Ade McCormack
Ade McCormack
Founder
Digital Readiness Institute

Ade McCormack is a former technologist who today advises leaders on transformational matters. Most recently, he has established the Centre for Leadership and Disruption Readiness to help organisations and societies adapt to an unknowable future.(www.c4ldr.org) .

He has written for both CIO magazine and the Financial Times as a columnist focusing on digital age leadership. His experience extends to around four decades and forty countries, across many sectors. 

Ade has written a number of books, including Biz 4.0: An anthropological blueprint for business in the digital age. He has also lectured at MIT Sloan School of Management on digital leadership and is an associate at the Møller Institute, University of Cambridge.

This article is by Featured Blogger Ade McCormack from his Blog Page. Republished with the author’s permission.  

Technology wasn’t always brushed chrome and beeps. The technology industry’s roots go back over two million years to when our ancestor first picked up a rock for the purposes of using it as an implement. That coincided with our realisation that augmenting technology could increase our chances of survival. Need a shelter, rock. Need a fire, rock. Need to resolve a protracted dispute, rock.

So via the wheel and the printing press, we have reached a point where we carry the world’s knowledge in our pocket and we harbour concerns as to whether our carpet cleaning robot is having thoughts of insurrection.

The question is where do we go next? There seems to be a correlation with technology and survival. Those individuals, organisations and nations with the best tech are thriving. Or at least feeling less threatened. Having nuclear capability means never having to say you are sorry.

Survival – Done that

From the individual perspective, in many countries, the issue of survival is no longer concern number one. Comfort appears to be the primary ‘care about’. Productivity has also become important. Not just from a corporate perspective, but personally too. Why spend hours hunting for food, when you can jump straight into your overpowered 4 x 4 and travel the 100 metres to the megastore and pick up a shrink-wrapped hare or small deer?

The maker of that 4 x 4 has turned what is essentially a transportation exoskeleton into a fully furnished mobile lounge.

So comfort and productivity are strong indicators of what will shape technology going forward.

Many of us today no longer endure regular near-death experiences. However, thanks to our acquisition of things, our personal concerns are now projected onto our belongings. As you enter the downward dog position, you feel the stretch on your lower calves. For some reason your brain decides that this is the perfect time to scenario plan someone breaking into your holiday home or running their key along the side of your status-signalling vehicle car.

Save Our Stuff!

So our survivability concerns have shifted to our stuff. In many respects, our neurological wiring has not changed since our ancestors roamed the Rift Valley. As living organisms, we are wired to sense, decide and act. Deficiencies in any of these areas could have meant death for our ancestors. The inability to hear the furtive steps of a sabertoothed tiger had consequences. But even highly attuned senses were of no value if you were scatter-brained / indecisive.

And even if you were a 20/20 vision Mensa help desk operative, inaction would again proof costly.

So the future of technology in my view will major on the following:

  • Comfort.
  • Productivity.
  • Sensing.
  • Decision making.
  • Acting.

Looking at each of these in turn:

Comfort

Expect personalisation in respect of clothing, furniture and cubicle design. Think orthopaedic and temperature regulation. Genetics will have a role to play. Think DNA-sensitive restaurants, gyms, fitness apps and media.

Mouth pleasure will continue to be big business. So food optimised to give you the biggest legal neural hit will become more prevalent. So expect a lot of activity in the neuroscience / food science world.

Productivity

Robots will play an increasing role in handling the more tedious aspects of our lives. Let them drive down to the superstore and pick up the hare.

The smartphone eliminated the need to sit by a terminal to access the Internet. The smartwatch has saved us a few calories and time in respect of not having to even reach for our phone. The next step is to have direct neural access to the Internet. Staring at a QR code or its equivalent will be enough to bring the Internet up on your mental screen. There will be some issues around introducing content to reality. Augmented and virtual reality advances are no doubt dealing with this.

Smart contact lenses will be an intermediate step before direct-to-brain connectivity.

Office productivity tools will become more integrated with the workers personal analytics. Expect your word processing app to freeze if your ‘words to steps’ ratio takes you into the health risk zone.

Sensing

Chance encounters with business acquaintances will no longer require recollective brain wrenching. Machine learning technology will quickly establish who they are and will pull up their LinkedIn profile. As you walk past strangers, their risk profiles will be displayed as an aura colour.

Given all the smart devices you will likely have in your home, the malware vendors will develop property-based solutions. Cyber and physical solutions may well start to converge. Think garden patrolling guard-bot equipped to use reasonable force. 

In respect of health, imagine answering the door to find a paramedic armed with a defibrillator who in the most respectful tone informs you of your impending heart attack, followed by the numbers five, four, three…..

As you hit the deck, you briefly reflect on the importance of wearing that insurer mandated ‘vitals sensitive’ undergarment. With this level of intimacy between insurer and customer, it would come as no surprise that your policy requires you to use their approved intelligent toilet paper. 

Beyond the bathroom, expect some degree of convergence with real estate, insurance and security technologies. Smart city / region sensing technologies will become more prevalent. Think traffic flow management and pre-crime.

Decision making

AI has a significant role to play here, as has social media. The integration of what your personal analytics data suggests and what your friends think will play a big part in what you choose to order at Starbucks.

The dating apps will extend into the physical world. As you excitedly approach the suggested match with eyes wide open, the app uses your clothing to detect what your senses are trying to tell you. It can distinguish between excitement and signs of fear or misgivings.

Your vibrating underwear might well be a sign to get the hell out of Dodge.

Governments will use their ubiquitous sensing technology to track citizen sentiment, and thus nip civil unrest in the bud. Military force and real-time fiscal policy management will be just two of the controls on the governance console.

Acting

Increasingly our actions will be triggered by an electronic interface, so expect neuroscientific advances in device interfaces. Direct-to-brain interface tech (literally) comes to mind. The likes of Amazon will be all too happy to act on our behalf, so expect real-time delivery of goods and services. No need to leave your sofa. Your robot butler can collect it from the delivery drone or from your 3D printer, which by the way can print food and clothes.

Comfort in its increasingly apocalyptic sense tends to focus on inaction.

This is a natural human response. We are wired for energy conservation. Back on the savannah, we could never be sure when we would next eat. This human wiring no longer serves us, now that we have everything in abundance and no longer need to chase lunch. Our bodies are in danger of perishing.

So to offset this decay, we will see significant growth in the fitness industry. However the focus will be less on the ‘feel the burn’ school of isolated muscle exercises and more on whole-body functional movement. We are already seeing the emergence of obstacle course racing, which is in effect recreating our being chased by a peckish Smilodon. The Tough Mudder or Spartan Race companies might well add realism and further challenge using robotic hyenas / velociraptors.

Enactment of such real-world pursuits will no doubt lead to injury, particularly amongst those whose physical self-perception is at odds with reality.

Bruises, sprained ankles and severe head trauma will trigger advances in sports injury solutions. Reparative medicine will thus accelerate human tissue engineering, particularly in respect of bone, brain and muscle. Possibly skin-tight exoskeletons will provide invincibility coupled with complete freedom of motion. The military and emergency services would also benefit from such advances.

To sum up

The future is unknowable. Advances in information and biotech seem to follow exponential growth paths. Who knows what will emerge as they become increasingly entwined? What we can say is that humans, organisations, governments and societies need to sense, decide and act. So these will certainly influence the direction of travel. The desire for comfort and the need to be productive will also have a strong bearing.

Ensuring that people are the beneficiaries of these new developments rather than the victims will be paramount.