29 Nov. 2017 | Comments (0)

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the renowned Web Summit in Lisboa. While this four-day festival of ideas produced an endless stream of takeaways, here are my top ten: 

 

       1.  The “tech world” is a parallel universe!

The average age of the 59,000+ participants must have been around 30 years old. At 56 I felt slightly out of place but got over it quickly! It soon became crystal clear to me that the current generation’s leading the way in pushing our world forward.  The established business leaders of “old-economy,” legacy companies should take heed and develop an in-depth understanding of what’s happening – as just two examples, the new economy’s focus on growth and cynicism toward excessive profit, to cryptocurrencies’ offerings bypassing classical financial regulations.  Then, traditional leaders need to boldly engage in the dramatically different future that is upon us.  This is arguably even truer for supervisory boards and their typically even more senior members.  Fail to do this at your company’s peril! 

       2.   A new society is around the corner

The paradox of the “digital revolution” underway vs. the lack of productivity improvement is coming to an end. We’re reaching the tail end of the incubation phase and will soon enter a new era of civilization.  Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, IoT, big data, VR, and mobile are maturing and intersecting – and materializing in the creation of a new society with radically different expectations regarding time, experience, service, simplicity, and, ultimately, standard of living.

       3.  The speed of advance has now unleashed (dominant) voices of responsibility and caution

Digitalization and the internet specifically have generated enormous momentum over the last two decennia, but it’s recently become rather a wild west. Specifically, a threat to our society and our democracies behind fraudulent influencing through misleading “news”, cyber-crime (or -wars), hate spread, and terrorism. This is the time to stop being naïve - the internet needs to “grow up”.  The call for regulating and taking responsibility by all players (social networks included!) was widely applauded – even among this predominantly young audience.

       4.   AI – the conversation has changed to awareness, in-touchness, responsibility, and  regulation

It’s now common belief that, if intelligence is defined as “creativity in problem solving,” a biological system (i.e. our brain) has no right to be superior over a digital approach. In fact, the recent win by the machine in the “Go” game has underscored the opposite.   Stephen Hawking reiterated his now broadly accepted concern around AI.  Its potential benefits for mankind are enormous, but so are its dangers.  We have 20-some years to get this right before machines overwhelmingly run ahead of us, and possibly away from us.  Enacting sensible regulations today is critical for survival, and possibly unleashing, of our species.

       5.   Combining technological knowledge and human wisdom to guide humanity forward

Technology will move forward – it’s inevitable.  We need to build knowledge, competencies, and systems to help us to develop a moral compass that ultimately guides its development. Only then will the technology reach its full potential in helping us solve the largest human issues of health, climate, poverty, income equality, and extremism.  However, the more progress, the bigger the risk of abuse becomes.  Managing this dichotomy and steering it in the right direction requires detailed understanding of the technology combined with deep human wisdom; not empty, fear-mongering political debate, posturing, and manipulation.

       6.   Improve our brain

While exorbitant amounts of money are invested on the “New Digital”, relatively little is spent on growing human intellectual capability.  Yet, it is exactly our brain power that needs to guide us forward – and, historically, man has shown to be the biggest danger to mankind.  We need to step up our efforts in neuroscience to develop our “super-brains,” with digital enhancement as appropriate, that will stand up to stand-alone digital intelligence and allow us to thrive and leverage it responsibly and to the full.

       7.   Purpose is hot

As this generation is shaping our new world, purpose is a pivotal driver.  We need an intervention to prominently include environmental sustainability and social responsibility in our societal mission going forward.  As Al Gore put it: “We need a Sustainability revolution the size of the Industrial one at the speed of the Digital one”.

       8.   Forget your keyboard, just talk

We’re on the verge of a new generation of digital interfacing: voice is about to totally replace keyboard.  It will revolutionize digital systems and architecture, as well as our interaction with our tools, from an input, but also from an output viewpoint – how will the screen develop when the computer directly talks back?

        9.  Zoom in – technology: mobility (totally) reinvented, and its consequences

I was particularly taken by the imminent reality of autonomous mobility and the collateral effect it will have on society. Alphabet’s Waymo effectively driving around autonomous cars in a Phoenix lead market at amazing safety records is one thing, and should be recognized for the potential of its societal benefits vs.  our current reality, where nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year (equivalent to a 747 falling from the sky every hour,) with an additional 20-50 million injured or disabled.  But combining autonomy with connectivity and sharing will reshape our cities and the way we live in and commute to them.  For further top spin, autonomy will allow a new air transport dimension through drones/helicopters.

     10.  A diverse and inclusive workplace to get us to the desired new world!

For us to deliver the future world we desire, “tech” needs to become more diverse and inclusive to ensure we get to the best solutions and outcome, not less than today as is the current concerning trend.  This topic was a red thread throughout the summit.  Companies need to develop clear principles and expectations around sexism and other diversity issues, adhere to them, and take immediate action when they’re violated.  Men and women should own this together - “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!”

Written in partnership with John van der Linden, Open Innovation Manager P&G.

John Metselaar, Professor Leading Innovation, Solvay Brussels School, and Leader Innovation & Productivity Center, The Conference Board.

  • About the Author: John Metselaar

    John  Metselaar

    John Metselaar leads the global Innovation & Productivity Center as well as Europe's Innovation Council, which is based in Brussels. He also serves as a senior fellow in innovation, leadership, st…

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