The physical world is colliding with the digital world.

 The questions for HR are 1 ) “Does  your organisation still have the physical world mindset?”  Even when their output exists largely in digital form (e.g. legal contracts) such organisations still think of their world in very tangible terms and tend to view progress in incremental ways, typically seeing technology as an enabler. 2) “Has it adopted a digital world mindset?” where it’s expected that applications of science and new technologies are the way to develop solutions to existing problems, and to capitalising on emerging opportunities.

The Possibility Explosion

We are seeing a “possibility explosion” from science and technology developments. And the potential of the combinational impact of technologies being developed in tandem, e.g. artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. With the help of a future-oriented HR team, organisations need to consider how they will adapt. Famously Kodak and Blockbuster failed to adapt.  Airbnb and Uber are examples of companies embracing technology and new business models and demonstrating new possibilities.

HR needs to get to grips with the coming technology, both to play its role in the big picture organisational mindset development, and also more tactically, for example, using virtual reality in training.

Here are examples which demonstrate the exponential possibilities that are on the horizon

  • Augmented and virtual reality will play increasingly significant roles as we seek ever more immersive experiences. A growing range of devices, surfaces, and appliances will be connected –Estimates vary widely, but within ten years there could be between 200 billion and a trillion devices and objects connected to the internet, all capable of exchanging information and providing different sorts of functionality and experiences and allowing us to share information in new ways.
  • Brain–computer interface (BCI) is a direct communication pathway between an enhanced or wired brain and an external device. A BCI is often directed at researching, mapping, assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions, but their application could also extend to “mind control” of objects and devices.
  • Autonomous vehicles – A number of experiments are taking place on public roads across the world, and while cars have been the focus of much media attention, delivery vehicles, lorries, buses, trains, ships, and planes are all subject to developments in autonomous / driverless technology.
  • Wearables and Implants or near body devices are coming into play. Many are currently being used for health and sports performance monitoring but increasingly we see wearable technology for other uses; e.g. conductive fibres woven into fabric that provide processing capacity for wearable devices.
  • 3D printing provides the opportunity to distribute production to where it’s needed and at significantly reduced costs.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is arguably the big game changer and becoming more common place. We already see narrow AI in use in internet searches, customer targeting applications, and in predictive analytics. Increasingly devices will learn more about us, help to provide decision support to us and take on more of our tasks. We are automating a lot more of human social and workplace activity and that is set to continue at an accelerated rate.


The Future of Business

At Fast Future, we have identified six high value industry clusters that we expect to be radically impacted or enabled by exponential and combinatorial technology developments. Indeed, each underlying sector within each cluster is expected to worth US$1Tn or more by 2025:

  • Information and communications technologies (including, AI, robotics and blockchain)
  • Production and construction systems (From 3D/4D printing and synthetic biology to rapid, green and sustainable construction approaches)
  • Citizen services and domestic infrastructure (from health and elder care to smart vehicles and new education approaches)
  • New societal infrastructure and services (encompassing intelligent transport, the sharing economy and smart cities)
  • Industry transformation (the modernisations of sectors such as financial services, accounting and legal)
  • Energy and environment (from renewables and fracking to environmental protection and repair).


In summary

Technological advances will have an impact across society and all business sectors, fundamentally changing many.

With HR as a guide, organisations that can develop the appropriate mindset and apply the notion of exponentiality could develop thriving business propositions and achieve dramatic growth.  Taking no action is likely to lead to more bankrupt Blockbusters.


Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking  could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and ensure a very human future.