Change is inevitable. With our tech giants’ relentless approach to research and development, any one of them seems poised to introduce the world to the next big thing. However, there is something about the use of that phrase that should be taken with caution.
The “next big thing” is thrown about so often that the meaning of the phrase has become a little diluted. If we look back on history, the innovations that propelled the human race forward were established in times of need. If we look to the future, we envisage a world comparable to science-fiction fame. Would flying cars change the world? Certainly, but is there a high demand for them? Not really, or at least not at this moment in time.
There is one thing that our tech giants have in common – they are all trying to find ‘the next big thing’. However, innovation should never be the aim. The best inventions often come as a response to practical problems or through discovery. Let’s take an innovation from 1994 that we have seen more frequently during the rise of the smartphone – QR Codes.
Initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, Quick Response Codes are a type of matrix barcode that can hold a significant amount of data. By using a third-party app on a smartphone, the user can scan the code using the phone’s camera to get more information. It’s quite an innovative way of marketing a wealth of product information with just one quick scan. But how many of us have ever scanned one? Why do we know so very little about them?
Sure, they might be innovative, but the problem is that there simply isn’t a demand for them. Some of the most tech-savvy individuals won’t have a QR reader installed on their smartphones. It’s ironic that the result of this means that the QR codes are in fact doing the opposite of what they were designed for. Nobody’s going to go through the extra effort of setting up QR code software when there’s no significant benefit to it, or when it’s actually quicker to typing in a web address manually. QR Codes are a solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist; innovation where it isn’t needed.
It’s plausible to believe that the next giant leap forward in technology will instead be something that provides a solution for the world’s most pressing issues. Issues such as climate change or sustainable energy resources. Poverty or world conflicts. Just like how the World Wide Web was born out of necessity for particle physics research, the next big thing set to sweep our planet will likely be a by-product that comes from an unexpected source.
Of course, this blog series was never really about who will give us the next big thing. The reality is that the chances of our tech giants changing the world in the same way that the Internet did are quite slim. Not impossible, but improbable – and that’s what drives these companies. They know game-changing technology comes around once in a blue moon, but to be the one who changes it is the main goal. That’s what fuels their ambition.
Every new technology that is released depends on many factors. In 2002, Microsoft came out with the tablet PC, long before the iPad. It was shipped with the latest version of XP, had a 600MHz processor, 128MB of RAM, a 10GB hard drive and wireless networking. In fact, it almost looks identical to the tablets that we see released today, but the world wasn’t ready for it. The rise of social media was only just starting to gain traction. It wasn’t until 8 years later, when Apple released the iPad, that market conditions were right and the world started embracing the technology. Any one of our tech giants could create a tech that might change the world, but it is us – the consumer – who will decide whether to adopt it.
The human race is capable of extraordinary things, and our achievements throughout history stand as timeless monuments to our innovation as a species. While our giants may never find that true game-changer, they will most certainly continue to shape the world, and our lives within it, with their efforts.
Who do you think will have the greatest influence on our future?