So far in this series we’ve looked at a couple of disruptive technologies that are forecast to have major impacts on future markets. The Internet of Things market is the next iteration of the web, bringing about a world where everything is literally connected to everything else, and which represents a potentially a multi-trillion dollar market over the next decade. And Bitcoin, the upstart digital currency, has got the attention of many investors and supporters that are seeing it also as the ‘next big thing.’ Because of its decentralized protocol, Bitcoin may revolutionize our whole notion of data transmission and the storage of private information.
There are a number of other top disruptive technologies that should be front and center on the radar of small business leaders today. For example, most everyone by now has likely heard about 3-D printing. This is an exciting and fast-moving market that is entering the consumer early adoption phase; many are saying it will spawn the next industrial revolution. For those to whom this is a new concept, 3D printing is the process of uploading a digital model of an object and transforming it into a three-dimensional solid object. These resulting “prints” are created by successive layers of material, such as plastic, metal or even wood pulp, are extruded and layered successively until the model is duplicated in physical form.
What’s especially exciting about 3-D printing is that it represents a disruption relatively easy to scale up for small business. The only investment required is to purchase a 3-D printer, which is easily within the reach of most business owners. As one source points out, “For $1,299 . . . anyone can now buy a 3D printer, hook it up to a wi-fi network, and begin downloading files that will turn into real objects.”
Prototyping and manufacturing has always been expensive. But now imagine being able to scan objects with your iPad and then send them to your 3-D printer. The sky is really the limit – shoes, clothing, jewelry, toys, tools, food – you name it and the possibility exists that it can be scanned and printed. Suddenly, the one person retail operation becomes a real possibility for the future. And suddenly, the notion of taking manufacturing production from the assembly line to the backyard or garage is huge!
Another area of technology projected to cause major disruptions is the smart machine. Some people less familiar with this term have heard it described as automation or artificial intelligence. Whatever name you call it, the fact is that this era will completely transform the future of business. Smart machines are also referred to as cognitive computing systems, which are “trained to employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms that can sense, predict, infer and, in some ways, think.”
When it comes to the smart machine market, examples abound; think of contextually aware devices (smartphones that let user information to influence computer behavior), intelligent virtual personal assistants, smart advisors (such as IBM Watson), advanced global industrial systems and autonomous vehicles such as driverless cars.
What was science fiction yesterday is fast becoming the reality of today and tomorrow. In fact, Gartner is saying that the smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT. This seems to be supported by one study that claims that over the next 20 years nearly 47% of all current U.S. jobs may be outsourced to smart machines because they consist primarily of tasks that can be automated.
The road ahead will be exciting to be sure. So please join us back here next time as we wrap up this series with some takeaways and strategies for how to lead the charge on disruptive technologies.