“Our world is entering a period of truly transformative change where many of us will be surprised by the scale and pace of developments we simply hadn’t anticipated.”
This is a challenge for business owners the world over. It’s also the opening line of Technology vs. Humanity: The coming clash between man and machine, futurist Gerd Leonhard’s “spirited manifesto” for how we as humans should take a holistic approach to the ever-evolving future. He defines our role as “ethical stewards” as we reach a crucial point on technology’s exponential curve.
If that all sounds a bit complicated, that’s because, well, it is. As advances such as AI, IoT, machine intelligence and deep learning start to “intersect and amplify each other,” the challenges – and benefits – of converging technologies are mounting.
The 10 megashifts in technology
At the heart of Technology vs. Humanity is a list of 10 great shifts that are transforming the landscape – which Leonhard calls “Megashifts.”
- Digitization: Everything that can be digitized will be, from music (think Spotify) to travel (think Uber and Airbnb). This is already well underway, particularly in forward-thinking businesses.
- Mobilization: Computing is no longer tied to a computer, and soon next-to-limitless connectivity will become the new normal. This is driven by smartphones and more adventurous technologies, such as 5G.
- Screenification: Interfaces are increasingly moving to screens, whether supplanting buttons and dials on your car dashboard or replacing the print version of your morning newspaper.
- Disintermediation: This is “disruption by going direct” – cutting out the middle man and adopting peer-to-peer models (such as PayPal and Amazon Kindle Publishing).
- Transformation: Digital transformation is already the core of almost everyone’s business model today – requiring massive amounts of foresight and courage.
- Intelligization: Things are becoming intelligent – and rather than programming them to follow instructions, we’re moving toward giving them processing power, access to data, a set of rules and a simple command, and then letting them work.
- Automation: The key to hyper-efficiency is automation, and with AI and machine learning becoming more effective, it will soon be integral to business – and when one process is automated, it causes a chain reaction in other processes.
- Virtualization: From desktops and servers to software-defined networking, virtualization is, by some estimates, capable of delivering savings of up to 90 percent.
- Anticipation: As digital assistants and sensor-driven technologies get more intelligent, they’ll be able to start anticipating our needs more effectively – which, Leonhard argues, is simultaneously efficient and invasive.
- Robotization: The culmination of these megashifts is moving toward entirely new creations – robots that are becoming increasingly useful, likeable and accessible.
According to Leonhard, “the biggest shifts will happen because of combinatorial innovation” – the companies that take advantage of multiple megashifts and disruptive elements will be the ones that make the biggest leaps.
There’s a strong warning throughout Leonard’s book: that “we must invest as much energy in furthering humanity as we do in developing technology.” In short: don’t lose sight of how important people are.
Leonhard asks: “what can we automate that won’t replace innate and indispensable human processes, conversations and flows?” As automation becomes the norm for companies seeking cost savings and efficiencies wherever possible, we should also identify which tasks are – and should remain – uniquely human.
After all, the best inventions and innovations are always driven by people, and it’s vital that we don’t forget that.
Leonhard suggests that, in an infinitely more complex tech space, businesses might move away from traditional KPIs – numbers-based assessments of factors such as lead conversions or unit sales – and toward what he calls “Key Human Indicators,” which take a “more holistic and ecosystemic approach to gauging people’s contributions.”
The balance that will be required
Finding this balance between technological and human advancement will be a delicate process. As Leonhard says, “it’s no longer just about disruption. It’s also about construction.”
Throughout the book, he delves deeper into the ethical considerations of ever-advancing tech, offering speculative guidelines for maintaining human rights as technology becomes ubiquitous in both business and consumer spaces.
According to Leonhard, the approach we take going forward must be “open yet critical, scientific yet humanistic, adventurous and curious yet armed with precaution, and entrepreneurial yet collectively-minded.” For businesses, that means taking every opportunity to advance, but examining exactly how new technologies will support society, as well as market capitalization.