From Wilbur and Orville’s first flight at Kitty Hawk, to UBER, emerging technologies have, are and will continue to ‘disrupt’ and change life as we know it. These technologies which Greg LaFollette, CPA and Vice President of Product Strategy at CPA2Biz[i], referred to as “disruptive technologies” in his keynote address to the Cloud Summit 2014 late last week result in long-term changes to society as we know it impacting everything from the way we live to global economics.
Think about where we would all be if it were not for that first flight; oh scholars believe that if Wilbur and Orville hadn’t done it, someone else would have sooner or later, but how might that have changed history? History consists of a complexity of interwoven threads consisting of cultural, social, geographical and economic factors that are not so easily changed. But it is clearly possible, and historically accurate, that singular monumental events such as that first flight do indeed change the direction of the future.
So let’s suppose for a moment that an additional 20 or 30 years had gone by before that first flight, would we have already gone to the moon today? And to take that one step further, much of what we know of computers today is the result of miniaturization that began with the ‘space program’; where might our computer industry be if flight had been delayed? Almost certainly both space exploration and the PC would still be in our history but perhaps just emerging in this time.
But think of all the ‘lives’ that would have been impacted because of the change in the ‘time line’ of history. I’m not saying that any of us probably wouldn’t be here, most likely we would be, but we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now, even though future generations would more than likely come to do much of what we are now doing.
With this personal reflection of how Mr. Lafollette’s opening remarks struck me, let me share a few of his projections about some of those ‘disruptive technologies’ that are likely to ‘change the world’.
The first I would mention is Uber which is “evolving the way the world moves”. Uber connects riders to drivers in over 200 cities worldwide using the internet as the method of connection. Despite the fact that complaints from ‘other transportation services’ (such as taxi and limousine companies) are on the rise against Uber, and governmental intervention and regulatory attempts are underway, Uber is thriving in part with the assistance of major investors. If you are already a Uber rider, or driver, you probably know how popular this mode of transportation is becoming, especially in urban areas.
Another potential future changer is the ‘autonomous car’, also known as driverless cars. Currently Google is sponsoring a self-driving car project, and some states have even passed legislation permitting driverless vehicles. Who knows, if you visit the Mountain View area while you are attending QuickBooks Connect this October you might very well see some driverless vehicles on public streets. Most of the major auto builders, especially those with ‘electric and hybrid vehicle programs’ have plans on the drawing board for autonomous cars.
Now combine these two evolving technologies and you have one big potential source for historical disruption and change. If you integrated Uber with autonomous cars you might very well have a formula where almost nobody owned their own vehicle. With the click of an App a driverless car would show-up to take you to work, school, shopping or anywhere else. Need a delivery, click an App and either a driverless delivery truck picks-up or drops-off.
While I might tend to think (and perhaps you too) this all sounds too ‘futuristic’, I can only recall that I am one of those people who thought that ‘this Internet thing would never last’ when it first came out. But I do see one major obstacle, ‘our cars are a status symbol’; I mean how are we ever going to “out do the Jones’ next door if we don’t have a better car in the driveway?”
Of course if this Uberized Autonomous Car thing does work out, how is it going to be paid for, well with ‘Bit Coin’ of course, another emerging technology I took away from Mr. Lafollette’s presentation. Bitcoin is a payment system (actually a decentralized digital currency) that refers to itself as "currency for the world." [This form of currency isn't backed by any country, unlike all other currencies the world over.]
Bitcoin payments work from one individual or business to another individual or business, without a central repository or single administrator. It really isn't necessary to fully understand all the complexities of how Bitcoin serves as a replacement for traditional currencies, but simply recognize that Bitcoin permits the exchange of 'value' in a different way than via traditional banks or merchant services.
Peer-to-peer lending is another ‘economic’ technology emerging; Kiva was the first and several others have been spawned in recent years. Peer-to-peer lending is the loaning of money from one individual or business to another without the use of traditional banks or lending institutions. This isn’t like the ‘loan sharking’ of mafia days with killer interest rates, in fact one reason that Peer-to-peer lending is becoming so popular is the fees are lower than those typically imposed by banks and other lending institutions. Our course many organizations including the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission and the National Banker’s Association are getting involved from protectionism and regulatory perspectives. As change becomes more evident those being negatively impacted scream louder and louder.
Imagine what can happen when you combine the power of bit-coin, an electronic (non-governmental currency) with peer-to-peer lending. No wonder the bankers and governmental finance officials are trying to ‘regulate’ and ‘suppress’. Is it possible that these two emerging technologies represent the disruption of the economic powers we have all come to know, and to some extent ‘hate’? Mr. LaFollette is a lot less critical in his future forecast than I am, but then again you all know that I tend to ‘speak what is on my mind’.
I could probably stop right here and you would be happy with ‘my take away’ but I am going to scream and shout about this next technological coupling.
First let's discuss 3D printing. 3D printing is the name for any of various processes for making a 3-dimensional object of almost any shape from an electronic data source primarily through additive processes in which successive layers of some material are laid down or assembled under computer control. Applications for this technology are almost limitless including construction, industrial fabrication, automotive, aerospace, dental, fashion, footwear, jewelry, eye-wear and many others. Currently experimentation is underway with biotech forms researching human tissue replacement, and with food synthesis.
Interest in these high-high-high-tech machines has resulted in significant improvements, increased availability and decreased costs. The key in the future of these machines lies less in the ‘printer itself’ and the material being used in the ‘additive manufacturing’ process. Just like black-n-white ink-jet printers became first two-color and then full-color printers, with the right materials being used in the process who knows where 3D printing can go?
Years ago the crew of the Starship Enterprise (on the television series Star Trek) would push a couple of buttons and the galley’s replicator would push out a hot meal of choice in seconds. Why manufacture and distribute small parts to parts stores (like plumbing, electrical and automotive) when the store can simply push a couple of buttons and in moments the part is printed on demand. Why wait for a heart transplant when the organ control department of the local hospital can simply print a new replacement heart with all the required tissue and blood matches to avoid any possible rejection. It’s the ‘replication base materials’ that are the key to this type of technology.
Enter ‘graphene’, which is pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, just one ‘atom’ thick. Remarkably strong for its weight it also is an outstanding conductor of heat, electricity and an outstanding filter which permits only pure water to pass through it. It is the most reactive form of carbon, and the chemistry and physics of the material appear to change in the presence of certain energy sources.
In 2010 the scientists who discovered the material were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Large scale manufacture of graphene is beginning to take place, and recently it was discovered that when used to desalinate ocean water one of the byproducts was electricity (oh what a shame is that, right?).
Can you see where this is going? What if graphene turns out to be the perfect ‘replication material’ for almost everything we know. After all our world is based upon ‘carbon chemistry’ (also referred to as ‘organic’ chemistry). The DNA of our cells and almost everything we know is built around carbon atoms. It might just be that before long 3D printers are using graphene to make everything we know, and even those things we have yet to even think of.
So is all this ‘science fiction’ or ‘science future’? You can be like I was years ago thinking this ‘PC thing will be gone in a year, it can’t do anything’, or you can invest the time and energy to get to know as much about these emerging and potentially ‘disruptive’ technologies that may very well ‘change life as we know it’.
Editor’s note: I want to thank Greg LaFollette “for ‘opening my eyes, that I might see’ a very real future that might just be.”
[i] As Vice President of Product Strategy, Gregory LaFollette, CPA, CITP, CGMA is responsible for CPA2Biz’s overall product roadmap and development of cloud solutions. Prior to joining CPA2Biz, he was a consultant to a public accounting firms and to technology vendors with a focus on the accounting profession. Additionally he was the Executive Editor of TheTechGap, the country’s first blog specifically created for the tax and accounting profession and for vendors who seek to serve that community, and also served as Senior Manager of Tax and Technology Consulting for Eide Bailly, LLP a Top 25 accounting firm.