Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disruptive Tech, by S+C's Chamath Palihapitiya

The venture investor and former Facebook executive [Chamath Palihapitiya] examines technologies he thinks will improve the quality of life and economic output—and explains why most executives undervalue technical proficiency. In this first chapter, he discusses the three technologies he's most excited to watch: [1] sensor networks, [2] automated transportation, and [3] a very specific application of big data to genetics.
This McKinsey video comes at the heels of a set of posts on Google+, where I highlight key findings from a study by MIT Sloan and Capgemini - Embracing Digital Technology, A New Strategic Imperative:

Many executives (78%) know that social media, mobile devices, and data analytics are crucial for business. But nearly as many (63%) say digital change in their company is too slow.

Lack of urgency is the main obstacle to digital change. It is not a fixed agenda for many CEOs.

I'm afraid that social media and high tech have come way too quickly for many executives, and they need our expertise in change management, people skills, and inspirational transformation ... seriously!

In this article, I expand on these findings via the broader, more comprehensive research by McKinsey -  Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy - beginning with Chamath Palihapitiya's pulse on the subject:
“Technology will disrupt every facet of every job.” For executives, [Palihapitiya] argues, it isn’t enough just to understand the technologies, such as sensors and autonomous vehicles, that will have an outsized impact on improving the quality of life and economic output. New waves of technological disruption will probably blindside executives who don’t build technical proficiency into the way they manage their organizations. 
Such a pronouncement makes me terribly excited, as we're poised for a higher-order (exponential) technology curve.  Yet, such a pronouncement also butts against veritable human (leadership) difficulties in adopting these fundamental technologies, never mind disruptive.  There is no question about the marvel that the human mind can produce, but I daresay such minds are relegated to a select few.  The minds of vast hordes of us will have frank difficulties grasping, intuiting and utilizing technologies.

It is akin, I'd say, to people being asked to drink from the proverbial, high-pressure and high-volume fire hose, when all they they drink at any one time is a glass of water.

I'd say, Get real, in response to such pronouncement.  Let's slow things down a bit, shall we, and first unpack what Palihapitiya relates:

[1] Sensory Technology

This spring Under Armour brings you Armour39™ – the first-of-its-kind performance monitoring system made for athletes and the only device capable of measuring your WILLpower™ – the first true measure of an athlete. Armour39™ is the only device engineered to provide athletes with precise, instant information that helps them train to improve, regardless of sport.
Armour39™ is an example of the sensor devices and networks that Palihapitiya talks about.  Sensors are already everywhere around us, it seems, but they are even more everywhere, when we consider wearable technology.  Moreover, they aren't just targeted at business process, customer data, or performance indices.  They are also trained on our bodily functions for health and athletic purposes, among other things, I'm sure.  It is the dawning of the Digital Self.  So when technologies talk about The Internet of Things, they mean to say The Internet of People, too.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a colleague, regarding an emerging trend in accounting and the need for senior leaders to see the value-add of this trend.  In brief, the ROI is established from the get-go, and efforts to implement a new accounting process must realize that ROI.  But to ensure that it does, we need to monitor these efforts on an ongoing basis.  Real-time data can tell us if we're on track or if we're off-track, and point us quickly to getting things right.

Enter: Sensors.

[2] Automated Vehicles

We announced our self-driving car project in 2010 to make driving safer, more enjoyable, and more efficient. Having safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, we wanted to share one of our favorite moments. Here's Steve, who joined us for a special drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way. We organized this test as a technical experiment, but we think it's also a promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met.
Google posted this video on March 28th 2012, and with nearly 5 million views we can easily call it viral.  We saw driverless cars in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report, highways-full of them, in fact.  I daresay that this little Google car is simply conventional technology for what will increasingly become, as Palihapitiya pronounces, most unconventional technology.  Steve, in the video, jokes "No hands!" because he's sitting where any driver normally sits and he has the customary steering wheel in front of him.  Which he does not touch at all.  In the future, the Google car will be re-designed to be driverless, that is, probably no steering wheel and comfortable seating for everyone inside.
What Google is pioneering in the autonomous-vehicle space. It is probably the one thing that I’ve seen that could fundamentally have the high-order-bit effect on GDP. You can completely re-envision cities, transportation models, and commerce with all these autonomous vehicles, with the ability to ship goods. 
So you can imagine a fleet of small electric cars that deliver all mail. A fleet of drones that drops off parcels from Amazon, Walmart, and Target, right to your doorstep. A fleet of trucks that doesn’t cause traffic and congestion. An entire fleet of city vehicles paid for and bought by a state or by a city that provides public transportation in a predictable way. All these things have massive impacts to commerce and the mobility of individuals. And I think it’s not well understood.
Reference: Managing disruptive technology: A conversation with investor Chamath Palihapitiya (emphasis, added).

In other words, Google is just the beginning.  We ain't seen nothing, yet.

[3] Big Data on Healthcare

Before Big Data can unleash its considerable potential in healthcare, we must have technology that can house it and analyze it.  Enter: IBM.  "Watson is very different. Watson is thinking like a physician," Omar Latif, MD concludes.  

Palihapitiya zeroes Big Data onto genetics in particular, because, from what I can surmise, genetics is the biological correlate of subatomic physics.  In effect: Learn how to manipulate at the microscopic level, and you can manipulate the broader system, such as the human body.  Crack the code of the small, and you've cracked the code of the big.  
And then the last idea is that big data is kind of like this stupid buzz word—like “growth hacking,” frankly—where you’re really talking about just creating more noise and not enough signals. But in the specific case of genetics, I think we’re making an extremely important shift, which is shifting the burden away from biologists to computer scientists. 
Because when you sequence an entire genome, what you’re really doing is spitting out a 4 GB to 5 GB flat file of codes, which can be interpreted, where you can build machine learning—supervised or not—to intuit things, to make connections, to find correlations, to hopefully find causality. And across a broad population of people, you have the ability to use computer science to solve some of the most intricate problems of biology and life. 
And so I suspect in the next 10 to 15 years, you’re going to see these massive advances there, where it will literally be a group of computer scientists who basically say, “If you express the BRCA1 breast cancer gene, here’s the protocol that we’ve seen across a wide population of women that actually prevents the onset of breast cancer.” Amazing.
In Closing: Change Management

You see, Under Armour, Google and IBM, above, know change management quite well - what it takes to adopt new technology, specifically.  
  1. They provide a heads-up, well before an innovative product hits the market.  More than that, it gets hordes of us jazzed about whatever that product will actually be.  Case in point: The Under Armour video has 1,678,940, to date.
  2. They facilitate a personal experience, that is at once extraordinary in an ordinary circumstance (e.g., going for Taco Bell).  Steve, in the Google driverless car, is easily enthralled.  4,959,180 of us are enthralled, along with him.
  3. They arrange for client testimonials, which speak for the phenomenon that Watson is.  No, at 1658 views, this IBM video hardly qualifies as viral.  Yet, we see that WellPoint is literally just the tip of the iceberg of the potential for everything about the human body and its care.
More to come on grasping disruptive technology and embracing its potential, in subsequent articles.  So stay tuned!

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD 

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