What comes after the internet?
Darren Savage, Tribal Worldwide’s Chief Strategy Officer, shares his insights on overcoming evolutionary deficiencies to make artificial intelligence work for humanity.
In 2015 Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, gave an interview on the US Charlie Rose show, in which he posed and discussed the question: “what comes after the Internet?”
In many respects, Apple, and its fellow tech titan Google, are following Alan Kaye’s advice about predicting the future by inventing it.
Google’s latest move in their efforts to do this came with the announcement of Alphabet, Google’s new holding company, a key aim of which is to make “smaller bets in areas that might seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.”
All this relentless newness is very exciting. But, in looking to answer the question of what comes after the Internet and what role will A.I. play, trying to make sense of where the relentless march of technology is taking us in the context of our current understanding of the Internet, is probably not the best place to start.
The tendency to extrapolate the next from the now has led to many predictions that sounded sensible at the time, but now look increasingly silly, such as:
Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM in 1943 stating: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corp in 1977 saying: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
And Bill Gates of Microsoft postulating in 1981 that: “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
The avalanche of new tech, platforms, media, partnerships and businesses is a significant driver of the modern condition of accelerated culture — an overload of newness that is overtaken by more newness before anyone can get to grips with the old lot of newness. To paraphrase William Gibson:
"The future is already here, but most people are really confused about the whole thing and probably wish it would go away and leave them alone, unless someone can make it much easier for them to understand, access, use and benefit from."
Eric Schmidt of Google was right when he famously opined: “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy we’ve ever had.”
Given the fact that Google along with the Amazon and IBM are spending gargantuan amounts of money on rebuilding themselves around IA — it’s a safe bet that the post Internet future will involve some manner of machine intelligence.
My starting point about understanding the Internet, in order to define a post Internet future, would be to ignore the technology and focus, initially at least, on a human perspective; how our current evolutionary state is restricting our ability to understand the Internet now. And for similar reasons, our inability to conceive what the future may look like, so we can do an Alan Kaye and invent it.
Alan Kaye provides another useful quote to frame why this approach is necessary:
“Living organisms are shaped by evolution to survive, not necessarily to get a clear picture of the universe.
For example, frogs’ brains are set up to recognise food as moving objects that are oblong in shape.
So if we take a frog’s normal food — flies — paralyze them with a little chloroform and put them in front of the frog, it will not notice them or try to eat them. It will starve in front of its food! But if we throw little rectangular pieces of cardboard at the frog it will eat them until it is stuffed! The frog only sees a little of the world we see, but it still thinks it perceives the whole world.
Now, of course, we are not like frogs!
Or are we?”
Fortunately, unlike frogs, evolution has provided us with amazingly inventive, collaborative, problem solving brains that help us overcome our evolutionary deficiencies of seeing a little, and not perceiving the whole.
The scale of the problem and opportunity at hand, demands a significant undertaking to understand the Internet before it goes all Skynet on us; something akin to Bletchley Park meets the Manhattan Project.
Once assembled, this pool of mega brains need to consider what to do with these 10 key business and human impacts of the 4th industrial revolution:
1. The acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate, and these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.
2. On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains.
3. Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behaviour (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.
4. A key trend is the development of technology — enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy.
5. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data — thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process.
6. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from household activities to parking, from massages to travel.
7. On the whole, there are four main effects that the fourth industrial revolution has on business: on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms.
8. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration — particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place.
9. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.
10. The bottom line; business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.
This gathering of our finest minds should aim to develop new adaptive tools, media and systems to give everyone the ability to transcend the limitations of human evolution and provide the means for us to influence and control where the Internet is going, the staggering impact of A.I. and the means to personally benefit from its potential and potency.
Either that, or we can kick back and await an especially bad Michael Bay version of the future triggered by malevolent AI’s and featuring killer robots stalking the earth.