Transformational Technology: Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

Every generation experiences transformational technology. I used to imagine what life was like for my great-grandmother, who was born in 1900. Can you fathom witnessing the rise of the airplane, the Model-T, nuclear power, space flight, personal computing, and today’s era of linkable, sharable, searchable, mobile, on-demand, smart, multi-platform everything?

How could anyone alive in 1903 imagine that those first improbable aviation tests by Orville and Wilbur Wright would land us in an era where 3.6 billion passengers would take a commercial plane flight in a single year? Back then, people mainly laughed at the idea of flying in the first place.

Fast forward to the 1940s and ’50s, when the first computers overtook entire rooms with vacuum tubes and enough metal to construct a passenger train. At the time, nobody in their right mind would have predicted that average school children in 2018 would have access to computers of their own and that they’d regularly take them to and from school, in backpacks.

In just over a century, the world has changed so profoundly that a time-traveler from 1900 would barely recognize anything.

The same thing is happening now in technology, but at a faster pace. The World Wide Web didn’t exist until 1990. Amazon was just a small online book retailer before 1998. The iPhone debuted only 11 years ago, and it has now sold north of 1.2 billion units.

Technology that might have seemed laughably impractical and futuristic only 15 years ago (or that had newly been released to the public) now forms the basis of everyday life. Think about how you navigate from here to there, touch base with friends, buy stuff, watch movies, collaborate with co-workers, find the closest phone repair shop, see when your local coffee shop opens, make dinner reservations, figure out what to do with spaghetti squash, check your bank balance, get rides around the city, etc. etc. etc.

That has to do with massive adoption of (and advances in) what at the time was transformational technology — like GPS, smart phones, publicly accessible APIs, cloud-computing, Big Data analytics, and data security.

If this were 2000, GPS would have just been introduced to the public with its current level of accuracy. Only 8 years later, it was already fully integrated into consumer, industrial, and civic applications and had made Wired’s Top Technology Breakthroughs of 2008. As Wired aptly noted (and as we all know from personal experience) it’s used for just a few things:

We use GPS to navigate our car trips and manage fleets of taxicabs, trucks, buses and rental cars. First responders and package-delivery services rely on GPS. Airplanes fly with it. Fishing boats find their way to rich waters with it. Researchers track wildlife with it, and we even find our way down wilderness trails with it.

Cloud-computing wasn’t even mentioned for the first time until 1996. A brief 10 years later, Amazon Web Services launched. By 2007, Netflix started streaming on-demand video, and enterprises were moving quickly to migrate their data and business operations to the cloud. Today 96% of IT professionals polled for a 2018 RightScale survey use a cloud strategy for their enterprise, and the massive cloud migration continues.

What accounts for this kind of explosion of transformational technology? Three things: cost reductions, tooling and platform availability, and the acquisition of advanced engineering skills. As costs come down, this kind of leading-edge tech becomes accessible to small- and medium-sized enterprises, not just national governments or large businesses. Once things start to gain traction, developers push to acquire relevant skills, so they can improve the tools and platforms behind the new tech. This sets up a positive feedback loop, with the availability of better tools and platforms enticing more developers to acquire skills, which further pushes technology adoption and demand for better tools.

I hate to use clichés, but with these transformational technologies, you blink and you miss them. That’s why our team at Valence continually stays up on the latest developments, and it’s why we keep in touch with leading-edge experts. We know that what seems fantastical today may be foundational tomorrow. And we make a practice of understanding what’s likely to catch fire. We predict that our six pillars of innovation — Voice & Chat, Blockchain, IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, and Robotics — will be as widespread in the business world in 10 years as GPS and cloud-computing are today.