I'll Let You In on a Secret About New Technology: Everyone Has an Agenda
It’s no secret that there are some interesting and ground-breaking technologies emerging, but it can be difficult to wade through all the hype to get to the heart of what matters. These technologies receive a lot of attention. Some of it is deserved, but much of it is hype that gets blown out of proportion.
Consider the fact that since the creation of blockchain, more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies have been created, each purporting to be unique and different. Blockchain itself will remove lots of friction in transactions, contracts and identity verification, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the world needs 2,000 different currencies.
Artificial intelligence is another exciting technology that will improve efficiency and productivity in many industries. All the same, intelligent people are wasting their time on AI use cases that improve shopping experiences or social media influencer marketing. The timeline of adoption is also quite a bit longer than anticipated. According to the 2018 Interop ITX AI "State of AI: Hype or Substance" survey, only 12 percent of technology professionals surveyed are currently using AI in production.
So where does the hype come from? People who discuss new technologies tend to do so from a specific angle, and if you trace their narrative back far enough, you can usually figure out their incentives.
Appearance vs. reality
When you read about a new technology, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that everyone has an agenda. Businesses introduce new tech with the goal of selling it to you, scientists produce research with the aim of attracting funding or winning a Nobel prize, and politicians use technology to push their own interests, whether it’s supporting their main constituency or scaring a competitor’s.
The point is that there’s always an ulterior motive just beneath the surface.
Technology can create amazing opportunities, but it also frequently brings certain risks. When scientists tapped into nuclear fission in the 20th century, the result produced nuclear power -- but also nuclear bombs. Facebook and other social media platforms bring people together in many ways -- but they can also be used to sow hatred and manipulate others.
Regardless of your position on either of these examples, it’s clear that adopting new technologies will always require careful thought. Before your business takes the leap, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is the timing right?
Emerging technologies create opportunities for entrepreneurs, but there’s often an introductory period that’s longer than expected. Early adopters can frequently stand to benefit the most, but there’s also a price to pay to be one of the first users of new technology, including a learning curve and the inconveniences caused by bugs or glitches.
Even established tech companies aren’t immune to changing attitudes. Brands such as Google and Facebook that were previously lauded are now facing increasing scrutiny over the amount of power they wield. Earlier this year, Facebook faced backlash after it admitted that Cambridge Analytica had acquired about 50 million users' personal information without their consent. The incident led to discussions around how much power we should allow tech companies over our personal data, and many Facebook users decided to delete their accounts as a result of the scandal.
The term “techlash” has even been created to describe this type of backlash, and in many ways, it’s standard with the introduction of new technologies. Media and consumers are initially excited, and then time reveals challenges and side effects that were initially obscured by hype.
2. How will the tech affect your industry?
New technologies frequently create competition, and in some cases, they can even disrupt an entire industry. Even when new tech seems especially promising, however, it must still face off against the resources of existing giants -- and tech startups must fight an uphill battle, to say the least.
With a value of nearly $2.5 trillion combined, Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon are in their own playing field. Even startups such as Snap worth billions of dollars find it hard to compete with the big boys in the tech industry, and the giant brands will almost always have more resources to make the most of new technology.
It’s also important to consider how the technology will affect your individual company. New technology can elevate customer expectations in a way that you must prepare for. Will there be new ways for you to interact with your customers? Will customers demand new things from you based on this technology? Will this technology provide new ways of organizing work (such as, for example, how laptops and smartphones made it possible for employees to work remotely)?
3. How will the tech affect society?
It’s important to gauge how new technologies will impact society from an individual level and a collective one. While technology is typically considered to contribute broadly to economic growth, it can also exacerbate inequality issues, and there are losers just as certainly as there are winners.
Workers in some industries are already feeling the pain. Barnes & Noble, for example, conducted a round of layoffs earlier this year as a result of declining sales, partly due to increased competition as companies such as Amazon are cornering the book market. And Amazon’s new Amazon Go store that boasts no checkout registers and no lines has the potential to change the way we shop forever, but it also threatens to lead to layoffs among retail workers.
New technologies represent an exciting opportunity, but there’s more to them that frequently gets obscured by media, business and consumer hype. If you’re considering adopting a new technology, remember the above points and ask yourself some tough questions. It’s easy to get caught up in the benefits, but be cognizant of techlash and try to foresee the negatives. If you can, you’ll be much more prepared to take on technology and wield it for good.