Three Things that Driverless Cars Teach Us about the Future

Believe it or not, the roots of driverless cars harken back to the 1920s. Still, up until two years ago, you just didn’t see too many stories on the subject. Don’t believe me, though. Let’s ask Google:

driverless cars google2

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that companies have made considerable progress in this field over the last five years. Because significant impediments remain, however, don’t expect to see them on the road in the next year or two. Whether they reach critical mass in 2017 or 2027, it’s particularly instructive to look at autonomous vehicles for one simple reason: they serve as a sort of technology bellwether.

Things Happen Faster than Ever

Two years ago, virtually no one heard of Uber. Now, its valuation is a gaudy $50 billion. When did that happen?

New tchotchkes enter the zeitgeist faster than ever. Celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the Web, The Economist examined how we are adopting new technologies faster than ever. From the piece:

It took only seven years from the first web pages in 1991 for the web to be used by a quarter of the American population. That compares with 46 years for electricity, 35 years for the phone and 26 years for television. The web, just 25 years old, is still at the start of its life.

Or, visually speaking:

All signs point to this trend continuing, if not intensifying.

Competition Comes from Unexpected Places

Let’s say that you were in a coma for the last fifteen years and awoke today. You learned that the driverless car was becoming a reality. You would naturally think that a company such as GM would be spearheading that effort. To be fair, the iconic American company that has produced the Buick, Cadillac, and Chevy is making strides here. But Google? Isn’t that a search engine? What does it know about the auto business?

Amazon isn’t just a book store; it is now the largest player in the cloud computing business. Sears—yes, Sears!—has launched a Big Data consulting business. I could pepper you all day with examples.

Every Company Is Becoming a Tech Company

Tech is becoming table stakes these days. Companies that fail to embrace the most current technology run the risk of irrelevance or obsolescence. The most progressive organizations are either

  • Building their own tech
  • Buying it via acquisition
  • Forging innovative partnerships with companies that bring expertise to the table

To be sure, the partnerships, deals, and directions vary. Less uncertain, though, is the cardinal importance of technology and data. Foolish is the soul who minimizes each.

Simon Says

Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Truer words have never been spoken. The business world is rife with uncertainty and rapid change. More than ever, the long term has never been shorter.

The question isn’t whether change will happen. The question is how your organization will respond when it arrives?

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Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received. He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, Quartz, The New York Times, Fox News, and many other sites. Stalk him on Twitter (@philsimon) and toss in a Breaking Bad reference.

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