For as long as we can remember, we’ve had houses, cars, and streetlights.
But today, there’s often more to these staples of modern life than meets the eye. Where a streetlight was once timed to turn red every 30 seconds, and after 15 seconds, turn green again—today, that light is smart, meaning it adapts to movement by pedestrians, cyclists and cars. And where a house was once just four walls and a roof, today it adapts its temperature based on its surroundings. Our cars are no longer simply at the mercy of the drivers—today, they can communicate with each other to slow down based on traffic patterns.
Everything is becoming digitized. We already walk around with small computers in our pockets and on our wrists. Soon, we won’t be able to go five seconds without interacting with some sort of digital software—we’re almost there now.
A lot of virtual ink has been spilled about digital transformation and its impact on business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements—for good reason. Companies undergoing digital transformation spend millions of dollars based on expensive, time-consuming presentations, and often have very little to show for it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But it’s also revolutionizing life beyond the workplace, in ways that we’re only just beginning to understand.
One thing we do know is it’s sure to be complex, with benefits and drawbacks aplenty.
Here’s what to keep in mind as our world becomes increasingly digital:
In a digital world, everything is smart.
A major catalyst for digital business transformation is the customer, who has higher expectations than ever. For one thing, they expect everything to be digital.
When people go to the doctor today, they’re annoyed when they have to fill out physical forms—whereas even four years ago, no one thought twice about it. They expect their smartphone to be able to talk to their car, or their car to talk to their mailbox. The average person is also more computer savvy than ever before, and the number of connected devices they use increases every year.
Soon, today’s smartphones will be replaced by even smarter phones.
Increasingly voice-activated and conversational, they’ll use AI to anticipate human activity and support it autonomously. For example, your smartphone knows your wedding anniversary is coming up, and knowing you and your spouse, so it might suggest a romantic weekend in Rome. It knows from your photos and calendar that you got engaged by the Trevi Fountain, and from your travel history that you prefer to fly Air Italy, so it creates an itinerary for you to approve.
As our devices get smarter and smarter, it’s fundamentally changing our expectations. I’m sure in five years, it’ll seem crazy that we once had to stand up and turn on our lights with a switch.
Digital transformation is going to change the way we connect with others—mostly for the better.
A lot of people worry that tech is killing human connection, but this overlooks all the ways tech can actually help us build stronger relationships—such as by planning a wedding anniversary you and your spouse will remember forever.
With the help of AI-driven data, your computer will begin to do things like schedule coffee dates or activities with your friends at regular intervals. Your devices will take account of preferences, habits, and all sorts of other relevant information—like that your friend Mark likes tequila and his birthday is on March 23. On that date each year, your computer will go ahead and deliver his favorite bottle of tequila to his house.
This process may sound robotic, but it will actually strengthen our personal connections—it’s just that the scheduling will be handled by computers.
You don’t value your friend because they called you up to schedule dinner, but because of the quality time you spend together. You cherish what they bring into your life emotionally and spiritually.
The idea is to automate the less-important details to make time for real connection.
We’ll be able to devote more time and energy to the things that matter.
Whether it’s going to the post office, doing laundry, or buying kitty litter—our days are filled with mundane tasks.
But automation is stepping in to handle the grunt work involved in our day-to-day. People hate repetitive work and rarely find it exciting. From self-driving cars to groceries that re-order themselves, technology can save people from unpleasant tasks. The end result is freeing up more time to do the things we actually enjoy, which is a huge benefit.
For the elderly and disabled in particular, automated light controls, doors and locks, appliances, reminders, and security features will make it much easier for them to get through their days. They can pre-set their thermostat, use their voices to turn on the TV or music, and even make sure the front door is locked at night without even getting out of bed.
One of the best aspects of digital transformation is that it will allow people to enjoy their lives in a way they never got to before.
But it comes at a price—if we’re not careful.
While the digital transformation could bring amazing opportunities and emancipation from mundane errands, it also has the potential to bring about new forms of exploitation and deeper inequalities.
Much like any other advance in technology.
One of the top concerns I hear from people today is the worry that automation will steal their jobs. And they aren’t totally off base. A recent study found that automation could replace as many as 40% of jobs in 2019. From factory line jobs to professions like accounting and medicine, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies mean that more and more tasks can now be completed by machines or algorithms. Automation and AI will exacerbate financial insecurity by forcing many workers into low-wage work.
In fact, a Pew Research Center study found that 48% of respondents envision a future in which robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers. Many feared vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.
Nearly all workers are likely to see some task change in their jobs. To adapt to coming changes, workers will need more support for skill development. All companies must do their part to offer training or provide tuition or other skill-development benefits. After all, smart tech is expensive, and that means workers with lower incomes may not be able to access and use that technology.
Dangers aside, automation technology—if used wisely and effectively—can yield substantial opportunities for the future.
There’s a transformative opportunity to relieve people from repetitive, hazardous, and unpleasant forms of work, and overall provide a higher standard of living and a better way of life.
The key is to be smart about our smart devices.