Updated: Oct 2, 2019
IGNORANCE IS ACCELERATING
“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet” W. Gibson
If, as we seem to everyday experience, knowledge is growing at an ever-increasing speed, then so too its opposite, ignorance is accelerating as well. In simplistic terms: If I am becoming smarter than you every day then, by definition, you are getting dumber each day. Over a decade ago in the ‘New Business Normal' we wrote that "competitive advantage will accrue to those able to access, aggregate (collate), analyze and act on information faster than their competition anywhere in the world at anytime."
The corollary (what happens if you don’t acquire these competitive advantages) exposes the fact that disadvantages will accelerate with equal speed and accrue to those unable to gain access, lack the big data processing capacity, possess few skills to organize and analyze the data, and lack global networks (physical and electronic) to act quickly 24/7/365. While our technologies are becoming pervasive and connecting people with basic functionality, intelligent products and services are rapidly leaving behind more and more people and companies worldwide. Crossing technical horizons can become a point of departure for much of the world’s population and just as access to mobile devices has been a point of departure, so too will coming horizons in AI, IoT, CSR, privacy concerns, and social connectivity create lines of demarcation between those who know and those who don’t.
Its like chasing an accelerating train on foot - once it reaches beyond your running speed, you will not only never catch up, you will be left farther behind faster with each passing moment. Cycles of learning account for more deployable knowledge with each new cycle and each cycle you miss out on requires finding a way of increasing acceleration to warp speed or an ability to fold space before the next cycle to catch up. In mathematical terms it is like compound interest -as the learning cycle time decreases toward zero the gap becomes exponential and even small changes over time create very large results.
Access to sources precedes data acquisition; access to tools precedes collating; and organizing, access to skills precedes analysis; access to resources precedes action and access to global infrastructure precedes distribution and timeliness. In today’s world it means that without access you are getting left behind faster.
Example: Access to AI (Artificial Intelligence). “The trajectory of AI penetration into our media, security, social media, health care, entertainment, financial services – our lifestyles, business and society, is increasing”, says Jim Canton, CEO of the Institute of Global Futures. In effect information, in many forms, is expanding faster than access and understanding at a scalable level. We simply don’t yet have a methodology for clearly understanding how technological trends ramify across societies and the world.
The challenge for every individual and company becomes: What data to look for, where to find it, how to extract the actionable information, how and where to purpose and commit assets and, subsequently, determining insertion/inflection points require understanding of multi-disciplinary complexity. If half of human ‘work’ is being done by AI and if that AI is owned and controlled by less than 1% of the companies/people on the planet then the speed at which the 99% falls behind accelerates permanently beyond reach - and that is just in the west. Domain specific knowledge at the expert level is also becoming more concentrated in the hands of fewer people and companies as it also becomes more and more complex. The implications for you and for your company are immense and the ramifications extend across all society.
To build a new product in most markets now requires the interaction of multiple disciplines, technologies, and more than casual experience with complexity management. Each new domain represents a deep knowledge well of the potential mechanical, biological, chemical, psychological, electrical and electronic, cyberspace and cybersecurity interactions. Medical devices may be at the top of this type of food chain but with the internet of things (IoT) even electronic mouse traps require design and compliance with safety, UL, disposal, data collection and analysis (how many, where, what time, what type were caught, how often?), security, etc.
It follows that as systems and networks grow in connectivity and complexity the risk of single point failure also grows. Even one’s death, the ultimate change singularity, usually leads to unintended consequences….no one can find your passwords is just the starting point (think Linkedin, bank accounts, email, Facebook etc.). Let alone passing along ‘know-how’ that can remain beyond the reach of those who follow for decades.
The knowledge of how multiple disciplines interact to create new functionality is the basis of innovation. Often described as ‘connecting the dots in new ways', ‘innovation’ is generally blind to dependencies, ramifications, and consequences. From the innovative thinking that lead to nuclear fusion leading to bombs, to cancer cures from viruses leading to weaponized diseases, or computer malware and machine intelligence and robots leading to wherever AI eventually takes us.
When new features and functionality are introduced, new learning is created that becomes unavailable to those without access to the application of informed knowledge over time. New platforms are the stuff of technological progress. Adoption rates are what drive their pervasiveness and total usefulness. Within one to n cycles those without the access to learning get left behind faster, have a harder time catching up and being successful in an environment that is quickening its pace. Access drives adoption irrespective of personal preference or relative performance.
Our complex systems, with and without the help of AI, are evolving faster and with broader reach. Some of our manufacturing processes are described as chaotic systems…so vast that even the slightest change can create event horizons that are unimagined and uncontrollable.
Companies like Intel with >500 manufacturing process steps to create a computer chip, not including rework loops, with millions of potential interfaces and interactions rely on a copy exact philosophical discipline to insure as much containment of variability as possible. As an example, a supplier can improve its product quality and have all of the improvements rejected because it introduces a new variable into a chaotic system, which follows the simple rule that the more you try to reduce chaos the more chaos you create.
In recent years we have come to know that at the fundamental levels of the universe, at the smallest levels of matter and energy, things are messy, and messy infinite systems accelerate entropy. Perhaps we are accelerating our own entropy as cultures and civilizations by creating more and more inaccessible messy systems like central banking, national security agencies and the interconnectivity of everything.
The amount of energy in the form of speed, prowess and resources that it takes to catch up once you fail to intercept a critical technological, environmental, societal, market or business horizon, is exponential and companies, people, and countries rarely, if ever, have readily available resources to spare, let alone enough to exponentially catch up once they miss a cycle. At some point many people and companies across the globe will never develop the access, aggregating and analytical skills nor the resources to act in real time globally. That has ramifications at scale that few can imagine whether at the board, management, governmental or societal level.
The new reality for people and businesses: If you are not intercepting technological, environmental, societal, market or business horizons in real time and understanding all of their ramifications, by accessing, aggregating, analyzing and acting on information faster than your competition anywhere in the world at anytime, then your ignorance is accelerating and your opportunity horizons are disappearing at ever greater speed.