Keeping the Technological Pace

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When I was a child, I read a short story in a children’s magazine about a student’s interaction with her teacher. The story captured my imagination because the girl’s instructor was not human. It was a computer.

Given that science fiction writing often imagines the future, it’s probably not surprising that this story is now a reality, as anyone who has attended online training can confirm. What is remarkable is that it ceased to be fiction so quickly.

This speed of change is why I think the new ebook, “Race Against the Machine,” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, should be required reading for anyone in business today, anyone looking for work, or anyone still in school.

The authors argue that humans aren’t keeping pace with the machines: “Digital technologies change rapidly, but organizations and skills aren’t keeping pace. As a result, millions of people are being left behind.” We are facing technological unemployment.

I’m only halfway through this ebook (originally downloaded to my Kindle to Mac, but now reading on my just-out-of-the-box Kindle Touch), so I can’t yet comment on the authors’ conclusions. But I’m familiar with the picture they paint.

I’ve been in digital media for more than 26 years – a very long time. (Mark Z. was an infant when I was angling for my first job at a digital news service.) I know from experience that technology development has very much followed Moore’s Law, and it continues to progress at an exponential rate.

Let’s just look at its impact thus far on the way we communicate. By the mid-90s, email had replaced the paper memo. By the mid-2000s, cellphones, particularly the BlackBerry, were untethering workers from their desks. Laptops were doing the same. SEO was on the rise as a way of lifting your marketing website above the noise. By 2010, the focus was on marketing through social media. People now base buying decisions on opinions broadcast through these channels by their friends. Today, we talk about social SEO, but that’s unlikely to last long, because now we have Siri, which will change what  information we consume on the go. (A good read about this is: “How Apple’s Siri Could Destroy Local SEO.”)

There was a point where we thought technology changed our environment every 18 months. There are days now where I think things change by the minute. It’s as hard to grasp as running water.

It’s fun to imagine where we might be in the next five years. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be using voice commands to do everything from starting our cars to programming our appliances for cooking a turkey.

But what I’d really like to have is a pet language translator, so that I can understand what my cat has been saying for the last hour and to have her understand why I don’t want her eating my office plant.

What communications innovations do you predict or would like to see?

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