The Future of the Future
A look at the coming decade: opportunities and challenges
It’s hard to believe we’re already into the second decade of the 21st century. In the coming months, we’ll examine both the opportunities and challenges headed our way, and why we need to continue evolving the “enterprise of the future” at an even faster pace. Let’s get started.
The cloud and the crowd
On the opportunity side, Moore’s Law (about the number of transistors doubling every two years) never fails to disappoint. As enterprises of the future we need to take full advantage. Some important trends include:
- mind-boggling processing and storage capacity enabled by cloud computing;
- decreasing unit cost and increasing accessibility of IT and information resources;
- the addition of a half million new human minds to the Internet each and every day;
- the growing proliferation of electronic payments, enabling enterprising individuals to become global knowledge entrepreneurs; and
- billions of mobile computing applications downloaded annually.
But those developments come with increased vulnerability. Resilience, especially economic resilience, is going to be a huge topic. In the June issue of KMWorld, we reported on a business continuity symposium held on the heels of the “Snowpocalyse” blizzard which shut down the federal government for four days. But the snow melted, and things quickly returned to normal.
On a larger scale, I was in New Orleans recently and was astonished by the resiliency of people in that region in the face of two major disasters: Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. We can’t help but wonder, though, what would happen if the stresses on the system were to ratchet up several more notches. A bio-terror attack, for example, could cause serious supply chain, utility, emergency and other essential service disruptions lasting for months, rather than days or weeks.
Being able to recover from such an event would require uncharted degrees of resilience on the part of companies, organizations, agencies, municipalities, cities, regions, states, nations and the world as a whole. If you think that’s trying to take on too much, recall that we have already experienced situations in which the actions of just one or two individual companies had global economic repercussions. Like it or not, the price we pay for a massively interconnected world is that small problems can be either quickly absorbed or just as quickly avalanche into a catastrophic system failure.
And what of commerce itself? Even if we are fortunate enough to avoid a widespread collapse, the forces of change continue to exert their influence. Governments and constituents alike are discovering that we are reaching the upper limits of the amount of money that can be taxed, borrowed, printed and spent. How long our traditional systems of banking, taxation, regulation and commerce will hold up in a speed-of-thought world is an interesting question. Now would be a good time to rethink how we measure, exchange and grow value publicly and privately in a knowledge-based economy.
Systems of humans and machines, operating with varying degrees of autonomy and anonymity, create some very intriguing outcomes. Crowdsourcing is taking on an increasingly important role in society, approaching something we might instead refer to as crowdleading.
For example, in addition to news being delivered instantly from cell phone videocams, more of the accompanying discussion, commentary, investigative research, proposed responses and vetting are originating out in the “cloud crowd.” Governments, corporations and nonprofits take note: Whether you are talking about the latest state-of-the-art airport body scanners or the next treasure trove of leaked documents, we are not only seeing more emperors without clothes, but the emperors’ courts, armies and loyal subjects as well. Photos from the Abu Ghraib prison went viral and changed the military’s rules of engagement. In more recent months, confidential police documents regarding the lead WikiLeaker himself have been leaked to the public. No one is safe.
Throughout history, the human race has been at war. But we have seen some interesting developments not only in conventional weapons (things that go “bang”), but also in the silent realm of cyberwarfare, where things don’t go “bang,” they simply go dark. The Stuxnet worm attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is a prime example.
That raises an important question: How do we resolve the conflict between the “classified” world, which is where most of the critical intelligence, planning and response information essential to our survival resides, vs. the “open source” world? Although WikiLeaks might appear to be only a small hole in the dike, it may be the beginning of a tidal wave of information previously hidden from public view. That can certainly produce some benefits. By bringing matters out of the shadows into broad daylight, people are more likely to think twice before cutting shady business or politically motivated deals. On the other hand, if one side in a dispute becomes aware of an opponent’s plans, the first side might change its tactics, thereby forcing the opposition to search for new ways to stay a step ahead.
Which brings us to another research realm—that of human and social behavior. From figuring out how to establish and maintain trust in vast interconnected webs, to understanding why entire populations seemingly go crazy and try to destroy it all, we will have our work cut out for us. If we have the power to create nano-robots, manipulate DNA and stem cells, and extract and burn every last molecule of fossil fuel from the earth, we need to understand that many of the resulting event chains will likely be irreversible. We must continue to seek new education paradigms that will better prepare the knowledge work force to deal with those issues. Finally, if you sense we are about as info-saturated as we can get, you will enjoy our upcoming report on the end of the information age.
Stay tuned, this new decade will be both terrifying and exciting. We are going to need every tool and brain at our disposal, including a few new ones