Thursday, 6 December 2012

Effects of mobile on the economy

A few months ago I prepared an abstract for a paper on the effects of mobile technology on the economy. Since the requirement for the full paper has gone away, I thought I'd share as this summarises several previous posts I've done on the subject. Hope it's useful!


Mobile is often referred to as revolutionary.  I agree, but not, perhaps for the reasons most regularly cited. 

I’m not down on mobile technology. Smart devices have enabled greater scale and scope of communications between individuals, greater consumption of content, greater variety in that content.

Five years ago, applications were the preserve of suits with laptops. Now they are a mega-industry in the making. A new media untarnished by the false dawn of the dotcom era. Androids are cool for the first time since Star Wars.
Mobile has enabled all of this and still found time to revolutionise banking in Africa, catalyse the growth of the largest company in history and overthrow half a dozen regimes. Not bad for thirty years work.

Yet the largest effects of mobile are still to come. In proliferating to the degree they have, mobile devices have fundamentally altered the economics of technology. Low power, high performance computing is now a billion unit a year industry. Digital cameras: a billion unit industry. High resolution screens: you get the idea.

This is why you can buy a tablet computer for $40 on a market in Shenzhen; why it’ll soon be possible to wear your screen on your spectacles, rather than hold it in your hand; why robots have gone from something found in factories and fiction to commodity items that roll around conference suites and hospitals.

All of these applications grow the market for processing, imaging, sensing and communications technology. So those technologies get faster and cheaper still and devices using them proliferate ever-faster. The amount of data generated and consumed by these devices will be many orders of magnitude greater than today’s Internet. Managing it in the way we manage data today will be essentially impossible.

What seems likely to change in lock step is the nature of human consumption and manipulation of data. Rather than today’s more-or-less linear consideration of information, the consumer and worker of the near future will be a fast twitch being, flitting between layers of content that inform, enable and entertain, all empowered by an equally diverse ecosystem of connectivity and service.

Fast twitch responses and instant, infinite information provision will further increase productivity, a boon as decreasing technology costs and increasing capability make automation ever more possible. Supply chains will fragment, yet become markedly more efficient as advanced manufacture processes and simple localised supply and demand matching platforms supersede manually enabled super-scale global ones.

The threshold at which human beings are required to participate in business processes will rise and rise fast; however this is unlikely to lead to more free time. Instead, white collar workers will be required to compete harder to derive insight from a flood of data. Efficient software agents, matched to machine vision and voice-controlled interfaces will go some way to empowering this process, but the demands on the human brain will be greater than at any time in our history.

All of this machine enablement should fuel the most rapid growth in global GDP in human history. But we shouldn’t be complacent. Growth is not merely a function of MIPS, terabits and megapixels. Legislation and regulation must loosen or tighten appropriately to avoid stifling progress; education in particular must evolve to become more relevant to a society in which experiences are customisable and fit for purpose. It is these basics that must be correct if we are to build a digital dividend, rather than a digital divide.

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