Disruptive Technologies & Libraries

Continuing with the theme of technology, in 2013, McKinsey released a report on the 12 disruptive technologies that have the greatest potential to drive substantial economic impact and disruption by 2025.

Important technologies can come in any field or emerge from any scientific discipline, but they share four characteristics: high rate of technology change, broad potential scope of impact, large economic value that could be affected, and substantial potential for disruptive economic impact. Many technologies have the potential to meet these criteria eventually, but leaders need to focus on technologies with potential impact that is near enough at hand to be meaningfully anticipated and prepared for. Therefore, we focused on technologies that we believe have significant potential to drive economic impact and disruption by 2025. 

Here is the list of 12: 

And here is the projected impact:

Quite a few of the forecasted disruptive technologies will have a large impact on the way that people access information:
  • Automation of knowledge work: Intelligent software systems that can perform knowledge work tasks involving unstructured commands and subtle judgments
  • The Internet of Things: Networks of low-cost sensors and actuators for data collection, monitoring, decision making, and process optimization
  • Mobile Internet: Increasingly inexpensive and capable mobile computing devices and Internet connectivity
  • Cloud technology: Use of computer hardware and software resources delivered over a network or the Internet, often as a service
The report goes on to discuss other interesting observations and implications, and it is well worth the read. One thing that is specifically noted is that not all technologies live up to the hype.
    The link between hype and potential is not clear. Emerging technologies often receive a great deal of notice. News media know that the public is fascinated with gadgets and eager for information about how the future might unfold. The history of technology is littered with breathless stories of breakthroughs that never quite materialized. The hype machine can be equally misleading in what it chooses to ignore. As Exhibit E5 shows, with the exception of the mobile Internet, there is no clear relationship between the amount of talk a technology generates and its potential to create value.
    The lesson for leaders is to make sure that they and their advisers have the knowledge to make their own assessments based on a structured analysis involving multiple scenarios of technology advancement and potential impact. 

    And it's very important that policymakers do not make preemptive decisions in light of where technology stands now and where it is projected to go in the future. None of us know exactly where it will go or what it will mean, specifically for the future of libraries. In 2025, I suspect that we will be closer to our own personal Watson's but still very far from computers completing replacing humans in the knowledge-work sector. 


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