10 Apr April 10, 2020 – Intel Futurist Steve Brown and MyOutDesk Daniel Ramsey
Steve Brown is an energetic speaker, author, strategist, and advisor with over 30 years of experience in high tech. He is the former futurist and chief evangelist at Intel Corporation and helps others understand the business and societal impacts of new technologies and how they will shape the future 5, 10 and 15 years from now. As a sought-after consultant, Steve brings his experience in innovation and change management to help businesses understand how automation and technology can be used to propel them through and out of recession. Steve holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering degrees in Micro-Electronic Systems Engineering from Manchester University. He is also the author of The Innovation Ultimatum: How Six Strategic Technologies will Reshape Every Business in the 2020s.
Daniel Ramsey – Founder and CEO of MyOutDesk
Daniel Ramsey is the Founder & CEO of MyOutDesk, the real estate industry’s largest and highest-rated Virtual Assistant company with a mission to provide businesses with indispensable leverage through their Real Estate Virtual Professionals and to help them regain their time freedom and have the ability to grow their business, all while reducing costs. His company is serving more than 5000 clients, including over half of the RealTrends™ Top 10 teams. Apart from founding MyOutDesk, Daniel is also the bestselling author of Scaling Your Business with MOD Virtual Professionals and show host of the MyOutDesk: Scale The Podcast.
Highlights from Steve’s Interview
I think I finished writing the book in August, so it was way before the world suddenly spun off its axis. But a lot of the technologies that I talked about in there are ones that can be used to drive massive amounts of innovation. That’s why I called the book The Innovation Ultimatum. We’ve suddenly got a new ultimatum with the coronavirus spreading around the planet, and that’s having to practice social distancing, and businesses scrambling to figure out how they respond both to secure the safety of their customers and their employees, but also to maintain business continuity, to continue to find ways to interact with customers when maybe they can’t come to their premises anymore. Suddenly, a lot of these technologies are going to be the basic building blocks that businesses are going to need to use to build new channels, to build new products, offering services, in what’s going to be a very weird time.
I’ll mention the six strategic technologies that the book talks about, and then we can see maybe why they’re important. The six I’m talking about is artificial intelligence; which is probably the most powerful new technology in our lifetimes, blockchain technology, augmented reality, Internet of Things and sensors, 5G and satellite networks, and then the last one is autonomous machines; so new classes of robots, cobots, drones, and autonomous vehicles.
We’re moving to a world, probably by 2030 timeframe, of a 100 trillion sensors in the world, and a 100 billion connected devices. So IoT is putting intelligence connectivity sensing into the infrastructure of the world and into products to make the world more responsive to human needs and incidents. For example, parking spots that can tell my autonomous car that they’re free and guide me to them, or satellites that will be watching using artificial intelligence for lightning strikes and fire starts and then automatically guiding response vehicles; so probably autonomous vehicles that can then start to respond to that fire, and then the humans run to help out.
Now let’s go through the importance of these six technologies. AI is important for businesses because it is able to solve problems that were not possible to solve before using traditional computers. So, it gives machines the ability to see, hear, and understand the world to some extent. It enables us to make predictions about the future looking at historical data. AI is really good at finding patterns in oceans of data that humans will never see, and extrapolating forward from that. So, using AI to solve problems that we don’t know how to solve ourselves, like predicting the future, like teaching machines to see and that sort of thing. The way that AI functions is very different than traditional computers. With traditional computers, you give it input, it has rules and a program, and then you get output. So if I hit CTRL+B, I get bold text on my screen, for example. With AI, you don’t program it, rather you train it with inputs and outputs, and then it figures out its own rules on how it will solve that problem. For example, if I show enough pictures of puppies and cats, and I show that this one’s a puppy and this one’s a cat, eventually the AI will be able to figure out its own rules for deciding when it sees a photograph it’s never seen before if it’s a puppy or a cat. AIs are not intelligent, they don’t know what they’re doing. It is recognizing things and the patterns that sort of encode the raw dogginess of a dog, or the raw cattiness of a cat, and this capability is actually really important for helping us to see.
Now, let me take this to the next level, because this is a really important idea. There’s this notion of creating super senses; the ability for AI to not just help machines to see the world, so robots can navigate their way safely around, but it enables us as humans to see the world in new ways. Let me give you a couple of examples. There is a technology from a company in Boston called FDNA. They allow clinicians to use a simple smartphone pointed at a child’s face, and rare genetic disorders will show up with subtle changes in the skull of a child and the shape of their head. Humans can’t see that but an AI can. Suddenly now, an AI can see rare genetic disorders in the face of a child. Another example, again from healthcare, is a company in Israel called Beyond Verbal. They listen for vocal biomarkers; so particular tones in the sound of your voice that a human can’t hear, but that to an AI are indicators of disease states. So already this technology can hear sleep apnea, COPD, chronic heart failure, and coronary artery disease in the sound of your voice. They’re working in partnership with the Mayo Clinic now, and trying to do trials to see if they can successfully hear hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer, just in the sound of your voice. So, this is why AI is such a powerful technology. It will let us see, hear, and sense things that humans can’t. That’s a really interesting idea for startups is to think, what are the things that I would like in my business to be able to sense but have no way of doing today? How could I use AI to crunch data and maybe find those patterns and help me make high quality decisions than my competitors, or develop entirely new products and services for customers that no one else is able to do?
Moving onto the second technology, which is blockchain. Blockchain is a way of creating trust digitally. Think about a blockchain as just a fancy database. It is a way of storing data in a way that is immutable, which means once I put that information into the database, no one can edit it. But where is this going to show and what are the real problems this is going to solve for businesses? Certainly, it is going to remove intermediaries from transactions. It’s going to make transactions simpler and it could democratize some investment. For example, using a blockchain to enable someone with $1,000 to invest or maybe take a part ownership in an office building; so, the ability to democratize commercial real estate investment. There are some interesting things there, and then being able to enable everybody to invest in new asset classes using this technology. Another one would be to enable the unbanked to have access to financial services, in particular, the ability to save, so that they can spend their ways out of poverty. The biggest one probably is with supply chain; bringing transparency to supply chain so that we as consumers can know where did this thing come from. So, if it’s food, is it safe, but also what’s the environmental impact? This product that I’m buying, how much energy was used to make it, how much water was used to make it? Was the energy renewable energy? Were chemicals used? Is it? Is it fair trade? Was child labor used and can I guarantee that? So, brands are going to be moving, in the next decade, to a place where they will need to prove to consumers these types of pieces of information. They’re not required to just have a label that claims but to be able to prove that, and that’s where blockchain comes in.
Personally, cryptocurrency is not on my list. You can use it for creating currencies and for payment schemas, but it doesn’t really solve problems for people who aren’t buying illicit drugs. It does for the unbanked, because It gives them a new way of making payments. But in and of themselves, cryptocurrencies for the sake of cryptocurrencies are not interesting to me. Tokenization, and the ability to tokenize assets, and to create new asset classes, and to democratize the ability to invest or to borrow, that’s interesting. There are people who are doing crowd sourced mortgages, for example, using blockchain. That’s an interesting application, but a cryptocurrency for the sake of a cryptocurrency, not really interesting. I’m very clear about all this stuff in the book as to why I find it not that interesting.
I think blockchain may also revolutionize the insurance industry as an example; sort of like you have your own Lloyd’s of London. Also, being able to combine that with sensors so that instead of modeling risk, insurance companies are doing their premiums based on managing and measuring risk. I’m thinking more of the model like, think about the Nest Protect smoke detectors, and if an insurance company insuring your home knows that those smoke detectors are working properly, they can reduce your premiums on your home; that’s not invading anything. They’re just making sure that they are able to measure risk and protect you.
Then third one is augmented reality, and that is probably the furthest out of all these technologies in terms of its impact. But when it matures to the point where it’s good enough, we’re going to see a dramatic change in the way that we interact with digital information and services. For those of you who’ve tried virtual reality, you are encased in a 100% different reality and you feel like you’re transported somewhere else. It’s an amazing experience, but it’s not the thing. The thing is augmented reality, where you are blending digital object’s information into your view of the physical world so you don’t get disconnected from the physical world. This means you can use it in a work context, you can use it when you’re walking down the street, which has much more utility. Let’s say you’re a robot repair person, and this is a machine you’ve never seen before, it will guide you step-by-step through the process. The AI will watch through the augmented reality and sensors and make you follow along. So, as you’re doing it, it’s seeing what steps you’re taking and tells you what the next thing is to do or that you didn’t do it right. Basically, what you’re doing here is creating a new type of worker; a hybrid of machine intelligence and human intelligence and experience and dexterity and physicality working together, and that’s a really huge breakthrough.
People are already using augmented reality on construction sites, let’s say to do the inspection. So rather than using blue tape to mark up a punch list, they put digital markers so when someone else walks through that space, they can see those through their augmented reality headset. Not only that, they’re using them to measure issues. So if you are doing an inspection and you can look at the door, the headset will look at it too and will measure the distance across the door and maybe say, “You’re a quarter of an inch off, you need to fix this on the punch list as well.” There are all sorts of interesting applications. These devices suddenly filled our lives starting in 2007 when the mobile era started with the iPhone launch, and that changed the way that we interact with digital information. It relegated the PC to second fiddle, because the primary way we interact is through these incredible supercomputers we put in our pockets and purses. The same way, when augmented reality comes, that will become the primary way that we interact with digital information services, and it will relegate the smartphone the same way that the PC was relegated before.
So, let’s now talk about the autonomous machines, and maybe also a little bit in the context of coronavirus and the current situation. As a futurist, one of the things I do when there is a big event like we’re going through right now is to start thinking through, what’s the new normal on the other side of this? What things will we start doing, what things will we stop doing, and what things will we accelerate? Right now, the move to automate is one of the things I think we will accelerate. If you look at all the investment that’s been done so far into things like delivery robots; whether it is the small little cute ones from Starship Technologies and Amazon and others working in that space, or the bigger ones like the ones that Nuro is doing in partnership with Kroger to deliver groceries, as we shift the market and people move towards more stuff being delivered to their homes, once Corona is passed, we’re going to be really used to that. So, my anticipation is people will go back to the shops again, but the levels at which we order online and expect things delivered to our homes will stay higher than it is today. You’re going to see more delivery robots and you’re going to see more robots, because businesses want to have business continuity. If this happens again, they want to be able to keep at least a portion of their operations going, and that’s going to mean higher levels of automation.
Let’s also talk about how this situation will maybe affect our education systems. After this situation is over, you’re going to see more people working from home, that will become more normal for sure, because people are realizing that this is actually a pretty effective way to get stuff done. But I certainly don’t think teachers will be out of jobs. Here’s the reason why. There are some people who have the luxury of being able to spend time at home with their kids, but many people do not. Because many people rely on schools to take care of their kids for the day while they go to work to try and pay for everything. For those people, it’s just not an option. But also, there are reasons that the teachers go and do degrees to learn how to teach. We’re going to do the best we can with our kids over the coming years, so we were going to evolve education anyways and that was going to change the role of teachers. There has always been an important role for augmented reality, artificial intelligence, sensors, and all of these technologies in the classroom to improve the quality of education; to make education experiential, and so on. But there’s still a value for having a teacher to do that. The teacher doesn’t just stand at the front of the classroom if they’re any good and spout facts. Teachers are also there as coaches, they’re there to help kids when they’re struggling with a particular topic. You can do something remotely, but you’re still needing a teacher. So, I think the role of teachers is going to shift, it always was going to, but they’re still going to be relevant.