What It Is and How It Shapes Our World
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we live, work, and communicate. But some technologies are more than just incremental improvements. They are disruptive, meaning they create new markets, transform existing ones, and challenge the status quo.
What is disruptive technology?
Disruptive technology is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in his 1997 book The Innovators Dilemma. He defined it as a technology that offers a new key benefits or value proposition to customers, often at a lower cost or with greater convenience, and eventually displaces the dominant players in an industry.
Disruptive technology is not necessarily better than the existing technology in every aspect. It may have lower performance or quality at first but appeals to a niche market that is underserved or overlooked by the incumbents. Over time, as the disruptive technology improves and gains more adoption, it becomes a serious threat to the established players and may even replace them.
The Internet is disruptive technology
One of the best examples of disruptive technology is the Internet. The Internet started as a network of computers for academic and military purposes, but it soon expanded to offer a new way of accessing and sharing information, communication, and entertainment. The Internet disrupted these industries in profound ways, by enabling new ways to do business, new platforms, and innovative services. For example, local independent bookstores were first threatened by giant book retailers who bought wholesale and then sold their books more cheaply by having a store in every mall. Then a young stock market analyst saw that this innovation called the Internet could sell books from every personal computer in the land — another disruptive technology—without building brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon.com was born.
Another example of disruptive technology is the smart phone. The smart phone combined the functions of a phone, a camera, a music player, a GPS device, and a computer into one portable device. It also enabled the development of mobile applications that offer various functions and features. The smartphone disrupted the markets for all these devices and others, as well as the industries that relied on them.
Impacts of disruptive technology
Disruptive technology can have positive and negative impacts on society, the economy, and the environment. On one hand, disruptive technology can create new opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship, and social change. It can also improve the quality of life, productivity, and the efficiency of individuals and organizations. On the other hand, disruptive technology can also create challenges for regulation, ethics, and security. New technology may also cause unemployment, inequality, and environmental degradation. We already are seeing reports of people like contract copywriters losing clients to chatbots. IBM just announced that is was pausing hiring while re-aligning its workforce.
Disruptive technology can also have unpredictable and unintended consequences that are hard to foresee or control. For example, the Internet has enabled the spread of misinformation, cyber-attacks and online harassment. The smartphone has contributed to the issues of app addiction, distraction, and privacy invasion. One noted writer has his admin erase all his fun apps from his smartphone until he finishes a major project. Then he gets to put them back on.
Generative artificial intelligence: an emerging example of disruptive technology
One of the emerging examples of disruptive technology is generative artificial intelligence (AI). Generative AI is the branch of AI that can create new content or data that is not based on existing inputs, but rather on learned patterns or rules. For example, generative AI can produce images, text, music, or code that are original and realistic.
Generative AI has many potential applications and implications for various domains, such as art, entertainment, education, and research. It can also enable novel forms of creativity and expression. However, generative AI also poses many challenges and risks for authenticity, quality, and ethics. For example, generative AI can create deep fakes or misleading content that can deceive or manipulate people.
All things considered, disruptive technology is a powerful force that can shape our world in profound ways. It can bring benefits and challenges for individuals and society as a whole. Disruptive technology also creates uncertainty and complexity for the future.
We need to take the time to understand new, potentially disruptive technologies and what impacts they may have. We must learn about the “dangerous opportunities” now emerging and interconnecting. The relationship between smartphones, GPS, and the internet helps us find our way across an unfamiliar city or allow an unscrupulous government agency to invade our privacy. We must prepare to adapt and respond accordingly.
As Alan Watts said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”