More than a decade ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared in his best-selling book that technology had made the world “flat,” meaning that every corner of the world was connected for instantaneous communication and commerce. Now, a few years on, technology has not only made things flatter, but also deeper and more transparent. In a recent wide-ranging discussion with James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute, Friedman pointed out that ubiquitous and low-cost technology is providing great power to individuals, communities and companies.
The future is digital.PHOTO: JOE MCKENDRICK
An average worker, almost anywhere in the world, has access to mobile connectivity and online services. “That kind of activity has gotten even more intense,” Friedman says. “More people in more places can participate in it.”
The next step — “from flat, to fast, to deep, is psychic,” Friedman believes. “I now know your whole psychographic from your phone. I will just push you your groceries, push you the supplies you need, push you the information you need.”
The benefit of the emerging psychic power of applications is that increasingly, machines “can help us do things we wouldn’t do ourselves, and we wouldn’t even know how to do ourselves,” he continues. “The economy itself benefits, because as companies become more productive as the economy becomes more productive.”
Nevertheless, enterprises can’t afford to sit back and let the machines take over. There are no crystal balls involved — this predictive power is based on data.What is happening across the broad economy, Friedman says, is a kind of “climate change” that is upending the business world. This climate change is being driven by the big data revolution, and the only way to survive and thrive through this era is by being adaptable and data-driven, Friedman points out. “Every company today in the world of AI and big data can sense and capture all the data around the business,” he says. “Then it can take that data, and analyze it. To use AI to find the needle in the haystack of data is now the norm, not the exception.”
Look to the laws of nature to succeed with these changes, Friedman says. “First of all, to be incredibly adaptive in this world, it’s not the strongest that survive nor the smartest that survive. It’s the most adaptable that survive.” In addition, he continues, nature is “incredibly entrepreneurial. Wherever there is a blank spot in nature, it is filled with a plant or animal perfectly adapted to that niche.” Nature is also “incredibly pluralistic.” The most “diverse ecosystems are also the most resilient and propulsive ecosystems. Nothing’s wasted in nature.”