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The future of mobility: Are we asking the right questions?

Thornton May | Oct. 10, 2017
The shape of the future is discernible if we can find the relevant patterns.

In the 2000 documentary No Maps for These Territories, science fiction author William Gibson remarks, “I think we live in an incomprehensible present.” An expert quoted in The New York Times insists that “we’ve reached a new level where nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

I disagree. The present is understandable and it is possible to make foresight-rich preparations for the future if we ask the right questions.

One of the categories requiring the sharpest questions about the future is mobility. The mobile present has many moving parts and is very complex, but base patterns are discernible. I believe every human on this planet needs at least to attempt to comprehend the current point to which the mobile revolution has brought us. Furthermore, I believe modern executives have a fiduciary responsibility to think long and hard about where the mobile revolution is taking us. 


Why mobility matters

The most rapidly adopted consumer technology in the history of mankind, mobile technology has had a huge economic impact — more than $1 trillion — and has changed the corporate competitive landscape as well as how people live their daily lives. Some go so far as to argue that mobile technologies have changed what it is to be human. 

Are the mobility-now and the mobility-of-the-future receiving the kind of deep-thinking attention they deserve? Are we, as individuals and institutions, asking the right questions about the future of mobility?

Here are some of the important ones. 


Technology and purpose questions

We have migrated from a world where 350 million PCs are replaced every five years to one where some 4 billion mobile phones are replaced every two years. Much attention has focused on determining what the future device landscape looks like. Will the smartphone expand from its aspirational beachhead as the universal remote for our personal lives to the device managing the operating system of total digital existence? Will the smartphone be the only device we have to buy? Or will the smartphone be washed away in a tsunami of wearables and implantables? Will this many-device landscape give way to a no-device world of internet of things-enabled ubiquitous computing where access to services is just a voice command or an algorithmically determined action on our behalf away? 

These are the questions market research analysts, product designers, venture capitalists and stock pickers tend to focus on. 

The question social scientists ask in the face of all this exponential technology innovation is: To what purpose is all thisgear directed? What outcomes does using mobile technology make possible? Is all this mobile technology liberating humans to realize our unique individual potential? 


Training questions

Humans may not be the only species that uses tools — or even makes tools — but we are very tool-intensive. The question is, Are we tool-savvy enough? Fire is a powerful tool. Used appropriately, it can cook meat and keep the winter chill away. Used poorly, it can burn our house down. The same can be said for just about every technology tool. They can be used for good or evil. A close friend who is a Harvard Business School grad and a Fortune 500 CIO mentioned that in the hands of a trained carpenter, power tools can create homes and furniture of great beauty. In his hands, they create trips to the emergency room. Our economy spends billions — perhaps trillions — developing tools. Are we spending enough to train and educate workers and citizens in appropriate tool usage? 


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