Debunking the myth of Frontier Technologies

May 15, 2017

Bots are hot! How artificial intelligence will change everything. Do you remember reading these articles on artificial intelligence? They were published 21 years apart, the first in Wired and the second in The Wall Street Journal. We are living in a time when new technology headlines capture the popular imagination and embody the current zeitgeist.

Getting to the core

Things get trickier when organizations try to jump onto the bandwagon and invest in these new technologies. Business news pages are filled with horror stories of organizations crippled by untimely or uninformed technology investments. Who hasn’t seen a PowerPoint presentation that explains that Netflix killed Blockbuster, that Amazon is eating Wal-Mart’s lunch and that Uber’s algorithms outclass the global the taxi industry.

And while all these headlines ring true, there is something deeper at play. The increased reliance on technology by businesses is only increasing with time. Every single organization will need to understand how to cut through the noise and truly learn to apply said technologies to their business model.

Navigating the world of Frontier Technologies

Today’s flavor of the day is Artificial Intelligence which is in my opinion greatly misunderstood. Frontier Technology aptly named for its tremendous potential and many hidden pitfalls. This group also encompasses other nascent technologies such as the internet of things, drones, virtual reality, augmented reality and blockchain. Practical applications in every industry will likely occur at the intersection of several of these Frontier Technology categories:

  • Advanced Visualization: augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality
  • Pervasive Connectivity: internet of things, wearables and blockchain
  • Artificial Intelligence: predictive analytics, machine learning and intelligent agents.

The current arms race is one of competitive advantage. A recent example highlight this. Amazon used proprietary bot technology to block competitors from crawling their product pages and thus giving a price advantage. That being said, we are living in a hype cycle that comes with increased expectations and inflated valuations. There are limitations to what artificial intelligence can even achieve today. Kevin Kelly summed it up nicely here and explains that we are quite far away from the sci-fi future the media is depicting. The key point he raises though, is that practical applications of these new technologies are increasing exponentially.

Getting back to strategy

The key question remains for decision makers: what technology to invest in and when? I suggest the following key strategic questions to ask:

  • How can my company sort through the media clutter to distinguish between which technologies are available today and which are still immature?
  • How can I invest in the right technology to achieve my goals based on my competencies, resources and organizational maturity?
  • How can I obtain unbiased suggestions of which companies to work with and how to execute your implementation?

At my firm, we’re trying to address these issues at it by helping organizations with a Frontier Technology service offering. It’s our way of helping companies resolve these key questions but broader industry wide awareness is required. A simple framework doesn’t exist to solve these key questions; this is a case where deep strategic thinking is required and that no machine learning algorithm will be able to help you with. At least for now.