It's been a historic few weeks in the UK: we voted to leave the EU, we have a new Prime Minister in Theresa May and our opposition is in chaos. There have also been major global events such as the attempted coup in Turkey, the terror attack in Nice, and the presidential primaries in the US.
The impact of these events will be short-lived however, when compared with the rapid development of new technologies that are becoming a part of daily life, and will irreversibly change the way we live and work.
In his book ‘Sapiens: A brief history of humankind’ (Guardian review here), Yuval Hariri establishes the periods of revolutionary change that have shaped the evolution of mankind. This includes the Agricultural Revolution when humans started to group together as farming communities; the Industrial Revolution when steam power enabled machinery to drive mass production; and the Digital Revolution when computing created automation and the internet changed how we communicate. He goes on to suggest that we are entering the Biotechnological Revolution which will blur the lines between man and machine, and ultimately lead to the end of humanity as we know it.
That might seem a bit far-fetched, but it’s hard to deny that we are entering a period of revolutionary change. This idea was given prominence at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, where the theme was the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution‘. The forum echo Hariri’s assertion in many respects in stating that we are about to experience an industrial revolution that will be more significant – and will happen more quickly – than any other before it.
So, what is going to happen? Why is it different from the Digital Revolution which we all accept has changed our lives? Why is it more significant than other periods of change?
Simply put, a huge number of major technological advancements are just taking place at the same time. Since we are all already connected, and information is so readily accessible and easily shared, the pace of change will be quicker than at any other point in human history.
The signs that these key technological advancements are beginning to filter into our daily lives has been particularly evident in the last few weeks. Have you spotted the signs? Let’s review some of the technologies that could change the way we live:
The ability to immerse oneself fully into the digital world opens up huge possibilities: the obvious impact will be on gaming and niche markets such as estate agency – imagining being able to visit houses for sale without leaving your living room. But Virtual Reality could ultimately change all of digital communications: could we feasibly choose to interact with websites in an immersive 3D world as opposed to via a 2D screen? I suspect so.
Did you notice that Facebook has just allowed users to post 360 degree photos of their environment? Have you seen that YouTube hosts similar 360 degree videos? We’re excited about the potential of our JCDecaux London website becoming a 3D site.
The ability to merge the digital world with the physical world. The obvious example is Pokemon Go which has just brought this technology to the fore. It’s the fastest mobile game to 10 million downloads worldwide, so it’s clear that consumers are excited by the possibilities of augmented reality.
This is the ability for digital systems to learn and evolve from experience. This reflected an unsavoury view of the human species when this Microsoft chatbot learnt from Twitter interactions, but it shows that the near-future world depicted in the film HER is arguably closer than you might think.
The Internet of Things
I suspect we can all imagine a future whereby all our electronic devices are connected to one other to improve performance and automation.
This may have huge consequences for the labour of the human species as whole industries become automated. The news that a robot was used to kill the shooter in the Dallas police killings last week barely registered, such is our acceptance of robotics in our daily lives.
While the ability of quantum computing to be truly useful is unproven (to some extent it is just a theory), the potential is that we can create a computer with almost limitless power, creating seismic possibilities. It’s important enough for the new Canadian Prime Minister to know all about it as shown in this video that went viral:
The emergence of just one of these things may have been enough to constitute major change in the way we live, but they are all happening at the same time. Furthermore, since we already live in a globalised digital world where communication is easy, the potential for rapid development and rapid adoption of these technologies is greater than at any time before. Finally, many of these technologies are complementary: imagine how quickly artificial intelligence can develop with the power of quantum computing; imagine if a robot could control all of your electronic devices at home via the Internet of Things.
What’s not clear, is whether the impact of this change will overall be positive or negative for the lives of humans on this planet. The Digital Revolution ostensibly improved the lives of humans in developed countries, but you can argue that the poor were negatively affected by automation destroying labour markets, and globalisation enabled the rich to get richer but left the poor behind. Certainly change will come, and it will be up to us to ensure that it is shaped to make a positive impact on the world.
I feel very fortunate that as the Managing Director of a digital agency, I can be a part of that change. We have the opportunity to shape how these new technologies can be used in positive ways that make digital interactions easier, more engaging and more exciting.
To explore how your organisation can benefit from these new technologies, get in touch.