The industrial era depersonalized the individual. We each became part of a demographic, a generation, a consumer grouping, a Nielsen rating. We can no longer think of markets as anonymous categories defined by crude demographics. Anytown USA, where the average family, in an average house, lived with 2½ above average children, was a fiction we created to make up for the fact that we could not understand the behaviors and needs of each individual.
Disruptive new technologies are already being used to collect and understand our once invisible behaviors, giving us unimagined insight into our lives across a vast new digital ecosystem of social media, mobile devices, wearables, and embedded sensors. All of this is creating an opportunity to deliver hyper-personalized products and experiences for each individual that provide enduring and sustainable value.
It’s not just human behaviors that are being captured and analyzed. In the very near future every person and digital device will have its own digital-self—a digital twin which can communicate, interact, and collaborate with other digital entities. Autonomous vehicles, smart devices, and intelligent machines will all exhibit their own behaviors. They will learn and evolve to better understand complex patterns in how the world behaves that are otherwise invisible to us.
But we fear AI. It’s what Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has referred to as “Summoning the demon.” In this book, we’ll attempt to dispel the fear that often accompanies AI. In fact, our objective is to prove that we need AI as an indispensable collaborator and that the risk of not having it is far greater than any threat it poses.
One of the areas where so much of what we’ll talk about will be most obvious is in the evolution of autonomous devices, and most notably autonomous vehicles. Transportation is the greatest artifact of the industrial age. Nothing has fueled commerce, urbanization, and automation more than the vehicles that transport us, our goods, and our raw materials. It’s also the greatest contributor to carbon emissions, the leading cause of death, and one of the most inefficient uses of capital for the individual owner.
At the same time, we’ve bought into a model of what a car should be and how its value is measured. From the notion of strapping ourselves into a cockpit, to the legroom defined (and constrained) by a forward-facing passenger configuration, to the head-bobbing suspension of a high-performance sports car, we value a car based on preconceived notions of what we should want.
The single greatest impact of autonomous vehicles will be in how they redefine our notion of what a car is, how it should be used, and how it behaves, while also remobilizing the world for efficient, safe, and ecologically sustainable transportation of ten billion people, most of whom would have no access to the current and historical model of what a car should be.
The industrial era created engines of production that were laden with inefficiency. Like large gears grinding against each other in the boiler room of an enormous ocean liner, commerce wasn’t pretty or easy. It required constant manual intervention and created friction in the form of convoluted processes, regulations, middlemen, and brokers that we simply accepted as part of the way an industrial society worked. Turning these vessels around to navigate new markets and meet new needs was about as responsive and effective as steering the Titanic—at full throttle in the dark—clear of an iceberg. Incumbent companies in large established industries would stare at the future high upon their crow’s nest asking, “Why isn’t she turning?” as they braced for an unavoidable impact.
Worse yet, we built entire industries to employ people whose jobs depended on the existence and inefficiency of friction—financial institutions, government regulatory bodies, agents, and middlemen whose purpose was not to reduce friction but to live off its heat.
The industrial era model was not built for today’s digital technologies or marketplace. Increasingly complex coordination of business partner networks, excessive regulation, an inability to adapt quickly, and cumbersome customer experiences have created an opportunity of immense scale to drive out friction by creating entirely new digital ecosystems focused specifically on the needs of each individual.