The Next Era of Technology Will Be Huge

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Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The Tech Giants are having a moment, a wake up call if you will. This is good and about time. A predictable outcome from years of moving fast and breaking things. And they broke a lot of things as they dashed about like a kid on a sugar high. But they also did some awesome things and broke some things that needed to be broken and while it may at times seem dark, it’s actually quite good. What is next is what’s really exciting though when it comes to digital technologies.

We’re entering what might be called a liminal time for both business and consumer technologies. A period where a shift is underway. How long this period will last is hard to say. What it will be like is a little easier to predict. It will be messy. Significant periods of change in an industry always are.

The indicators that we’re entering this time of change are complex and simple. They are complex because digital technologies, from the internet to smartphones, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and the Internet-of-Things and more have become so deeply embedded in our sociocultural systems and personal lives.

Over the past few years, a perfect storm has arisen to get us to where we are today. Issues of privacy, surveillance capitalism, the shift from capitalism that does social good to capitalism that is focused purely on profit. The hubris of Silicon Valley Tech Bro culture, the divisiveness of social media and State actors interfering in civil society. The weaponisation of AI. These are the dark aspects of digital technologies.

Then there’s economics with rampant inflation. The pandemic lead to a surge of people buying new devices and spending much more time in the digital world.

But social media has also brought use change movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo, that are cultures way of improving society. Advances in AI are improving health outcomes through disease detection and discovering new antibiotics and other life-saving medicines. Robotics are helping people with physical limitations to have more freedom of movement and be able to participate and feel more engaged with society. Sensors and data analytics tools are helping us understand and find solutions for climate change. One might argue that humanity is benefitting from digital technologies more than not.

Digital technologies are in and of themselves neutral. It is how culture shapes them that matters. For most people, culture is viewed as the arts; music, literature, art etc. But culture is the means by which humans have survived and adapted. A key survival trait is our ability to adapt across many niches and we’ve always used technologies to do that. From the stone axe through to Artificial Intelligence today.

Tech companies, like Facebook, Google and Microsoft all somehow had this idea that once the lockdowns went away everyone would want to come back to the office and would still want to spend a lot of time in the digital world. This hasn’t happened. It won’t happen. Humans are social creatures, we like to get together, we like to explore our physical world far more than a digital one. Humans much prefer technologies that work in the background, that augment our daily lives not disrupt them.

What happened socioculturally with the lockdowns and all the time we spent in digital worlds was two things. One was that current digital technologies are more isolating than community building. The second is that we became mentally exhausted from being in front of screens for so long every day. We may also have some form of a collective trauma and so many screens reminds us of the pandemic and struggling to cope with it all. Many technology companies, especially those serving business and consumers have failed to understand this.

So What’s Next?

As technology companies do a little navel gazing and perhaps some research, they’ll come to understand that they need to take a more human-centric approach to their products and services. Apple understands this very well. Microsoft and Google are getting there. Meta (Facebook) hasn’t clued in yet and they may not. Twitter? We’ll just set that whole kerfuffle aside for now.

Things are messy with digital technologies right now as we start to figure out, culturally, socially, what we want from these technologies. For a few decades we ingested them like a whale inhaling a school of fish. Now we have some digestive issues.

Over the next decade we will see more, necessry, regulation of many digital technologies, from crypto and AI to social media and robots. The key is to not end up stifling innovation through too much regulation. A constant battle. Industries rarely prove capable of self-regulation. Yet we still need free markets.

But as we come out of this liminal time, as we make strides in understanding these technologies, some really significant and beneficial advances will be made. No, it won’t be a techtopia or a utopia, those are delusional impossibilities. Next to look at is how major technological advances are happening.