New Intro to the Fourth Transformation, my book with Scoble
[NOTE–Robert Scoble and I have changed the title to our new book to The Fourth Transformation: Why AR & AI Will Change Everything. The new title requires a new introduction explaining what the point is. Feedback welcome.]
What’s to Transform?
“A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention with the possible exceptions of handguns and Tequila.” ― Mitch Radcliffe, digital thinker
Then stuff started happening.
At first we called them paradigm shifts, but then the marketers got hold of the term and worked it to death: so for this book we’ll call them transformations and make mainframes the starting point.
There have been three so far. The first was the text transformation. It came in the 1970s when people started talking directly with computers. It was driven by MS DOS which became a standard when IBM licensed it. It enabled many more people to use computers in more productive ways. Computers moved from clean rooms to desktops and beyond tech professionals to knowledge workers.
Then along came GUI, the second transformation. Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984 and was followed a few years later with Microsoft Windows. The GUI was an essential stepping stone to the Worldwide Web which greatly expanded what we could to with digital devices.
The third transformation came in 2007 with the iPhone, followed by Android. The primary interface became touch and it transformed personal computing from everyone to everywhere.
In each of these transformations, unknown companies rose from oblivion into greatness, and erstwhile great companies succumbed to oblivion.
GUI interfaces essentially killed WordPerfect and VisiCalc: two of the top five software companies of the DOS era. Touch interfaces have come close to killing Nokia and Blackberry phones with their tiny little keys.
There is always overlap between old and new. DOS lasted for years before generally disappearing, and there is plenty of work and play still being conducted on desktop Macs and PCs.
Today, the center of our digital lives has moved from the desktop to little devices we carry around. It didn’t happen abruptly, nor did everyone migrate simultaneously from one device to the next: Instead it occurred just a few minutes here and a few minutes there as we started emailing less and texting more.
We are now at the dawn of the Fourth Transformation. It will move technology from what we carry to what we wear. The user interface will move from a screen you tap to computer-generated images that you can actually touch and feel. Instead of typing with our fingers on physical keyboards, we will type faster with our eyes on virtual keyboards. In previous transformations it was all about the interface between technology and people: Now it becomes all about the experience—and that changes nearly everything.
While news coverage may create the correct impression that it is all happening very fast, it is not yet happening everywhere. In fact, some people and businesses are still trying to adjust to the shift to mobile, the third transformation, overlapping the fourth transformation, which will take a decade to fully unfold.
It will be driven not just by the rise of new technologies and the simultaneous decline of others, but also by the rise of younger generations and the decline of an older one.
For it to be an authentic transformation, more than technology needs to change: culture must simultaneously adapt. The way people relate to technology must transform and that will change how business interacts with partners, stakeholders, employees and customers interact must change.
Wherever we look, we see a groundswell of such transformative changes taking shape. We see it when we attend HoloLens hackathons where young, passionate developers create augmented reality applications that make our jaws drop—apps that simply won’t work on mobile phones or on desktops.
We see it when an unknown company located in an unlikely part of the country, raises $1.3 billion for a product that doesn’t exist, intended for no announced customers. Yet, by the time you read this, Magic Leap will already be a household name, or damned close to it.
We see it when we encounter excited people at the Consumer Electronics Show waiting in lines that remind us of those that form outside Apple Stores when a new phone is coming out. But now they are waiting to try on new VR headsets with new names like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift: names you never heard of until very recently.
From a technology perspective, the Fourth Transformation is all about Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality as well as Artificial Intelligence, or, more accurately, machine learning. Mixed reality glasses will control self-driving cars, drones, robots, and the Internet of Things [IoT], but they will do a lot more than just that: They will blur the lines between that which is real and that which is a computer-generated illusion. Now, instead of sitting and watching stuff on screens we will become immersed and surrounded, wandering freely in and around it.
From a business perspective, this transformation is about greater accuracy, productivity, efficiency and safety in the enterprise; an entirely new way for businesses and customers to talk with each other on the consumer level.
On the societal level it is a better way of learning, of distributing news, of meeting new people, of communicating visually so that everyone understands, rather than just those who speak a particular language.
It is all this and so much more. It is a fundamental and global transformation.
How do we know? If you are a traditional business person, you would want stats, and we don’t have them yet, because stats are built on what has already happened. We have traveled the world to learn about what many of the world’s most talented, passionate and visionary people are developing, right now as we write this book.
We have also talked to some of the best strategists in retail, the enterprise, health, and learning who have shared with us projects that have started, and results that make them cautiously euphoric.
We’ve also observed and talked with our children, grandchildren and other kids we know, because they are the best way we have to understand the near-term future from both technology and cultural perspectives.
We have become convinced this Fourth Transformation has begun and it will change business and life. It is a force that cannot and should not be stopped. It promises a better, healthier, safer, more informative world than the one we have now.
So who is this book for? Why bother to read it?
Primarily, we write books about the near-term future for business decision makers who want to understand technology developments so that they can adjust course. We hope to provide information and ideas, that enable businesses to start early with small projects so that they can understand the potential for their own businesses now.
The challenge of a business decision maker these days is to stay ahead of customers in technology changes—but not too far. We hope this book will give you information and ideas so that you can begin the long—but fast-moving—path into the Fourth Transformation.
We’ve split it into three parts:
Part I describes the changes in technology and people. We talk about how VR is changing games and entertainment, how AR has been alive and useful in the enterprise for years, and how two emergent generations have new attitudes about technology that will change behavior for them as customers, employees and competitors.
Part 2 tells you about changes already going on in four areas of business: retail, the enterprise, health and learning. We also explain how artificial intelligence is changing how we interact with devices in our personal lives. We call these smart machines Digital Genies because our wishes become their demands, but the price we will pay is that the will know more about us than any human in our lives.
Part 3 looks at the big picture, first examining disturbing possibilities of the loss of privacy, jobs and the ability to discern truth from illusion. We conclude that for better or worse, the Fourth Transformation is inevitable and it is wisest to prepare for it sooner than your competitor and before your first customer walks through your door wearing an MR headset.
When you have finished, we hope you will have information and ideas that will help you adjust course, so that you and your business will thrive in the coming Fourth Transformation.