Two Critical Points About The Future

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Recently I heard two quote about the future that really put things into perspective.

This week, Startup Festival was taking place in Montreal. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tobi Lutke (Founder and CEO of the $3+ billion company, Shopify), and I was also able to spend a lot of time listening to those who are inventing the future, thinking about the future and investing in those who are building the future. It’s been a fascinating three day experience. One of the main stage presentation was Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media). Tim coined the phrase Web 2.0, is helping to push the maker movement and has spent decades being at the bleeding edge of technology. From publishing and philosophizing about the current and future state of the world, Tim’s insights are always this blurry barrage of deep tech knowledge minced with philosophy about what the economy could be. You would be hard pressed to find a technologist as bullish and optimistic about our future as Tim O’Reilly. His keynote presentation was titled, First Principles, and it had me scratching out notes at a furious pace. Tim was breaking down the notion that your company’s core beliefs about the world form the first principles on which your company is based (think about how Google wanted to make all of the world’s information accessible). Now, Tim’s attention is spent thinking about the first principles of technology in the future economy (something he calls, Next Economy… a place where humans use technology to augment the work experience, and not just to reduce costs and automate everyone out of a job). This Next Economy is very similar to the We, Robots publishing platform that I started back in late 2012. It was this idea that technology – and the future – is not going to be what we have today. That robots and algorithms are not going to replace our work, but rather create an augmented work experience, which is going to create many more interesting types of works (jobs and industries that don’t exist today).

You can’t think about automation without thinking about our future.    

In presentations of my own (and in writing), I have often stipulated that technology moves both very slowly (we’ve had a commercialized web for close to two decades), but happens very fast (Shopify is a $3+ billion business, but they started in 2004). They may seem like an overnight success, but it was a decade-plus in the making (still, it all feels so sudden). Tim said it best…

1. “The future happens very slowly. Then, all at once.”

This is a fact. So, what are you doing about things like data, artificial intelligence, the shift to mobile, streaming services, video and more? Is everything at a tipping point? Is everything being done by your competitors and you are lagging behind? Think deeply about the very few spaces listed above that are gaining steam in technology today, but are (truly) not commonplace. No brands have leveraged any of those areas to the best of their capabilities. The future is happening very slowly right now. Now, is the chance to capture it. Now is the chance to not be in a position where the brand has done little, but it’s now too late because the “all at once” phase has arrived.

This isn’t about investing in the improbable, but much more about being ready for the inevitable.

It’s also very scary. Everyone is reading the news and seeing data points. Tim pointed to a piece research that stated 40% of jobs will be replaced by automation and/or robots. Basically, as artificial intelligence takes hold, it is going to create a hollowing out of jobs and work. Riffing on the augmentation verses obliteration theories, Tim said it best…

2. “It’s a failure of imagination to think that AI (or something) else is going to replace us.” 

That could be one of most inspiring quotes that I have heard in a long time. Artificial intelligence and new technology is going to create many opportunities for us. It’s going to enable us to re-imagine our current process and workflow. It’s going to beg us to create a future where we can solve bigger and harder challenges. The idea is not to run away from technology or the future. We can’t hold back the future. The idea – for brands today – is to implement, explore and experiment now, because within that innovation will come sparks of imagination that will not replace what we do, but create the next jobs, industries and opportunities of the future. “A failure of imagination”… I love that.

Let’s not sit back and wait for the future. Let’s sit up and start imagining it, by working with the technology that is here today, and critical for tomorrow.