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6 Tech Rules That Will Govern the Future

Technology is advancing so rapidly that we will experience radical changes in society not only in our lifetimes but in the coming years. We have already begun to see ways in which computing, sensors, artificial intelligence and genomics are reshaping entire industries and our daily lives.

As we undergo this rapid change, many of the old assumptions that we have relied will no longer apply. Technology is creating a new set of rules that will change our very existence. Here are six:

1. Anything that can be digitized will be.

Digitization began with words and numbers. Then we moved into games and later into rich media, such as movies, images and music. We also moved complex business functions, medical tools, industrial processes and transportation systems into the digital realm. Now, we are digitizing everything about our daily lives: our actions, words and thoughts. Inexpensive DNA sequencing and machine learning are unlocking the keys to the systems of life. Cheap, ubiquitous sensors are documenting everything we do and creating rich digital records of our entire lives.

2. Your job has a significant chance of being eliminated.

In every field, machines and robots are beginning to do the work of humans. We saw this first happen in the Industrial Revolution, when manual production moved into factories and many millions lost their livelihoods. Jobs were created, but it was a terrifying time, and there was a significant societal dislocation (from which the Luddite movement emerged).

See also: 4 Rules for Digital Transformation  

The movement to digitize jobs is well underway in low-salary service industries. Amazon relies on robots to do a significant chunk of its warehouse work. Safeway and Home Depot are rapidly increasing their use of self-service checkouts. Soon, self-driving cars will eliminate millions of driving jobs. We are also seeing law jobs disappear as computer programs specializing in discovery eliminate the needs for legions of associates to sift through paper and digital documents. Soon, automated medical diagnosis will replace doctors in fields such as radiology, dermatology and pathology. The only refuge will be in fields that are creative in some way, such as marketing, entrepreneurship, strategy and advanced technical fields. New jobs we cannot imagine today will emerge, but they will not replace all the lost jobs. We must be ready for a world of perennially high unemployment rates. But don’t worry, because …

3. Life will be so affordable that survival won’t necessitate having a job.

Note how cellphone minutes are practically free and our computers have gotten cheaper and more powerful over the past decades. As technologies such as computing, sensors and solar energy advance, their costs drop. Life as we know it will become radically cheaper. We are already seeing the early signs of this: Because of the improvements in the shared-car and car-service market that apps such as Uber enable, a whole generation is growing up without the need or even the desire to own a car. Healthcare, food, telecommunications, electricity and computation will all grow cheaper very quickly as technology reinvents the corresponding industries.

4. Your fate and destiny will be in your own hands as never before.

The benefit of the plummet in the costs of living will be that the technology and tools to keep us healthy, happy, well-educated and well-informed will be cheap or free. Online learning in virtually any field is already free. Costs also are falling with mobile-based medical devices. We will be able to execute sophisticated self-diagnoses and treat a significant percentage of health problems using only a smartphone and smart distributed software.

Modular and open-source kits are making DIY manufacture easier, so you can make your own products. DIYDrones.com, for example, lets anyone wanting to build a drone mix and match components and follow relatively simple instructions for building an unmanned flying device. With 3-D printers, you can create your own toys. Soon these will allow you to “print” common household goods — and even electronics. The technology driving these massive improvements in efficiency will also make mass personalization and distributed production a reality. Yes, you may have a small factory in your garage, and your neighbors may have one, too.

5. Abundance will become a far bigger problem than poverty.

With technology making everything cheaper and more abundant, our problems will arise from consuming too much rather than too little. This is already in evidence in some areas, especially in the developed world, where diseases of affluence — obesity, diabetes, cardiac arrest — are the biggest killers. These plagues have quickly jumped, along with the Western diet, to the developing world, as well. Human genes adapted to conditions of scarcity are woefully unprepared for conditions of a caloric cornucopia. We can expect this process only to accelerate as the falling prices of Big Macs and other products our bodies don’t need make them available to all.

The rise of social media, the internet and the era of constant connection are other sources of excess. Human beings have evolved to manage tasks serially rather than simultaneously. The significant degradation of our attention spans and precipitous increase in attention-deficit problems that we have already experienced are partly attributable to spreading our attention too thin. As the number of data inputs and options for mental activity continues to grow, we will only spread it further. So even as we have the tools to do what we need to, forcing our brains to behave well enough to get things done will become more and more of a chore.

6. Distinction between man and machine will become increasingly unclear.

The controversy over Google Glass showed that society remains uneasy over melding man and machine. Remember those strange-looking glasses that people would wear, that were recording everything around them? Google discontinued these because of the uproar, but miniaturized versions of these will soon be everywhere. Implanted retinas already use silicon to replace neurons. Custom prosthetics that operate with the help of software are personalized, highly specific extensions of our bodies. Computer-guided exoskeletons are going into use in the military in the next few years and are expected to become a common mobility tool for the disabled and the elderly.

See also: Blockchain Technology and Insurance  

We will tattoo sensors into our bodies to track key health indicators and transmit those data wirelessly to our phones, adding to the numerous devices that interface directly with our bodies and form informational and biological feedback loops. As a result, the very idea of what it means to be human will change. It will become increasingly difficult to draw a line between human and machine.

This column is based on Wadhwa’s coming book, “Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future,” which will be released this winter.

Wearable Technology: Benefits for Insurers

Over 50 years ago, Edward Thorp, considered the “father of the wearable computer,” discovered a tiny computerized timing device that could effortlessly beat opponents in a game of roulette. Since then, the popularity of wearable technology has always been on the rise. Today, we have smart devices like Apple smartwatches, Fitbit fitness bands, Google Glass and Nike Fuelbands that could do some pretty cool things to help improve the quality of our life.

Wearable technology refers to tiny electronic gadgets that are worn on the body or clothing. They are capable of monitoring our physical and mental activities and generating stats to help us understand our health and fitness condition better. Whether it’s keeping track of your eating, exercising, or sleeping habits, there is always a smart device to provide you the right data.

Insurance companies are taking wearable device reports seriously. You can get up to a 15% discount on your insurance plan by presenting your wearable report to your insurance agent.

See also: The Case for Connected Wearables

According to The Wearable Future, 20 percent of Americans are using wearables to monitor their day-to-day activities, and the number is expected to grow over the next couple of years. The study suggested that millennials are the biggest users of wearables. It’s estimated that 50 percent of millennials in America will own fitness bands by 2017.

Why is the insurance industry paying attention to wearable technology? Here’s an Infographic that presents some interesting stats and information on how wearable technology is influencing the insurance industry.

Credit: LifeInsurancePost.com

Credit: LifeInsurancePost.com

Why I’m Skeptical on Apple’s Future

Facebook is releasing its virtual reality headset, Oculus. It is big, clunky and expensive, and it will cause nausea and other problems for its users. Within a few months of its release, we will declare our disappointment with virtual reality while Facebook will carefully listen to its users and develop improvements. Version No. 3 of Oculus, which will, most likely, come in 2018 or 2019, will be amazing. It will change the way we interact with each other on social media and take us into new worlds—much like the holodecks we saw in “Star Trek.”

This is how innovation happens now, innovation and elsewhere. You release a basic product and let the market tell you how to make it better. There is no time to get it perfect; your product may become obsolete before it is even released.

Apple has not figured this out yet. It maintains a fortress of secrecy, and its leaders dictate product features. When it releases a new technology, it goes to extremes to ensure elegant design and perfection. Steve Jobs was a true visionary, but he refused to listen to customers—believing he knew what they needed better than they did. He ruled with an iron fist and did not tolerate dissent of any type. At Apple, people in one division did not know what others in the company were developing.

Seven announcements Apple made in the March keynote

Jobs’ tactics worked very well for him, and he created the most valuable company in the world. But without Jobs, given the dramatic technology changes that are happening, Apple may have peaked. It is headed the way of IBM in the ’90s and Microsoft in the late 2000s. Consider that Apple’s last major innovation—the iPhone—was released in June 2007.

See Also: Apple v. FBI: Inevitable Conflicts on Tech

Since then, Apple has been tweaking its componentry, adding faster processors and more advanced sensors and releasing bigger and smaller forms—such as with the iPad and the Apple Watch. Even the announcements Apple made this month were uninspiring: smaller iPhones and iPads. All Apple seems to be doing is playing catch up with Samsung, which offers tablets and phones of many sizes and has better features. Apple has been also been copying products (such as Google Maps) but not doing it very well.

There was a time when technology enthusiasts like me felt compelled to buy every new product Apple released. We applauded every small, new feature and pretended it was revolutionary. We watched Steve Jobs’ product announcements with bated breath. However, now I would not even have bought the iPhone a few months ago unless T-Mobile included a large rebate to switch networks. There is nothing earth-shattering or compelling about Apple’s new phones—or, for that matter, any of the products it has released since 2007.

By now, Apple should have released some of the products we have heard rumors about: TV sets, virtual reality headsets and cars. Apple could also have added the functionality of products, such as Leap Motion and Kinect, with the iPhone functioning as a Minority Report motion detector and projector. Apple should be doing what Facebook is doing: putting out new products and letting the market judge them. And Apple should be doing moonshots like Google, which is toying with self-driving cars; Internet delivery via balloon, drone and microsatellite; and Google Glass. Yes, Apple might have failed with the first version—just as Google did with Glass—but that is simply a learning experience. The third version of Google Glass is also likely to be a killer product.

Instead of innovating, Apple has been launching frivolous lawsuits against competitors like Samsung. My colleague at Stanford Law School, Mark Lemley, estimated Apple had spent more than $1 billion in attorney and expert fees in its battle against Samsung. And this lawsuit netted Apple just $158,400, which, ironically, went to Samsung. Apple could have better spent its money on the acquisitions of companies that would give it a real edge.

Will Apple release some products later this year that will blow us away? I am skeptical. I expect we will only see more hype and more repackaging of tired old technologies.

Join Vivek Wadhwa for the Path To Transformation Symposium by registering here.

On-Demand Economy Is Just Starting

Fifteen years ago, the idea of having access to any bit of information you could possibly want at your fingertips was outrageous. In 2001, you could get access to the Internet from your phone, but the experience would be slooooow, and it might cost you hundreds of dollars. Dial-up Internet from desktop computers – remember them? – was still very much a thing. Now, people carry smartphones that give them instant access to just about anyone, to every bit of news and to almost all the knowledge in recorded history.

People use those devices mostly to watch videos of singing goats and people failing at dunking a basketball, but that’s a different story.

The point is that technology, such as smartphones and smart watches, has created an on-demand world where gratification needs to be instant. When someone decides he wants something, he doesn’t want it in two hours. He doesn’t want it in 20 minutes. He wants it now. And, he wants it at the push of a button.

As the trajectory of the last 15 years shows, the trend toward on-demand will only continue, perhaps even accelerate.

The main driver, as usual, is good, old Moore’s Law, which has seen the computing power of a chip double every year and a half to two years since the 1960s at no increase in cost. Moore’s Law is why a gigabyte of memory, which cost $300,000 in the mid-1980s, today costs less than a penny, and why, despite some technology headwinds for Moore’s Law, we’ll have devices hundreds of times as powerful as today’s before kids born this year enter high school.

Other “laws,” such as Metcalfe’s, continue to drive the value of networks at an exponential rate. So-called “network effects” are why millennials rarely have their phones more than a foot away and why there is so much effort to make devices even more accessible – in front of your eyes, a la the failed-but-not-forever-dead Google Glass, or on your wrist as a “watch.” Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, has argued for years that we’ll eventually wind up with cellphones surgically implanted behind our jaws, where they will have easy access to our vocal cords and our ears.

But Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s and the others that have driven the unbelievable progress in computing are just the start. Now, three more factors are kicking in, increasing the pace toward the on-demand world. First, sensors and cameras are wiring more and more of the world every day. Second, people are coming up with new business models that build on these new capabilities in surprising and powerful ways. Third, the effects will spread to what is sometimes referred to as “the next billion” (and the billion after that). Those of us in the developed world won’t have all the fun; the rest of the world will join in.

Sensors and Cameras

Fitbit et al. track every step you take and every calorie you burn, and they’re just the beginning. People have begun talking about the “Internet in Me.” The idea is that you might ingest some small sensor that will report from inside your blood stream about blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. A wireless signal – powered by the abundant electricity inside us – would send the information to your phone or watch, which would relay any necessary information to a doctor or some sort of healthcare provider.

Drones are everywhere. They can check crops, monitor disasters or do whatever. In fact, woe to the next generation of teenagers – parents can now just keep a drone in the home and have it fly around from time to time to see if Junior is having a party while they’re away.

Our mobile phones constantly provide information on traffic flow, based simply on how fast they’re moving in our cars. (When is the last time you saw a traffic copter, let alone a thin rubber hose across a road that tripped a counter every time a car ran over it?) Waze has layered crowdsourcing on top of the data from mobile phones, encouraging people to report accidents and other delays, to fine-tune maps and so forth. Nauto, a start-up, is trying to add another layer by getting fleet operators—and, eventually, individual drivers—to put cameras in vehicles (one looking at the road, one looking at the driver) with the initial goal to improve safety. If enough of Nauto’s cameras are on the road, they will provide a real-time look at the world. Want a parking spot right now? Nauto can tell you about the one that opened up 30 seconds ago a block away.

Google is gathering information in real time about diseases like the flu – it can report when and where a lot of people start searching for information about certain symptoms. Even our thoughts and emotions are getting wired. Historically, in presidential elections, people conducted the occasional opinion poll, so you’d have a sense of the result of the debate a week or so later. Now, people monitor Twitter streams and Google searches in real time to assess who won and who lost. Those feelings then get aggregated in prediction markets that are far more accurate than political observers ever were. Of course, a lot of effort gets put into figuring out presidential elections because of the stakes involved, but this kind of wiring and immediate response will spread into other areas, as well.

The physical world is being folded into the digital one through hacks such as QR codes, which let magazine readers scan them to figure out where they can purchase an outfit or whatever else is in an image. Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa sits in the middle of a room and allows people to buy something through Amazon right when they think of it, even if they don’t have their phone near them.

Our lives divide into two parts these days: Those that are wired and those that will be wired. 

New Business Models

Just Google “the Uber of,” and you’ll see how much a single inventive business model can change things. You’ll be prompted with companies offering the Uber of trucking, dog walking, laundry, snowplows, tennis partners dentistry and much more. There is a powerful example in the insurance industry: WeGoLook, which is being called the “Uber of claims handling.” If a carrier needs a picture of a car, it can send someone out from the office, or it can draw on the tens of thousands of freelancers affiliated with WeGoLook and have one of them take the necessary pictures and gather the information. Especially in rural areas, it can be a lot cheaper to have a local person gather the information than to send someone out from a regional office. And, through the wonders of information technology, WeGoLook can be so thoroughly integrated into a carrier’s system that the person asking for the photos, etc. doesn’t need to even think about whether the request is being fed to an internal person or to WeGoLook.

Even without totally new business models, tweaks are accelerating the pace of the economy. Seamless, the on-demand food delivery service, has shaken things up by making it much easier for customers to order food for takeout or delivery. Venmo has become popular among millennials by greatly simplifying the process of sharing costs and, in general, making small payments to each other.

Amazon went from “delivery some time” to mostly two-day delivery, via Prime. Now it is working hard to get to same-day delivery and is even experimenting with drones that could deliver within perhaps 20 minutes.

These business model changes will keep unfolding, too, in many cases like a slow-motion train wreck. You can already see some of the ways that 3D printing will step up the pace – you just click on the image of a hairbrush you want and have it start printing in your office immediately. Or look at the news business. Remember weekly news magazines like Time, Newsweek and BusinessWeek? Not only have they gone away but even daily publications like the Wall Street Journal have had to switch to instantaneous publication online – no more holding the big stories for the print edition the next morning. Those of us of a certain age remember what a big deal it was when Monday Night Football showed highlights from the day before. Now, we don’t even have to wait for Sports Center at the end of a game. We can just call up a highlight on our phones. If you look at the changes going on at CNN, you can see that its mission has changed, because there is a new form of 24-hour news network: It’s called the Internet, and it’s “on-demand” — no need to keep Wolf Blitzer droning on in the background.

The Next Billion

As more and more people from countries such as China and India and places in Africa enter the middle class, they will get access to all the technologies that drive the on-demand economy in the rest of the world. In some cases, they will even leapfrog us. In Kenya, for instance, growth in the traditional sort of banking is stunted even as the economy grows, because people use their mobile phones to exchange money. Who wants to go to a bank and wait for a teller?

And these changes in technology, business models and demographics are just the things we know about. You can be quite sure that lots of clever people are already at work on other ways that will speed the move toward the high-speed economy.

Think of the shift in the economy as the move from the demand curve to the on-demand curve.

How Health Tech Is Changing Work Comp

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed both the dialogue and dynamics of healthcare in this country. It has also brought employers a new set of challenges and opportunities.

Seemingly uncontrollable medical costs have plagued virtually all businesses in recent decades. The medical component of claim costs now accounts for well over half of the total workers’ compensation cost make-up.

In addition, as more individuals have signed up for coverage under the ACA legislation, the demand on the system for healthcare services is becoming increasingly strained. This demand, coupled with a projected shortage of physicians, has made access to care a more prominent workers’ compensation concern.

The offshoot of such pressures and constraints is a strong and unyielding focus on healthcare technology developments and advancements. The rapidity with which such innovations are being made, and the advances planned in the healthcare treatment and delivery landscape in the coming years, are phenomenal. Undoubtedly, technology will play an increasingly important role in maintaining employees’ well-being and fostering their recovery in the future.

Some of the technological advancements that are available today and on the verge of exploding onto the healthcare scene include telemedicine, Google Glass, wearable monitoring devices, Internet-connected sensors, 3D printing and robotic devices. These are designed to increase the efficiencies associated with delivering healthcare and maximize the providers’ time and talents.

Below are some additional details on these innovations and the advantages they can bring to the workers’ compensation industry.

Telemedicine
The American Telemedicine Association defines telehealth as remote healthcare technology designed to deliver clinical services. This could include alternatives ranging from medical providers consulting patients by phone to performing robotic surgery from a remote location. Telemedicine can certainly benefit injured or ill employees in situations such as nurse triaging and clinical consultation. For example, using telehealth, a nurse at a remote location can evaluate symptoms and determine whether an injured employee needs to be seen directly or can be discharged with instructions for homecare. Telehealth can also be used to reduce or even eliminate wait times and thus, appointment costs. A patient visiting an occupational healthcare provider who needs an evaluation from an orthopedist could have it right on the spot via a conference call during which the test results are projected onto a screen visible to the specialist.

Google Glass
Google Glass technology is being used today to maximize the time and talents of specialty providers and bring high-level expertise to remote areas of the country. One of its most valuable applications is in surgery. For example, a surgeon in New York could assist a surgical team in rural Oregon and show them precisely where to make an incision for a given procedure. Google Glass can also increase a physician’s efficiency in seeing and assessing patient conditions. A patient’s electronic health records could be displayed on Google Glass as a physician is conducting an initial assessment. Information such as medical history or current symptoms and medications could be reviewed in real-time as the physician converses with the patient and determines ensuing treatment. Moreover, in coming years, patients may use Google Glass to assess and evaluate physicians based on available information and reviews appearing on their own display.

Wearable monitoring devices
A number of wearable healthcare monitoring devices have flooded the market and have become popular among a select set of consumers. They are frequently worn around the wrist and can monitor physical information, such as calories burned, steps taken, activity, blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns and other defined metrics. These devices help increase awareness among users. For example, if a morning run is missed and step count is down, the individual may be more inclined to take the stairs, park farther away from the building or consume fewer calories. The next step is for users to begin sharing this information with their medical providers as a way of becoming more engaged healthcare consumers. Such information would allow a physician to customize a healthcare treatment plan specifically for that individual as opposed to relying on more general treatment guidelines.

Internet-connected sensors 
Sensors are being used and will become more readily available in the future as a way of monitoring and communicating an individual’s condition. For example, an individual who has recently undergone surgery may have sensors in his shoes to send an alert if he becomes unstable, thereby increasing the risk of a fall. Such sensors may trigger an alert to a smartphone, dashboard or other monitoring device signaling that the individual needs assistance. With the additional capabilities of these devices, resources can be deployed where and when needed, allowing for more effective and efficient care.

3D printing
3D printing is perhaps one of the most fascinating and promising medical advancements. Using 3D printing, experts have produced replicas of human hearts, which allow surgeons to perform a procedure in advance of an actual operation, improving quality and outcomes. 3D printing is also being used to produce human skin. This technology can be a tremendous benefit to burn victims and can reduce recovery time considerably. It also shows promise in aiding back surgeries. Previously, titanium plates were inserted between disks, and bone would grow around these plates. 3D printing allows the production of cellular structures that can become part of the bone growth itself. Such advancements are expected to reduce the need for repeat surgeries.

Robotic devices
Robotic devices are being used now and will likely become more common. One of their current uses is to help extend the efficiency and effectiveness of nurses and allow them to focus more specifically on patient needs and priorities. For example, when a nurse is recording vital signs, a robot can be used to retrieve supplies, allowing the nurse to spend more time providing valuable patient care. Looking further into the future, robots may be used to provide more extended patient care.

These types of medical technology advancements are helping to create a culture of connected health that will redefine our treatment and delivery system. While new challenges and risks will arise, technology will play a prominent role in tomorrow’s healthcare. In the not-too-distant future, the amount of real-time information and communication that can be shared instantaneously is hard to imagine. This will allow for more productive and cost-effective interactions among patients, providers, employers, payers and caretakers. A more effective and efficient healthcare system characterized by improved quality and outcomes is a win-win situation for virtually all workers’ compensation stakeholders, and one that could quickly become a reality in today’s world.

Preparation breeds optimism, and employers have the opportunity to prepare for the roll-out of the new healthcare legislation using digital health advancements. The suite of health technology tools, companies offering solutions in this space and the advanced products described above are all part of the newly evolving digital health arena, and undoubtedly these advancements will be part of a broader solution.

In looking ahead, the convergence of digital health solutions with evolving healthcare delivery models has the potential to significantly improve access to care, address quality concerns and assist with costs. This would enable consumers to become more engaged and active in their health and, in turn, lead to improved health and productivity for employers. This would be a workers’ compensation offshoot by which we could all stand.

This article first appeared at WorkCompWire.