The ABC of Tech You Must Know in 2019
AI, blockchain, and community--in the new year, it is time to become exponential-tech literate.
by Tim Leberecht
When I read about the tech trend predictions for 2019, I feel a strong sense of déjà vu. So many of them sound exactly like the future we envisioned five years ago. Big data is big business. AI is the new electricity, and smart machine learning algorithms will empower consumers, personalize their experience, and enable better decision-making. Self-driving vehicles will make mobility safer and more energy-efficient. Automation will cost jobs but also free many of us to pursue work that is purposeful and fulfilling. “Moonshot thinking,” combined with a Silicon Valley-style fail-fast culture, is the panacea to transforming organizations and entire societies. Human-centered design is the key to doing this in the most humane fashion. And eventually transhumanism will merge human and machine anyway and produce performances at unprecedented level, including achieving immortality.
This future fatigue is not the fault of futurists–they are just reading the tea leaves in their cups. But obviously, the future is not just unevenly distributed, it is also taking a really long time to arrive.
Incrementalism is the new disruption, and pragmatism the new moonshot.
In this spirit, here are three tech trends that are not groundbreaking but may make or break your business in 2019. If you aren’t yet, this will be the year in which you ought to become exponential-tech-literate. Here’s the new ABC that you must master:
A for “AI goes enterprise”
By 2030, AI is projected to generate an estimated $13 trillion of GDP growth. In 2019, AI is going to penetrate the enterprise as an indispensable, mission-critical capability. The question is no longer, what tasks do you perform with AI but which tasks do you not?
Supporting this line of thinking, a recently published research report by the MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) claims that AI is “becoming real”– advanced by a cohort of Fortune 500 firms beyond the usual AI-alphas Alphabet, Baidu, Facebook, and Microsoft.
While many firms have dipped their toes in AI and recognized it as a key strategic challenge, only a few have actually devised, let alone implemented, a comprehensive AI strategy. Among them are Chevron, Mayo Clinic, and Pfizer. Identified as “pioneers” by the study, these firms were early adopters of AI, and they are now doubling down on their investment and seeking to scale it beyond sporadic pilots and point solutions. Ninety percent of these pioneers report they have a strategy in place already. What’s even more interesting is that 72 percent of them expect AI applications to primarily deliver revenue increases in the next five years, as opposed to mere efficiency gains. This means that AI will no longer be limited to just optimizing operations but is driving entire new business models.
Emulating these pioneers, it might be time for you, too, to “become real” about AI by moving beyond process optimization. Armed with growing AI acumen, ask yourself: how would you radically re-design your business model from scratch today?
Andrew Ng, the Chairman and CEO of Landing AI and former head of the Google Brain team and the Baidu AI Group, provides some helpful guidance in his new AI Transformation Playbook. He suggests forming an internal AI team that spans different business functions. Further, he advises companies to diversify their AI investment by creating multiple AI assets while making sure they all present an industry-specific advantage rather than merely a broad operational capability. Finally, he reminds us of the “virtuous cycle of AI” when designing AI-driven activities: more data -> better product -> more users -> more data -> better product, and so on. Simply put: an effective AI strategy is always an effective data strategy.
B for “Blockchain is not going away”
When will Blockchain finally deliver on its grand promise? Well, how about 2019?! The past two years saw a roller coaster ride for cryptocurrencies, starting with a breathtaking value increase of 3,252 percent in 2017 and a drop of 60 percent in crypto market value in 2018. Last December, the price of Bitcoin was $19,783, today it is $3,810 (the other two main cryptocurrencies, Ethereum, Litecoin, also dropped significantly). With its retail transactions declining rapidly, the most prominent of these currencies, Bitcoin, may now go into the annals of digital history as the Friendster (remember?) of crypto.
But some say this crypto-winter may actually pave the way for different, more sophisticated blockchain applications. Shermin Voshmgir, co-founder of BlockchainHub, director of the Institute of Cryptoeconomics in Vienna, and author of an upcoming book on Blockchain, told me bullishly that this will be the year when Blockchain will grow up beyond Bitcoin and enable a whole new economy: the token economy. She believes that Bitcoin, despite its ultimate decline, has pioneered an operating system for “a new type of economy where is has become feasible for everyone to issue their own purpose-oriented token.” Indeed, tokens may create new marketplaces and new incentives to change or exhibit certain behaviors, such as planting trees instead of cutting them by mining “tree tokens” or saving CO2 emissions by biking instead of using the car through mining “Co2 tokens.”
Some of these new tokens die on the vine (including, not surprisingly, Kodak’s). But still, as of today, 2,068 cryptocurrencies were listed on coinmarketcap. Countries such as Venezuela or cities such as Dubai or Lubljana have begun to create their own tokens as an exchange system to foster citizenship and virtual currency for tourists, and others including Berkeley, CA are expected to follow suit. Even soccer clubs such as Newcastle United are considering launching initial coin offerings.
Blockchain is also serving as operating system for some transactions that are, although legalized in Canada and some US states, not performed by banks, which is why, for example, a formidable “alternate cannabis token economy” has emerged.
Furthermore, applications such as BailBloc demonstrate how blockchain can be used for good by inviting users to donate their spare computer processing power to create a cryptocurrency named Monero. At the end of every month, the service exchanges Monero for US dollars and donates the earnings to one of the bail funds in the National Bail Fund Network.
The transparency and mutual trust that blockchain provides are also perfectly suited for more effective supply chain management, blockchain expert Mark van Rijmenam argues, and he predicts in 2019 supply chains will be the first major enterprise use of blockchain.
The revolutionary potential of blockchain is that it assigns and captures value for activities that have previously not been recognized as valuable or have lacked a transparent marketplace. Unlike the average consumer-investor, companies have not seized to pay attention. Consequently, blockchain will be one of the predominant themes at the upcoming World Economic Forum at the end of January, in the official program but even more so at the often more cutting-edge fringe events, from Davos BlockBase to Digital Davos.
So where do you start? Ask yourself these questions: are there activities undertaken by colleagues or in your company’s ecosystem that constitute value that is not captured yet? If so, what kind of token can you launch that is linked to a real product, and how can you harness the token economics in your favor?
C for “Community is making technology come home”
Technology is not only increasingly social technology (using network effects), it is also a social activity. To adopt the new knowledge–the A and the B–and hone it in your organizations, community of practice is key. As Edward D. Hess and Kaz Gozdz contend, in the knowledge economy any successful organization will become a community–a “community of hyper-learners,” “a group of like-minded others of similar values and purpose.”
Indeed, community motivates us to learn, creates a common striving (competition for respect among peers), and gives us a sense of belonging, a stable vantage point from which to observe and make sense of the fast-changing digital disruptions we’re all confronted with.
No wonder new, alternative communal spaces are booming, from co-working to co-living to co-learning. Studies have shown that these spaces provide not only a sense of belonging, but also increase self-confidence. Combine these spaces with social learning and tech, and you have a winner. Labs, Meetups, and Basecamps are on the rise. Harvard Business School runs a Tech Club, and companies have begun to establish incubators embedded in vibrant urban communities (e.g. Daimler Trucks with its forthcoming Tech & Data Hub in the up-and-coming digital ecosystem of Lisbon) to pool knowledge and practitioners and lower the social barriers to skill acquisition.
No longer can a single expert hold all the wisdom or connect all the dots alone. Peer exchange and critical community discourse are crucial for not only accessing but internalizing new knowledge and skills. Moreover, community rituals can help build the kind of muscle memory that initiates and sustains behavior change.
In addition, communities are emerging that cater to the need to embrace new tech while also catering to our full selves through meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or other forms of conscious living. Take the co-living community The Assemblage in New York, that offers community, professional learning, and personal growth all at once. Or consider The Learning Hotel, one of Tablet Hotel Magazine’s visions for the “hotels of tomorrow,” a not-yet-realized concept that would tap into the collective wisdom of its guests by curating and gathering them in a meaningful way.
When it comes to tech literacy, the intersection of hospitality, experience economy, and social learning is a space to watch.
Community is not just the oldest human technology, it is also the enabler of essential human qualities: our ability to imagine alternate worlds through gatherings and stories. More than ever, every effort to strengthen innovation and drive transformation will need to foster these inherently social traits. This is why, as part of their AI strategy, companies should hone their workers’ artistic intelligence and offer art classes. For every pilot project in blockchain, they should treat their employees for a night out at cooking school.
Without the C, the A and B are nothing. In 2019, even the most exponential technology won’t be going anywhere if it’s not coming home.
This article was first published on Inc.com.