It was twenty years ago today…..

mused on 26 Feb 2016


Twenty years ago the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Windows launched NT 4.0, the state of the art in game play was the Nintendo 64, and there were roughly 77 million internet users, about 1.3% of the population.  Twenty years later, well lets not do the politics, and gaming has come on a bit hasn’t it?  Now there are apparently roughly 3.3 billion internet users about 40.4% of the population of the world.  Which is of course not to mention the ‘internet of things’ (IoT), Smart Factory and Industry 4.0 initiatives, in which control systems, intelligent machines, cloud computing, and intelligent data analysis drive new levels of efficiency and accuracy in complex connected systems.  According to Cisco there are as many as 25 billion ‘things’ already connected to the internet.

It’s also twenty years ago that Deep blue defeated Gary Kasparov in a chess match.  Maybe that’s the first time you heard about AI (artificial intelligence).  These days the AI field is at the cutting edge of knowledge representation, cognitive processing, philosophy of mind, statistics and probabilistic methods and dozens of other fields. Apparently as his 2016 pet project Mark Zuckerberg is planning to build a simple AI to help him run his work and home life. There’s a good chance that you will shortly be interacting with AI’s when seeking website support from intelligent agents. 

People are now debating whether general machine intelligence is possible, what it might mean and what might constitute consciousness.  Public figures are speculating that if a machine has the capacity to amend it’s programming (i.e. learn), then just how do we manage our relationship with a super-intelligence wildly beyond our ken (see Hawking, Kurzweil, Bostrum, etc.).  Not, fantasy and science fiction any more, but the subject of serious debate.

It’s a complex world that’s moving into the future faster and faster.  And by the way complex doesn’t mean complicated, it means that things are so unpredictable that you can only discern cause and effect in hindsight.  New properties emerge from the interaction of events that couldn’t be anticipated.  Given this roiling, stew of radical innovation and emergent properties, it’s difficult not to get focussed on the technology, the ‘stuff’, rather than the purposes they serve.  Yet despite the difficulty in envisioning twenty years ahead, there are many who have to make plans now.  In fact anybody making investment decisions in large capital equipment, real estate, and Foreign Direct Investment are all concerned with this order of timeline. 

I’ll give you a concrete example, think of banks with large estates of physical assets (branches) and a customer base increasingly moving to digital interactions.  What decisions should they be taken about these facilities?  How can they best serve their stakeholders?  What is the future of the relationship between a bank and its customers?  And in that last sentence hangs a clue.  While we can’t quite conceive what the world might look like in twenty years time, we can certainly imagine some things that will still be important.  The bank will still want a relationship with its customers. 

In fact, we believe that the search for meaning and connection will be among the most important of the emerging trends.  As people are defined less by their jobs, as interactions are increasingly with intelligent agents, AI’s and machines, we will prize meaning and authentic connection even more. 

As we think about the tools we build, about the experiences we design and create with our customers, we are imagining a world in which we prize human connection and interaction.  Our tools must empower individuals to make meaning with others, to navigate complex interconnected technical environments seamlessly and easily, maintaining their autonomy and agency.  So, you can’t have a map for the next 20 years, but you can locate a pole star by which to navigate.  For us, we are going to use community, human connection and meaning as our guides to the future we want to create.  What do you think?