di Francesca Giavelli e Viviana Ingrassia.

Dic. 4, 2018


MiCo – On Tuesday, Nov. 13 Jim Harris held his speech on the second day of IABforum, which was entirely dedicated to the topic “Toward a digital humanism”.

As an international bestselling author from Canada he writes on the topics of technology, disruptive innovation, sustainability, how going green is profitable, leadership and trends, and the same core issues he brought to this 2018 edition of the forum: “Disruptive Innovation and the rise of Blockchain” was the title to his eye-opening speech.

«Things don’t happen quickly until they do. […] How do we see the disruption before it hits us?» 

Nokia – once the dominant force in the world of mobile phones, as they see their market declining the company decides to expand into maps and so paid $8billion for Navteq, which has hundreds of thousands of cameras focused on roadways throughout the world. Soon afterwards, an Israeli company called Waze, tiny in comparison with Nokia, acquires the same data for free by turning its users’ cellphones into data collection points for them, only by thinking differently.

2009: Google starts developing the first autonomous vehicle; the equipment (digital radar, sonar and lidar) on top of the car is worth $200.000. Google’s investment is looked at with disdain and with the certainty that such technology at such a price cannot have a future. Technology is changing so fast it is getting cheaper, faster, lighter, more compact, and in two years time it was only $100.000, but still none of the car-companies has faith in this quest of autonomous vehicles. The next year it was $50.000. Now it is $1.000. And now all the companies want to “get busy” with autonomous vehicles – but they are 10 years behind Google; and they now begin their 8-year development process.

«You see a problem here. If we’re experiencing exponential change, we can’t have slowed to change organization.»

After the first few examples of companies that have surfed this exponential progress – or swum against it -, Harris exemplified what is been, indeed, the archetypal disruptive process that has set in motion the immense phenomenon we call “Disruptive Innovation”.

«When you actually look at the original chip it was 2.000 chips per transistor. Now 20.000. What that practically means is a gigaFLOP is a billion transactions per second. In 1961 it was $153billion to do 1 gigaFLOP. Last year it was 3 cents. And what that means is computing is basically free – now. This device I’ve right here in my hip-pocket has the same computational power as a Cray supercomputer of 20 years ago that cost $3million, and I walk around with it in my hip-pocket. And you do too.»

A video that Harris played in front of the audience gives demonstration of a strikingly good Turing Test, in which a computer books an appointment with a hairdresser on behalf of its owner, and the phone conversation is so good she does not question she is talking to a person. AI is nowadays as powerful as human brain, and often we do not realize that we have it in our pockets with tools such Google Translator and many others.

Following this reasoning, Harris presents another of his highly pragmatic examples to let the audience get acquainted with the challenging concept of Blockchain: starting from spinach. In the US in 2006 3 people died from E-Coli found in spinach, and 270 people went to hospital. Retailers took all the spinach off the shelves for 3 weeks to find the source of the problem and in the end it cost more than $100million. When Blockchain is connected to our smart-devices, we will be able to instantly trace the product on the shelf of the supermarket back to which distribution center, which processor, which farm it came from thanks to a microchip included in every bag of spinach keeping track of its journey through the supply chain. So if there is E-Coli bacteria in it, we will be able to trace on the way back which bag of spinach came from where instantly, and it is not gonna cost the industry a $100million.

Blockchain emerged when global stock markets lost $35trillions in 2008 in value because of the consequent lack of trust in governments and in financial institutions. This very smart piece of code was released in 2008 and its power is that it allows two parties who do not need to know each other to trust one another, because it builds trust into the code. Blockchain can share assets; assets can be shared and received in a way that is not been possible up until now.

To conclude his speech, Harris states that «Bitcoin does not equal Blockchain. It is just one of the many examples of Blockchains and it is incredibly powerful.» He also suggests that people should not look at the price of bitcoins but at the number of transactions per month: despite the rise and the fall of the price of cryptocurrencies the number of transaction hasn’t changed, just as the number of developers worldwide downloading Ethereum’s truffles, 80/90th per month, a number that has not fallen but grown every year with an exponentially growing trend.