Disruption is a hard subject to cover sometimes. The change, the intersections, the arguments about what is and is not disruption. Often it is helpful to step back and really see what is happening, where things are going and who is doing what. Richard Watson, a leading futurist and scenarios planner, is one of the best at this. Watson’s latest work sees a list of technologies with a timeline that is specific to different industries. If you are in the retail, finance, FMCG, food, transport, energy or health industry, knowing what is coming for you has never been easier.
Watson worked with the Tech Foresight team at Imperial College London and used an ex-BBC researcher to source the companies and was surprised by the dominance of the US; “It’s incredible. There is almost a total absence of UK companies…the multiple appearances of Apple, Google, Facebook and Musk is interesting.” The latter point may simply be doing to media reporting biases but still, the number of mentions is high even without Chinese and other startup hubs around the world seeing a look in.
The technology on the table is not all equal. Several of the ‘elements’ are already here (the bottom left corner). Technology like Delivery drones, they are more or less invented and “getting less silly by the hour’ according to Watson. Conversational machine interfaces (Google’s telephone booking interface is a prime example) are improving in leaps and bounds and even Lifelong personal avatar assistants – could this be the next generation of Echo or Alexa? The most interesting? According to Watson, it’s ‘DACs or Distributed Autonomous Corporations’. Not so far fetched if we think about Amazon’s warehouses and pokes at the questions; How far can automation go? How far might we let it?
Watson is most interested in “The Ghost Tech” or the edge or fringe to the table. These technologies (like zero-point energy, force fields, telepathy) are highly improbable but not actually impossible. Watson used science-fiction as the inspiration here and some of the overlaps are indicative of leaps rather than crawls towards success. The biggest issue around disruption, Watson believes, is that the small print gets missed; “This is all tech push and largely logical. It’s all corporate (some military and government) driven and much relates to efficiency, speed, convenience, profitability. What is not considered is a) the way one or more technologies might interact b) psychological factors (illogical and emotional humans), c) government/regulation/societal shifts (e.g. privacy) and d) other factors such as resources/environment and even historical inertia and the state of the economy (e.g. I’d say the future of bitcoin is economy dependent).”
Watson hopes the table is useful above all else but urges viewers and users of the table to look at the why behind the technology. “The other thing that isn’t really discussed is what’s all this tech for? What are we, as a society/world, searching for here? The big question is what is the role of us humans in the midst of all this? I think the big idea falling out of this and tech generally (especially AI) is what are we humans for? Does the human race need a strategy…?”
Whatever the answer, you just got a great roadmap [PDF] to get you thinking about new opportunities, threats and possibilities.