Imagine this: a car arrives to pick you up the moment you step outside your door in the morning. It gently stops by your feet and a door opens to let you in, before automatically moving off on the exact route that you always go. It constantly refines its prediction about when you’ll be ready, based on a number of prompts from home smart devices – your phone, the alarm clock, the coffee machine, even the shutting of the front door – and it can adapt at the touch of a button or drop of a latch. With a destination ready by default, the journey is without congestion, traffic lights and delays.
The concept sounds like it was plucked from science fiction, but the truth is that autonomous smart vehicles are much closer than we expect. In November 2018, Google spin-off Waymo announced that they plan to launch the world’s first commercial self-driving taxi service in Arizona, competing with Uber and Lyft for their share of the market. That shouldn’t be surprising. The pace of technological evolution has never been quicker, facing us with unprecedented disruption and transformation across industries and society.
In the past, a large change happens and then there’s a pause before something new and innovative comes along. Now, the cycles of change have accelerated with the arrival of digital technology, disrupting traditional models. For example, the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company has fallen from 60 years in the 1950s to less than 20 now, with companies like Amazon and Apple providing fierce, brutal competition.
Take Kodak. Once a large market player raking in millions of dollars in profit, they were innovators in film cameras. They even created the first digital models, but in a decision that was to have long-term effects, believed them too expensive to pursue further. It wasn’t until their competitors had established lines of digital cameras that Kodak began their own line of products, leaving them dwarfed by the brands they’d once intimidated. In short, the choice is stark: disrupt (yourself, if necessary) or be disrupted.
It’s not just in the retail markets either – this acceleration in innovation extends beyond basic industry lines. Savvy companies are staying ahead out of necessity, with many start-ups now using cloud by default for their storage and sharing requirements. Compare that to just two years ago, where specific companies existed to build data centres and hardware for weeks from scratch, manually sending them over to the businesses who needed the space. Now, a whole data centre’s worth of storage can be purchased through cloud with the touch of a button, providing options for added security and accessibility.
New technology and disruption once created contact centres, the web, mobile and UX design. It will continue to lead us into as-yet-unknown industries.
So what does this mean for the future of work? To take inspiration from another discipline, many scientists believe that with so many stars and planets, it’s highly unlikely that we are on our own in the universe. If we use that same idea of probability and precedent, the past industrial revolutions haven’t dramatically impacted employment, suggesting that this new frontier of transformation will simply see the job market adapt, rather than flounder. New technology and disruption once created contact centres, the web, mobile and UX design. It will continue to lead us into as-yet-unknown industries.
That doesn’t mean that disruption is without risk for the workforce. Governments should ensure that retraining is prioritised, giving employees the opportunity to evolve their knowledge and information skills along with the technology that they’re equipped with. However, with a little savvy and the willingness to transform, we can make the most of the opportunities handed to us.
Just like the autonomous smart car that will eventually greet you on your morning commute, the changes it brings will mean cars service us- no more filling up with petrol, walking from the car park or changing tyres. Even just considering automated private transport alone, we’ll have more space and safer streets with no cars parked on the roadside.
The future is coming to the world whether we’re ready or not. Now, we’ll be okay as a species, but the responsibility falls on countries, companies and individuals to see the opportunities, make that small step ourselves and keep up the brisk pace of disruption.
Step inside and take a seat. Otherwise, it’ll be a very long walk.