February 27, 2014 | Written by: Allan R. Tate
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Conferences come and go, but IBM Pulse 2014 will be remembered for marking a turning point for IBM and the IT industry. I’m going to explain this from the point of view of the recent New York Times bestseller, The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. The book talks about the economic and social impact of technology. In summary, the authors explain why we’re on the cusp of a major change in human history, why technological advances will lead to an age of abundance, why it will be a bumpy road until we learn to cope with these changes and why it is up to us to decide how to shape our future.
Since this is my first post for Thoughts on Cloud, I want to briefly explain the roots of my perspective. During the day, I manage sales of integrated technology services for one of IBM’s business units. I spend as much time as possible talking to clients about cloud, data management, security and mobility. Some clients are in the public sector, including state government, health care and higher education. Some of my future posts will focus on these areas. Other clients are emerging businesses, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology. I’ll be writing about these industries too.
That’s my day job. To keep up with our rapidly changing world, I participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. This blog, for example, allows me to express myself as a cloud evangelist. I also participate in industry and academic forums. Right now, I’m on the speaker and panel team for the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. The two authors I mentioned will speak at this event, so their ideas are on the top of my mind. Finally, I’m the organizer of a networking group, centered in Cambridge, MA, that focuses on the application of technology to business. This is The New England Business and Technology Insight Group, which is open to anyone.
Getting back to Brynjolfsson and McAfee, they say that our times will be shaped by technology that is exponential, digital and combinatorial. Let’s look at what they mean, and how the following concepts were exemplified at Pulse 2014:
The pace of technological change is characterized by exponential growth, which is hard to visualize. As humans, we think in terms of linear growth, where the rate of the future change looks like the rate we’ve experienced in the past. As it happens, exponential growth seems linear in the beginning, but then you reach an inflection point and suddenly the pace of change becomes like an explosion. Brynjolfsson and McAfee think we’re at such a point and the announcements about cloud at Pulse 2014 seem to bolster their argument. IBM announced a $1.2 billion investment in worldwide data centers, as well as a commitment to deploy IBM Power Systems and IBM Watson technologies on SoftLayer, an IBM company. The speakers at Pulse talked about wearable technology, self driving cars and other technological marvels. The participants at Pulse seemed energized and ready to leverage these technologies to grow their business. Everyone could feel the winds of change in the air.
This is the age of digital products. For Brynjolfsson and McAfee, this fact has economic implications that I won’t go into here. What I will say is that there were more than 10,000 people at Pulse who intuitively understood the economics and the challenges of the new digital world. We heard about multimedia products, such as Netflix, that are delivered using the cloud. We also heard about how thousands of applications for our mobile devices are powered by the cloud, where valuable insights are extracted from massive amounts of data using analytics. Those are the obvious examples. But, we also heard about how race cars depend on cloud technology. One example is simulating wind tunnel tests at a fraction of the cost. We saw an image of the Red Bull information technology team, along with the race team, being honored together to celebrate a victory. Data is the currency of the new economy.
Innovation is driven by people who take existing ideas and recombine them in novel ways to create value. Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify two unique qualities of our age that will spur innovation: everyone is connected and everyone has access to the tools to work in a digital world. At Pulse, James Governor (@monkchips) spoke about the resurging role of the developer in this new world, saying, “We’re living in a world where we need to ask developers what to do.” Adding fuel to the fire, IBM announced Codename: BlueMix, which is an implementation of IBM’s open cloud architecture that enables developers to build, deploy and manage cloud applications. If data is the currency of this new age, then developers are the new power brokers.
I have decided to immerse myself in this world. I want to participate in creating this unimagined bounty, and I want to find ways to leverage this bounty to improve our quality of life. We have the potential to solve so many problems, so I hope you’ll join the conversation. I look forward to engaging on this blog, at conferences, symposiums and at networking events. Feel free to join my MeetUp group or connect with me on Twitter (@allanrtate).