tech

5 Lessons from Yesterday for the Technology of Tomorrow

In this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, new technologies are evolving faster than ever. But some experts are concerned that the pace of progress is so rapid that there isn’t enough time for us to absorb and reflect on (and consequently avoid) some of the mistakes that have caused technological development to stumble in the past.

Hilary Sutcliffe, a responsible innovation expert and the director of SocietyInside, addresses this concern in a recent World Economic Forum article in which she looks back to the early days of nanotechnology in. In examining some of the issues that accompanied the introduction of nanotechnology, Sutcliffe identifies five important lessons that one can (and should) apply to all future forms of technological development, from artificial intelligence to gene editing.

  1. Distinguish the brand from the science.

tabletSutcliffe’s article refers to the “tyranny of the ‘ology’”—the danger of becoming overly fixated on the brand of a particular new technology rather than on the science behind it. Brands like nanotechnology or synthetic biology, in particular, have become popular buzzwords that organizations use to attract funding and academic investment, as well as to demonstrate their commitment to innovation. However, development can be compromised when the glamor surrounding a new technology, rather than how well it works or what risks are associated with it, drives discussions.

For example, the early excitement around nanotechnologies focused on the definition of nanomaterials as having features smaller than 100 nanometers. But while this size specification was an important element of “brand nano,” it proved to be a poor predictor of how these new materials actually behaved or the hazards they presented.

  1. Hype has consequences.

In the new technology sector, competition for funding, media attention, and public interest is fierce. As a result, what Sutcliffe calls an “economy of promises” has developed, in which scientists and businesses hugely exaggerate the potential benefit of their particular “ology” to boost their chances of accessing vital financial support and other resources.

But these overstated claims have repercussions that we should not overlook. One of these is the inevitable tarnishing of a technology’s reputation when it proves unable in the short term to live up to its hype. For example, the 2004 goal of the US National Cancer Institute—to use nanotechnology to eliminate death and suffering from cancer by 2015—can’t help but make us feel disappointed now, even though the technology itself may eventually lead to that desired outcome.

Another repercussion concerns the delicate world of new technology regulation and legislation. Regulators have no option but to start their process based on what scientists and businesses claim their technology will deliver, but too much hype here can distract from a thorough and accurate exploration of a technology’s very real risks and hazards.

  1. Language matters.

Closely associated with the issue of over-promising is the actual language involved in discussing and promoting new technologies. Naturally, we must devise new terms and metaphors when describing technologies and possibilities we haven’t seen before, as well as what problems they might solve, but we need to be careful to consider the impact of our chosen words. For example, many new technologies rely on military-inspired metaphors to evoke a feeling of control, dominance over nature, or extreme scientific accuracy. Not only do such terms lead to unsettling comparisons, they are also not usually reflected in reality, which compounds the problem of over-promising.

  1. Don’t start by obsessing about the backlash.

statisticsYes, new technologies can sometimes prove controversial, but when scientists launch their ideas from a place of defensiveness and confrontation, they often spark the very problems they are trying to avoid. Society does not necessarily have a widespread fear of technology itself. Instead, it has a widespread desire for engaged and collaborative discussion about what the technology is being developed for and what problems it will help solve. While it’s certainly important to think about how to address a potential backlash, imagining that such a backlash is already occurring when it isn’t can obstruct both developmental productivity and useful, forward-thinking societal dialogue.

  1. Weigh the risks and benefits thoughtfully.

One of the biggest challenges associated with the hype, as well as the sheer volume of information around new technologies, is that it can be difficult for us to accurately weigh the real evidence for either potential benefit or possible harm. So much conflicting information and opinions surface when new technologies are introduced that parties from both sides of the debate often fall back on pre-conceived ideas, cherry-picking data to prove the point they’ve already decided on. However, as a society, it’s important that we discuss and weigh the question of acceptable benefits and risks in a thoughtful and clear-headed way, especially because reports have repeatedly shown that early warning signs of disaster are often clear (as in the case of asbestos, for example), but we are held back from acting by systemic biases and behavioral reasons.

road

6 Important Stages on the Road to Digital Maturity

One of the most important things that companies need to understand about digital transformation is that it is not an outcome or an end-goal. Rather, the journey to digital maturity is a complex and enriching process in which the end state continues to evolve in response to changing goals and market influences; in other words, digital transformation is something that companies experience instead of something they achieve.

While every company’s pursuit of digital transformation is different—depending on a wide variety of factors, including size, industry, business model, and appetite for risk—there are a number of distinct, identifiable stages that virtually all companies pass through on the road to digital maturity. Breaking down and analyzing these stages, as a recent whitepaper from technology research firm Altimeter does, can help provide a useful baseline of a digital transformation journey that companies can use to chart their path toward pivotal milestones and to benchmark their progress against others who are further ahead on the transformation trajectory.

As outlined by Altimeter, the six stages of digital transformation maturity are as follows:

  1. Business as usual

notebookAs the name suggests, companies in the “business as usual” stage are simply continuing down the business course that was set long before digital disruption entered the scene. The risks and opportunities associated with disruption are largely ignored, and there is little understanding of the potential impact of digital technologies on customers, employees, and markets. A lack of any sense of urgency and a risk-averse attitude combine to create an organizational culture that is extremely resistant to change. New technologies are not completely overlooked, but they are used primarily to optimize operational scale and efficiency rather than as a fundamental driver of true business model shifts. The customer experience, and data associated with it, is siloed and segregated; the company’s overall approach is fragmented rather than cohesive.

  1. Test and learn

This phase involves a growing recognition within the company that “business as usual” is no longer working out as well as it once was; often, catalysts for this phase are employees or managers who see other businesses experimenting with new things and want to implement those lessons within their own companies. At this point, there is a great deal of experimentation with digital, mobile, and social technologies, both internally and externally, but very little of this action is organized or centralized. However, with the support of digital champions—the change agents who helped kick off the digital journey in the first place—companies gradually gain a better understanding of what is possible with digital and where particular investments will pay off. Work and teams are still largely siloed, but they are increasingly effective at experimenting and tracking results.

  1. Systemize and strategize

By this stage, companies are smarter; they have developed an awareness of the bigger picture and are taking steps toward achieving that vision. Formal action is now the name of the game. Strategic investments in people, processes, and technology are made, and working alliances are formed between IT and marketing in order to create an infrastructure that will properly support transformation. Programs connected to digital become more intentional, and greater focus is placed on increasing the digital literacy of key stakeholders. Executive education plays a very important role in this stage, as executives will need to use their developing digital knowledge and expertise to gain buy-in for transformation efforts across and beyond the company. It’s also at this stage that the digital customer experience becomes the primary focal point for companies’ digital transformation goals.

  1. Adapt or die

office

The quest for digital has built up considerable momentum by this stage, and the entire organization is now recognizing and appreciating it. There is a greater sense of resiliency in companies that have made it to this stage; infrastructure investments have helped support the achievement of both long- and short-term goals and outcomes, and further transformation efforts are highly formalized and more ambitious than ever. Digital, mobile, and social technologies now lead business strategy rather than being viewed as optional add-ons. The digital customer experience continues to be a main driver for change, with special attention now being paid to omni-channel and automated efforts. Customer data now figures more prominently. Consequently, privacy and security are paramount issues.

  1. Transformed and transforming

Digital transformation is now comprehensively woven into the very fabric of the company. The digital transformation efforts of previous stages have led to new business models and operating standards, and the operation of the entire organization is more unified and cohesive. Every business unit and function within the company is managing key aspects of digital transformation, and a variety of new roles, such as chief digital officer or chief experience officer, have emerged to optimize resources and scale transformation.

  1. Innovate, innovate, innovate

The dominant culture with the company is now one of innovation; the focus that was once placed on transformation and technology now shifts towards identifying new and unconventional growth opportunities. The traditional business hierarchy has been replaced by a flatter management and decision-making model that recognizes that ideas and knowledge acquisition are everyone’s job. In addition, the company is well-placed and eager to further innovation within the wider community by hosting hackathons, startup showcases, or conference-style talks and programs. The level of digital maturity present within companies at this stage means that digital lessons learned are applied in real time, and are used to boost internal and external operations and to improve market strategies.

children

8 Digital Skills That Every Child Needs to Know Now

children computerAccording to experts, not only will today’s children hold at least seven different jobs during their lifetime, but technology and innovation are moving at such a speed that five of those jobs haven’t even been created yet. So how can today’s adults—many of whom were raised at a time when IT and digital media were specialized, optional skills—possibly hope to equip the next generation with the competencies they will need for the jobs of the future?

According to a recent article from the World Economic Forum, the answer is that parents and educators alike need to move beyond simply using IT as a tool to deliver educational platforms in a new way and instead focus on how to help students build what has become known as digital intelligence, or DQ. Indeed, the question of digital intelligence is so urgent that organizations such as the DQ Institute are calling for countries to establish national digital education programs in order to ensure a fair and even distribution and command of—as well as access to—technology.

What is digital intelligence?

According to the DQ Institute, digital intelligence (DQ) is the blend of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities that are needed in order to be able to lead a healthy and productive digital life. In other words, it’s not simply about knowing how to use technology, but about having sufficient knowledge, skills, and abilities to be able to cope on an emotional and behavioral level with the digital era’s pressing challenges and demands. The ultimate goal of building a high DQ is to ensure that technology will be used wisely, responsibly, and in accordance with key human values such as integrity, respect, and empathy.

What are the three levels of DQ?

child technologyIn broad terms, DQ can be broken down into three distinct levels:

  1. Digital citizenship—The ability to use digital tools and media safely and responsibly, as well as effectively.
  1. Digital creativity—The ability to join and contribute to the digital ecosystem by using digital tools to co-create new content and transform ideas into reality.
  1. Digital entrepreneurship—The ability to leverage digital technologies to address and solve global problems or to develop new opportunities.

It is interesting to note that while digital creativity and digital entrepreneurship are being increasingly addressed in schools and universities—through coding programs for school-aged children, for example, or college courses in such areas as “technopreneurship”—digital citizenship is often overlooked, despite the fact that it is fundamental in setting behavioral norms for all future interactions with and uses for technology. It is at the digital citizenship level that some of the most important digital skills, as described below, are found.

What are the eight main components of DQ?

According to the DQ Institute, in order to help create competent and responsible digital citizens, we must work to equip children with skills and abilities in the following critical areas:

  1. Digital identity—Children need to learn how to effectively build and manage their online identity and reputation. This involves understanding how their online persona and offline lives are connected, as well as being aware of both the short- and long-term impact of their online presence.
  1. Digital use—This is the ability to manage the use and consumption of digital devices and media. Children should know how to control their screen time, multitasking, and involvement in online games and social media in order to create a healthy online and offline balance in their lives.
  1. Digital safety—The online world is full of risks and problematic content, but ignoring them is not the most effective way to keep children digitally safe. Rather, children should understand what the risks are (such as cyberbullying) in order to be able to identify and consequently limit, avoid, or report them.
  1. Digital security—Cyber threats such as hacking, scams, and malware pose another kind of digital risk that children must be prepared to deal with. Training in data protection best practices and security tools is vital for a more secure online life.
  1. Digital emotional intelligence—Children need to learn and understand that there are real people on the other end of their online interactions, and they need to develop the necessary emotional skills to conduct themselves online in an empathetic and constructive manner that takes into account others’ needs and feelings.
  1. Digital communication—This is all about learning how to use digital tools and media to communicate and collaborate with others, as well as how to understand and responsibly manage one’s digital footprint.
  1. Digital literacy—Digitally literate online users are able to find, assess, use, share, and create digital content. This involves honing key skills such as critical thinking, which allows children to see and understand the difference between true and false information, beneficial and harmful content, and trustworthy and unreliable contacts online.
  1. Digital rights—The question of personal and legal rights in an online realm is a critical one for children to understand. They must learn how to uphold their own and others’ rights effectively and responsibly, including the right to privacy, intellectual property, and protection from hate speech.