5 thought-leaders on the future of business in a digital world

OPINION / 9th May 2018

The digital transformation of business is underway in varying degrees in every sector. Regardless of the industry you’re in or the stage your business is at technological advancement is undeniably happening at an exponential rate. The new tech, such as the likes of artificial intelligence, automation, biometrics, cognitive computing machine learning, nanotechnology, neural networks (to name a few), is set to have a profound impact on society and indeed business.

The leading futurist Gerd Leonhard says we’re now at the intersection of change; he estimates that society will evolve more in the next 20 years than it has done in the previous 300. He believes that there is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ anymore and that businesses will not be following linear paths as before. He cautions those who choose to bury their heads in the sand and deny digital change, as these will be the businesses that will likely follow the paths of the defunct former giants: Blockbusters, Kodak and Nokia.

The following five thought leaders are at the top of their game – many advise governments and multinational corporations and teach about the future of business in a digital age. Here we’ve taken a look at their latest best-selling books and summarised what they have to say about preparing for change.

1. Gerd Leonhard: Technology vs Humanity

Futurist Gerd Leonhard addresses how we can embrace the latest technology without becoming it. He says the change has happened gradually, then suddenly, and that the machine era will create the greatest watershed in human life on Earth. His book takes a look at AI, cognitive computing, IoT and the death of privacy. He predicts the end of work-as-we-know-it and says that our future working life will be governed by 10 mega-trends: augmentation, automation, cognification, datafication, digitisation, disintermediation, mobilisation, personalisation, robotisation and virtualisation. We’ve outlined how these trends will impact your business in a previous blog post.

2. Kevin Kelly: The Inevitable

Kevin Kelly, the former founder of ‘Wired’ magazine, who calls himself a “senior maverick” is an influential tech thinker, and even advised Steven Spielberg on the film Minority Report. In his latest book, he sets out his vision for 2050 and talks about humans learning to engage with technology so that we can maximise its benefits and minimise the harms. He told The Observer back in 2016 that, “If we try to prohibit it, outlaw it, stop it, diminish it, we’ll fail. These larger shapes of technology are inevitable.” He suggests by 2050 that virtual reality and AI will play a greater role in our lives. “There’ll be different ways to share presence and experiences with one another. We’re social animals and that’s what robots don’t do very well right now. At the moment, the internet is the internet of information. With virtual reality and AI, what we’re going to get is an era of experiences, where we cannot just know something, but feel it.”

3. Tim O’Reilly: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us

O’Reilly is a practitioner and theoretician, an entrepreneur and a writer, who has long evangelised about the benefits of technology and has been hailed as the “Oracle of Silicon Valley” by Inc. Magazine and as “The Trend Spotter” by Wired. His latest book looks at the impact of AI on society, financial markets and business. He believes that businesses shouldn’t just replicate the old ways of working, but search out the possibilities of the future and seek out the new. He says that cognitive augmentation will be a key part of our future economy. At the heart of the book are a series of lessons about what the great data platforms of today can tell us about the future of business and the economy.

4. Max Tegmark: Life 3.0

Max Tegmark, the New York Times Best Seller and an MIT professor, says that artificial intelligence will be the most important agent of change in the 21st century. He outlines how it will transform our economy, our culture, our politics and even our own bodies and minds. In his book, he tackles the controversial issue of how businesses can use automation without leaving people “lacking in income or purpose”. Instead of pushing any one agenda or prediction, Tegmark seeks to cover as much ground as possible, reviewing a wide variety of scenarios concerning the impact of AI on the job market, warfare and political systems. Elon Musk has described the book as, “A compelling guide to the challenges and choices in our quest for a great future of life, intelligence and consciousness—on Earth and beyond.”

5. Alec Ross: The Industries of the Future

Former innovation advisor to Hillary Clinton, and now Democratic front-runner for Governor of Maryland, Ross provides a “lucid and informed guide” (Financial Times) to the changes coming in the next ten years including robotics and artificial intelligence, cybercrime and cybersecurity, the commercialization of genomics, the next step for big data, and the impact of digital technology on money and markets. He takes a look at how sweeping global trends are affecting the ways we live and work. The book includes insights from global leaders such as the founders of Google and Twitter and reveals the technologies and industries that will drive the next stage of globalisation.

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough