How technology has evolved to help us create new needs
As the G generation starts coming into the workplace (G for Google or Gamification, others call them Millennials as they were born between 1995 and 2010) and we see remarkable technology improvements, I thought it would be interesting to look at how our lives have evolved.
Going back to the late 1700, the first industrial revolution relied on mechanical production (water and steam). At home, nobody had running water nor electricity. The core problem was energy. This is still as of today, the key issue for us all. But let’s follow this energy quest and understand how we have found a solution. This does not mean that we have fixed the problem, but we have a great work around.
In 1870, production lines started, we were in the second industrial revolution. We came to know mass production with electrical power. Electricity was complicated to master as we could not store it. So, we started to work with water force and steam to create the very badly needed energy.
In 1961, the third industrial revolution saw the rise of electronics and IT automatization. We had industrial robots. Electricity was mastered and the major issue we faced then was the size of the components. Remember the huge computers placed in 3 to 4 major rooms? Robots were the same but we knew we were on to something.
Finally, in 2012 we had the forth industrial revolution with cyber and robotized automatization. We called it collaborative robots. Energy was still an issue but we knew how to master electricity and we had invented batteries that would last for a while and sometimes would self-generate.
Our personal lives have evolved the same way but not at the same pace. Priority was given to industry and this makes sense. However, the progresses industry made allowed us to progress in our everyday lives.
For obvious reasons, I will not go back to 1784 (I just cannot remember how we lived then) but going back to 1980, we can see that we have made unbelievable progress.
Back then, if I start with music we (in France) did not have free radio stations on FM. It began when our president was elected in 1981. We only had 2 or 3 stations that would carry the popular tunes. Obviously, internet did not exist and so for us it was very easy to know what was trendy or not as we only had one channel to listen to. Just think about the number of stations today available on the radio and internet. Think about the channels on the internet (YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Deaser… and many more) and think about the various electronic devices that can carry the tunes. It was much easier during the radio period for an artist to produce a tune that would be heard by the mass public. The multi-channels, multi-device market makes it easier for people to be mobile and entertained but is harder for an artist to become famous.
This brings me to my second example. Electronic devices have flourished. The fist mobile device was the Walkman from Sony. It was launched in the late 1970s. Kihara-san and Sony co-founder (Ibuka-san) invented the concept. The work started way before when the challenge was to find portable energy. When I met Kihara-san, he explained to me that he was so sure about his idea that he used to go to Sony buildings and walk around offices with a fake Walkman in his hands wearing a headset. When people would ask him to look at the device, he would show a Walkman with a big hole (where the battery was supposed to go). The problem was that he could not invent a small battery that would last long enough for people to listen to their cassettes. Yes, remember, Walkman was launched with cassettes. Have you used one lately?
When Sony managed to master the Walkman energy, they launched it and you know the success of it. First, as I mentioned they used cassettes, then CD, Video, MiniDisc, Network, MP3 and on a mobile phone. The more the engineers work on it, the better the energy source became and from the original idea of Ibuka-san to be able to listen to operas while flying to the US, it became a symbol of Sony’s power and know-how. If today we have Ipods and all type of mobile devices, it is because Sony invented music on the go.
My third example is the rise of home computers. In 1980, I was (and still am) passionate about computers. My parents bought me a ZX 81 from Sinclair. This was unusual, as you would normally only buy a computer if you needed it for word processing, programming, etc. There was no connectivity, no internet so why would you need it? As there was no screen, you plugged it to the television set. You would use a cassette recorder to save your programs and if you were lucky, you would add a 1K memory extension set plugged into the back of the computer. I remember developing games where asteroids would travel on the screen and I managed to get a space shuttle to shoot at the asteroids. They were very simple and programmed on the only known language, basic. The main issue was to save the work and then retrieve it. 9 times out of 10, it did not work. It was frustrating, not mobile, low quality and very difficult to operate BUT it did exist and in 1980 we could sense the potential of the device. From then on, every year a new device was launched. Today computer companies launch a new frame on a computer model every 3 months with more capacity, better design, energy management and features. Look back and realize how fortunate we are today to work with computers that have unbelievable speed, great connectivity, and portability. Could you imagine your world today without a computer? It has taken almost 40 years, where will be in 40 more years?
My fourth example is the rise of mobile phones and more importantly smartphones. Back when fax machines were invented and launched in 1964, it was a revolution. We could send documents instantly to anywhere in the world. In the late 1970s, all companies started to order them and business commerce relied on fax machines. We even had to create a legal framework to decide whether or not faxed letters were legal. It was the invention of the century and changed the speed of operation for all businesses. Prior to the fax machine, I would like to remind everyone that we could only rely on letters and the reliability of the post office. Now we had a tool that allowed immediate connection and a different speed to doing business. This was the start of another revolution. We started to appreciate the ubiquity of business and the immediate connection facility electronic and phone companies. The first handheld mobile phone was demonstrated by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973, using a handset weighing c. 4.4 lbs (2 kg). In 1983, the DynaTAC 8000x was the first commercially available handheld mobile phone. From 1983 to 2014, worldwide mobile phone subscriptions grew to over seven billion, penetrating 100% of the global population and reaching even the bottom of the economic pyramid. In the first quarter of 2016, the top smartphone manufacturers were Samsung, Apple, and Huawei (and "smartphone sales represented 78 percent of total mobile phone sales").
Today smartphones allow us to always be connected, to entertain ourselves with music, video, and games and to be available 24/7. We have access to information immediately; we do not rely on our know-how because if we have a question, the answer is only a click away. Skills needed for business have completely changed. Companies do not ask for people with great knowledge, they ask for people who can get the information very fast, who can communicate efficiently and who can be smart to differentiate fake news from real news. This is a revolution and it’s not over yet as we are constantly making progress in technology, bandwidth, and robotization. The next 40 years will be amazing.
My fifth example is the rise of personal robots. The first known access to robots was managed by Sony in the late 1990s when they launched their first robot; the AIBO ERS 110. From then we could see a huge potential in robotics and in how we could change our daily lives and rely more on robots. From the AIBO years to today we have seen the rise of Internet Of Things (connected objects), Artificial Intelligent, Drones and many other projects. All these working together will allow the elderly to live at home until the end being very well watched and protected. They will allow optimized houses that will connect to its owners and will ensure that heating is working, the fridge is full and will reorder when supplies are low. They will allow doctors to perform critical surgeries from a distance and allow people to fly with cars that do both (drive and fly). You will see deliveries of goods flown to your house instantly. Ecommerce sites will know what you need before you know you need it. I could continue with many examples but in the need to keep this paper under 3 pages long, I invite you to contact me and continue the discussion.
As a conclusion, I hope you have appreciated my view on the evolution of technology throughout time. As I mentioned before, the key issue for this evolution has been energy. Today companies are working towards a new type of energy. Energy that will be more efficient, lighter, more portable and cost effective. We are looking for an energy that will re-energize itself always like a never-ending source, self-contained and self-made. This energy will allow our planet earth to be more protected as we will not ruin its raw material. This energy is the future to our grandchildren. The progress that has been made is tremendous. We have immediate information; immediate connectivity and we collaborate like never before. We should not regret theses changes but look forward to the many more coming. Today we are smarter in our way of handling change and progress; let’s continue to show the next generations what they should be working on.