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24 Aug 18 06:46

"I am so ready for disruptive change to come my
way", that is what I am thinking to myself about three times a week, when I
am emptying the washing machine. The clothes not susceptible of shrinking go
into the tumble dryer, all the rest – which is the bulk of them – goes piece by
piece on the washing line.

When will the robo housekeeper, blessed with Artificial
Intelligence, finally tap on my shoulder and speak the words "Andreas, you
go and do something fun now, I will handle the laundry"? I ask Siri for
help: "Siri, can you please help me hang these wet clothes"-
"Sorry, I am not sure I understand your question", Siri replies with a
posh British accent. Alright, Siri, get an education first! I ask my wife:
"why is it always me emptying the washing machine?" – "because
it is always me filling the washing machine and starting it, so it is only fair
you empty it!" comes the answer. Fair?! Now what is more work, dumping a
pile of clothes into a drum, or painstakingly hanging them one by one on the
washing line?

To improve my mood, I convince myself that I am
actually quite lucky to at least have the washing machine. Now that's what I call a
disruptive invention! In case you do not share this view, expose yourself to a
little experiment: unplug your washing machine, purchase a washboard from the
nearest antiques shop, and let your hands and arms do the job. At the latest on
day 7 of the experiment, you will be in perfect agreement with my perception.

According to Wikipedia, the first powered washing machines
intended for domestic use started to appear at the beginning of the 20th
century. So that was just about 100 years ago. Curious to find out more about
the innovation environment one century ago, I browse through the time period of
1900 to 1918. Other undoubtedly useful consumer products emerging from that era
are the zip, the vacuum cleaner and air conditioning. But besides that, there
was innovation that in the longer run had a far deeper impact on society as a
whole: powered aircrafts (and, by the way, helicopters too), the theory of
relativity, synthetic plastics, and radio broadcasting, to name a few.

When I compare this list to the current technology hype, the
conclusion is plain obvious: in terms of disruptive innovation, the new century
cannot keep up with the previous one. Not at all. In terms of its actual impact
on society, innovation has become more gradual, more incremental, slower. Given
that the army of highly educated researchers, scientists and developers has
grown by multitudes over the past hundred years, this appears somewhat
implausible, but there may be a trivial explanation: there are limits. The
technological boundaries have been pushed out quite far already, and the
further they are pushed, the more incremental any next step becomes.

So I struggle to understand why the business world is so anxious
to find the next disruptor that entire sectors seem to have gone to a state of
permanent hyperventilation: the financial industry, start-ups, the venture
capitalists financing the start-ups, the consulting firms … well, I I have some
understanding for the consulting firms, as they sort of make a living out of
making everybody else hyperventilate. And while everyone is running around
looking trying to get hold of the apparent disruptor, they take a risk to
overlook the gradual change that is taking place, which is slow, but real.

Finally, the last piece of clothes is hanging. That was not
so bad after all. "Siri, I think we deserve a cup of coffee now" –
"Ok, let me check the internet for 'coffee' ".

Category: Other


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