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Column: Gerd Leonhard – Megashifts

Many of the world’s greatest innovations were born decades, some times centuries, before they eventually swept through society. They often occurred in a relatively sequential manner, each following and building on the previous ones. In contrast, megashifts may also grow slowly but many were born simultaneously and they have now started sweeping through society at a much faster pace.

A paradigm change is to thinking and philosophy what a megashift is to society – a huge evolutionary step. One that may seem gradual at frst but then has a very sudden impact. These megashifts are:

Digitization: everything that can be converted will become digital. Digitization means much lower costs for consumers but can also push providers into a mad scramble for new business models because distribution or access has become easier and is no longer an issue.

Mobilization: Everything is becoming mobile and could soon become wearable or “hearable”. Computing is becoming invisible, omnipresent – and utterly indispensable.

Screenification: Everything that used to be physical (or printed) is now available on screens; what used to be interpersonal (such as conversations in foreign languages) can be done via a screen using free translation apps such as SayHi, Google Translate, or Waverly Labs’ Pilot.

Gerd Leonhard on Megashifts

The most important megashift of all might be rehumanization.

Gerd Leonhard is the founder and CEO of The Futures Agency. He is based in Zurich. His new book, Technology vs. Humanity, is out now published by Fast Future Publishing.


Disintermediation: Middlemen are suffering because technology increasingly makes it feasible to go direct. Examples include record labels (musicians now launch their careers via YouTube), and consumer banking, where millennials increasingly use mobile platforms and apps to make payments and organize their finances.

Datafication: Much of what used to happen face to face is now being turned into data, for example electronic medical record updates instead of talking to the doctor, or the grocery delivery service that tracks all its products. Intelligization or cognification (as Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired, terms it): Everything that used to be dumb is now becoming connected and intelligent, such as gas pipelines, farms, cars, shipping containers, and traffic lights. This flood of data will create a vastly different way of reading, seeing, and directing the world.

Automation: The result of smart machines will be widespread technological unemployment. Everything that can be automated will be. I believe this is a huge opportunity but we are currently ill prepared for it.

Virtualization: We no longer rely only on physical things in a room but on an instance in the cloud, for example software-defined networking instead of local routers, and virtual friends such as Hello Barbie.

Augmentation: Humans can increasingly use technology to augment themselves. Examples include smartwatches, augmented and virtual reality, intelligent digital assistants, and (sooner or later) brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) and implants.

Anticipation: Artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligence augmentation (IA) software can now anticipate and predict our behavior, changing the way maps, email, and online collaboration work.

Robotization: Robots are entering our daily lives and homes. Even many white-collar jobs will soon be done by robots.

These megashifts present immediate and complex challenges and differ in nature to the forces that have swept through society and business in the past. Any organization looking to understand exponential thinking and to achieve future-readiness must have a clear picture of what these shifts mean and what opportunities or threats may arise from them.
Regardless of societal challenges, the rapid digitization, automation, and virtualization of our world is probably inevitable. In practice, the rate may sometimes be constrained by fundamental laws of physics, such as the hitherto unmet energy needs of supercomputers or the minimum viable size of a computer chip – often cited as the reason why Moore’s Law will not prevail forever. This assumption of the continued and pervasive penetration of technology points toward a future where what cannot be either digitized, automated, or both could become extremely valuable. These “androrithms” capture essential human qualities such as emotions, compassion, ethics, happiness, and creativity.
While algorithms, software, and AI will increasingly “eat the world,” as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen likes to say, we must place the same value on androrithms – those things which make us uniquely human. So, the most important megashift of all might soon be rehumanization. This might very well turn out to be the real driving force to benefit people and society.


echnology vs. Humanity  - IoT Column in Smart Industry

Gerd Leonhard’s
new book out now

Technology vs. Humanity

Which side are you on?
Gerd Leonhard’s provocative new manifesto


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