Stashed in the middle of a 2018 predictions report from the industry group CompTIA is an entry that provides a ton of perspective, not just for the computer industry but for many thousands of organizations that acquire and implement technology, and even those of us who buy and use tech and data as individuals.
In CompTIA's IT Industry Outlook 2018, which highlighted a dozen tech trends for the year, the organization included: "Growing up: Tech may no longer automatically be given the benefit of the doubt."
For decades the industry mantra often has amounted to three little words: better, faster, cheaper. (Substitute "smarter" for "better" if you so choose.)
Of course that mantra applied to chip companies, guided by Moore's Law, and the computer manufacturers who implement those chips, as well as the software and networking firms that have taken advantage of faster, smarter silicon products to give us greater access to knowledge in our daily lives and across the globe. All of this is presented as something miraculous in the overused statement along the lines of "I have more computing power in my pocket … blah, blah, blah."
We do love our boom times in tech. Today, we have access everywhere. The Web and the massive databases it reaches satisfy our information needs in seconds, whether we are solving a business problem or looking for a bit of entertainment. Tech changes the way we work and generates business, reshaping established companies and spawning thousands of new tech companies. We see opportunity in analytics, AI, IoT, 5G, cloud, and software-defined everything.
The funny thing about boom times, though, is that there is always a downside. For every millionaire who emerged from the gold rush there were hundreds of broken dreams. The age of the automobile gave us mobility and business opportunities, but we have paid a price for the freedom of the road through environmental challenges and more than 30,000 highway deaths in the US each year.
Along those lines, CompTIA shared a cautionary note. In expanding on its "Growing up" observation, it highlighted the industry achievements of the past 20 years but said:
"However, signs point to changing expectations and a different environment unfolding. Questions surrounding security, privacy, and screen time continue to intensify. Concerns over market concentration and the power imbalances of gatekeepers loom. Reports of toxic corporate cultures and a lack of inclusiveness in certain quarters of the industry bring much needed attention to structural problems.
"Further advances in artificial intelligence and automation will likely ratchet up the level of scrutiny of their impact on work and society. To be clear, technology will continue to overwhelmingly be viewed as a force for good, but the industry will need to spend more time looking at itself in the mirror to ensure this sentiment continues."
Our race to adopt every bit of technology regardless of need, and to embrace every byte of data without questioning its accuracy come with the same dark side as any other boom. We need to find a balance, something that tells us when to tap the brakes and when to step on the gas.
As InformationWeek blogger James Kobielus of Wikibon wrote last week in Make AI Safe for Civilized Society, there still is growing concern about the impact that AI and automation will have on a workforce.
Yes, jobs will be created. Yes, jobs will be lost, but which jobs should be lost? I find it ironic that I hear people talk about how much they hate their job, and then about how they fear they will lose that job. Don't wait to lose that job, carve a path to a new job, now. For those who don't hate their jobs, let's hope they can retool for those jobs that are created.
As CompTIA notes, we can see the dark side of technology every day. Companies misuse or fail to protect data from hackers. Bad data leads to bad decisions. Then, consider our personal lives. Walk into almost any restaurant and see couples on "date night." No talking, just two people looking at their screens. I wonder if some people spend more time talking to Alexa than they do to other humans. "Balance" is about spending an hour without tech. It also means questioning tech decisions.
Balance also is about applying the right technology solution to the right problem or opportunity. The saw about "technology for technology's sake" rings true when you see data scientists working on a corporate island soaking up data that holds no relevance to the business. It surfaces when executives say, "We need the IoT," when they have no clue as to why they need it or what IoT really is.
The vast majority of technology adoption is for the better, but we still need to ask a few simple questions along the way. Does everyone need it? In fact, does anyone need it? Are we talking about a need, or just a want? Is it better, or just cheaper and smaller? What data will it involve? How do we protect that data? How does it change the business or our lives, for good or not so good? How do we do it right?
Back in 1911, NCR's (later IBM's) Thomas J. Watson promoted the simplest of mottos: Think. Sometimes in our rush to adopt tech we just might forget to think.