Welcome to the Digital Rinascimento

I wish I had a penny for each time I encountered this funny rant, applied to a widespread group of innovation waves like Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Big Data, AI. Only this time, it feels different — for real. A monumental disruption is coming towards us at an unstoppable pace, and its shockwave is going to be like no others in history, because it will change not only the way we work and do business, but also our society, our civilization, our culture, and our welfare, for good.

Gartner leaves little space to the imagination while depicting the scale of the industrial revolution of the new millennium:

  • As of today, 57% of organizations have not found a starting point for their digital transformation.
  • By 2020 80% of I&O organizations will restructure for digital, and 60% of them will fail to deliver the expected value. In case you were wondering, there will be blood, lots of it.
  • By 2023 90% of DevOps initiatives will fail to fully meet expectations due to the limitations of leadership approaches, not technical reasons.

So what options are left for us, then? Either ride the wave or perish? Let’s take a closer look at what is coming at us, and what will be some key ingredients of this disruption.

WHAT TO DO WHEN MACHINES DO EVERYTHING?

The above is the question that gives the title to a book written by Ben Pring, Malcolm Frank, and Paul Roehrig. A question that goes straight to the point of our concerns — as every one of us has had this thought at least once, and if you haven’t already you would probably rush yourself into it — to which the authors provide an intriguing answer.

It all starts with the so-called Budding Effect. Edwin Beard Budding invented the lawnmower back to 1827, in a time when lawns were just not a thing, as all was fields. The introduction of lawnmowers creates a vacuum in the fields, and all of a sudden the need to fill it with something ramps up.

Activities like soccer, hockey, tennis, football, baseball are born. The sports industry is born. An industry that today is worth $620B, and is at the bedrock of our society.

The Budding Effect states that a technology wave creates a vacuum, a new uncharted territory ready to be explored, organized, developed, mastered, a new found land of opportunity, rather than fear. Where will AI create its vacuum, and what is going to fill it? Well, look around yourself. Self-driving cars, biotechnology, AI-driven medical assessments, paralegal, stock trading, smart clothes, virtual reality, smart infrastructures, quantum computing, digital assistants, self-actualization, education, and many, many more.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AS AN EMANCIPATION TOOL

The widespread fear is that AI is going to replace most of our jobs and there are valid reasons to believe how this could be an overreaction. In the foreseeable future, AI is not going threaten the foundation of the human society — or, as AI guru Andrew NG says “today fearing a rise of killer robots is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.” A regular job can ideally be described as a composition of multiple discrete tasks, and AI will take over in automating some of them, hence help us become faster, more efficient, more precise.

Take Google, arguably the most innovative company one can think of, as an example: Google is well known for having designed some of the most efficient, green, and effective datacenters ever conceived by the human mind. They applied AI to their state of the art datacenters looking for new ways to optimize their footprint, and as a result, power usage effectiveness decreased by 15% and cooling requirements decreased by 40%. IBM applied Watson for similar purposes, obtaining to no surprise comparable results.

Analysts believe that “ […] by 2025 the second economy (digital economy) will be as large as the 1995 physical economy”. This is a stunning achievement, as disruptive as the industrial revolution of the XIX century, only orders of magnitude more significant in scale. While it’s true that, as it happened in every single revolution, some jobs are destined to disappear, a closer look at history gives us solid reasons to remain optimistic as countless others have always come into existence.

The fear of the new is nothing new in human history, probably in our nature. People in the 1800s feared for their future as the advent of cars, industries, and electricity modified the social tissue. Instead, an unprecedented boom of wellness emerged. A cardinal moment of emancipation for the human civilization that allowed us to unlock mysteries of physics, to soar beyond our planet, and galaxy, and uni(multi?)verse, to live longer and better, to become more connected and diverse.

It’s hard to predict precisely the ways AI is going to mold the society of tomorrow, but it is not difficult to imagine — and it’s an understatement — 50 years from today the next generations looking back at us and wondering how we could have lived our lives in such harsh conditions, just as we do today going back to the times and life of our grand-grand-grand fathers.

You may be wondering by now what are going to be the main traits of a successful business in the future? A lot of people way smarter than who is writing these lines are engaged in this conversation every day, providing a consistent flow of insights for us to meditate upon; in my search, I have identified two foundational elements I am going to highlight in the next few lines, as I found themselves to be probably not as intuitive as they may sound.

DISRUPT THE DISRUPTION — THE ANCIENT ART OF FIGURING THINGS OUT

In the next few lines, I am going to borrow insights from a few influential authors and thinkers like Mariano Maluf, Allan Zander, Michio Kaku, Neil DeGrasse, Lawrence Krauss, and several others.

I believe that in the next 25 years the modern version of the digital disruption, or at least the one we have witnessed over the last decade, is going to self-disrupt itself; it all boils down to evolution and the physical limits nature imposed on us.

Let’s start from a simple, unquestionable fact: in a not so distant future, we are going to manage data coming from trillions of sensors; this is a scale that goes beyond anything the human mind has ever and could ever potentially conceive. It is indeed a level of complexity that belongs to the realm of biology or astrophysics.

In so many different areas of the human knowledge, we are approaching the point at which our physical capabilities will no longer be sufficient to conduct a meaningful investigation, as our evolutionary path has not designed our thought structure to be proficient while manipulating such massive scales; in other terms, the intellectual and scientific growth of our society has surpassed the pace of evolution.

This challenge is going to unlock room for tremendous opportunities: AI has the potential to effectively help humanity going beyond its limits, in ways and approaches we may not — and should not, from an evolutionary perspective — never quite fully understand. Like the invention of rockets allowed us to reach the escape velocity and leave our home planet, AI may become yet another means for humankind to reach out to a more vast, unexplored horizon.

However, achieving this goal is going to demand a radical shift in the common conception of automation. To reach the Eldorado, humanity must stop to expect machines to behave, process information and elaborate results as if they were one of us, expecting them to solve problems in the same way you and I would probably do.

The real breakthrough is going to be learning to teach machines the noble and ancient art of figuring things out, and give them the freedom to try, fail, learn, execute, so that AI is likely going to have the power to become a proxy for mankind to a level of knowledge that would be literally outside our physical and biological capabilities.

Companies like AlphaGo have already thrilled the world creating flavors of AI capable of outperforming the brightest human professional players; as we speak, companies around the globe working towards creating an AI able to master the game of poker, a challenge on a new order of magnitude of complexity.

AI is not only going to benefit our society by improving our efficiency and making us more knowledgeable than we could have ever become but will also give us the opportunity to explore whole new, different angles of existence itself by its own ability to think “out of the box.”

Think about the worldwide famous and controversial campaign by Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick. In today’s world, we can use machine learning and deep learning algorithms to better assess the potential outcomes of a marketing strategy — all things that humans are already capable of figuring out, only slower and less accurately. The initial idea still has to come from a human, however. Now think about a scenario in which AI is capable of creating that idea, evaluate its impact, and challenge our curiosity and morale by bringing it forward to our attention. A liberated kind of AI tasked with the mission to amaze and challenge us, making us feel special in ways we can’t even fathom today, delivering a whole new level of customer experience.

Alternatively, think about the Apple revolution of the 2000s and the disruption introduced by the iPhone. No user base, or market research, or man-driven method would have been capable of delivering to us the blueprint of such a revolution. It took someone capable of thinking differently, have a vision, the ability to connect the dots, and the capacity to execute. We can count a handful of these individuals for each generation, yet again because of the endemic limitations of our society and physiology.

Think about leveraging AI to find ways to innovate, a future where each an every one of us could have the chance to engage with Steve Jobs alike bot as a personal assistant. That would change everything, and bring humanity back to the splendor of a golden age of its history, dated back to the XII century and with its epicenter in the town of Florence in Italy. A new, digital Rinascimento (Renaissance), another era of scientific breakthroughs and unprecedented beauty.

A DIGITAL RENAISSANCE — BEAUTY MEETS TECHNOLOGY ONCE AGAIN

Most people relate the Renaissance to a period driven purely by the creation of the most familiar masterpieces of art, often forgetting the revolutions born in way more areas of human knowledge . The father of modern physics — and probably the whole modern western thought process — was born towards the end of that age, an astronomer from Pisa named Galileo Galilei. A timeless genius named Leonardo da Vinci, capable like no other in history to master many different realms of knowledge from engineering to art, is a son of Renaissance as well.

For us products of the era of hyper-specialization driven by the industrial revolution and Henry Ford’s production line, AI may have the power to turn this trend on its head and push ourselves to develop skills and capabilities all-around. Technical excellence is going to have limited value in a world where an AI capable of continually outperforming humans can be considered as a commodity.

The leaders of tomorrow, aided by AI, will then have the chance to soar to becoming the new Leonardo Da Vinci, individuals capable of delivering excellence on multiple, disparate levels. In this scenario, Technology is not only going to become as useful as it has ever been in history but will also be required to be beautiful and engaging, with no exception whatsoever.

After some 1200 years, beauty and technology are going to have the chance to be reunited again in an Omni-comprehensive experience that is going to aim at satisfying our cravings and needs at all levels. Beauty and technology will once again blend into one single manifestation of the human existence, one dependent on the other, one existing as function of the other, as a colossal celebration of newly discovered frontier.

Just as the Cappella Sistina is capable of taking one’s breath away for both the solemn architecture designed by Pontelli and De Dolci and the mesmerizing visuals of the Last Judgement painted by Michelangelo, the artifacts of tomorrow are going to deliver an experience based on absolute technical soundness, a sublime, flawless harmony, and a unprecedented capacity to keep us engaged.

Some may see the risk of over-dramatizing all aspects of our day to day life; while this matter of concern stands true, I believe in the incredible opportunity to embrace a way more profound sense of purpose of our lives; AI has the power to assist us all the way of this journey, providing a rock solid foundation to become a new, better version of ourselves.

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Andre Uan Kenobi

Andre Uan Kenobi

Playing around, meeting with people, and making things happen.