Video: Dr Norman Lewis’ #mexsession looks beyond apps to the macro challenges facing digital industry

Lewis draws on lessons from history to remind participants of the huge challenges still facing humanity and to recognise the limitations of the individual digital developments generating buzz in the short term. His talk goes on to look at how the ability to communicate widely and bring together ad-hoc collaborative networks will deliver lasting change to the way we solve problems. He asks participants to consider what comes after the current craze for apps and how large scale services may be built by crowdsourced innovation networks to apply digital innovation for truly meaningful change.

Dr Norman Lewis’ (@norm_lewis | domain is big ideas about how technology will change lives. Unlike most who occupy such territory, he is also usually right. His previous MEX session in 2008 talked with uncanny prescience about the way digital life would shape the identity of children, predictions which played out almost to the letter. He returned to MEX in March 2015 to share his latest vision of digital experience, exploring how the advent of massive, connected intelligence will inform work and play, drawing on his experience with PwC, one of the world’s largest professional services firms.

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  • Humans are exploiting a legacy of technological advances which peaked 50 years ago in the days of the space and arms’ races. Long-term, large-scale and visionary investment commitments are needed to access the next level of progress. However, in the US for instance, consumers spend more on fatty potato snacks than companies spend on energy research. At the peak of the financial crisis, US companies held USD 5 trillion on their balance sheets, and remain unwilling to invest in open-ended research.
  • The technological developments which dominate mainstream media – social networks and touchscreen smartphones – are in danger of nurturing a generation of narcissists who believe the ability to broadcast their identities is the pinnacle of technological progress. The generation which grew up on the promise of jetpacks has ended up with Twitter instead.
  • Apps have emerged as today’s preferred means of delivering digital capabilities, but they do not represent the end game of innovation. It is important to continue looking for better ways to harness the power of digital for the benefit of humans – most likely in ways which seem almost invisible. BMW currently offers an app to unlock its cars: it requires 13 steps – how is this better? The next generation of digital interactions will be seamless.
  • The growth of digital networks has transformative potential for the way humans work together to solve problems. It could be harnessed to enable the collective application of the vast amount of free-time available to humanity.
  • The entire media industry working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, could not hope to fill even a tiny proportion of the amount of free time the human population now has by relying on its traditional methods.
  • Crowdsourced development networks like Appirio are enabling organisations of any size to tap into the collective power of millions of talented individuals around the world. Freelancers compete to provide the best solutions to problems and are paid for their work on their terms. Clients benefit from access to a wide pool of capabilities. Appirio was able to incentivise 4000 developers to learn Apple’s new Swift language within a few weeks of launch. The world’s largest professional services firm, PwC, is using an internal crowdsourced innovation network to help clients access a wider range of talent than the traditional client/consultant relationship.
  • Adopting distributed networks to solve problems will fundamentally change the dynamics of the workforce and may initially raise difficult social issues which recall the industrial revolution scenario of looking for work at the factory gate. In the long-term, it should help talent be put to use anywhere in the world.

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