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The 4th Disruption, or How Not to Lose the Future

By Glynn Young, APR, Fellow PRSA
Communications Director, PRSA St. Louis

Last week’s Midwest Digital Marketing Conference (“Rise of the Digital Native”), hosted by UMSL Business and PRSA St. Louis serving as a sponsor, was an exercise in mind bending. Whether it was understanding how much information an iPhone photograph can transmit, engaging millennials or the rising Generation Z, mapping your digital footprint, or social media in a crisis, this was the place to be. 

One of the most challenging speakers was James Whittaker of Microsoft, whose presentation was entitled “A Brief Introduction to the Future – The 4th Disruption: How Not to Lose the Future.” A dynamic speaker, Whittaker has some rather astounding experience: the first computer science graduate hired by the FBI; a freelance developer for IBM, Ericsson, SAP, Cisco, and Microsoft (he specialized in test automation); the faculty of the Florida Institute of Technology; and Microsoft, then Google, then Microsoft again. 

James WhittakerIn the last 30 years, he said, we’ve experienced three technology disruptions – the displacement of mainframe computers by personal computers or desktops; the rise of the worldwide web; and the rise of mobile. And the next disruption is underway – the elimination of the computer phone. 

Every one of us in the room, and it was packed, looked at our iPhones or Androids when he said that. 

“Each technology was already 10 years old when it disrupted the previous one,” Whittaker said. The web was invented in 1988, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s when it began to upend desktops. And with the invention of the cloud in 2006-2007, “We really don’t have a web anymore.” 

And it’s that cloud, with data all in one place, that’s the foundation for artificial intelligence. The technology for artificial intelligence is now 10 years old, and the impact is beginning. “At some point in the future,” Whittaker said, “it will be illegal to drive a car because machines do it better.” 

He sees the technology disruption affecting areas and professions previously unaffected, like law. “Lawyers may be swept away.” 

And what takes the place of the mobile phone? 

A chip, Whittaker says, planted directly in your brain. The technology is already invented – The Swedish company Epicenter is already asking employees to voluntarily have a chip implanted under their skin for security identification purposes. 

Chips in the brain? 

Think about being hacked. 

Like I said Whittaker’s presentation was challenging. And unsettling. 

Related from The Verge: Elon Musk launches Neuralink, a venture to merge the human brain with AI.

Top photograph by Farzad Nazifi via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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