Sunday, May 17, 2015

Salim Ismail and a Lifechanging Seminar in Orlando

In the midst of one of their early conversations, Luke Skywalker reassures Yoda of his bravery, saying "I'm not afraid." Yoda replies knowingly "oh, you will be. You will be." Perhaps we all need to accept that we may experience fear?

I have written about the changes in technology, and the great changes and challenges that lay ahead of us as individuals, a workforce, an industry, and a nation. My thoughts on this started with Attorneys Obsolete? last year. In 2015, I penned Three D Employment, a post that addresses some of the impacts that technology may soon have on our work-world. Most recently, I asked How will Any of us Adapt? The implications of technology on our work, the workforce and our economy have interested me for some time. As goes the workplace, so goes the ancillary of workers' compensation. 

I spend a great deal of time reading. It brings me relaxation and I have always enjoyed it. Classes are another story for me. Frankly, many classes do not appeal to me; it is harder for me to learn that way, compared to reading. Last week at the NCCI Annual Issues Symposium, I sat in on a couple of classes anyway. I was enthralled. They were outstanding! 

The first was presented by Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute. I have seen him speak before, and he is always good. This program was the best I have seen him deliver. The second that I attended was presented by Salim Ismail. He is with Singularity University, an author and one of those silicon valley technology gurus you read about. This was my first exposure to him, the University, and several concepts. He was incredible. 

Today I focus on Mr. Ismail, because of the impressions he left on me. I was not alone, there were many an "Amen" heard from my surroundings during his speech. 

In my three posts above, I thought I did a pretty good job of raising issues related to the coming impacts of technology. I also felt like I had a pretty firm grasp on where things may be headed. I was wrong. My thoughts barely scratched the surface. New ideas are going to keep coming. The pace is going to increase. Our economy is heading for a significant shift regarding how people earn livings. 

New products are coming to market faster. There are new ideas, and we do not all adapt to them easily or cheerfully. This is illustrated in an interesting article on Forbes which details some ideas that historically drew criticism prior to acceptance. 

The title of Mr. Ismail's presentation was "Disruptive Convergence, Jaw Dropping Insights into Breakthrough Technologies." Despite the breadth of his topic, I walked away realizing that the audience did not fully appreciate that his predictions and expectations from technology are harbingers for our entire existence, the entire planet, and will touch us at virtually every level of our existence. 

He says that we will lose two billion (that is not a typo, BILLION) jobs near-term. Before we could panic, he assured us that the economy will create enough jobs to offset this and more. He reminded us that in the 19th Century, 50% of workers were employed in agriculture. There was a revolution, and technology decreased the number of hands needed to feed us. As a result, we did not see 1/2 of the country unemployed as they were displaced from agriculture; instead we saw people shift to other occupations. Mr. Ismail projected that this same kind of shift would occur again in this next technological revolution. But it is likely to affect us more rapidly than the agricultural revolution. That was a reasonably slow evolution, over the last half of the 19th Century, caused by new technology. By comparison, we are in the midst of a revolution instead. 

Mr. Ismail brought some humorous points to the fore brilliantly. Unfortunately, he also belittled a few individuals with whom he disagrees. Certainly we can agree or disagree with one another, but hopefully we can do so respectfully. I mentioned already that this program was life-changing. I was very impressed, but the belittling comments were distracting.  

He predicts that life as we know it will change radically. He related his belief that his three-year-old son will never obtain a driver's license. As I have written, self-driving cars will become a paradigm in our future. But, Mr. Ismail predicts that it will become THE paradigm. And, he predicts that it will do so in the next dozen years. Drivers' licenses an anachronism in the next twelve years. Driver-less cars will not be a reality, but will be the reality.

Vehicles will not be owned by the vast majority of us in the future. In a nation that worships the auto in our lives and pop-culture, the concept of not owning a car is simply unfathomable for many. But he says it is coming. Mr. Ismail notes that vehicles in our present day paradigm spend more than 90% of their useful lives sitting and depreciating. 

He suggests that vehicle sharing will increase dramatically, with the advent of driver-less cars. Cars will be owned, but we will use them for a price at times we need them. They will be less private, far less personalized and our society will be different as a result. Less will be needed. They will likely be connected to the Internet. They will communicate with each other. It will be different. 

Mr. Ismail predicts that our society may reach a point where many people will not work because they do not need to do so. Technology, in his perspective will eradicate our need for productivity. We will build machines, but those machines will build everything thereafter, including new production machines. He sees a future in which the government provides every person a living wage with which to provide themselves food and shelter.

He explained that Switzerland is debating a new socialization in which all citizens are paid a living wage regardless of whether she or he works at all. A point that was not addressed is how this might affect government. Our societal governance survives on tax revenue. Currently the main paradigm in the U.S. is an income tax, though there has been much discussion of the benefits of consumption taxes (sales). 

If we evolve, as he predicts, to a paradigm in which work is less common, it will be less valued, and this will affect how it is compensated or valued, which may likewise affect the revenue to government under an income tax paradigm. This shift may drive the U.S. to a consumption tax of some form.  

If we reach that point, what will we do with our time? Eugene Delacroix said that "we work not only to produce, but to give value to time." If we reach the point were work is not required to survive, how will we give value to time? Will there be more artists, musicians, writers, and beauty in our world. Or, will we all spend more time watching reruns of Gilligan's Island? That dichotomy is likely worthy of some consideration.

Ismail believes that legal structures and constructs are reactionary. He believes that these constructs cannot keep up with evolving technology, with its accelerating pace. An example cited involved "bio-hackers" who have developed an injection for the human eye that results in "night vision." He contends that this cannot be controlled through legal constructs because governments cannot react quickly enough to the developments. 

Humorously, in support of this critique of government regulation, he notes that the self-driving Google car now on the road has rear-view mirrors, but no steering wheel. Both are irrelevant to a driver-less car, but the law requires rear-view mirrors. Without the foresight to predict the advent of this driver-less paradigm however, no regulator thought to make a steering wheel legally mandatory. 

Mr. Ismail addressed change as well as any speaker I have heard. He noted that business, the "corporate culture," does not like change. He explained that when change is proposed it is the company's "immune system," that is internal resistance, which will most likely kill change (we so often hear something "won't work" and "this is how we've always done it"). 

He explains that it is because of this truism that Tesla, without an existing immune system or culture or habit, can jump successfully into the electric car market while seasoned vehicle monoliths like Ford and Toyota struggle to leverage electricity as a technology. 

Mr. Ismail cited example after example of "disruption" caused by advancing technology. He explained that technology is developing in an exponential manner. The development is not linear or mathematical, because progress is occurring in an environment or model where the pace between developments doubles, generally every two years. Thus developments are coming faster. Just as Moore's law described the progression of computing power and miniaturization, Mr. Ismail's doubling progression model describes the development of progress and innovation. 

As an example, he noted the three-D printing is not a new invention. He says that is a thirty year-old idea. However, when conceived, it had to be developed. There was capability added with each iteration of the concept, essentially doubling in effectiveness and functionality every two years. The progress in the early portion of development is still seemingly slow, but as time passes the increase in functionality spikes upward in nearly a vertical line. Thus, recently the first item ever manufactured by humans not on Earth was printed with a three-D printer on the international space station. 

Technology is changing the economics of our world. Mr. Ismail cites Kodak and the paper photograph paradigm of the Twentieth Century. He describes it as a paradigm fraught with scarcity, of time, and resources. There were limits in how much film could be loaded, or even carrier with one, limits on turn-around because they required development and printing, and cost of the actual printing. There was waste of these relatively expensive and time-consuming prints. The technology shift to digital photos removed the delays, rendered it possible for a single photographer to carry the capacity (film) for millions of photos easily, eliminated processing delay and cost, and rendered disposal of excess photos simple, quick and free.

When we look around us, we see changes. We all recognize the impact that disruptive convergence of technology has wrought in our existence. The Kodak and digital photography illustration is insightful and illuminating. Land-line telephones, records, CDs, DVDs and the Blockbuster store, all victims of the same disruption. Recognizing that we have seen the process, despite the fact that many of us deny or ignore it, Mr. Ismail provided a chilling prediction: the "most disruption is ahead of us, not behind us."

He predicts that industries will be changes. There will be ripple effects, such as the auto-body shop discussion in my previous posts. Changes will come as technology and disruption comes to functions in our society, though these direct effects will be of concern, the ripple-effects or indirect impacts may be far more important. It is perhaps more simple for Ford to perceive the competition that Tesla brings to the market for cars. It is perhaps less obvious for the insurance industry that driver-less cars will mean less accidents, thus less exposure, thus less need for both the product and adjusting claims against it. 

The coming technology will mean much for us. He notes that biometrics and truth verification are progressing. Mr. Ismail predicts that within 5 years it will be impossible to tell a lie without detection. Will that change litigation? He says that medical diagnosis with a handheld device like Dr. McCoy used on Star Trek to make diagnoses is not only coming, but will be here in a few years. Doctors will scan you, get a diagnoses, and address care. He questions whether it could be a cure for hypochondria? He did not mention malingering, but I heard the word twice while leaving the program. 

The key to the success of many of these progresses is leverage of non-owned assets. Mr. Ismail explains that Airbnb has become the largest hotel company in the world, but that it owns not one hotel room. The company has revolutionized hospitality using other people's assets, letting other people own the risk of financing and building that structure. Likewise, Uber has revolutionized transportation, but owns no vehicles and has no driver employees. 

He admits that there will be privacy concerns presented by these technologies and others. The increasing digitization of our world makes misappropriation easier as data and value are aggregated. This will make for challenges. Securing our information and data may be a field in which we will see expansion of jobs. 

Essentially, his message comes down to a few statements. Change is coming, and it will be exponential in scope and pace. The change that is coming will overshadow the examples we have seen thus far. A new paradigm of "ExCo" or "exponential companies" or "exponential organizations" will continue to grow and expand as influences in our society. We will see paradigms shift and ideas or assumptions will be challenged. There will be ripple effects that will be hard to predict and may be intense. 

After this presentation, I rode the elevator to the parking garage with several glassy-eyed executives. Some said it cannot be real, and others said that he just cannot be right. One said that it was real, but insisted "not in my lifetime."

I have seen that glassy-eyed look before. At the turn-of-the-century, trying to explain the benefits of electronic filing to attorneys, those looks and blank stares were not uncommon. I remember one attorney complained in 2006 that e-filing would require him to purchase a computer. The point of that is that some of us will accept and adapt to the coming disruption more easily than others.

Technology will surpass (pass or run over) some of us though. Mr. Ismail said that when he performs conferences for corporate boards, he suggests to people that they either need to become ready for change and adaptation or they need to accept their inability to do so and retire.

The pace of change is increasing. For those of us who have tried to adapt to new technology, and failed, the bad news is it's going to get harder and harder to keep up. For those of you who have successfully kept pace with change thus far, congratulations! However, you may find your success more and more difficult to maintain.

If there is an upside, it is that my children, who take to technology on an intuitive level, will finally have to work to keep up. I do not enjoy wishing this pain on them. But there is some feeling of satisfaction that they will have to face a challenge, and will have to use their wits, education and focus to work their way through it.

So I cower here under my bed, in the dark, and send out this post to those of you who were brave enough to get up and go to work today despite the gloom and doom that the impending quantum shifts portend. Welcome to the future. Your time is now. Will you adapt to the changes, grasp the coming disruption, or is it time to retire?

We could perhaps take our resolve from yet another Yoda quote. He seeks to focus on the accomplishment, in this case our acceptance and mastery of this coming technology and the shifts in our reality. We may be willing to try to adapt and leverage, but as Yoda says, we must "do or do not. There is no try."

#workerscomp

#FLJCC

#NAWCJ

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