The Da Vinci Code To The Internet of Things (IoT)

Richard Howells

Over the holiday, I spent a great afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science, which is currently running an exhibition called “Da Vinci – The Genius.” The exhibition brings to life the genius of Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and artist.

On display were interactive and life-size machine inventions, built by Italian artisans, who worked from Leonardo’s codices. Among other things they have built: the first concepts of a car, bicycle, helicopter, parachute, scuba, a forerunner to the modern military tank, and an ideal city.

Da Vinci was, without a doubt, an innovator, someone way ahead of his time. Leonardo carries instant, universal recognition – both as a name and as the figure known for ushering in a groundbreaking era of science and discovery. I can only imagine what he would think of how some of his concepts have been realized, enhanced, and empowered in today’s world of connected products, assets, and vehicle fleets. Or how they would be implemented across the Internet of Everything by connecting infrastructures, markets, and people in today’s world.

Here are a few of Leonardo’s inventions and ideas, and how they have evolved over the years:

From self-propelled cart to connected car

Hundreds of years before the motorized vehicle, Leonardo da Vinci designed a self-propelled cart that was powered by coiled springs and controlled by steering and brake capabilities.

In today’s world, that primitive design can be seen in connected cars, which are tracked by hundreds of sensors to run real-time analysis on steering, breaking, and other systems to predict performance issues and defects.

From an ideal city concept to an actual ideal city

Da Vinci’s ideal city concept was a result of a plague that killed off nearly a third of the population of Milan. Leonardo wanted to design an ideal city with greater communications, services, and sanitation to prevent the future spread of such diseases. His ideal city concept included wider streets that would be cleaned via a paddlewheel system and underground waterways that would carry away garbage.

Today, connectivity is making da Vinci’s vision of an ideal city a reality. With the rise of automation, cities can improve the environment, health, and safety of urban areas while benefiting from smoother traffic flows, more orderly parking, and the increased management of local buildings, lighting, public spaces, yards, ports, and other infrastructure forming the modern-day urban landscape.

From a robotic knight to robotics in the workplace

Da Vinci also incorporated a series of pulleys, weights, and gears to design what many believe to be the first robot. His robotic knight was designed for a pageant in Milan. It consisted of a knight suit fitted with gears and wheels and connected to a pulley-and-cable system that would enable the figure to sit down, stand up, move its head, and lift its visor.

Robotics today are commonplace throughout warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. We have drones and driverless vehicles that deliver goods, warehouses that run completely “lights out,” and production facilities that can be controlled and configured in a “to-order” capacity, as supply chain experts strive for a market of one.

From helicopters and flying machines to connected assets and fleets

Leonardo da Vinci was so far ahead of his time as an innovator, it’s incredible to imagine what he could have dreamed up if he were around today – particularly with access to Big Data and real-time insight into nearly every product manufactured, every piece of equipment used, every vehicle in motion, every building in use, and every person on the planet, at any given time.

IoT makes literally everything connected or connectable, from the products we make to the people that use them:

  • Connected products means new insights throughout the product lifecycle, from design, to production, to delivery, to the end of a product’s life.
  • Connected assets can be tracked, monitored, analyzed, and maintained proactively to reduce operational and maintenance costs and increase equipment uptime.
  • Connected fleets of vehicles, robots, forklifts, and autonomous vehicles can be monitored, maintained, and optimized to improve services, safety, visibility, and service quality.
  • Connected infrastructure can improve digital operational intelligence of physical infrastructure systems, construction, and energy grids enabling improved service, efficient operations, and compliance and risk mitigation.
  • Connected markets can optimize rural and urban areas to better enable new production and enhance assets, space, and our natural resources.
  • Connected people enable more insightful, collaborative work roles, health management, and smart-home environments by connecting people and communities and providing better, more personalized lifestyle experiences.

As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

Maybe he had a vision for how we should leverage things – way before the rest of us.

Learn more about the SAP Leonardo Innovation Portfolio and how you can get started to understand the value of IoT for your business.

(Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)

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About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.

Will The Collaborative Economy Completely Reimagine Tomorrow's Big Business?

Daniel Newman

Today, the largest car rental and hospitality companies are Uber and Airbnb, respectively. What do they have in common? Let’s see — neither of them own physical possessions associated with their service, and both have turned a non-performing asset into an incredible revenue source.

Don’t be surprised, because this is the new model for doing business. People want to rent instead of own, and at the same time, they want to monetize whatever they have in excess. This is the core of the sharing economy. The concept of earning money by sharing may have existed before, but not at such a large scale. From renting rooms to rides to clothes to parking spaces to just about anything else you can imagine, the sharing economy is rethinking how businesses are growing.

What’s driving the collaborative economy?

The sharing economy, or the collaborative economy, as it’s also called, is “an economic model where technologies enable people to get what they need from each other—rather than from centralized institutions,” explains Jeremiah Owyang, business analyst and founder of Crowd Companies, a collaborative economy platform. This means you could rent someone’s living room for a day or two, ride someone else’s bike for a couple of hours, or even take someone’s pet out for a walk—all for a rental fee.

Even a few years ago, this sort of a thing was unthinkable. When Airbnb launched in 2008, many people were skeptical, as the whole idea seemed not only irrational, but totally stupid. I mean, why would anyone want to spend the night in a stranger’s room and sleep on an air bed, right? Well, turns out many people did! Airbnb moved from spare rooms to luxury condos, villas, and even castles and private islands in more than 30,000 cities across 190 countries, and rentals reached a staggering 15 million plus last year.

What is driving this trend? Millennials definitely play a role. Their love for everything on-demand, plus their frugal mindset, makes them ideal for the sharing economy. But the sharing economy is attractive to consumers across a wide demographic, as it only makes sense.

How collaborative economy is reshaping the future of businesses

Until recently, collaborative-economy startups like Uber and Airbnb were looked upon as threats. Disuptors to any marketplace are usually threatening, so this isn’t surprising. Established businesses that were accustomed to the way things had always been did (and still do) rail against companies like Uber or AirBnB, yet consumers seem to love them. And that’s what matters. Uber has faced many harsh criticisms, yet it continues to provide more than a million rides a month.

We are living in an era of consumer-driven enterprise, where consumers are at the helm. Perhaps this is the biggest reason why the collaborative economy is here to stay. No matter what industry, companies are trying to bring customers to the fore. A collaborative business model allows customers to call the shots. A great example is the cloud, which relies on resource sharing and allows users to scale up or down according to their needs.

Today, traditional businesses are participating in a collaborative economy in different ways. Some are acquiring startups. General Motors, for example, invested $3 million to acquire RelayRides, a peer-to-peer car sharing service. Others are entering into partnerships like Marriott, which partnered with LiquidSpace, an online platform to book flexible workspaces. Other brands, like GE, BMW, Walgreens, and Pepsi are also stepping into the collaborative-economy space and holding the hands of startups instead of competing with them.

Changes in the workplace

Remote work and telecommuting has taken off as companies become more comfortable with the idea of people working outside their offices, and cloud technology is enabling that. Now, let’s look at the scenario from the lens of the sharing economy. With companies looking to find temporary resources that can meet the fast-changing demands of the business, freelancers could replace a large chunk of full-time professionals in future. Why? Because at the heart of this disruptive practice lies the concept of sharing human resources.

As companies set out to temporarily use the services of people to meet short- and medium-term goals, it’s going to completely change the way we build companies. Also, as we have seen through the growth of companies like Airbnb and Uber, it’s going to change the deliverables that companies provide. With demand changing and technology proliferating at breakneck speed, it’s not just important that businesses start to see and adopt this change; it’s imperative because companies that over-commit to any one thing will find themselves obsolete.

When it comes to workplaces, so much is happening today that it’s impossible to predict where things are ultimately headed. But one thing is for sure: The collaborative economy is not going anywhere as long as our priorities are built around better, faster, more efficient and cost-effective.

Want more insight on today’s sharing economy? see Collaborative Economy: It’s Real And It’s Disrupting Enterprises.

This article was originally seen on Ricoh Blog.

The post Will the Collaborative Economy Completely Reimagine Tomorrows Big Business appeared first on Millennial CEO.

Photo Credit: Pedrolu33 via Compfight cc

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About Daniel Newman

Daniel Newman serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of EC3, a quickly growing hosted IT and Communication service provider. Prior to this role Daniel has held several prominent leadership roles including serving as CEO of United Visual. Parent company to United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm; a family of companies focused on Visual Communications and Audio Visual Technologies.
Daniel is also widely published and active in the Social Media Community. He is the Author of Amazon Best Selling Business Book “The Millennial CEO.” Daniel also Co-Founded the Global online Community 12 Most and was recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the 100 Business and Leadership Accounts to Follow on Twitter.
Newman is an Adjunct Professor of Management at North Central College. He attained his undergraduate degree in Marketing at Northern Illinois University and an Executive MBA from North Central College in Naperville, IL. Newman currently resides in Aurora, Illinois with his wife (Lisa) and his two daughters (Hailey 9, Avery 5).
A Chicago native all of his life, Newman is an avid golfer, a fitness fan, and a classically trained pianist

How One Business Approach Can Save The Environment – And Bring $4.5 Trillion To The World Economy

Shelly Dutton

Despite reports of a turbulent global economy, the World Bank delivered some great news recently. For the first time in history, extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.90 each day) worldwide is set to fall to below 10%. Considering that this rate has declined from 37.1% in 1990 to 9.6% in 2015, it is hopeful that one-third of the global population will participate the middle class by 2030.

For all industries, this growth will bring new challenges and pressures when meeting unprecedented demand in an environment of dwindling – if not already scarce – resources. First of all, gold, silver, indium, iridium, tungsten, and many other vital resources could be depleted in as little as five years. And because current manufacturing methods create massive waste, about 80% of $3.2 trillion material value is lost irrecoverably each year in the consumer products industry alone.

This new reality is forcing companies to rethink our current, linear “take-make-dispose” approach to designing, producing, delivering, and selling products and services. According to Dan Wellers, Digital Futures lead for SAP, “If the economy is not sustainable, we are in trouble. And in the case of the linear economy, it is not sustainable because it inherently wastes resources that are becoming scarce. Right now, most serious businesspeople think sustainability is in conflict with earning a profit and becoming wealthy. True sustainability, economic sustainability, is exactly the opposite. With this mindset, it becomes strategic to support practices that support a circular economy in the long run.”

The circular economy: Good for business, good for the environment

What if your business practices and operation can help save our planet? Would you do it? Now, what if I said that this one business approach could put $4.5 trillion up for grabs?

By taking a more restorative and regenerative approach, every company can redesign the future of the environment, the economy, and their overall business. “Made possible by the digital economy, forward-thinking businesses are choosing to embrace this value to intentionally reimagine the economy around how we use resources,” observed Wellers. “By slowing down the depletion of resources and possibly even rejuvenating them, early adopters of circular practices have created business models that are profitable, and therefore sustainable. And they are starting to scale.”

In addition to making good financial sense, there’s another reason the circular economy is a sound business practice: Your customers. In his blog 99 Mind-Blowing Ways the Digital Economy Is Changing the Future of Business, Vivek Bapat revealed that 68% of consumers are interested in companies that bring social and environmental change. More important, 84% of global consumers actively seek out socially and environmentally responsible brands and are willing to switch brands associated with those causes.

Five ways your business can take advantage of the circular economy

As the circular economy proves, business and economic growth does not need to happen at the cost of the environment and public health and safety. As everyone searches for an answer to job creation, economic development, and environmental safety, we are in an economic era primed for change.

Wellers states, “Thanks to the exponential growth and power of digital technology, circular business models are becoming profitable. As a result, businesses are scaling their wealth by investing in new economic growth strategies.”

What are these strategies? Here are five business models that can enable companies to unlock the economic benefits of the circular economy, as stated in Accenture’s report Circular Advantage: Innovative Business Models and Technologies that Create Value:

  1. Circular supplies: Deliver fully renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable resource inputs that underpin circular production and consumption systems.
  2. Recovery of resources: Eliminate material leakage and maximize the economic value of product return flows.
  3. Extension of product life: Extend the life cycle of products and assets. Regain the value of your resources by maintaining and improving them by repairing, upgrading, remanufacturing, or remarketing products.
  4. Sharing platforms: Promote a platform for collaboration among product users as individuals or organizations.
  5. Product as a service: Provide an alternative to the traditional model of “buy and own.” Allow products to be shared by many customers through a lease or pay-for-use arrangement.

To learn more about the circular economy, check out Dan Wellers’ blog “4 Ways The Digital Economy Is Circular.”

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Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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The Human Factor In An AI Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and its ability to perform human tasks accelerates exponentially, we’re finally seeing some attempts to wrestle with what that means, not just for business, but for humanity as a whole.

From the first stone ax to the printing press to the latest ERP solution, technology that reduces or even eliminates physical and mental effort is as old as the human race itself. However, that doesn’t make each step forward any less uncomfortable for the people whose work is directly affected – and the rise of AI is qualitatively different from past developments.

Until now, we developed technology to handle specific routine tasks. A human needed to break down complex processes into their component tasks, determine how to automate each of those tasks, and finally create and refine the automation process. AI is different. Because AI can evaluate, select, act, and learn from its actions, it can be independent and self-sustaining.

Some people, like investor/inventor Elon Musk and Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, are focusing intently on how AI will impact the labor market. It’s going to do far more than eliminate repetitive manual jobs like warehouse picking. Any job that involves routine problem-solving within existing structures, processes, and knowledge is ripe for handing over to a machine. Indeed, jobs like customer service, travel planning, medical diagnostics, stock trading, real estate, and even clothing design are already increasingly automated.

As for more complex problem-solving, we used to think it would take computers decades or even centuries to catch up to the nimble human mind, but we underestimated the exponential explosion of deep learning. IBM’s Watson trounced past Jeopardy champions in 2011 – and just last year, Google’s DeepMind AI beat the reigning European champion at Go, a game once thought too complex for even the most sophisticated computer.

Where does AI leave human?

This raises an urgent question for the future: How do human beings maintain our economic value in a world in which AI will keep getting better than us at more and more things?

The concept of the technological singularity – the point at which machines attain superhuman intelligence and permanently outpace the human mind – is based on the idea that human thinking can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. However, the limits of human performance have yet to be found. It’s possible that people are only at risk of lagging behind machines because nothing has forced us to test ourselves at scale.

Other than a handful of notable individual thinkers, scientists, and artists, most of humanity has met survival-level needs through mostly repetitive tasks. Most people don’t have the time or energy for higher-level activities. But as the human race faces the unique challenge of imminent obsolescence, we need to think of those activities not as luxuries, but as necessities. As technology replaces our traditional economic value, the economic system may stop attaching value to us entirely unless we determine the unique value humanity offers – and what we can and must do to cultivate the uniquely human skills that deliver that value.

Honing the human advantage

As a species, humans are driven to push past boundaries, to try new things, to build something worthwhile, and to make a difference. We have strong instincts to explore and enjoy novelty and risk – but according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these instincts crumble if we don’t cultivate them.

AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new products and business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements. AI doesn’t even have common sense! As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, a robot doesn’t know that water is wet or that strings can pull but not push. Nor can robots engage in what Kaku calls “intellectual capitalism” – activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought.

At the moment, though, we don’t generally value these so-called “soft skills” enough to prioritize them. We expect people to develop their competency in emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, curiosity, critical thinking, and persistence organically, as if these skills simply emerge on their own given enough time. But there’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

Lessons in being human

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level – and to do so not just as soon as possible, but as early as possible.

Singularity University chairman Peter Diamandis, for example, advocates revamping the elementary school curriculum to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and persistence. He envisions a curriculum that, among other things, teaches kids to communicate, ask questions, solve problems with creativity, empathy, and ethics, and accept failure as an opportunity to try again. These concepts aren’t necessarily new – Waldorf and Montessori schools have been encouraging similar approaches for decades – but increasing automation and digitization make them newly relevant and urgent.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is approaching the same problem from the opposite side, by starting with outcomes. This organization is pushing to redesign the secondary school transcript to better reflect whether and how high school students are acquiring the necessary combination of creative, critical, and analytical abilities. By measuring student achievement in a more nuanced way than through letter grades and test scores, the consortium’s approach would inherently require schools to reverse-engineer their curricula to emphasize those abilities.

Most critically, this isn’t simply a concern of high-tuition private schools and “good school districts” intended to create tomorrow’s executives and high-level knowledge workers. One critical aspect of the challenge we face is the assumption that the vast majority of people are inevitably destined for lives that don’t require creativity or critical thinking – that either they will somehow be able to thrive anyway or their inability to thrive isn’t a cause for concern. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, which means that everyone will need help acquiring them. For humanitarian, political, and economic reasons, we cannot just write off a large percentage of the population as disposable.

In the end, anything an AI does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique human abilities into account. Why would we want to give up our humanity in favor of letting machines determine whether or not an action or idea is valuable? Instead, while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. That’s how we’ll keep coming up with groundbreaking new ideas like jazz music, graphic novels, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning – and AI itself.

Read the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

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