One of the topics that I talk about in my New Technology class is the concept of adjacent possible. It refers to the fact that any new innovation needs to come from existing innovation. What we have in our environment at any given time determines how we think and what we can invent. For example, it was not until harnessing electricity that we had home appliances like electronic toasters and washing machines. Personal computers were only possible with the microchip which was only possible with integrated circuits which was only possible due to transistors. And this determines our perception of the world. The current state of technology very much creates our perception of what we think is possible and at the same time limits our ability to invent. Perceptions are slow to change and usually we need to experience new technology to change our perception.
In 2000 I gave a lecture on the future. After the lecture I was asked about the future of the car. Two things came to my mind: cars of the future will be electric and self-driving. Today that might be plausible as we hear news about the Google self-driving car and electric cars like Tesla and Nissan Leaf. But in 2000 this was a ridiculous statement. The perception was that petrol was the only way and all efforts of electric cars had been disappointing disasters. And how could a car possibly drive itself?
People today that are used to driving their cars, will be hesitant first when they get into a car that drives it self. For some it will be scary and something to get used to:
People that will be born in the next few years will grow up with self-driving cars and can’t imagine a world where people had to drive themselves. This always happens with new technology since our perception is based on the world we know and grew up with. When automatic elevators were introduced people were scared to enter them because there was no one to operate the elevator. Prior to that a person would control the elevator. Today we would be scared if someone did.
Another way to describe the adjacent possible is to imagine that you are in a room. In this room is all the knowledge of the world as we know it. With that knowledge we get an idea and a door opens and we enter a new room with all the previous knowledge plus the new idea. Hence, ideas come from existing ideas. Now – describe a room far out. Something that needs many other rooms to get to. That is not adjacent possible. You loose the perception and the room looks like science fiction.
In 1964, author and inventor Arthur C. Clark made prediction about the 21st century. Due to the then recent development of the transistor and communication satellites, he said: “These things will make possible a world in which we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be. Where we can contact our friends anywhere on Earth, even if we don’t know their actual, physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now [which is 2014] for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as from London.” Although we take this for granted in 2014, this was science fiction for people in 1964. Not surprisingly, Clark’s Third Law says: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Perception depends on the old. The way we do things and what we grow up with. With new advances in technology our perceptions change and people slowly adjust as they are exposed to the new technology. I remember back in 2010 when I was explaining the importance of smartphone to people. I was recommending building mobile apps instead of web pages. Some people would laugh in disbelieve and I would then ask them what type of mobile phone they used. The disbelievers had one thing in common. They used a non-smart Nokia phone. It was impossible to explain the importance of mobile apps to those people as they did not understand the potential of smartphones like iPhone. I see a similar thing happening now with Virtual Reality – VR. Try to convince someone about VR that has never tried it.
With new perception our behaviours changes. Many brilliant business ideas were turned down due to old perception of the world. As more and more of services will be accessible by talking with our devices we need to update our perception world.
This text is a new addition to the 2017 edition of my textbook New Technology.
In my New Technology 2016 course at Reykjavik University I got 84 research papers. These papers can be about any technology. One of the paper is about the disruption retail is facing due to the Internet and smartphones. We see news of stores being closed and rise of delivery services. Clearly something in changing. In fact, any retailer that is not visible online is putting their business at risk. Some 81% of purchases originate as on the Internet, even if the item is sold in a store.
Þorkell Viktor Þorsteinsson did research on how e-commerce is changing retail. His paper is titled E-Commerce and its effect on retail.
His conclusion is this:
My conclusion is that traditional retail stores are not disrupting in the near future. What is changing is how we approach the product. Instead of going to the store we can order products and groceries online and get it shipped to our door. Retailers need to be aware of how the e-commerce is changing how we buy our products and follow this technology trend so it won’t fall under and get disrupted. Retailers need to put much more effort to make the in store experience unforgettable so the customer wants to come back. Retail isn’t dying, it’s just transforming.
Adding to this, when customers get used to their products within the 30-60 minutes, like a pizza, this transformation might seed up exponentially.
Download the paper: E-Commerce and its effect on retail
Every major technology has its glory years. The PC had its glory days from 1981 until 1995 and Microsoft dominated the technical industry. Then the Internet took over from 1995 until 2007, when the smartphone era started. It’s start is marked by the remarkable historic lunch of the iPhone by late Steve Jobs. But now the the smartphone era is nearing its end. However, that does not mean it will not become important. In fact, it will be come ubiquitous, “invisible” tool that everyone has. It is like the magic wand to those of Hogwarts. The smartphone is shifting it’s role.
The following chart is the courtesy of Statistica:
You will find more statistics at Statista
Every important technology follows a simple pattern that in business schools is called the S-curve. It is simple to explain. First years of new technology, development is slow with only incremental success. There may be high hopes and big laughs. Think about early cars. People could not image that those things were a threat to the horse as means of transportation. Think about the PC – a toy for crazy hobbyist. And think early smartphones. All of these products were initially overpriced and underperforming. This is the gestation phase. Then, as magic, the progress in innovation starts to kick in. Something works. Performance improvements increase with each iteration. And the increase is increasing. This is the acceleration or growth phase. Eventually, the increase slows down. New features are not as revolutionary just incremental. This is the mature phase. The smartphone is entering the mature phase.
Again, that does not mean it is not important. It is just too powerful to not be. It means it will not see major must have new features, but it will become a platform for the next wave. And there are several coming. Let’s name two.
First, the Internet of things phenomena is real and it is finding new applications all the time. There are thermostats, lightbulbs, thermometers, sports equipment, all sorts of sensors, drones and you name it. All devices from coffee mugs to chairs, seem to connect to the Internet. And where does the smartphone come in? It is the remote control. It is the device to rule all devices.
Second, artificial intelligence is getting to a point that it is useful. In fact the big technologies companies in Silicon Wally are all serious about AI. And this is spreading. As Kevin Kelly pointed out the next 10,000 startups will be AI + something. Again the smartphone has a role. It will be the device that controls your live more than ever.
The smartphone is becoming a platform. It is the device in our hand which controls our lives. Not only does it answer questions and allow you to browse and read email. It will become you personal assistant. It will tell you what you need to do when you need to. It will remind you of you birthdays or your wedding anniversary and what’s more it will order the gifts to need and have them delivered plus it will reserve a table at a restaurant and put in your calendar. It is your new personal assistant. The era of the smartphone may be over, but its importance is far from over.
Another one bites the dust – TV is getting disrupted by the Internet Last year I did a survey in my New Technology class asking about video rentals (see So,.
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