How to Prepare for Our Rapidly Approaching Science Fiction Future

This is a repost of an article I wrote back in 2012 after I was invited to spend a few days at the Singularity University Executive Program. What I did not know when I wrote this article was that a little more than two years later I would graduate from the program and, soon thereafter, take over the reins of not only the EP but all of our Open Enrollment programs. It is interesting to be able to look back in time and see that, while some of the specific technologies have moved forward, answers to many of the bigger questions like, “How will we govern ourselves?” have not. While many things in the world continue to get better everyday, there is undoubtedly a lot of work left to do. I’m thoroughly appreciative of the opportunity to work alongside an amazing team that brings these programs to life and provides a forum for leaders to engage in creating the future, together.

I had the privilege of spending the last two days as a guest at Singularity University’s Executive Program in Silicon Valley. And, after listening to a variety of experts in fields as diverse as computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience, I can safely say that the science fiction writers got it right. Really, really right. We already have Star Trek Communicators in the form of the iPhones and Android phones that we carry around in our pockets 24 hours a day, though there is an argument to be made that these devices are much more than that.

Given that most of us can’t be more than 10 feet away from our smart phones at anytime, are they really the beginning of the widespread integration of man and machine? The fact that we use our fingers and voices to control them rather than electrical impulses from the brain is an “arbitrary distinction”, as I heard multiple times this week. If the idea that you are already part cyborg has you feeling uneasy, its probably best for you to stop reading now.

The term “singularity” is a reference to the theory that humankind is rapidly approaching a point where technological intelligence will be greater than human intelligence. And after listening to the assembled speakers at the SU campus, it sounds like its coming quickly. The exponential growth and convergence of capabilities in genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence is pushing us towards a future which could be startling, and is unpredictable. What happens when robots become smarter than we are? What happens when robots can build themselves (read: reproduce)? What happens when advances in technology allow us to live forever? Will we want to? What will there be for us to do in a world where robots and machines are smarter and better at doing just about everything?

And that is where the excitement starts to build for me. If we take for granted that we are going to achieve this future of singularity in the coming generations, and after what I’ve seen the last few days it sure seems like we will, then we as humans are going to have a lot of work to do in building what will amount to an entirely new kind of social model. How will we govern ourselves? How will sentient robots integrate into society? How do we keep technology in the hands of those who wish to do good instead of evil? There will be a lot of complex issues for us to answer, and though it might fly in the face of everything else I’ve written here, I’m putting my money on humans playing the critical role in solving these kinds of issues instead of machines. To do so, however, we’ll need to find a spirit of cooperative problem-solving that is in desperately short supply in many of our institutions today. To be honest, that might be the biggest challenge we face. But the reward is massive.

I think it sounds a lot more fun to shape the future than to let the future shape us, so the best advice I can give anyone who is interested in learning more is to go to Singularity University’s homepage, check out their faculty, and then go to their YouTube channel to find videos of their speeches and presentations (like the inspiring one above). Then find a few hours and a quiet place to sit, allow your mind to be blown and allow your creativity to run wild.

There is a future to be created and fortunes to be made as industries will be fundamentally reshaped by countless technologies originally envisioned by those frighteningly accurate science fiction writers many years ago.

  • Are 3D printers from Cubify all that different from Star Trek’s transporters when you can print a physical object on the other side of the world with a touch of a button?
  • Has Gattaca come to life with personal genetics testing from 23andMe?
  • Are HAL 9000 and Alex Trebek’s friend IBM Watson just computer brothers from another mother? How about George Jetson’s car and Google’s driverless car? The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin, and South African Sprinter Oscar Pistorious?

If they aren’t exact matches, they are certainly very close. So, what’s the science fiction that you want to create? There’s never been a time in human history when creating anything has been more possible.

This post originally appeared on Medium on July 13, 2018.

Think About The “User Experience” When You Write Your Next Email

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I thought this article was pretty brilliant. It brings “user experience” into the conversation, as in, “what is the user experience you want to create for the reader of your email?” I know that from personal experience, the concise emails that I receive are more quickly responded to, and that longer rambling emails that I receive typically sit in my inbox for months.

This post originally appeared on Medium on July 11, 2018.

How Does Your Organization Murder Innovation?

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Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

If there is one common thread that weaves together my experience in the field of innovation over the last decade, it is how frustrated people are about how their organizations kill innovation.

Innovation murder doesn’t happen on purpose. Typically the perpetrators believe they are helping innovation, not hindering it. They are innocent in spirit, if not in action.

The three most common methods I see are:

  1. Starvation, which happens when good ideas are put on hold until the organization is ready for them, (read: never);
  2. Strangulation, which occurs when good ideas are subjected to greater and greater levels of scrutiny that gradually squeezes all of the life out of them. Strangulation is often referred to by a more friendly name like “Stage Gate” or the “Innovation Funnel”; and
  3. Siblicide, which occurs when an older, more mature idea takes all of the attention away from a new idea which eventually dies of neglect. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that are sitting on billion dollar ideas that never make it to market because all of their time and energy is dedicated to serving another idea whose biggest virtue is that it is further down the path.

So ask yourself…have you helped to murder innovation? You have. We all have. It’s okay to admit it. You didn’t mean to. It was an accident. And I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and tell you have to stop doing it, but I am going to suggest that you acknowledge that you are doing it and not just pretend that it’s not happening because you’re just blindly following your organization’s adopted innovation or budgetary process.

No one has to be an innovation murderer, but it often requires an “innovation world” mindset of courage, belief and determination to break the “operational world” cycle that many of our innovation or budgetary processes introduce. These aren’t always the qualities that an organization rewards in the short term, but they are required for those who want to create real change in the world and shift toward a better future for their organizations and themselves.

This post originally appeared on Medium on July 10, 2018.

The Best Digital Transformation Advice I’ve Ever Heard

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Last week at our Singularity University Executive Program, I was moderating a discussion with our Co-Founder, Peter Diamandis when the topic turned to how large companies can achieve a true digital transformation. His advice was clear and straightforward — don’t start a full-scale digital transformation until you know what your organization’s long term (think 20 years) goal is. Otherwise you run the risk of investing large sums of money to digitize an organization that is optimized for the business of today rather than the business of tomorrow.

This immediately reminded me of the classic Harvard Business Review article, “Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate”, from all the way back in 1990. Back then, the business world was tackling automation and how it could speed processes, however the very real risk was that we would simply recreate outdated processes in software that would become too expensive to ever modify or update, forever shackling the organization to an inefficient or ineffective way of working. The advice was to find senior management with real vision to completely reimagine the way the organization works as the critical factor. Information technology could then be leveraged to bring their bold ambitions, such as reducing turnaround time by 90%, to life.

Today’s companies also require senior leaders with real vision, however the challenge is different. Given the speed of technology and changing market dynamics, the vision needed today is the ability to completely reimagine an organization’s purpose or reason to exist and why it should expect to be in business in 20 years before thinking about anything else. Without that vision, organizations may be digitally transforming businesses they don’t really want to be in, or that may not even exist in a few years. In most large organizations that I’ve worked with, this kind of long-term, strategic thinking is rare. It’s not because people can’t do it, but because the near-term performance pressures are too great for them to be able to think that far into the future.

It is hard to imagine an organization that is not going to commit to a digital transformation of their business if they have not already started down that path. I think what will separate the successful companies from those that fail in the process is whether they are using their investments in artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, etc. to truly create a vision of the future and a business that will thrive in it, or merely a futuristic version of their current business. Increasingly it feels like those leaders that are approaching digital transformation starting from a broad vision of the future will be best prepared to not only succeed in the short term, but also to ensure the longevity of their organization. And likely their own legacy.

This post originally appeared on Medium on June 25, 2018.

Reading Minds: The Most Interesting Thing About Facebook’s Psychology Experiment

Much of the angst about the news of Facebook’s psychology experiment on 600,000 users has focused on the fact that people’s emotions were purposefully manipulated.  While this is, indeed, pretty shocking news (I wonder how many arguments between couples were caused by Facebook putting both parties in crappy moods), the more interesting thing to me is that Facebook can tell the emotional state of people who are posting on their site just by analyzing their posts.

Startup Citizenme provides a service that will take your social postings and provide a personality analysis on many factors, including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. While I’m sure that any good therapist could review postings and have a point of view to share as well, the fact that his is happening in a very passive way is a little more uncomfortable. I don’t think too many people sign up to be psychoanalyzed or to have their feelings manipulated when they are using Facebook, or any other social media platform for that matter. But that is the brave new world in which we live.

There are plenty of ways to see the benefit of this kind of innovation. Maybe Citizenme will morph into a dating app that connects you to people with similar levels of neuroticism. Maybe there is a new service that will show you positive posts when your own become to negative like an online anti-depressant (did Facebook show posts with kittens to users in Miami after LeBron left?).

But no matter what Citizenme or Facebook intends to do with this knowledge, the fact that our mental states can be evaluated by our posts is something that we should all be aware of. It could become the most targeted of marketing strategies. It is not hard to imagine that Facebook would charge a higher advertising rate to only reach people who were happy. Or sad. Or whatever state of mind makes them most susceptible to buying a specific product. Or it could become a way to manipulate the emotions of an entire group of people, either for good or evil, with the press of a button (like Facebook already did).

Whatever happens, we probably won’t know about it until after it has happened. So for now, get out there and start posting. Its the only way to be part of the experiment, for now.