The single most disruptive influence on business, as well as society, will be artificial intelligence (A.I.), which includes technology such as machine learning and cognitive computing to name just two. In other words, there is more than one type of A.I. and each represents a new way of doing both big things as well as everyday things in amazing ways. When I say big things, I mean solving highly complex problems such as enabling the development of highly personalized drugs and genetic therapies designed for your genetic makeup. A.I. will keep you from having an accident, whether you are driving your car or not, by knowing the surroundings in real-time, predicting a problem, and helping you avoid the accident. Eighty-five percent of traffic accidents are caused by blind spots, and soon your car won’t let you have that accident. The good news is that we don’t need full autonomy to do this, and it will happen faster than you think.
A.I. will impact everyday things such as asking your car or your phone or your (fill in the blank) a question and getting an intelligent answer that is customized for you. Thanks to cloud-based A.I. and devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, A.I. is quickly being integrated into both business and consumers’ lives at a rapid rate by using your voice as the primary interface, and the impact will be both disruptive and transformational on both a product and service level.
A.I. and other exponential technologies that are enabling a social, mobile, virtual and visual evolutionary revolution in a short time will shift us from a period of rapid change to a period of true transformation. I say evolutionary because the underlying technologies have been in play for a long time. For example, in 1983 I first published my list of 20 technologies that would drive exponential change for decades to come, and on that list were the Internet, digital technologies, A.I., genetic engineering, photovoltaics, fiber optics and more, the very technologies that are driving the revolution today.
So here is a prediction for you: During the next five years, we will have the technologies to transform every business process including how we sell, market, communicate, collaborate, train, educate, design, pay for things and much more. That is what I call a Hard Trend that will happen because it is based on future facts—the tools are real and they will be used to both disrupt and transform. Soft Trends, on the other hand, might happen because they are based on assumptions. The Soft Trend related to business process transformation can best be expressed in a question: Will your organization transform your business processes or only change them? In other words, disruption becomes a choice when you know it’s going to happen ahead of time. That’s why my award-winning learning system, as well as my new book that will be out in the fall of 2017, is called The Anticipatory Organization. Being agile does allow you to react faster than your slower competitors and does help you with unpredictable change. But the new competency that is now an imperative is to be anticipatory, to learn how to use Hard and Soft Trend analysis to anticipate disruptions before they disrupt, problems before you have them so that you can pre-solve them, and game-changing opportunities that you can use to accelerate growth and transform results.
Here is one final Hard Trend/Soft Trend question for you to consider: As A.I. and robotics advance at an exponential rate, will they cause mass unemployment globally? To answer this question, you need to break down the future fact from the future assumption. The Hard Trend future fact is that A.I. and robotics will indeed advance at an exponential rate in the years to come. That will happen. The Soft Trend that might happen is the mass unemployment they will create globally. Even though mass unemployment for both blue- and white-collar jobs are very likely, it is not a future fact. Business and government leaders from around the world could do something about this now before it happens, thus changing this outcome.
For example, we could have all trucks, cabs, and buses become self-driving, thus eliminating tens of millions of jobs on a global level. This is not a future fact, but it could happen—technology exists to enable this outcome. A better question is: Do we want this to happen? Before answering, you need to look at a bigger picture. You need to consider that in the past and present it was primarily blue-collar jobs that were replaced by automation. But with the new capabilities of A.I. and robotics to replace white-collar jobs such as accounting, banking, and even sales, to name a few, the unemployment numbers could grow significantly. Do we want that future or a different future? We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. What kind of future do you want? What would we need to change in order to have a better tomorrow than today?