Sunday, May 18, 2014

Random thoughts on the future and implications on corporations and universities

I just got back from the Bay Area Maker Faire 2014.  Looking at all of the cool maker stuff, the upcoming technologies and the startups pitching their next generation 3D printing robot drones has got me thinking about the future.  I thought it would be good to put down some of my thoughts about the future while it's fresh on my mind.

As with all stories of the future, a moment to cast back on the past is in order.  In 1997, I was hired by a team at Lucent and Philips Consumer Communications to help research and design mobile phones.  In that year, I'd never actually spoken on a mobile phone, and I was awed at the technology.  That was 10 years before the introduction of the iPhone, and seventeen years before now.  Although it was clear that mobile technology was going to have an enormous impact on our everyday lives, I really had no idea:  Today, nearly every human adult has a mobile phone, and many of us in first-world countries have multiple devices that we navigate across fluidly throughout the day.  Given that incredible progress in that tiny part of my life, it is almost inconceivable for me to predict the future.  Yet here I go... (it's not like many people read this anyway) my predictions for the future:

  • Prediction 1: The distinction between work and home life will become completely perforated, or even irrelevant.  This seems excessively bold, but really it's a trend that's been increasing with technology that allows us to stay in communication and access pretty much any information anywhere, anytime. 
  • Because of this, I expect that corporations will be less defined and more directional.  Here's what I mean... you'll probably "join" a company for a time, and then work with them on a project to accomplish something with others.  The need for corporations to be clearer on direction and vision. They will, in turn, have less say in how you work and with which tools.  
  • Therefore, centralized IT teams will be relegated to "keeping the pipes flowing" and ensuring the "data is secure and accessible".  All attempts to impose internal tools or internal processes are likely to be circumvented by tools and processes that people learn and use outside of the constraints of "work". This has already begun, with tools such as Dropbox, Evernote and others, but will accelerate as tools become more sophisticated, integrated and accessible.
  • Prediction 2: A new style of apprenticeship will arise around entrepreneurship and core skills that may significantly distrupt the traditional systems of higher education that we have today.  For hundreds of years, the academic norm for institutions of higher education was Colleges and Universities, where the pursuit of academic truth was primary and much of undergraduate education was dedicated to the transfer of knowledge based on what was currently accepted as truth.   This system is highly optimized to prepare students at the undergrad and graduate levels for a career in academia.  It does not, however, prepare one for life outside of the academic environment.  Today, in the era of constant access to pretty much any information that has ever been known, the transfer of knowledge is not the critical thing for anyone who is not going to stay in academia.  Instead, the critical thing is to gain direct experiences that can provide transferable skills that are increasingly needed in today's world. 
  • Notice that we are already seeing signs of the cracks in the system:  high levels of under-employement paired with high student loans have led to some entrepreneurial students dropping out of college (or skipping it altogether) and going immediately into the workforce through startups and starting their own small businesses. Skill and Experience is what counts, so I anticipate the disruption of universities as the default educational path for a successful career. Instead, I expect a new style of institutional apprenticeship to arise. The proliferation of online and in-person classes centered around skill building will accelerate and eventually new institutions will arise that will focus on skills and experience, rather than knowledge and truth. 
Just my thoughts. I'm pretty much full of it, but I thought I would capture this now so I can look back at it in the future with amusement.


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