Self-driving cars - Lessons for professional services?
Some of the foremost thinkers on the future of self-driving cars recently met in San Francisco for the Automated Vehicles Symposium. The headline message from the gathering is that the self-driving car is moving from research lab to product plan, with a second wave of advanced features due to hit the market in 2020. That second wave is expected to include features such as the highway-only autopilot system that takes control of the steering wheel and the pedals currently being developed by General Motors. Expectations are that a third wave will arrive by 2025 and will include full automation systems that enable cars to travel from point A to point B under computer control.
It's not hard to imagine how the emergence of self-driving vehicles can be disruptive to the transportation industry and a wide range of industries directly related to it. What's more interesting though is the less obvious implication of developments in this area for industries such as professional services that have no obvious connection to the transport or automotive industries.
The story of the rise of self-driving cars is closely linked to the story of the exponential advance of technologies such as artificial intelligence. What it illustrates is that artificial intelligence is not a fringe technology, a fringe concept or the plaything of a small group of nerds in university research labs. On the contrary, it's increasingly big business with some of the worlds largest companies (traditional automotive giants such as Daimler Benz, BMW, Ford, Nissan, General Motors etc. and newcomers to the automotive industry such as Google), think tanks and governments investing billions of dollars into transforming science fiction into science fact.
Participants at the Automated Vehicles Symposium laid out a clear timeline for the introduction of major advances in automated driving technology. That timeline envisages the release of highly sophisticated automated systems within five years and extremely advanced systems within a decade. A decade isn't such a long time, particularly when you consider that, for systems to be released in 2025, automotive manufacturers will need to have developed the technological capability sometime before that date. Among those who are willing to concede that artificial intelligence has the potential to significantly disrupt professional services, there are few who see the threat as a matter of urgency.
If sophisticated artificial intelligence is delivering advanced features in the automotive industry in 2025 then there is every reason, particularly given the amount of financial and intellectual horsepower currently devoted to artificial intelligence, to believe that it will similarly be evident or starting to emerge in other industries.
While the list of factors that make something disruptive is long, one of the key ones is the pace at which the old world disappears and the new world comes upon you. This story about self-driving cars is only a small event and, on the face of it and taken alone, not particularly noteworthy. But it's part of a much larger story about the continued rise of a range of exponential technologies that have the potential to transform and/or disrupt virtually every industry. While any industry that trades off a level of "intelligence" should take note, developments such as this should be on the watch-list of anybody with an interest in the future of professional services.