For me, it’s one simple yet complex thing: technology blows my mind when it knows and does more than a human ever could. Maybe this is why stuff like YouTube, Twitter, etc. never really blew me away. Streaming videos online or following people in 140 characters or less? Not exactly stuff we didn’t see or imagine before. Not exactly transformative technology. Sure, it has lots of smarts and it’s two types of online technologies that I love deeply, but it never got me excited, to be honest. Had either of those platforms not gained traction and an audience it would not have surprised me. Technology that I find transformative is when it does something that no human could do, think or act on.
The promise of Big Data.
Professionals often confuse lots of data for big data. The promise of big data was this: the ability of technology to take multiple data sets and manipulate them at a rate and pace that would never be humanly possible. If that was all, it would be impressive – but that’s not all. The technology would also be able to provide insights and opportunities that no human could have ever have surmised. To me, that’s mind-blowing and what’s exciting about technology.
The promise of self-driving cars.
Many people tell me they’re worried about being a passenger is a self-driving car. I used to feel like that. Not anymore. Candidly, I can’t wait for all of you to be off of the road. Seriously. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a passenger in one of Google’s first self-driving cars on a public road with non-Googlers. It was a truly transformative experience. I went from “There’s no way I trust a computer or Google with driving me anywhere” to “How soon can we get all humans off the road?”
Why did this happen?
Quite simply, the computer removes human emotion and experience from driving. It doesn’t get tired. It’s never “in a mood.” It doesn’t get distracted by things like the radio, a text message, a fight with the kids, or a squirrel. The technology is doing so many things at once that it is, in a word, overwhelming. Couple that with the fact that the onboard sensors are able to read the world around it at a much greater distance than the human eye can see (miles/kilometers), and you can imagine the power. It transforms everything we think we know about getting from one place to another, everything we think we know about roads, infrastructure, traffic, lights, logistics, and so much more. I know it’s not perfect, and it’s not ready for prime time, but it’s coming. As Futurist Kevin Kelly likes to say, “the future happens very slowly, and then all at once.”
Watch technology do something miraculous.
There’s a viral video making the rounds now that shows a Tesla vehicle initiating its front-collision warning alert. This technology not only alerts the driver, but it also brakes the car a full second before a collision ahead of the vehicle even happens. It's both terrifying to watch and a miracle of modern technology. Would the driver have braked had the technology not been in place? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Would the technology have hit the brakes in a million other scenarios just like this one? Probably without fail.
This is what makes technology great. A new world of possibilities when technology knows more than you.
- Mitch Joel is President of Mirum Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchjoel.