When Things Become Democratized
Table of Contents:
When something becomes available to the average person, we say it has become democratized. Throughout history, technology and knowledge once accessible only to the elite in society has become available to the masses. Every time it happens, mass adoption of new technology brings about cultural, social, political, and legal changes. We are now entering the "cognitive systems era" in which access to cognitive systems technology will change everything!
The term cognitive systems, refers to technology making it possible for artificial constructs (computers, robots, and software) to perform high-level cognitive processing normally attributed to human thinking. This is not to say these cognitive systems are artificially intelligent. Some cognitive systems may be classified as being artificially intelligent but other cognitive systems are not intelligent, they just perform some cognitive processing at or above the human level.
We foresee a future, not too many years away, in which millions, even billions, of humans routinely work with and collaborate with cognitive systems technology on a daily basis. When they do, average humans will be able to perform at the level of a human expert in a particular domain of discourse—something we call synthetic expertise.
The mass adoption of cognitive systems and synthetic expertise will lead to changes all throughout our society culture. Recent decades have seen the adoption of personal computer technology change everything. Over the next few decades we predict the adoption of cognitive systems technology to change things just as much or more.
2 Democratization of Expertise
Adoption of Technology
The word democratization in this context does not refer to a political form of government or a type of voting. Rather, democratization refers to when a technology has become available to, and used by, the majority of the population (Friedman, 1999). Adoption of new technology takes some time. Everett Rogers described technology adoption in his book Diffusions of Innovations. The originators of the technology, the innovators, constitute the first users of a new technology but represent only a small portion (2.5% or 1 in 40) of the eventual market. The early adopters, those eager to use new technology, represent about 13.5% of the market. Early adopters await the announcement of a new technology and adopt it quickly even before the new technology is proven. Together, the earliest group of users represent about 16% or 1 in 6 of the market (Rogers, 2003).
Most people do not jump on new technology right away but instead come along at a later time. Being more cautious, the early majority users (34% or 1 in 3) learn about a new technology after it has gained some following and received positive feedback from the early adopters. By the time the early majority arrives about 50% of the eventual market has adopted the new technology and we say the technology has gone mainstream. Once a technology goes mainstream, the other half of the market learns about it and becomes convinced to adopt it.
The late majority users represent another third of the market. Once the late majority arrives, some 84% of the market has adopted the technology and we say the technology has become dominant representing the peak usage of the technology. After the peak has been reached, late adopters called laggards, will come to use the technology for the first time, but mainstream users will be falling away in favor of the next new technology. The adoption cycle is depicted in Fig. 1-1 (Gartner, 2019).
Fig. 1-1: Adoption of technology (following Rogers).
The amount of time required for a product or service to achieve dominance varies. Also, the length of time a product or service remains in a dominant position varies. However, there are rarely "overnight successes." In technology it typically takes a generation (20-25 years) for items in research and development labs to become mainstream products and services.
Eventually, users fall away as they move to the next generation of the product or a different product altogether. Joseph Schumpeter called this creative destruction. New creations take over making the old obsolete (Schumpeter, 1942). Generally, this can happen in two ways. Clayton Christensen describes sustaining innovations as incremental or evolutionary improvements to a product or service (Christensen, 1997). An example of these kinds of improvements are this year's model of smartphone. The new model has improved features but is not radically different from the previous model.
Christensen identifies disruptive innovations as those bringing about new consumer behavior, displacing existing markets, and creating new markets altogether. When the iPhone was released in 2007, it fundamentally changed the mobile, handheld communication industry. Previously, mobile phones had been more business-oriented but Apple's iPhone platform allowed developers to quickly deploy new applications allowing the iPhone to become a mass-market device for personal use. The social media, photography, and online shopping revolutions the iPhone kicked off are still in progress.
Today, we are quite used to and comfortable with technological change. In fact, we expect technology improvements every year. Peter Drucker discusses continual improvement as a response to opportunities in a market (Drucker, 2006). Producers recognize the needs and desires of consumers and respond by offering new and better products and service to meet those needs.
The central theme of this book is cognitive systems technology bringing forth many disruptive changes to how we live, work, and play. The technologies leading to the cognitive systems era have been in development for many years so we are well in to the research and development era of the technology. We foresee the cognitive systems mass-market adoption happening over the next decade.
We get an idea of what is about to happen by looking back at some historical revolutions brought about by mass-market adoption of new technology. Note the importance of getting a new technology to the point where millions, if not billions, use it. Mass-market adoption is key to culture-altering innovations.
The Printing Press
Until computers and the Internet came along, the printing press was the most influential information technology ever invented by humans (Eisenstein, 1983). Movable type was invented in China over two thousand years ago and was used in numerous civilizations. However, it wasn't until the 1400s when improvements by Johannes Gutenberg brought the printing press to the masses.
Gutenberg's hand-held mold made it possible for practitioners to quickly cast sets of type—formerly a very time-consuming task requiring specialized skill. In addition, Gutenberg used an oil-based ink better suited for printing on the paper in use at the time. Finally, Gutenberg's changes to the press itself made it easier and cheaper to quickly print multiple copies.
Printing had formerly been the purview of skilled craftsmen with each copy requiring significant time, effort, and special skill. In Europe at the time, copies were made by manually scribing the copy (manuscript) or block printing involving the carving of an entire page, one page at a time. Gutenberg's printing press made it possible for others to enter the printing industry. Becoming available at the beginning of the Renaissance, the printing press spread quickly through Italy and then through the rest of Europe and ultimately the entire Western world displacing manuscript and block printing. Never before had it been possible for a person to quickly and efficiently communicate to thousands, or tens of thousands, of people across great geographic distances. The era of mass communication had begun and changed everything. Societal, cultural, political, and religious revolutions followed.
An example of the effect of the printing press is the Reformation. In the 1500s, Martin Luther and others protested the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation led to a revolution in religion, politics, and culture still reverberating throughout the world today. The Reformation would not have been possible without the ability to communicate across Europe via printed publications.
Another example of the transformative power of the printing press is education and access to knowledge. Before the printing press, knowledge largely remained within local communities. The ability to capture knowledge into books and spread that knowledge across vast distances transformed culture and fueled the Renaissance. For the first time, scholars could pass their knowledge on to other scholars who could build on ideas. Printing also made expert knowledge available to the average person. This both necessitated and also facilitated education of the masses. Whereas previously, education was available only to the elite in society, now everyone can be educated.
The printing press brought about the first democratization of information and knowledge. Not until the Internet has any other piece of new technology affected the lives of average people more than the printing press.
The modern world has become dependent on electricity. People expect electricity to always be available and when it is not, due to a storm or other temporary outage, peoples' lives come to a halt. Yet just a little over a century ago, electricity was far from a guarantee. The electrification of the developed world has changed everything.
The principles of electromagnetic generation were discovered by Michael Faraday in the 1830s but it was not until the late 1800s when central power stations were built and electricity distributed to commercial customers. Household electrification in the United States and Europe began in the early 1900s and took another thirty years to reach 70% (moving past the "dominant" threshold of technological adoption). Even though it took a century, the democratization of electricity changed nearly everything about society and culture. The key was the building of the infrastructure to deliver electrical power to average people's homes.
Many people mistakenly believe Henry Ford invented the automobile. However, Ford made it possible for the masses to afford an automobile and that changed everything. Karl Benz invented the modern motorized vehicle in 1885 but it took another 23 years for Ford's Model T to become available at a price average people could afford. Until then, motoring was an expensive hobby only the rich could engage in. Designing the Model T to be easy and cheap to build using the assembly line concept allowed the mass production of cars and lowered the cost of each car. As a result, millions bought their first cars within only a few years of time.
Over the next thirty years following the introduction of the Model T, the automobile industry was created, the automobile went mainstream, and cultural/societal changes followed. Mass use of automobiles enabled people to move away from city centers creating the urban landscape. After an interruption because of World War II, Americans in the 1950s found themselves with both leisure time and money. Using their automobiles, the vacation industry was created.
Automobiles and the burgeoning national highway system enabled people to travel anywhere within the country. Although the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s brought the first wave to California and the west coast of the United States, the automobile brought millions in the 1950s and 1960s to California and the entire west coast. As a result, the landscape of the United States changed forever. American culture changed also and at least two generations grew up identifying with the automobile. Today, the automobile, like electricity, is assumed and expected.
Radio and Television
Although radio technology was invented in the 1880s and 1890s based on discoveries decades earlier, it was not until fifty years later, in the 1930s, radio became a mass-market success. Television followed a similar path taking several decades to go from basic scientific discovery to commercial success after World War II.
However, radio and television for the first time gave humanity the ability to converse in real time visually and audibly with millions of people. Previously, people received news and other information via printed newspapers, magazines, and books. The only audio-visual form of receiving news were the newsreels in movie theaters. Radio and television transformed the way people learned things from other parts of the world. Radio and television also transformed entertainment with books, live theater, movies, magazines, and records being the primary entertainment channels previously. As motion pictures had given rise to the motion picture star, radio and television created radio stars and television stars.
Radio and television intimately connected humans in ways print material could never do however the type of connection was one-way only. Consumers of content could not communicate in real time back with the producers of the content nor could consumers interact with the content. That changed in the computer/Internet revolution discussed next.
Personal Computers, the Internet, and Social Media
Advances in microelectronics and computers combined to form the personal computer market in the 1970s. Computers were invented in the 1940s and 1950s and continued to evolve throughout the 1960s as large, expensive tools for companies and government organizations. The invention of the microprocessor brought computers down in size and cost. These hardware improvements along with advancements in software resulted in the democratization of computers and information processing.
In the early days of computing, computers were owned and operated by only the largest companies and government agencies. Computers were accessible only to those with special knowledge and training. Desktop and personal computers running easy-to-use software brought the computer to the masses and has changed everything. We have now all become information workers and knowledge workers.
The Internet, the interconnection allowing bi-directional flow of data between computing devices, was invented in the late 1960s but reached mass-market significance in the 1990s only after being combined with the personal/desktop computer. However, one more advancement was needed to allow the average person to create content for the Internet. World Wide Web technologies democratized the Internet and allow billions of people to not only access the Internet but also create content for other people via the Internet.
Today, the biggest entities on the Internet including Google, Wikipedia, eBay, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are based on user-generated content (UGC). In the past, newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie studios, radio stations, and television networks created the content and distributed it to the consumer. Today, we are squarely in the social media era in which the average person creates news and entertainment content. This UGC is distributed to billions of other average people via the Internet and consumed by them through their handheld computer devices (smartphones), tablets, and laptop computers.
The Nature of Revolutions
The democratization of the computer, the Internet, and content generation through the computer age, the information age, and the social media age has changed everything about how we live, work, and play. Radio, television, electricity, the automobile, and the printing press caused similar disruptions to how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. These new technologies caused revolutions in how we think, what we value, and even what we believe.
The first thing to note about these kinds of revolutions is although it sometimes seems as if new technology springs out of nowhere, technological-fueled revolutions are actually the confluence of technology in a number of fields each with its own long history of progress and advancement. The printing press combined wine presses, ink, and moveable type all of which were in existence for a millennium before the invention of the printing press that changed everything. Ford's automobile combined industrial assembly-line manufacturing and gas- powered personal transportation devices both of which already existed. The social media age we are in now is the confluence of the computer, software, and microelectronics industries each having their own decades- long evolutionary trajectories.
The second thing to note about technological revolutions is it usually takes several decades for the individual components of the revolution to develop to a point where their convergence creates something revolutionary. Ford's automobile took on the order of 30 years after Benz's invention to reach market dominance and change culture and society. Personal and desktop computers reached market dominance 40 years after the invention of the computer. It took an additional 25-30 years for the social media era to evolve from the computer age.
The Cognitive Systems Revolution
We take note of the existing technological revolutions discussed in this chapter because we are at the beginning of a new technological revolution—the cognitive systems era. The remainder of this book discusses cognitive systems and the coming era in detail. Like other technological revolutions, cognitive systems are a confluence of several technologies including: artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, big data, the Internet of Things, the Internet, cloud-based services and data, handheld devices, natural language interfaces, and open-source artificial intelligence.
Each of these technologies have a long history of evolution going back several decades. Individually, they can lead to significant goods, products, and services. However, together, they form a technological revolution promising to once again change everything about how we live, work, and play.