Friday, March 08, 2013
Crowds in the clouds, a brave old world
I will soon be flying home, back from Las Vegas, where I had the privilege of attending IBM Pulse's conference.
The opportunity to meet in person many colleagues and friends from all over the world is equal only to the opportunity of listening to some of the most prominent voices in the technology field, from some of our brightest colleagues, from analysts, from business partners, and specially from our customers.
These interactions are an anchor in reality that cannot be taken lightly and at the same time are an anchor of a scale and relevance that are almost impossible to comprehend. This conference has become the equivalent of a small city of over 10.000 people, which is created and torn apart in the span of a few days. I wrote what I could during the conference, but Twitter only goes so far to convey the sense responsibility that comes with working in the information technology field.
In the view of CEOs, information technology is now the most important aspect of the their companies' future. It is also a critical aspect to the future of the entire world. Connectivity and smart devices are shaping an entire new dimension of interactivity between people, governments and the enterprise.
The democratization of technology...
If you lived your career through the 90s, for a while it seemed technology would only get faster, until it became totally interconnected and different altogether.
For the first time in modern history (and I use 'modern history' very judiciously here) , self-organization, information sharing, and merit-based leadership have allowed crowds to emerge and galvanize quickly, and somewhat effectively, around subjects ranging from designing a new product, to funding new ideas, to fighting against tyranny and oppression.
The world is small again, and technology has rescued fundamental aspects of human nature from the incomprehensible and ever increasing size of our world population. Easier access to means of production enable people to become direct producers once more, weakening the hold of wage-to-capital relations; pervasive access to means of communication eliminates barriers between individual producers and individual consumers, it reconnects people with their power to decide their destinies and ultimately reconnects individuals with the rest of the world in more meaningful and direct ways.
...is rewriting the books on capital ownership...
The power of the masses puts tremendous positive pressure on leaders from public and private spheres in ways that even the most jaded of citizens cannot refute. Crowd-sourced projects like Domino's Ultimate Delivery Vehicle or movements like the Arab Spring are evidence that the mere existence of crowds can make executives and governments see and engage people in a whole different light.
Open and free platforms for supporting virtual communities are already part of daily activities for a large portion of the world population, 3D printing is maturing at a rapid place, new materials and more efficient recycling technologies will further reduce the importance of capital in human initiative.
In the not so distant future, you will be able to ship a toy to a shop across the country and get it "restructured" in a recycling unit that can reprint the raw materials in the format of another more interesting toy for your growing child
Imagining the gadgets of the future, however exciting, is not nearly as interesting as imagining the dramatic implications to economic and social relations of the future. Micro-financing is a fantastic example, closing the gap in democratizing the access to means of production, a reality for many small businesses in less developed areas of the globe, with rates of default that are smaller or equal to those of traditional bank financing.
Fantastic initiatives like the one from Marcin Jakubowski, outlined in his TED talk titled "Open-sourced blueprints for civilization", also point the way at closing the gap on intellectual capital. Ever increasingly, people are having more access to knowledge, means of financing, communication, and production, than ever before.
...and on social relations
Cities are learning how to integrate immediate feedback from the general population into their own management systems. Researchers are also exploring with how to understand the sentiment of a city. Technology is not only reaching the masses, it is starting to understand the masses, and that is only the beginning.
Regardless of how one may question the motives of companies and governments, it is important to realize that what we are seeing now, however unprecedented, is also a very small step in enabling a different future for humanity.
For those skeptical and suspicious of technology, the only message is to accept it without fear, because the only other option is to become part of a lost generation. The advancements are not here to rob us of our identity and individuality, they are here to restore these qualities in ways modern civilization has long forgotten.
Just like when technology evolution surprised everyone for not being just about making things go faster, and while everyone is grappling with the evolution of the new small world, technology will change the very nature of society and the economy itself.
The new companies and the new governments
Companies will be challenged by customers and employees to achieve a sustainable model that is not based on the ownership of capital, of intellectual property, or of distribution channels. Governments will be forced to adapt to collective participation far beyond general elections. Failure to invest in education for creativity and to adapt the education curriculum for a new merit-based economy will land millions of people in a fairly uncompetitive heap. Allegiances will be formed to communities, not to companies or to countries.
Successful economies and business models will thrive on unlocking the power and creativity of individuals, in forming communities of individuals with large overlaps between personal goals and business goals. Being competitive will be more about doing things that others cannot do than about doing things cheaply and more efficiently.
Being in the technology field for a relatively short (or long) 16 years, I cannot contain my enthusiasm for the things to come in the next 5 years, let alone in the next 16 years.