Tech’s Most Disruptive Impact Over the Next Five Years

One of the more interesting panel discussions at CES was about disruptive technologies over the next five years. The panelists tossed around ideas they thought would be disruptive over this period — robotics, self driving cars, sensors, wearables, home automation and a few others. Creative Strategies Partner and Tech.pinions co-founder Ben Bajarin was on the panel and was asked at the end what he thought would be the most disruptive technology he saw on the horizon. He stated it would be the fact that more people will come online for the first time over the next five years than have in the past 30 years. The global implications of adding another two billion Internet users could be quite disruptive. Panelist Avi Greengart of Current Analysis echoed that and said the most disruptive technology is already here in the form of the smart phone.

Ben’s comments are based on research we have been doing at Creative Strategies as we try and forecast the longer range demand for smart phones and the market for the next two billion. Over two billon cell phones will be sold in 2015 and ~1.5 billion will be smart phones. However, the move towards making smart phones at the price of features phones suggests that, by 2017, almost all phones sold will be smart phones. At the same time, wireless infrastructure is being added to most countries around the world and that is laying the groundwork for more and more people to go online. If they get their hands on low cost smart phones it could have major political, economic and educational ramifications I don’t think any of us fully realize.

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Ben pointed out if we thought the Arab Spring (which happened mainly because of smart phones and social media) was big, imagine when people in Africa, South America, North Korea and other regions of the world that live in oppressive countries go online and get access to information, video, social media and connect with each other. How will that would impact their future? He also mentioned pocket computers could have a major impact on people’s ability to do commerce, trade, manage their crops or businesses and potentially impact their earning ability.

Another way to think of this is that smart phones or pocket computers connecting the next two billion people to the internet is similar to what the Gutenberg Press and the Bible were to the masses in the Middle Ages. Before the Gutenberg Press, knowledge and control of the people was in the hands of a select few who controlled the flow of information. As a result, they lorded it over the populace and made them beholden to the church or more educated authorities who ruled them. But once the Bible and other documents could be dispersed to a larger audience, those authoritarian rulers were challenged and eventually marginalized as more and more power went to the people over time.

In this day and age, it is hard to believe this kind of controlled ruling still exists but all one has to do is look to North Korea as a modern day example. This hermit kingdom keeps knowledge from the people and lords their authority over them in oppressive ways and has fooled the people into thinking their leaders are gods. Imagine what would happen if hundreds of thousands of North Koreans get a smart phone and have broad access to information. In some countries where people cannot even read, the info would flow through video and even soap operas showing a narrative of the outside world.

Interestingly, technology was at the heart of the break up of the Soviet Union. I went to Moscow to protest the lack of religious freedom in 1973 with a group of people and we were arrested and kept completely away from Russians so as to not give them access to any outside information. We were eventually expelled and our protest was blocked from any of their news media. Twelve years later, I was in Hanover, Germany at CEBIT and met with a clandestine group smuggling fax machines in to Russia and using them as a way to get outside information to the average Russian people. Interestingly, I had the privilege of meeting Michail Gorbachov five years after the break up of the Soviet Union and he said in that meeting it was the fax machine and technology that broke open the flow of information and played an important part in breaking down the walls that kept people under a repressed form of government.

While I have no doubt robotics, self driving cars, wearables, etc. will have a disruptive impact on many of us, I think Ben is on to something when he suggests the most disruptive thing technology may deliver in the next five to ten years will be making it possible for another two billion people to get on the internet and how it will impact their lives in terms of politics, commerce, and education.

For more detail on this trend, download our report on the next phase of mobile.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

15 thoughts on “Tech’s Most Disruptive Impact Over the Next Five Years”

  1. We’re all in love with mobile IT here. Alas, technology is amoral. I don’t see how mobile IT will be more efficient at getting us rid of obscurantism and injustice than movable type, radio, TV, landlines or plain old IT… Especially when all that information has to travel along very few, easily controlled or surveilled, pipes. Some of the most IT-equipped states are also very oppressive economically, politically and religiously; and you don’t have to look far from home to see how mobile IT is having 0 impact, or even a negative impact, on very egregious issues.

    1. Yeah sadly, no matter how great technology gets, it’s still Homo sapiens 1.0 that uses it. The technology that enables the easier, wider spread of information is also the technology that enables ever more sophisticated and stealthy ways of surveillance. Last I heard, a lot of the web surveillance and suppression apps that autocratic governments use were developed here in the U.S.

        1. Technology absolutely does change culture. Remember, the printing press is also technology, and who would ever claim that wide spread literacy hasn’t dramatical changed culture?

          What cultural change technology will bring about is almost impossible to predict, and maybe not obvious even years after it has occurred, but the change is undeniably real.

          1. I should have elaborated better. It does not qualitatively impact a culture, it impacts quantitatively. If a culture is one that values education, then yes, it will educate more people. If it values the Kardashians, well then….

    2. Especially when all that information has to travel along very few, easily controlled or surveilled, pipes. – Obarthelemy

      Hmm. When you compare today’s pipes with yesterday’s forms of distribution, today’s form of distribution is infinitely more available, cheaper and less prone to government interference. The internet knows everything and mobile take that knowledge everywhere. Its far from perfect, but we shouldn’t be comparing it to perfect — we should be comparing it to what came before and when you look at it that way, mobile is light years ahead of where communication was just a few short years ago.

      1. Agreed. But the same also happened when movable type allowed books, magazines, newspapers, to be produced by the thousands then millions instead of one-by-one, when machinery allowed mass-production and transportation, when radio then TV allowed information to reach anywhere; etc etc. What I’m trying ot say is that mobile IT won’t intrinsically spread democracy and riches, anymore than newspapers, machines, medicine, radio/phones did. It is as important as those. But there were democratic revolutions before those, and there are dictatorships and *growing* inequalities after those too. It is no deus ex machina.

        As for the gov. interference part, I disagree:
        – international link-ups still go through very few, and in the worst cases only gov-controlled, interconnects. Intra-national linkups also use rather few pipes: a handful mobile network operators, and handful of ISPs; and that traffic can be intercepted, diverted, tracked… at will.
        – “The internet knows everything and mobile take that knowledge everywhere”. Reciprocally, everything you do on The Internet is public knowledge (ie, gov. can track it, censor it, punish it, manipulate it), and when you’ve got a mobile, you can be tracked if not spied on 24/7.

        – encryption et al are not really answers, as long as it can be bypassed (what good is encryption if there’s a keylogger on your device), hacked, made illegal, or simply tracked and used to pinpoint troublemakers, and keys can be forced out of people with non-torture such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation.
        The rule of law, good laws, education, some social cohesiveness are way more important than having a mobile phone.

  2. Technology/internet reduced the cost of discovery of information and products and allows people to coordinate their activities more effectively. That means it has the potential to spread good ideas and good products much faster than was previously possible. So overall I think a broader spread of mobile phones will have a positive effect on the lives of many as it reduces transaction costs and friction.
    The printing press had a massive impact because it allowed information/knowledge to be spread and retained much more effectively. The internet is effectively a repeat of that and has a similar impact. For example, I have built/repaired all sorts of things around the house after a quick just-in-time Youtube video. Same thing at work, to understand my clients’ industries and can do some quick just-in-time learning and be much more effective than before. The next 2 billion smart phone owners will soon be able to do the same thing. The outcome will be both very exciting and unpredictable.

  3. Silly post.
    Like ‘tears in the rain’.

    The numbers of internet users or smartphone owners, sensors, wearables, self-driving cars (oh please) are developments that will be about as disruptive as the effect of a manic butterfly on the weather in Uzbekistan. Who will they disrupt?

    The only disruptors work talking or writing about, if your self-interested commercial interests did not get in the way of your integrity, your ‘Perspective • Insight • Analysis: are not robots but robotics, AI and process, logistics and decision-making or decision-support software.
    Why are these the only significant disruptors and hence factors which render your writings ‘silly’ imho?
    Because they portend the end of 99% or so of work opportunities in the mass-employment arenas.
    And in most professions except, pro tem, medicine, police and the ,military.
    You should know better than to become mesmerised by shiny sparkly things, when Rome is about to catch fire, to mix a metaphor or three.

    I mean, do you even know what a ‘lights-out’ factory is, as just one example?

    Not good.
    No wheat in your words Tim.
    All chaff Tim.
    You’ve been around a while I believe, Sir, and you really should know better.

    Perspective • Insight • Analysis

    Yeah, right.

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