Public Square

How Leaders Can Adapt to the Technology of the Future

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Even setting aside the hype about disruptive technological change, it’s coming fast. How can leaders think wisely about the combined impact of computing power, algorithms, new means of connectivity, virtual reality, 3D printing, sensors, robotics, nanotechnology and molecular medicine? What are positive things we should embrace? How will these changes affect businesses and employment? Does the Church have a role in shaping these things, or will it be sidelined?

Don’t Underestimate the Changes That Are Coming

We’re bad at projecting exponential impact  and truly awful at projecting the impact of intersecting exponential trends. In rough terms, technological capability is doubling annually. It’s not evenly distributed, but the bleeding edge is improving 2x each year.[1]  It’s June 2016 as I write this. June 2036 would be 20 doublings, which is a million-fold increase in technological capability. Can you wrap your head around technical capabilities a million times greater than what you see today? How about a billion-fold in 2046 (30 doublings)?

To put that in perspective, consider transportation speeds.

Walking: 4 mph

Horse: 24 mph

Car: 80 mph

Commercial jet: 600 mph (150x faster than walking)

150x is much, much less than a million.

This rate of technological change has never been experienced before in human history. Every technological advance creates new business opportunities, but it also carries potential destructive power. We will need wise leadership to adapt well.

Exponential changes in technology start very slowly, hardly noticeable to most people, and – because we’re used to thinking about linear increases – “appear” to explode onto the scene. It is a little like mushrooms “popping up” in your yard. All the component cells of the mushroom were already there as an invisibly distributed set of filaments. They come together in a few hours overnight to create the visible fruiting body. Likewise, these technology changes will appear to come from nowhere and transform our business and social world rapidly.

Leadership Begins by Recognizing What Doesn’t Change

The key for leadership in the future is to begin with what won’t change. Jeff Bezos brilliantly focused Amazon on what won’t change – people will always want low cost products delivered fast.  Reading Richard Baxter or Francis Asbury on how to minister to struggling families and congregations shows us how little people have changed.

Some things we can count on being the same:

  • Spiritual bedrock: God loves people, whom he crafted in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). Robots and avatars are at best made in the image of man. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)  The Word of God is everlasting and speaks to our deepest needs. (Isa. 40:8)  We cannot save ourselves. (Eph. 2:1-10)  People are both body and spirit. (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Worship of any created thing or capability is idolatry. (Exod. 20:3)  We love because God loved us first. (1 John 4:19)  Dying is not the worst thing that can happen to you. (Matt. 10:28)
  • Work is valuable and good for us. People are at their best when serving and creating, rather than focused on consuming.
  • People crave purpose and meaning, certainty, family and community connections. These three main questions remain important: “Where did I come from?  Why am I here? What happens when I die?”
  • Every generation must learn fundamental lessons anew.
  • Technical capabilities and living standards will not be evenly distributed. “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matt. 26:11)
  • Technology advances and political systems can shape, but not fully repair, a sin-corrupted world. No amount of technology can solve our deepest problems. Technology can help people live better, more fulfilling lives that maximize their contributions.
  • People treasure experiences in the natural, created world. People are 3D beings in the physical world and cannot live entirely as digital entities.
  • People need sleep, rest, and rejuvenation.
  • Families are a bedrock social structure ordained by God. Children need loving parents.
  • Time is inexorable and unidirectional. Jesus Christ will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Rev. 19:11-16)
  • The world is made up of many interrelated systems, with many feedback loops. Changes in one part of a system affect other parts of the systems, often in ways we find difficult to predict because there are gaps between cause and effect.

All these – and you can probably think of more – are not going to change with even a billion times more technological capability. Leaders can work from our trustworthy body of revealed wisdom and our observations about how people and the world actually work. Next week we’ll dive in to what these changes will look like.

[1] Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Bold (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015). The single-most readable book on how these exponential technologies will transform our world and the way we live and work. These authors are associated with Singularity University and compile many articles about technological progress at singularityhub.com.

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