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DrupalSouth keyote — The future of everything

This keynote by Charbel Zeaiter was brilliant! He looked at the five waves of tech, from the calculation wave (old-school computers performing repetition computation) to the possible/predicted final wave, singularity (humans at one with machines). It was a fast-moving keynote so hopefully we’ve captured everything.

Salsa Digital 13 December 2018

Charbel started by introducing himself and his company Academy Xi. Academy Xi is an education and training company that sits across vocational training, thought leadership, social change and early education. It focuses on emerging technology, human-centred design and business and marketing (especially digital marketing). Charbel’s been working in the digital space for about 20 years.

Charbel kicked off the main part of his keynote highlighting the inventive nature of humans — we look at what we’ve got available to solve problems. He also commented that most inventions are derivative of something else, an evolution, and how this evolution is sometimes tied to technology changes, sometimes contextual changes and sometimes our behavioural changes.

As an example, he looked at the evolution of music technology:

  1. Wireless radio
  2. Vinyl record (which made music a personal experience)
  3. Cassettes
  4. Portable cassettes (music moved out of the home to wherever people wanted to be)
  5. MP3 player
  6. iPod
  7. Smartphone — now contains music and everything else we need

The waves of technology

Next Charbel identified and examined the five waves of technology, namely the:

  1. Calculation wave
  2. Information wave
  3. Social wave
  4. Experience wave
  5. Singularity

The calculation wave

The calculation wave was characterised by a battle for efficiency, with machines being used to perform basic functions for record keeping...computers in the workplace. He showed some great pics of some of those massive early computers.

The information wave

This started with hyperlinks to other pages. It was the age of HTTP, 256 colours and it was about interacting with content. Computers were in the home as well as the office, internet cafes were popular and Google emerged, followed by many others.

The social wave

We’re currently in the social wave, but it started with instant relay chat and online payments. Charbel described it as a perfect storm — computers were affordable, modems were accessible, lots of different browsers were available and people had a massive appetite for information. During this wave, we saw a real battle of the browsers.

The social wave is about more than just social media, it’s about the power of the consumer coming to the fore. Lots of new companies emerged and it was the beginning of disruption. Online shopping and social media are key players. Charbel discussed some stats as an example: Facebook has 1.59 billion users and 70% login daily. What we use has changed, where we use it has changed, how we purchase has changed, how we pay has changed, how we eat has changed (e.g. Uber Eats, HelloFresh, Menulog, etc.), how we travel has changed (e.g. Airbnb), how we work has changed (e.g. co-working spaces), how we behave has changed, what we read has changed, how we read it has changed, how we pray has changed, who we worship has changed (rise of the celebrity, such as the Kardashians), how we focus has changed, what we share has changed (what we’re willing to do for the sake of convenience), and who we trust has changed.

What does it mean for our future? At this point, Charbel mentioned the book Hooked: How to build habit-forming products. According to Charbel we’re basically creating tech-amphetamine, an addiction to platforms.

He countered by saying it wasn’t all bad. He went through some of the benefits of this wave, including things like being able to stay in touch with people from around the world, high quality consumer reviews, amazing products and how technology has enabled protest and revolution.

The experience wave

Charbel said that another perfect storm is coming. We have the technology, the portability, the content and the public appetite for new experiences (he gave Pokemon Go as an example). The fourth wave is coming now. And while it used to be that everything was a derivative of something else, this isn’t the case any more.

In the experience wave (we’re in this as well as the social wave at the moment), we have new technology like conversational platforms (e.g. Siri, Google Home, Alexa, etc.), blockchain and digital currencies, robotics and 3D printing, cybersecurity and 5G.

And in the next three years, more shifts are coming. Charbel asked: What happens when we add AI with robots? Ethics is going to be a massive topic of conversation. Just because we have the technology should we use it? Curiosity is part of human nature so yes…we’re going to go there.

At this point, Charbel looked at a really interesting situation. A self-driving car is coming to an intersection and an accident is inevitable. The AI must choose whether to swerve one way and hit an elderly couple or swerve another way and hit some teenagers. A quick poll of the room showed that the majority would say ‘save the teenagers’ because they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them. An emotional decision. But Charbel pointed out that from an AI perspective, a purely logical perspective, the AI might choose to save the elderly couple because from a clinical viewpoint the teenagers are going to cost the system a lot more over their lifetimes.

Charbel made an interesting point here...that with every wave of tech we’ve shifted our humanity.

The waves and the pace of change is also affecting the future of work. For example, he suggested that for many people who are studying right now, what they’re studying could be redundant in five years’ time. Lots of tech jobs are in demand and tech salaries are increasing. Wave 4 is also about a battle for talent.

We’re also moving into portable and wearable tech, and the future includes insertable tech (under the skin), implantable tech (e.g. health industry) and thought-activated tech.

And with these tech changes, we’ve also moved from brand marketing to brand experience (consumers want an ‘experience’ — whatever that experience may look like).

From here Charbel looked at what’s next? He suggested one thing that could be in our future is DNA as a storage device. We all have 300g of DNA in our body, with 700 terabytes of data per gram in DNA. So we can store lots of data in our DNA. In fact, technically we can store data in our DNA now, but can’t retrieve it yet.

Charbel raised the question: What happens when AI, DNA and consciousness meets? And if we’re storing data or using insertable/implantable tech, what happens if our bodies get hacked?

Singularity wave

This brought Charbel to the final wave, singularity, where we become one with machines. He noted that if we do go down this path we won’t be able to come back.

Will it really happen? Charbel pointed out that it’s already happening in some ways within humans. As an example, he talked about Jung’s observations on the collective unconscious. Another example, he mentioned was how two kids can somehow find each other in a room full of hundreds of adults. Somehow the kids ‘know’ another child is in the room and they come together.

The future

Moving forward, Charbel said we need to ask some tough questions. There are lots of challenges coming up, lots of problems to solve.

Where do we start? Charbel suggested drawing on the Japanese Ikigai, your reason for being.

God and the machine

Charbel closed by saying that in the first two waves, we were gods of the machine. In the next two waves, god is in the machine (we’re giving away so much data) and in the last wave, god becomes the machine.

A great way to finish a fantastic, inspiring and eye-opening keynote.

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