Building off of the successful launch of the Technology and Innovation (T&I) Initiative, AmCham China is committed to engaging and facilitating its member companies in the continued exploration of disruptive technologies and their impacts on business. To this effort, on May 25, AmCham China was pleased to host AcceleratingBiz CEO Randall Hancock for “Disruptive Technologies and the Rise of Accelerated Business”, an event focused on helping members to identify, assess, and respond to the disruptive technologies impacting industries, and investigate the potential for the adoption of these technologies into their own business models. As AmCham China’s strategic partner for the T&I Initiative, AcceleratingBiz provides invaluable insights and guidance to both AmCham China and member companies in the pursuit of innovation and technology adoption.
The event saw the attendance of representatives from some of the world’s leading MNCs, including IBM, Mars, HP, Juniper Networks, and NVIDIA. Through the event, attendees participated in an interactive session sharing their interests, questions, and concerns about disruptive technologies, as well as how they impact their businesses, and how they can prepare and move forward in such a technologically accelerated time.
Setting the Stage
To open the afternoon’s session, AmCham China’s President, Alan Beebe, welcomed the audience as well as his former colleague from IBM and the event’s guest speaker, Randall Hancock. Hancock opened his talk by priming the audience with one directive: to think about “the world in which we live in today, an accelerating business environment, and how to build frameworks to think about all the change,” and to consider what “the most important disruptive technologies will be from a business perspective.”
Driving home the technological underpinning of the event, Hancock infused the day’s session with interactive, real-time polling to gauge the audience’s familiarity and feelings about disruptive technologies. From the poll, it was determined that the attendees think about disruptive technologies on an ongoing basis in terms of their businesses, and their daily lives. The poll also resulted in a salient word cloud displaying what audience members most frequently think of in terms of disruptive technologies. Top responses included AI, business, decentralization, opportunity, interoperability, and adoption.
An important driver of the event was its interactivity and basis on the interests of the audience. To establish these interests, audience members provided a brief description of themselves, what brought them to the event, and an explanation of their word cloud responses. Chris DeAngelis, General Manager of Alliance Development Group, explained that, “What we do is help technology companies to enter and grow in China. We are their business development team, leading strategic opportunities and partnerships. We have tech companies across the spectrum. Most of them are leading-edge technologies, so this is right in the middle of what we do every day.” Other attendee responses pertained to maintaining a competitive advantage, leveraging technology to estimate the triple bottom line, and – interestingly enough – bringing humanity back into the work place.
In order to establish a structure and background for their discussion, Hancock provided the audience with a framework describing the underlying factors that are creating and driving what he sees to be today’s “Accelerating Business Environment”. Through this framework, technology-enabled accelerators are disrupting markets, transforming business models, and shifting value exponentially. Hancock defined the four drivers accelerating the speed and magnitude of change as:
- Accelerators – technology-enabled trends that are growing exponentially, and that are disrupting markets. These force business models to transform in all respects, and affect value realization.
- Market Disruptions – the effects of accelerators that cause markets to change across all axes. E.g. engagement channels and competitors are no longer traditional or from the normal industries or even expected geographies.
- Business Models – transform rapidly to adapt to market disruptions, forcing strategies and value propositions to shift.
- Value Realization – the point at which the transformation of business models completes, realizing new value, and signaling the repeat of the cycle at an even faster pace.
Hancock described this cycle and this taxonomy as a fundamental framework to think about and analyze current technological trends. “We spent time creating this taxonomy that looks at these things in detail. One of the things we do is track developments and trends across this framework so we can easily identify the stages of different disruptive technologies across varying industries,” Hancock said.
Accelerating into the Future
To further help the audience grapple with the true scope of technological change at hand, Hancock employed the words of fellow futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil, one of the world’s preeminent futurists, inventors, and advocates of a future where technology surpasses mankind, posited that people can’t see what’s on the technological horizon because it’s not how we evolved to think. “Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion,” Kurzweil explains. Describing our current progression, Hancock stated that he believes we are most likely already at step 26, with the leap to 27 being an advancement in technology nearly unfathomable for most people.
Despite falling short of such a Kurzweilian future, Hancock shared some of the fascinating technological advancements that are just around the corner. 5G, for example, which will be 5-10x faster than the existing 4G, will facilitate lower-powered devices to connect to it and enable the function of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices on a massive scale. This type of technology will have transformative effects in areas like the automotive industry. Through extremely small devices powered by 5G, autonomous driving, paired with AI and machine learning, will reach new levels of proficiency. Universal connectivity will be another development to look forward to in the coming years, with initiatives such as the SpaceX Satellite Constellation and Facebook Aquilla. Projects like these will create all-over connectivity to high-speed internet, proliferating business, e-Commerce, etc. to every corner of the earth.
With many topics to cover, Hancock outlined some of the factors behind the disruptive technologies that we see emerging today, followed by a deeper dive into one of those technologies – Artificial Intelligence. Hancock introduced Moore’s Law to give audience members some reasoning as to why he and many others see the acceleration of technology leading to an almost unrecognizable future in such a short period of time. Moore’s Law states that the processing power that can be squeezed onto a silicon chip of a given size will double every 18 months, and at half the price. This type of exponential growth in processing power is the underlying driver behind the advancement of AI and machine learning.
Based on Moore’s Law, Hancock’s predictions for AI in just the next 50 years are both awe-inspiring and terrifying. While today, much of the AI people see appears little more than a parlor trick, such as Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, Hancock sees a not-too-distant future where many, many jobs are replaced by AI. “If you do a repetitive job every day, you will be likely to lose your job to an AI in the near-term. Automation will take over so many things. Truck driving, for example, by 2027,” said Hancock. And, more than just that, Hancock further stated, “47 percent of US jobs will be threatened by AI in 20 years.” Despite these implications, however, Hancock asserts that AI’s implementation in jobs such as truck driving and cell tower maintenance are doubtlessly for the greater good.
Following the deep dive into AI, Hancock opened the floor to audience members to pose questions and concerns regarding their own business models, the threat of AI, and the future of technology. Though many members found the projections for AI’s outperformance of humans to be startling, others were more resigned to this inevitability. “Whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter. AI’s imposition of repetitive jobs is going to happen no matter what. Driven by competitive pressure, leaders in industry will use AI as the best possible candidate to keep up with their contemporaries,” said one attendee. From a business perspective, another attendee mentioned the competitive advantage China will have over the US, stating that the “AI opportunity in China will be greater than that of US because of the massive data availability and BATJDDIDI, who have a lot of data. They can leverage a lot of data with such a unique environment.”
The afternoon’s session was met with great interest and the audience was eager to give their two cents on many topics as well as voice their doubts about what the future might hold for their business models. As the conversation came to a close, an especially poignant question was brought to the table: while nearly everyone in the room sees the potential for disruptive technologies, how do they communicate these beliefs throughout their organizations, through the levels of bureaucracy, and ultimately to organizational adoption? Though the answer was not clear, this question and topic is one that the T&I Initiative will strive to address as we continue to craft our T&I events and efforts to the needs of our members.
AmCham China would like to express our deep gratitude to our strategic partner in all things T&I, Randall Hancock, for speaking at yet another lively T&I event, and for his continued guidance and thought leadership. Stay tuned for more T&I Initiatives and events, and follow our T&I LinkedIn Showcase page to join the conversation on all T&I happenings.