Disruptive Technologies that will transform us

McKinsey_disruptiveHaving recently spoken in Hamilton about the Ten Trends at a CORE Breakfast my mind is already thinking forward to what lies on the horizon for 2013, so it was with interest I read this morning the latest McKinsey report on Disruptive Technologies: advances that will transorm life, business, and the global economy

What I like about the McKinsey report is that it attempts to look beyond the usual hype and speculation that comes with an emerging technology, and dig a little deeper to examine the potential impact of that technology, why they consider it disruptive, and what both the benefits and challenges may be.

The report identifies twelve disruptive technologies, and provides a very useful analysis of each – supported by clear and easy to interpret graphics that make the task of digesting all of the information that much easier. 

The image below is captured from the pop-up gallery of disruptive technologies that can be accessed from the web site. It lists the twelve technologies that are examined in the report, showing the estimated potential economic impact of each.

Mckinsey_disruptive gallery

Of interest to me is the criteria used to determine what the McKinsey group actually mean by a disruptive technology. They identify three key things – speed, range of impact, and potential scale of economic value, which are represented in the report as follows…

  • The technology is rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs. Disruptive technologies typically demonstrate a rapid rate of change in capabilities in terms of price/performance relative to substitutes and alternative approaches, or they experience breakthroughs that drive accelerated rates of change or discontinuous capability improvements.
  • The potential scope of impact is broad. To be economically disruptive, a technology must have broad reach.
  • Significant economic value could be affected. An economically disruptive technology must have the potential to create massive economic impact.
  • Economic impact is potentially disruptive. Technologies that matter have the potential to dramatically change the status quo.

Then there's the 'so what' part of thinking about all of this. Towards the end of the report, the authors summarise what they see as the implications for governments and policy makers. Among their advice is the following which I see as having huge implications for those of us involved in preparing young people for their future;

The biggest challenges for policy makers could involve the effects of technologies that have potentially large effects on employment. By 2025, technologies that raise productivity by automating jobs that are not practical to automate today could be on their way to widespread adoption. Historically, when labor-saving technologies were introduced, new and higher value-adding jobs were created. This usually happens over the long term. However, productivity without the innovation that leads to the creation of higher value-added jobs results in unemployment and economic problems, and some new technologies such as the automation of knowledge work could significantly raise the bar on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive.

With the world of work predicted to change so markedly, it's simply no longer acceptable to sit back and us the nature of our assessment and other excuses as reasons for no pushing forward with a more future-focused view of our curriculum and how we present it. As educators we  need to be thinking more critically about the offerings we provide in our curriculum, and just how seriously we take the 'front half' of our (NZ) curriculum framework that deals with key competencies, for example.

In our schools, and in society more generally, we have some serious questions to address…

  • Do we truly understand and have grappled with the implications of what it means to 'raise thebar' on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive? What does this mean for our students? what does this mean for the current and next generation of teachers in their own professional lives?
  • In our vision for the students in our schools currently, what is the emphasis we give to creating 'knowledge workers' for the future? Do we have an accepted understandin of what that means? How do we assess this?
  • As we move towards a more knowledge-based economy, with greater levels of automation of how do we avoid the consequent potential for unemployment and negative economic impact? 

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