June 1, 2017
Column | outbound

Technology: Trending to the inevitable

The evidence is piling up that technology is about to rock your world. In fact, the tech trends that will drive the upheaval are already in motion.

By Mitch Mac Donald

Somehow, as I walked that fine line between "good academic standing" and Dean Wormer's dreaded double-secret probation during my sophomore year in college, I actually managed to read a book. A whole book. And I read it more than once. It was a best-seller at the time and sparked much discussion and debate, both in classrooms and in boardrooms.

The book? Megatrends by John Naisbitt. Those who have read it may recall that the book outlines 10 fundamental trends—or shifts in thinking—that are shaping our future. While Naisbitt wrote of changes in politics, government, the global economy, the workplace, and more, it was the trend discussed in the book's first chapter that captured my attention.

In 1982, just as the world was getting its first glimpse of things like personal computers, cable television, and cordless (but still landline) phones, Naisbitt already recognized that we were in the midst of a profound shift in our economy. Pointing to the mid-1950s as the starting point, he contended that we were moving from an industrial-based, blue-collar economy to a predominantly information-based, white-collar economy in which information and data would be shared globally and instantly. To put it another way, almost a full decade before the Internet transformed our lives, Naisbitt foresaw our collective digital future.

To fully appreciate Naisbitt's prescience, you merely have to consider how the digital revolution has changed the practice of logistics. We now know that there's a lot more to the game than just the physical movement of goods and materials through the supply chain. Just as critical to today's practitioners is the parallel flow of data that moves in tandem with those goods.

That's just one example of why Megatrends has always stood apart from the rest in a crowded field of books by "futurists." It's the one that, quite simply, nailed it. I've always considered it to be in a league of its own.

This year, that league expanded to two. On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up a copy of The Inevitable, published in late 2016 by Kevin Kelly, whom some may recall as the founding executive editor of Wired magazine.

Kelly's book, which is subtitled "Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future," is essentially a meditation on how our lives will change over the next 30 years, driven by tech trends that are already in motion. What's groundbreaking about his work is not the technologies he cites by way of example—think robotics, 3-D printing, big data, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence (AI)—but rather his ability to depict life in a world where, as one reviewer put it, "intelligence flows as easily into objects as electricity."

Imagine, if you will, a world wherein you don't buy things like cars but rather subscribe to a transportation service. Sometimes, that might mean there is a car in your driveway; sometimes, it could mean an Uber-type driver picks you up. Imagine further that you don't need to do anything for that car or that livery service to show up where and when you need it. The "universe of big data" will know based on, perhaps, a listing on your digital calendar that you need a car for a weekend get-away or a Lyft ride to a business meeting.

While that example in no way does Kelly's work justice, it does demonstrate just how profoundly and fundamentally our world will change.

And, according to Kelly, it will change much more quickly than we can currently conceive. We stand at or near a tipping point, if you will, in which we will begin to measure the time until we have driverless trucks, fully automated supply chains, and a host of other breakthroughs in months rather than years.

These changes are no longer just trends, it seems. They are also inevitable.

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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