Thursday, 12 January 2017

Automatic for the People?

Michael Knight escapes KITT(image thanks to Silver Blue)
"End Tech Disruption, Start Tech Enhancement"
Constant social media updates flood our news feeds daily about how yet another industry is disrupted by new technology.... and how wonderful this is because now a computer automates a task faster and cheaper than ever before. 
But wait... there's a catch or more a hidden story. That is, the lives of the people this technology disrupts. Disruption is rarely all good, indeed the definition is: disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity, or process - doesn't sound too rosy now, does it? Yet we are sold on the idea that disruption by tech is all good, inevitable, unavoidable and that if we can't see the advantage now, we will all benefit in the future.
Take Uber as a classic example of disruptive technology. The platform disrupts by removing the inconvenience of getting a taxi at short notice which was an inherent flaw with the offline taxi rank/office/black cab industry. So far, so good. However looking at the numbers, this company just can't make money with its current driver model. It just lost another $800m last quarter and on track to lose $3 billion by year end! It won't take a genius to guess that it will only ever likely turn a profit when a driverless model is the prevailing service.
So like the offline taxi model, Uber appears to carry a flaw (this time weighing c. 62kg) in its underlying model. As an Uber user, I like the convenience but I also love that fact that Uber provides someone with a new way to earn an income. Without a 62kg human driver, I could quite easily fall out of love with Uber.
Next time you are sold the next great tech disruption consider the downsides and how maybe technology should be evaluated on the enhancement it makes to us humans rather than purely as a cool disruptive influence. With this kind of thinking, better, more profitable and an altogether more humanistic approach can create tech business models that mutually benefit customers, employees and society at large (and don't even get me started on big corp taxes!).

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