The Future Is Now

2017 is upon us. And with it comes new challenges, new technologies and new opportunities. According to Dion Chang of Flux Trends, the future is here. And those companies that refuse to acknowledge that things are changing, are destined to be left behind.

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  • Player: Dion Chang
  • Company: Flux Trends
  • About: Flux Trends identifies trends that affect the way in which we live and work in the 21st century. It joins the dots in order to help businesses stay ahead of the curve. 
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It’s amazing how the future can sneak up on us and arrive without us even really noticing. Just look at autonomous vehicles. Until very recently, self-driving cars were the stuff of science fiction. Now, seemingly overnight, autonomous vehicles have hit the mainstream. They’re a reality — and they’re set to disrupt the motoring and transport industries on a massive scale. 

Johannes Dreyer

How did it happen? How did autonomous vehicles go from science fiction to science fact in such a short space of time?

“We’ve seen massive acceleration in the field of driverless cars over the last few months, and this is typical of how these things happen,” says Dion Chang of Flux Trends.

“New technology reaches a tipping point where development and adoption accelerates rapidly. Once you reach that tipping point, things happen very quickly.”

Of course, companies have been quietly toiling away at the concept of driverless cars for years and years. But now that the technology is viable and has been shown to work, interest has skyrocketed. Suddenly, we’re seeing companies competing to get in on the ground floor of this new industry. 


The rise of the robots

The rise of autonomous vehicles is really just one aspect of a much larger trend: The rise of widespread automation and mechanisation. 

“Concepts like artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning and deep-learning are set to change the business world at a fundamental level,” says Chang. “We started seeing evidence of this in 2015, but I think 2017 will be the tipping point.”

As machine intelligence and the efficiency of algorithms improve, an increasing number of jobs will be taken on by machines. And we’re not talking about vehicle assembly or packaging or any of those tasks that ‘robots’ have been doing for years. Instead, we’re talking about complex tasks that require a high level of ‘thinking’.

Bots are an obvious example. A lot of companies are already experimenting with chat bots that talk to customers online. Some in the financial services are even helping clients invest their money. These bots can deal with queries and even play a significant sales role — tasks that will be taken away from human beings.


A new economy

“The nature of work is going to change. Not only will we see an increase in mechanisation and automation, but I think people are also starting to look at work differently. The traditional concept of the nine-to-five job is disappearing. More and more people are freelancing — hiring themselves out by the job, instead of having full-time employment. The number of freelancers on Linkedin has grown by 43% in the last five years,” says Chang. 

This brings with it both opportunities and risks. As AI and automation improves, businesses are likely to be able to afford services that once would have been outside their reach. And, as is always the case when new technologies appear, there will be huge opportunities for first-movers. 

And what about the risks? “There will be disruption,” says Chang. “Labour laws will need to change, for instance, and the way companies view recruitment and employment will need to change. Employees want flexibility. They want to work remotely. Companies will need to accept this new economy. Young employees might have different ideas about work, but they also have skills that your business needs.”


Preparing for disruption

Technology is a great driver of disruption, but it can be hard to sometimes see that disruption on the horizon. How can companies know what to look out for, and when is it time to start caring?

“A great example of a company that looked at trends and managed to create a disruptive business model is Uber. Everything needed to create Uber already existed. Smartphones existed, apps existed, GPS existed. Moreover, the on-demand economy was coming into its own. All Uber needed to do was bring it all together. It’s a great example of what can be done, but it’s also a cautionary tale of how easily an industry can be disrupted,” says Chang. 

Trends such as the rise of AI and autonomous cars can all seem rather abstract and far removed from day-to-day business, but it is important for entrepreneurs to pay attention to trends, even when it doesn't seem as if they might directly impact their businesses.

“The day-to-day complexity of running a business can make long-term strategising seem like a luxury that’s simply impossible to afford, but this is a huge mistake. The future can be tomorrow, not a decade from now. No company can afford to just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Some sort of future strategy is crucial. 

“Pivoting and preparing for the future can be daunting, but it’s important to do something — to not be immobilised by the sheer complexity of things. You need to prioritise. What is the first step in moving towards a vital pivot? If you want to prepare for the future, the important thing is to just start — from there it’s a gradual progression.