Disruptive Innovation: 10 Examples of Why it’s Nothing to Fear

Human progress is often characterized by technological advancements and disruptive innovations that bring about significant changes in the way people live and work. However, these innovations are not without resistance and objections, as they disrupt established systems and challenge traditional ways of thinking.

With the recent popularity of ChatGPT, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion and other AI based tools, discussions are popping up online about the ethics, legitimacy and future of AI. News feeds are rife with articles about disruption, the potential loss of jobs, plagiarism, ownership, and students using ChatGPT to cheat on essays.

AI it seems is turning our established systems on their head. In fact, this very blog article was written with the support of AI Tools ChatGPT and Bramework. If you find yourself scared by Artificial Intelligence and it’s potential for massive upheaval to our current way of life – then read on as I take you on a journey back in time to have a look at some other major innovations in history that were equally disturbing for those who lived through it.

 

1. The Printing Press (1400s)

One of the earliest examples of disruptive innovation is the printing press, which was invented in the 1440s and transformed communication by allowing for the widespread dissemination of information and ideas. The objections to the printing press in the 1400s came from various groups, including the clergy and the wealthy, who feared the spread of false information and the decline of traditional forms of communication. They saw the printing press as a threat to their power and influence, as it allowed for the widespread dissemination of information and ideas.

One of the primary objections was that the printing press would lead to the spread of false information, as it allowed for the mass production of books and other materials. The clergy and wealthy elites saw this as a threat to their control over the dissemination of information, as they had previously been the gatekeepers of knowledge.

Another objection was that the printing press would lead to the decline of traditional forms of communication, such as handwriting and oral storytelling. These traditional forms of communication were seen as more personal and trustworthy, and the spread of printed materials was seen as a threat to their continued use.

Overall, the objections to the printing press reflected a fear of change and the unknown, as well as a desire to maintain control over the dissemination of information and ideas. Despite these objections, the printing press went on to become one of the most important inventions of the medieval era, as it allowed for the dissemination of knowledge and the spread of ideas.

2. The Calculator (1600s – 1700s)

The calculator led to widespread use of mathematical calculations in commerce and science. One of the primary objections was that the calculator would lead to the loss of mental arithmetic skills, as people would become too reliant on the machine to perform mathematical calculations. This was seen as a threat to the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as to the traditional methods of teaching mathematics.

Another objection was that the calculator would make people too reliant on machines, and that they would lose the ability to perform mathematical calculations without the use of a calculator. This was seen as a threat to the traditional methods of problem-solving and a loss of important skills.

Despite these objections, the calculator went on to become an essential tool in a wide range of fields, as it allowed for the efficient solution of mathematical problems.

3. The Steam Engine (1760s) a.k.a The First Industrial Revolution

The invention of the steam engine transformed transportation and manufacturing, making them faster and more efficient. Those against the steam engine argued that it would lead to the loss of jobs, as it made manual labor in transportation and manufacturing faster and more efficient. This was seen as a threat to the employment and income of workers, who feared that they would be replaced by machines.

Another objection was that the steam engine would lead to the exploitation of workers, as manufacturers could use the technology to increase production and profits at the expense of workers. This was seen as a threat to workers’ rights and well-being, as they feared that they would be subjected to harsh working conditions and low wages.

Despite these objections, the steam engine went on to become a cornerstone of the industrial revolution, allowing for the expansion of trade and commerce.

4. Industrialization and Machinery (1760s-1860s) a.k.a. The Second Industrial Revolution

The rise of industrialization and the widespread use of machinery in manufacturing and transportation led to significant improvements in efficiency and productivity. Those against industrialization and machinery argued that it would lead to the exploitation of workers and the degradation of the natural environment.

Examples of this included:

Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, invented in 1793, revolutionized the cotton industry by making it easier and faster to separate cotton fibers from seeds. Those who opposed the cotton gin argued that it would lead to an increase in slavery, as it made cotton production more profitable.

Similarly, the widespread construction of railways in the 1820s and 1840s transformed transportation, but also faced objections. Those who opposed railways argued that it would lead to the displacement of rural populations and the exploitation of workers.

The telegraph, invented in the 1830s and 1840s, revolutionized communication by allowing for near-instant transmission of messages over long distances. Those who opposed the telegraph argued that it would lead to the loss of jobs and the decline of traditional forms of communication.

The invention of the tractor in the 1860s and 1870s made farming more efficient, allowing for larger yields and reduced manual labor. Those who rallied against the tractor argued that it would lead to the loss of jobs for farmers and a decrease in self-sufficiency (which is did on all accounts). While this was true and lead to a swaths of unemployed, homeless tenant farmers (who had been allowed to live on the land they farmed for generations), one can hardly imagine modern, industrial farming still being done with draught animals like oxen or horses, and hand implements like a sickle or scythe.

We simply would not be able to feed the current, global population (especially with respect to increasing urbanization) without modern industrial farming. In fact, my very favorite book period is called the Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck. It deals with this very topic: the unintended consequences of the industrialization of agriculture and the rampant exploitation of workers. The book could serve as a guidance for modern times as well. I guess that is why it is still considered a timeless classic.

5. Telephone (1870s-1880s)

The invention of the telephone revolutionized communication, allowing people to talk to each other over long distances. Those against the telephone argued that it would lead to the spread of false information and the decline of face-to-face communication.

6. Refrigeration (1870s-1880s)

The widespread use of refrigeration transformed food storage and transportation, making it possible to preserve food for longer periods of time. Those against refrigeration argued that it would lead to the loss of traditional food-preservation techniques and the spread of food contamination.

7. Electricity (1880s-1890s)

The widespread adoption of electricity in the 1880s and 1890s transformed the way people lived and worked, providing light, heat, and power. Those against electricity argued that it was too dangerous and expensive, and would lead to the loss of traditional ways of life. Despite these objections, electricity went on to become a defining feature of the modern world, as it allowed for the development of new technologies and the improvement of living standards.

8. Airplanes (1910s-1950s)

The invention of the airplane in the 1910s and 1950s transformed transportation, making it possible to travel quickly and easily over long distances. Those who opposed airplanes argued that it would lead to the decline of traditional forms of transportation and the potential for air accidents. Despite these objections, airplanes went on to become a defining feature of modern transportation, connecting people and places in ways never before imagined.

Today, air travel is an essential part of the global economy, allowing for the rapid movement of goods and people across the world. With modern globalization, many of us have families dispersed across the planet. I live half a world away from my family and could not imagine the alternatives, were there no airplanes.

9. The Computer (1946) a.k.a. The Third (Digital) Industrial Revolution

The computer, first developed in 1946, became a mainstay in business and education. Those who opposed the computer argued that it would lead to the loss of jobs and the reliance on machines. Despite these objections, the computer went on to become ubiquitous part of everyday life, revolutionizing the way people work and communicate.

Today, computers play a key role in industries such as finance, healthcare, and education to a point those industries would likely be unable to run at their current capacities without them. The widespread use of computers has brought about significant improvements in efficiency, productivity, and access to information.

10. The Internet (1969)

The internet, first developed in 1969, has since become an essential part of modern life. Those who opposed the internet argued that it would lead to the spread of false information and decreased privacy. Despite these objections, the internet went on to revolutionize the way people communicate, access information, and conduct business. Today, the internet is a global network that connects people and organizations across the world, providing access to vast amounts of information and enabling new forms of communication and commerce. Despite its widespread adoption, the internet continues to raise important questions about privacy, security, and the role of technology in society.

Despite these objections, many of these innovations have gone on to become widely adopted and have had a profound impact on human life. In fact, it seems unthinkable to imagine advocating against refrigeration, electricity, rail, telephones or many of the other innovations above that have become part of our everyday way of life. In fact, many of the professions that these innovations rendered obsolete seem so archaic we can hardly imagine anyone advocating for them today.

Of course, while these developments and disruptions brought about significant changes and improvements in human life, we must always been cognizant of unintended consequences and must tackle the head-on the resistance from those who feel that the benefits are outweighed by the drawbacks.

 

 


 

AI and Cyber-Physical Systems (Present Day) a.k.a. The Fourth Industrial Revolution

AI and the interconnectivity of biological / mechanical systems has the potential to be the most disruptive and dangerous technology to date, with far reaching consequences for humanity as a whole. With so much unknown about where AI will take us and so much uncertainty around  accelerating trajectory of Singularity, the point when AI’s capabilities exceed our ability to control it,  we have reason to be uneasy. However, we can also embrace possibility and opportunity like those before us, who reinvented themselves and pivoted as new technologies such as the steam engine, the tractor, and the personal computer revolutionized our way of life and became self-evident.

I am squarely in the camp of embracing modern technology despite the potential unintended consequences of adoption and the doomsday prophecies. Regardless of how you view this technology, one thing is certain, those who don’t embrace it will get left behind.

In the words of Santiago Valdarrama, Director of Computer Vision Solutions, who has been building Machine Learning Systems for the last two decades:

ai and disruptive innovation 20230206

 

big hugs,

Jamie

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