Why technology matters

I’ve been a passionate fan and user of new technologies all my life. I still remember the first time I sat on my first computer when I was 6 years old, waiting for a considerable amount of time for the device to turn on, then play solitaire and meaninglessly click on whatever icon I could. I still vividly remember the dial-up sound of my computer connecting to the internet and my session being interrupted by my mother who just wanted to make a call from our phone landline. Back then having a computer and internet connection was a luxury, a nice break from running around the neighbourhood. 26 years later, computers and smart devices have taken an integral role in our lives, being the beating heart of our personal and professional lives. This luxury has shifted into being a necessity and possibly the most important enabler in many aspects of life.

I consider technology to be the main driving force in the evolution of the homo sapiens species, in the quest for knowledge and the search for life's unanswered questions. My zeal for new technologies has remained strong through the years, having been able to combine the use of technology with my professional career, hence the societal and anthropological elements surrounding the adoption of new technologies have been of major importance to me, both for personal curiosity and for professional needs.

At the time of writing this piece, India has just landed for the first time on the South Pole of the moon and the first visitors to Mars have already been born. We read daily about:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Machine Learning (ML)
  • Blockchain and crypto
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR)
  • Quantum computing
  • Robotics
  • 5G
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

and the list of words and acronyms expands exponentially as we delve into the future.

While technological evolution is fast, human adoption is riddled with hurdles. Considering Jeff Bezos' statement, "Innovation isn't disruptive, but consumer adoption is," it's evident that the pace of our human evolution hinges significantly on how society adopts and is influenced by technology. Is our evolution and survival at risk?

Let there be light: Introducing electricity

In order to properly understand the societal culture of adopting new technologies, we need to examine evidence of previous transformative innovations and how these were widely adopted by both the corporate world and individuals. Such is the case with the adoption of electricity, which for more than 4 decades had been used mainly in factories, bringing however only small incremental changes, without adding anything transformative or being used to the full available benefit to the users.

During the first decades demand for electricity was very limited with domestic adoption being mostly targeted to wealthy homes as something of a gadget. Compared to the slow domestic use and the lack of enthusiasm around this new technology, electrification of businesses and mainly factories was more easily achieved, despite the lack of standardisation in factory equipment which was also another obstacle in corporate adoption.

Factories were not new to adoption of new power sources, having transitioned from water to steam power in the late 1700s in the Industrial Revolution. Over a period of a few decades, factories made the first small cautious steps forward by replacing smaller steam motors with electrical ones. Nevertheless, by 1899, 18 years after the introduction of the Edison Central Generating Station, only about 5% of the power that was used in factories was supplied by electricity.

Competition and innovation in design and development of electrical motors in the early 1900s, led to smaller and cheaper solutions for factories. As the cost of modifying existing infrastructure and equipment was high, the older and traditional industries were more reluctant to embrace the change, while new entrants adopted it more rapidly. The significant shift from nescience to adoption took place when factory designers and economists started re-thinking the overall factory design and understood how a number of changes in the arrangement of equipment would embrace the use of electrical motors. Production of electricity started to get cheaper and the technology was being seen as more trusted and more reliable. As a result, by 1920, about 50% of the power used in the USA came from electricity.

It’s all about people

Re-imagining factories and challenging everything that was known and assumed fixed was the key turning point in embracing electricity, and as with most new disruptive technologies, real change came with a choreography of different movements aligned.

People and businesses were completely wrong in assessing the impact of the adoption of electricity. Most accounting models are quite rational, however they fail to fully grasp the true measure of change and cannot capture what cannot be measured or does not have a direct connection with financial implications. Let’s also not forget the inherent resistance to change and technophobia that keeps people anchored in their comfort zones and safeguarded within their protective bubbles.

While it is easy to assume that electricity transformed factories, it is in fact people who did so. In every new technological shift, people are the ones driving change as they are the ones being impacted from this in a number of ways: personal lives, working conditions, health, safety and security. Subsequently, empathy appears to be as essential as the technology itself, being able to understand how these solutions affect people.

Alexandros Vacanas, Chief Strategy Officer at uQualify

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