3 technologies impacting our lives during COVID-19

Appreciating technology’s progress amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

There is no doubt that this global pandemic is putting a massive strain on healthcare systems, businesses, economies, and governments all over the world. The world’s economy is expected to diminish by 3% this year. 36.5 million Americans have applied for unemployment since mid-March, nearing levels not seen since the Great Depression. At the time of publishing, over 8 million people have been infected, and 436,322 have lost their lives. In response, the global population is collectively adjusting to a new way of living as the COVID-19 situation progresses. Amidst the extreme stress and uncertainty that we are all facing, it’s important to take a moment to appreciate some of the technologies that are helping us cope during this difficult time.

Connective technologies like video conferencing, social media, gaming, and more are quickly becoming essentials as we are less able to collaborate, socialize, and interact physically. Working from home, something that would have been practically impossible for many people less than two decades ago, is now supported by these technologies, allowing people to connect via video conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx etc. Zoom, one of the most popular video conferencing apps of this time, saw a staggering increase in meeting participants, up from 10 million in December to 300 million in April.

Virtual events and educators are utilizing video conferencing as well, in an attempt to continue life as normally as possible. Similar apps like HouseParty and FaceTime are helping friends and families stay connected from afar. Some have noted this reconnection to be ironic in the age of social distancing, as it’s prompting many friends, families, and neighbors to rekindle and deepen their relationships.

Mobile applications and delivery services are enabling people throughout the world to support their favorite local restaurants and vendors by ordering delivery while things remain closed. Throughout the world, apps like Postmates and DoorDash are allowing restaurants to continue business through deliveries, with options to have deliveries left at the door in order to limit person-to-person contact. Some delivery services, like Zomato, are waiving restaurant fees in an effort to bolster the now-struggling industry. In Uganda, the Market Garden app is now connecting women vendors to customers seeking fresh fruits and vegetables that they would normally find in the bustling markets of Kampala but are missing while social distancing rules are in place. In the U.S., 49% of consumers turned to online grocery delivery because of the coronavirus, a practice that may continue even after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Even drones are getting involved in deliveries, with startups like Manna Aero using drones to deliver much-needed medicine to vulnerable people on lock-down.

Social media and entertainment platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Quibi are providing a welcome distraction from the many stressors of day-to-day life under quarantine. Over 80% of U.S. and UK consumers admit to consuming more content during the lock-down, especially online videos and broadcast TV. In response, Netflix released a way to watch TV shows and movies simultaneously with your friends, virtually. Video games have always been a great way to connect and play with others, and now more people are embracing them. According to Verizon, gaming data usage increased by 75% in mid-March, and several streaming gaming services experienced server issues, likely due to a significant increase of inactive users. Among the affected were Blizzard Activision and Riot Games.

Thanks to these existing technologies, people all over the world are finding ways to stay entertained and sustained during this difficult time, and 9 out of 10 surveyed Americans claim to have a better appreciation for technology due to how it has impacted their lives during this crisis.

How have emerging technologies affected the world’s response to COVID-19?

Artificial intelligence

While artificial intelligence (AI) is still in a relatively nascent stage, researchers have been using it to track the coronavirus and predict potential spread. In the very early days of the virus, Toronto-startup BlueDot’s AI platform spotted a heightened amount of “unusual pneumonia” cases occurring in Wuhan, China. Kamran Khan, BlueDot’s founder and CEO, served as an epidemiologist and physician during the 2003 SARS outbreak, which inspired him to develop a technology that could cull through massive amounts of data in order to detect potentially dangerous diseases. In the past, AI has also successfully predicted the outcomes of the 2016 Zika virus and the 2014 Ebola outbreak. AI machines, like the CS-1 computer from startup Cerebras Systems, are being used to speed up the discovery of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus. Originally intended for cancer research, the CS-1 computer is hard at work at Argonne National Library, running learning models with the intention of finding compounds that may be effective against the virus.

Robots

In Singapore, semi-autonomous robots are being utilized to disinfect large public surfaces, such as outdoor seating. One robot, called the eXtreme Disinfection robot (or XDBot), was created in only six weeks by a team at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). In China, robots are helping out in several ways, from taking temperatures to sanitizing surfaces to producing and delivering food. To limit the amount of contact between healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients, robots are also serving as portable telehealth operators. One such example is Boston Dynamics’ Spot, a dog-like robot with a tablet attached for video conferencing purposes. Boston Dynamics also says that they are working on upgrading Spot with technology that would allow the robot to test for fevers and monitor respiratory rates.

3D printing

The 3D printing community has been incredibly active in finding ways to contribute during this difficult time. Many in the industry have been producing essential gear and helpful devices for healthcare workers, including HP. HP’s 3D research and development centers located in San Diego, Corvallis, Vancouver, Washington, and Barcelona are actively creating mask adjusters, face shields, and hands-free door openers, as well as testing potential new devices that may help patients. HP has made these designs public and available to any who are able to 3D print and contribute to the cause.

We are not alone in our efforts. Digital manufacturing companies from all over the world are coming together to create necessary supplies, such as test swabs. Lamborghini is using HP Multi-Jet Fusion technology to make lung simulators used to test ventilators used by coronavirus patients. Individual 3D-printing enthusiasts are also working tirelessly to give back to healthcare workers, using smaller, at-home 3D printers to craft personal protective equipment and other helpful gear.

During this time of uncertainty and overwhelm, it is perhaps comforting to appreciate how far technology has come. Existing technologies are enabling people to cope in a variety of ways during isolation, and emerging technologies are proving themselves to be essential to the future of our world. While the current pandemic has brought us great challenges, we are better prepared today than we have ever been in history, and perhaps our continued progress will enable humanity to survive future challenges with more confidence and awareness.

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Why Robots Aren’t Our Competition

In 2016, I wrote an article titled “Robots Aren’t Taking Our Jobs, They’re Transforming Them,” in response to a flurry of articles I read about robots taking over the workforce in the coming years. Now, nearly four years later, we see the same headlines.

While innovation is happening at an astonishing rate, we’re still nowhere near a Westworld-esque future where robots and automation rule. Robots have come a long way, but still need human expertise and skills to function. Therefore, the outcome is less likely a replacement of humans, but rather a reskilling.

There is a valid concern over the possibility of increasing inequality in our automated future. Once robots enter the workforce fully, most highly-skilled, educated workers are likely to experience a smaller shift in responsibilities than their less-skilled, educated counterparts. In order to adapt, those with fewer skills and education will likely have to expand their abilities to either empower them to work with robots or fall within the realm of abilities that robots currently lack, such as emotional intelligence and creativity.

For those that adapt to work alongside robots and automation, most will experience an increase in job quality, or even safety. For example, customer service professionals have been using AI chatbots for a few years now, and chatbots like bold360 allow the AI to answer the simpler questions, giving the humans more time to focus on complex customer issues. For example, HP’s virtual agent helps its support team sort through nearly 600 million technical support requests each year. There are also bomb disposal robots that use VR to allow soldiers to pilot them while disarming bombs from a safe distance.

It’s predicted that, despite disruption, there is still a net positive outlook for jobs. In other words, though 75 million current roles may be displaced by technology, 133 million entirely new roles may emerge simultaneously. These roles will likely be of two categories, one that deals predominantly with emerging technologies, like IT Services or AI Specialists, and one that provides the exclusively human touch, such as Designers or Human Resources.

Other reports, like this one from Brookings Institute, find that approximately 25% of US jobs are likely to be affected by automation. At face value, this number can seem concerning, but it’s important to remember that the process of implementation will still take time.

In the time it takes for the world to fully implement robots and automation in the majority of work systems, humans will be able to adapt and learn new skills, especially if they are empowered by their employers. Some are calling this the “Skills Revolution,” which refers to the fact that the skills required in the workforce are changing at a rapid pace. In the face of this, workers must embrace continuous learning opportunities, and employers must provide ongoing training to future-proof their employees.

To do just that for your employees, consider the following steps:

Pay attention to trends

As a futurist, I am constantly on the lookout for new Megatrends and patterns that may affect our future. This skill has served me and many others well over the years and has helped HP prepare itself for the years to come.

When it comes to future-proofing yourself in the face of automation, pay attention to new careers and job opportunities. It’s predicted that 65% of the jobs that Gen Z will perform don’t even exist yet. If you are able to spot a job trend and properly prepare for it, you could help usher in an entirely new career field.

Embrace lifelong learning

Gone are the days where you could learn a set of skills, perform them for the rest of your life, and earn a living. Nearly all careers require the occasional training or upskilling, but soon it will be necessary to dedicate time to learning on an ongoing basis. For some, this could mean improving their existing abilities and adding complementary skillsets, but for others it could mean learning an entirely new skill. It’s predicted that 42% of required skills will change by 2022, requiring the average worker to adapt to new tasks such as analytical thinking and negotiation. To adjust to these new skills by 2022, employees will need 101 days of training on average.

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources that will help, like Coursera and Lynda, as well as an emergence of recognized online higher education.

Maintain a growth mindset

How do you cope with challenge and difficulty? Do you give up when you feel that something is out of your range of abilities, or do you accept it as a learning opportunity? To maintain a growth mindset, you must learn to embrace challenges and failure as opportunities for growth, rather than letting them stop you in your tracks.

Read “The Power of ‘Yet’ – Developing a Growth Mindset” for more information!

When you develop a growth mindset, you’re able to have the confidence to push through challenges, and this persistence will help you prepare for our automated future. Whether this is a small shift in your career or a larger transition to an entirely new field, a growth mindset will help you see things through a positive lens.

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Preparing for the Kokoda Track

 

When I look at the friendships I’ve had over my life, some of my closest friends are the ones who I’ve been through the hardest times with. If you’ve ever been through a difficult experience with a group of friends, you know how much of a bonding experience it can be. You remember it for the rest of your life. Usually, these experiences aren’t planned, but about six months ago, a group of my oldest and best friends and I decided to take on what may be the most difficult challenge we’ve faced as a group yet. Over the last 20 or 25 years, we’ve reunited in many places near and far, but this year we’re tackling the Kokoda Track.

For those of you who don’t know, the Kokoda Track is a historical trail in Papua New Guinea. This track is well-known in Australia, as a very famous episode in Australian history took place there during World War II. It was at a time when Australia was at risk of being invaded, and this was the last point of defense before the Japanese potentially took over Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, and then from there could launch attacks and raids into Australia.  Australian troops were sent into Papua New Guinea to protect and defend the country from this threat.. These heroes fought in the most difficult conditions, and the Kokoda Track became their battleground.  For many Australians, walking the Kokoda Track is the chance to walk in the footsteps of those men and better appreciate the hardships they endured under and the  sacrifices they made for their country. It’s a personal challenge but also a walk of remembrance and appreciation. I imagine it will be quite emotional because of that, walking in those footsteps and imagining what it must have been like for them to endure the unimaginable conditions of the Kokoda Track during World War II.

 

It’s such a difficult track that I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’m still not, if I’m being honest, but the challenge appealed to me, and I’ve learned that having a really difficult goal motivates you to train hard. My friends are also extremely motivating, though not in the way you might expect. The Australian ethos between good friends isn’t so much   encouragement, but rather a playful goading. It’s perfectly acceptable, and more than that, it’s expected.

While we’re not able to physically train together since we live all over the world, we do share our progress over WhatsApp and AllTrails, an app that allows you to download maps and find trails near you. In the very beginning, one of my best friends, with whom I have a very competitive streak, posted an AllTrails update that he had walked 13.5 miles. Of course, I had to one-up him, so I went out and walked 15 miles. I could hardly walk for a few days afterward, but since then it’s been this escalation of what everyone’s doing to get ready. The next week, I saw that he planned to tackle 26 miles, and I was 20 miles into it before I realized that it was actually 26 kilometers, since he is based in Australia, and I’d done 32 of those! It’s friendly rivalry, and it’s how we’re motivating each other to stick with it and put in the hard work.

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Another weekend on the trails gearing up for Kokoda! https://www.alltrails.com/explore/recording/recording-jan-21-05-02-pm–2

Since I’m over 50 (shhh, don’t tell anyone!), I had to complete a stress test in order to have medical clearance to take on the Kokoda Track, so they’re sure that you won’t have to leave the trail in a helicopter (still a possibility, I think). It’s a big mental challenge, knowing that in 15 minutes a treadmill is going to work you to the point of exhaustion, and your only focus is to stay on it as long as you can without collapsing. You’re like a hamster on a treadmill, almost literally. When you start, you know it’s going to be hard, and part of you is excited about testing yourself to see how far you can go. The other part, however, is full of dread for the pain that’s coming.  The point is, you always have to push yourself past what you think you can do to continue to improve, and most of that is mental not physical.  I know this trek is bound to be difficult, but I know I’m more prepared now than I was when I started.  No pain, no gain, as they say.

Another part of being prepared is making sure you have all the right gear. I’m big into researching things, so I watched tons of videos and read all of these books and blogs about the Kokoda experience. Considering that the longest walk I typically did was from my house to the beach, it’s fair to say doing a 10-day backpacking trip was all new to me. I spent many hours going through the packing list, which has a weight limit, and choosing the right items to pack. I knew that hiking boots are extremely important, so I bought those nearly 4 months ago so I could wear them and break them in. I similarly went through hours of analysis for each piece of equipment to figure out which was the best to take. I researched how to purify water. It’s a science in and of itself, how to stay hydrated on a trek like this. It’s also important to learn how to prevent and treat blisters. You don’t want to overlook things like that or the trek becomes nearly impossible.  In many cases it’s the little things that matter most.

So why am I doing this and why all the hard work? I want to prove to myself that I can do this, and I want to do it in style. I don’t want to be crawling, panting, crying or struggling. I want to be looking up at the sky and nature around me. I want to really enjoy this experience with some of my closest friends. I want this to be one of the things that I look back on, like other big milestones in my life, and remember the experience and everything that went into achieving it. And when I’ve finished the Kokoda Track, I hope to pass on valuable lessons in perseverance, attitude, and working through hard times, which apply to everything from personal growth to entrepreneurship.

Let’s just hope I don’t get lost!

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5 Tips to Think Like a Futurist

The art of being a futurist is a necessary skill in today’s world. Thinking like a futurist shouldn’t be reserved for a select group of people, rather a basic skill set that anyone can learn. I believe in democratizing the skills of a futurist. The more people that can see down the path, the better off we’ll be. The ongoing problems the world is facing, like poverty and climate change, cannot be solved with short-term thinking. If we want to move forward and create the future we want, we must adopt long-term, futuristic thinking.

At HP, the CTO Office team and I work to define new market segments, products, and business models that will help shape HP’s future growth. We focus on industry-shifting trends like Internet of Things, 3D transformation, immersive experiences, AI, advanced robotics, and hypermobility, to determine HP’s long-term innovation and technology vision.  See below for a few things I’ve learned along the way for learning how to read signals, see trends, test your assumptions, and become a futurist:

Stay up to date on trends. Socio-economic, demographic, and technological forces are impacting our future. At HP, we call these Megatrends.  Megatrends allow us to directionally predict where the world is heading, and identify opportunities for HP and our customers.

Fueled by accelerating technology advancements, our rapidly changing world finds us more connected and reliant on digital technologies, altering how we live, work, and socialize with one another. It’s important to monitor both global, and technology trends to stay ahead of all this change, to innovate, adapt, reinvent and engineer experiences for a future that promises to look very different from today.

Personally, I stay on top of trends by reading the latest technology news, speaking with customers and industry pundits, paying attention to university and academic research areas, monitoring venture investing trends and start-up activity. I also draw from my personal experiences, media coverage, and public data sources.

Don’t forget, it’s important to keep an open mind when researching trends. Open yourself to considering all kinds of possible scenarios and interpretations.

Visualize. Once you identify emerging trends, the next step is powering up your imagination.  Allow yourself to time-travel (at least in your mind for now) to a future date.  Keeping in mind your research, imagine what the world might look like, what a daily routine would be in different parts of the world, what experiences our future-selves might encounter.

Now work back and think about how we arrived there.  Ask questions about timing, what trends spearheaded those experiences, market conditions, business models and technologies.  Now think about how your company, your team and you personally played a role in arriving at this future state.

For example, if you consider self-driving cars, it’s obvious that the technology will affect our future, but in what capacity? Think about these core questions: How will current markets and industries be impacted?  What new opportunities will arise? What role will you or your company play in that future?

Looking at short and long-term time intervals, identify what technology advancements, business models and new solutions have the potential for the greatest impact.

As more people work to become futurists, it’s important to concentrate on the trends in a systematic, diligent way.

Put it through the business sniff test.  Good business acumen is an important asset in the futurist’s tool kit.  Having a strategy and methodology for testing your scenarios and hypotheses are critical.

At HP, we start with a pivotal choice point of deciding whether a new technology should be merely observed, is an incremental innovation—new feature or function, value-add to an existing product, or possible accessory—or a disruptive innovation, such as a new product or service.

Each idea then goes through a rigorous business lens to understand strategic intent—opportunity, purpose, value—business rationale and actionable outcomes.

Have boring conversations, too. It’s easy to fantasize how technology will improve our lives in the future, but it’s just as important to have tactile conversations as well. . While it’s not necessary to have a formal method for making predictions about the future, you should have a strategy. As more people work to become futurists, it’s important to concentrate on the trends in a systematic, diligent way. . Here are a few questions to spark your next “boring” conversation:

  • What is your current strategy to predict the future?
  • How well is that plan being executed?
  • Where are place you can improve your results?
  • What resources do you have available to try something different?

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Adopt a growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, your qualities are carved in stone. If you lack a skill, you will continue to lack it. However, when you adopt a growth mindset, you can grow and change through persistence and experience. With a fixed mindset, you can be easily overwhelmed with the future’s uncertainty, but the future belongs to those who can adopt a growth mindset.

At HP, we believe a growth mindset and open innovation are a perfect match. Open innovation allows you to bring the outside in, and the inside out. The “outside in” aspect occurs when external ideas and innovation are brought into the company. On the other hand, “inside out” refers to ideas and technologies within your company that can be incorporated into others’ innovation processes.

We’re living open innovation with HP Tech Ventures. Powering the next generation of technology innovation, we’re partnering with the start-up community to share innovation “outside in” and “inside out”. Our teams focus on global, early stage investments in industry shifting trends—Hypermobility, Internet of All Things, 3D transformation, immersive experiences, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence.

It’s for that exact community that we designed our first immersive computing platform: Sprout. It started in HP Labs, where we tried to imagine a better experience for makers. Sprout integrates five devices into one: a projector, keyboard, scanner, touch canvas, and a 3D camera.

Learn from failure. Don’t confuse failure with bad work. If your team is doing good work, innovating, and still failing, they’re still learning. It’s essential that leaders and organizations encourage and embrace failure. At HP, we say, “If you must fail, fail fast, and allow your employees to do the same.” When everyone knows they can fail, they can truly innovate.

In today’s world, we tend to feel like we don’t have control over the future, but that isn’t the case. With strategic, long-term thinking, action, and an open mind, we can improve lives, and create new businesses, markets, industries and experiences.

I’ll leave you with with one of my favorite quotes. “See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise, you will only see what you were expecting.” -Douglas Adams

A good futurist is always learning, and I’d love to hear your tips and thoughts about becoming a futurist in the comments section below.

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Changing Demographics: Q&A with HP Labs

I recently sat down with HP Labs for Part 3 of a five-part series discussing HP’s future technology vision, and how key global forces known as Megatrends are being used to shape that vision and our future. Megatrends are global socio-economic, demographic and technological forces that will have a sustained and transformative impact on businesses, societies, economies, cultures and our personal lives in unimaginable ways in the years to come.

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One of the trends that will dramatically shift the tapestry of our society is Changing Demographics. I sat down with HP Labs to discuss this trend and how it will impact our future. Here’s a preview of our conversation:

How would you describe Changing Demographics?

On one hand, we have a new generation that is beginning to enter the workforce. Numbering 2.6bn globally, Generation Z (Gen Z) is about a quarter of the US population and will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020.  By 2020, Gen Z will make up 36% of the GLOBAL workforce. [Source: US Consensus Bureau]

This generation has never known a world without the Internet and generation was raised on using five screens, a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and TV, to communicate and digest information instantaneously, but are equally easily distracted. Having never spent a day of their lives offline, they are acutely aware of the issues and global challenges happening in the world around them.  As a result, they are 54% more likely to say they want to have an impact on the world as compared to millennials. [Source: Sparks & Honey, Millennial Branding, Salt]

Yet at the same time more countries are becoming super-aged, which means more than 20 percent of their population is over the age of 65. By 2030, we’ll have twice as many people over age 65—nearly one billion.

In fact, per the World Bank Databank, by 2060 we’ll have 3B more people over the age of 30 than we do today. And as more countries are becoming super-aged with more than 20% of their population over the age of 65, we will experience a shrinking and aging workforce. China is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Today 26% of their population is over the age of 55. And according to UN Population data, that number will grow to 43% by 2030. To deal with this shift, China recently rescinded their one child policy after 35 years.

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To read the entire interview, head over to HP Labs’ blog and let me know your thoughts on Megatrends and their impact on our future in the comments section below.

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