maps will always tell them where they are. Many people will not eat anywhere that TripAdvisor will not recommend. Millions of people will not sleep without their monitoring devices strapped to their wrists. Tens of millions of Facebook users in developing countries are certain that Facebook is actually the Internet. A new Bluetooth device measures the temperature of a pregnant woman’s birth canal in order to predict when contractions will set in. The first major accidents with self-driving cars are happening everywhere (you ain’t seen nothing yet) – and not because the car malfunctioned but because the driver over-estimated what the autopilot can actually do. Large corporations increasingly use HR analytics software (Happily, etc.) to measure the performance of their employees with thousands of data-feeds – and then decide who is dispensable based on that information (or who to hire, for that matter)!

Some Related ‘Gerd Statements’

“The future is like a box of chocolates. Before you know it there’s only one left.”
“Magic technologies corrupt. Exponential technology corrupts exponentially.”
“Everything that can be digitized, automated and virtualised, will be. Everything that cannot (human-only tasks!) will become extremely valuable.”

Find out more about the book on the  ‘Technology vs Humanity’ site or buy the book on Amazon (this link automatically takes you to your local Amazon site).


This is Part Two of a two-part series. Find Part One here.

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