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Six industries that will be hit by digital revolution

September 5, 2012

Some people in the music industry still wonder what happened when an established and profitable business model was torn to pieces in a few years. Well, soon a lot more people in several other industries will ask themselves the same thing.

I just outlined six industries that will be hit in the next future in an article in Next Magasin, and I will come to them in a moment. First just let’s have a look on the driving force – the digital revolution.

Often I talk to people who look upon internet as something that has arrived and is more or less settled. Online banking and shopping, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, news, and entertainment. All within a search query.

If you agree you might be interested to read on. Because what’s important to understand is that this is just the beginning.

The music industry was not a unique case. It just happened to be first for a number of reasons, one of them being that the content was so easily digitalized. Which meant it could be copied and then distributed and shared at no margin cost.

That’s the first driving factor of the digital revolution. And it applies to anything that might be digitalized, which is more than many believe. Some think that even objects should sooner or later be considered as digital information, i.e. the information which is needed to produce them with future advanced developments of 3d printers.

Biology is getting digitalized as we can scan the dna code faster and faster at rapidly decreasing cost. Some people even think that the human mind can be digitalized and thus possible to copy, distribute and share at no cost.

But there are more fundamental forces driving the digital revolution:

  1. Once something is digitalized it can be copied, distributed and shared at almost no cost (I said that).
  2. The internet is a massive distribution machine where you reach the world by pressing a key.
  3. Internet is the perfect tool for sharing.
  4. Internet gives unprecedent possibilities for networking between people with shared interests.
  5. Distribution, sharing and networking makes internet a new tool for production, making possible a new model for global activities besides big corporations and state financed production – work performed by large groups with a shared interest, e.g. Wikipedia – a model that was once useful only locally between friends at a small scale.
  6. Internet is also a mixer. Digitalized content can be mixed in ways that was hardly possible before, like sharing the music you’re listening to in real time on Facebook.
  7. Artificial Intelligence – probably the tool that has the greatest potential to bring revolution to many industries.

These are the forces, and I have identified six industries that are already obviously being hit by them, or that will be soon. I’ll give you the short version, as I could go on for hours about this.

1. Media

Already hit. Content is easily digitalized, and if someone believes that printed media made a mistake to make everything free on the internet I’d say that there was never a choice. Sharing is too easy, and there will always be someone offering content for free.

What might be changing the situation is the introduction of tablets, mainly because of the importance of packaging – both of the product in itself which is slim, elegant and easy to use for the masses, and of the contant which might be served in an attractive way which people seem to be willing to pay for, and at the same time ads might be elegantly integrated. A kind of new/old business model might be arriving.

But of course there’s a huge amount of experimenting to be done, and lots of new models might arrive.

For the tv industry everything is much less certain yet. The packaging and the user interface will change. And the highly fragmented market we see now will be consolidated. Users will win, with more choices, lower price and easier consumption.

2. Education

Education is changing extremely rapidly right now.

Web based initiatives such as Udacity, Coursera, Edx and Knewton at university level and Khan Academy at K12 (ground school and high school) are having huge success. They’re prooving that lectures can be digitalized and copied like music, and that every student in the world can have access to the best institutions in the world.

It’s not just about video recordings of lectures – it’s a lot more advanced, with exercises, team work, forums and more. And this is just the beginning.

One interesting question is where academic research will be done in the future, if universities are hit by consolidation and rapidly shrinking numbers of students.

3. Health care

Even here the changes are huge. Through artificial intelligence, such as IBM’s Watson (that won Jeopardy over humans) which is already being trained for this, doctors will have assistance in natural language, in dialogue with with the patient, to find evidence based diagnognosis and treatment.

In this way, qualified diagnosis might be offered almost for free to many people in the world.

It could be performed by a personal diagnosis device, such as the one being the goal of the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, with a 10 milion award to the team that can diagnose 15 illnesses with 30 consumers within three days with such a device.

Health condition could be monitored in real time with sensors integrated in a ring such as the one being developed by Swedish Sense M.

Add tele medecine and the general accelerated progress within medecine to this and you can see how less resources need to be dedicated to treat a lot more patients than today, which is necessary in order to offer qualified health care to everyone in the world.

4. Transportation.

Here the key development concerns autonomous cars. They have already reached much farther then you might think. Google’s cars have traveled over 300,000 kilometers. Increased safety and efficency are huge driving forces.

Sensors monitoring traffic effectively, and systems such as those already integrated in navigators giving real time traffic information, will make new ways of handling logistics possible. Coordination of independent vehicles could be offered virtually, competing with traditional logistic companies.

5. Finance and trading

Automated trading is a fact  and it will not be less important in the future. What’s interesting though is that when it all comes down to a war on nanoseconds, innovative models describing the market place and real business activities will be critical.

For this reason the finance sector is now looking for mathematicians, programmers and engineers. And what’s even more interesting is that consumers are being offered access to the most powerful computerized trading platforms online, where they can try out new innovative ideas on how to model the reality.

Another interesting aspect is the one offered by the Swedish American start-up Recorded Future, indexing information on the internet just like Google but not from a key word perspective but instead from a time perspective.

Analyzing this information Recorded Future can even gain knowledge about the future, which is in turn fed into trading models that have until now been based exclusively on historical information.

6. Law

Law is actually one of the sectors which was first believed to be possible to handle by computers, even before the internet.

Many aspects of the devlopment today are covered by Richard Susskind in his book The End of Lawyers? from 2008. The take away is that many law form believe and act as if what they offer is tailor made, when in reality it is routine work that is easily automated with an amount of artificial intelligence.

Early examples are services such as Online Dispute Resolution.

In the years to come many law services might be offered at a very low price or even for free to people all over the world, many of which will have the possibility to stand up for their rights for the first time.

Susskind’s message is that lawyers will have no future if they don’t understand this change and find new opportunities. New tasks can be to assist in assessing how technology might be used in society, e.g. for security and public safety, without threatening personal integrity.

These are six sectors  which I believe will be hit first, but of course there are several others being strongly influenced by digital technology and the internet. And in the end no sector will go free.

What is even more important is that a large number of new businesses will be born in the cross section of all these sectors, as they become easy to mix when they are digitalized. These opportunities are largely unexplored yet, and are limited only by how far our ideas can reach.

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6 Comments
  1. Karl-Henrik permalink

    A comment on autonomous cars.

    A) The car radar/camera/other sensor system can detect a walking person and estimate his walking speed and diretion.

    B) An alert driver can se if the person is drunk or mentally retarded and take precaustions.

    C) In the future in our total surveillance society the car systems can easiy identify the person as John Smith and knows that he 30 minutes befor paid for beer in a pub with his credit card. The car also has the informaton that John went to his doctor last week and got a renewed medicine prescription for his nerves. Wth this information the car slows down.

  2. Karl-Henrik Malmqvist permalink

    I don´t think at all we need to go back to the stone age, the 1940 ies is enough. The problem is that new technology has a bulit in volnerability that is bigger than ever before. It is therefor essential to take that into consideration when developing new technology. I think the volnerability aspect is as imortant as the benefits. What I am interested in is new technology with built in failproof and back up systems, that is intelligent technology! If LENR works as advertised it is a super technology to use for off-the-grid power!
    When the bird “Eloff” flied into a transfomer station 1997 50000 swedish households went out of power. It took one factory three weeks to start up production. The bird survived. http://wwwc.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/9804/13/telegram/inrikes10.html

  3. Mats Lewan permalink

    Thanks for the suggestion.
    It’s always good to have back-up technology. However, I believe the issue is part of our human life ever since we started inventing things. It’s just getting more evident.
    When our technology fails we will always be in trouble. On the other hand we basically need to go back to the stone age not to have that vulnerability. Without technology we would be able to feed few people on Earth, and in miserable conditions. Being vulnerable is part of what we get.
    Even the human body is vulnerable. If your heart fails you die. That’s not a reason for not having a heart. Having life is more important than being 100 percent fail-safe.

  4. Karl-Henrik Malmqvist permalink

    One interesting thing is how this new technology will increase the vulnerability
    of our society. E g if a large area will be hit by a “Sun storm” (EMC fields) the power grid will fail due to high voltage in the transformer stations. Emergency diesel gensets will start but will soon stop due to lack of diesel. There will be a catch 22, the diesel pumps will not work due to failure of the power grid and no diesel can then be distributed to the gensets. It will also be very difficult to mend the powerstations because all manuals are on line and can not be reached. The spare parts are not enough in quantity and are difficult to get. No new spare parts can be manufactured du to lack of power. No telecommunications will work, infrastructure water and sewage is down. Food supply is down. There will be a big sale in the supermarket of the content in the nonworking freezers, but ill will be dark in the store and only a few people can pay with cash. The stoves and the heating will not work in the homes, you have to camp in your own living room.
    Due to lack of telecommunication and information you don´t know how big area is affected and even if you could drive away by car you don´t know in what direction.

    I think this scenario would be very interesting to elaborate with in a coming issue of Next. A listing of low tech that will work would also be disireable.

  5. Mats Lewan permalink

    Hi Bob,
    This is an important issue. And probably it will create social tension, but I believe also that we should see it as an opportunity.
    If technology continues to increase effectiveness in using resources, we should be directed towards less scarcity and better conditions for everyone, no matter how many traditional jobs are lost. But that’s of course a huge challenge which require big social efforts and innovative ways to look upon jobs and distribution of wellness.

  6. BobN permalink

    There are great and wonderful things in store from the digital revolution, but with all the new capability it will be serving a shrinking class of people. Technology is not only improving productivity it is flat out eliminating jobs faster than society can deal with it. Every country is looking around for the ajic answer, how do I employ my people, all the while technology churns away eliminating jobs. The digital revolution is also causing a social revolution. How it shakes out, who knows.

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