Palpitations on the Slopes of Technology

Creative Destruction Part 01

On the subject of "going digital," many organizations are on the spectrum—from beginning to incorporate digital technologies to totally digital to being on the fence altogether.  As there are several really good online resources for going digital, I thought I would offer a fresh perspective on the rapid growth of technology, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the introduction of the electric motor.

Unless you are one of those Luddites at the shore throwing spears to keep the digerati boats at bay, by now you get the rationale for going digital. But what you may not realize is that the rate of change is exponential.

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, “We are not at the beginning of the end but at the beginning of the beginning.” Although it seems like we are fully into the digital revolution, we are actually at a surprising and unfathomably transformative moment.

For the past ten years, technologies like processing power, connected devices, sensors, the use of social media and big data have been increasing at a steady rate (Moore’s law). In the next five years, the slope of the rate of change is predicted to be so severe it would give professional climbers palpitations. What is especially curious about this slope is that in the next five years, almost every aspect of technology from big data, processing power, and connected devices will all share the same exponential rate of growth.

Even networks are getting much faster. The new 5G (5th generation) wireless networks will bump up the 1 gigabit per second transfer speed of 4G networks to 5G’s 10 gigabits per second. At 10 gigabits per second, on a 5G network, you can  download a full HD movie in a matter of seconds.  Within the next five years, 5G will also give wireless broadband the capacity to power the thousands of connected devices in homes and workplaces.

A few years ago, the senior scientists at IBM realized that the technologies we now have would not be able to handle this rate of change. This spurred IBM’s multi-billion dollar investment in Watson, a cognitive computing and nature language platform like Siri. Other companies like Microsoft and Apple are also heavily investing in these platforms.

Cognitive computing, more commonly known as artificial intelligence, will likely have an impact far greater than augmented and virtual reality and perhaps any other technology. It could impact both blue and white collar jobs, HIPAA medical privacy practices, smart cities and a whole host of other things.

To give you a perspective on the rate of this change, here is Greg Satell’s quote from his "Should We Fear The Rise Of The Robots?" article in Forbes: “In ten years, the devices we buy will be 100 times more powerful, 10,000 times more powerful in 20 years and a million times more powerful in 30 years.”

In many of the the requests for proposals and designs for buildings, exhibits, visitors center, and other projects, we see little awareness yet of the impact that this exponential growth portends. In all fairness, if technologists are not quite sure what to do with stuff, why should designers? When 4G (the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology) came out, companies like Uber didn’t exist. Only after a technology has been in the market for a while does its true power and application become apparent.

Many of today's buildings, exhibits, media installations and—in some cases—wayfinding systems would be difficult if not impossible to do without the current digital technology. As technology gets more sophisticated the tools actually get easier to use. One case in point is Muse, the Adobe website design tool that doesn't require a designer to know code to make relatively sophisticated websites.The exponential growth of technology, daunting as it may seem, will allow for technology across the board to advance in designer-friendly ways. 

At this advanced rate of change, we do not yet know what it means to have computers a million times more powerful, much less imagine their application. What we do know is that disruption will accelerate too. Here is a presentation on disruption from IBM that you might have seen that shows that disruption has already happened:

  • Most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook)
  • World's largest taxi company owns no taxis (Uber)
  • Largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airbnb)
  • Largest phone companies own no telco infrastructure (Skype, WeChat)
  • World's most valuable retailer has no inventory (Alibaba)
  • Fastest growing banks have no actual money (SocietyOne)
  • World's largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
  • Largest software vendors don't write the apps (Apple & Google)


So... it appears that changes that will be brought on by the exponential growth of technology will happen much, much faster than we thought. This could enable situations that we can imagine: devices will "know" who you are (and may or may not like you), computers will impinge on white collar jobs, two driverless cars which have crashed into each other could automatically settle a dispute via virtual lawyers and virtual actors could form a union.

You get the idea.


Creative Destruction Series: Introduction

About Eli Kuslanskyand Unified Field

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