And We’d Better Get Used To It.
We’ve had computers in our lives for seven decades, and it has taken almost that long to figure out what they want. They want to be everywhere; finding and annotating patterns, creating insights and efficiencies. And bringing us the Age of Hyperawareness, where data and patterns are continually logged, connected, and returned to us with a greater seeming sense of how the world works.
Understanding what that means, and how to work with it, is one of the most interesting challenges in modern life.
It means mastering systems that you can change at will, capitalizing on the flexibility and adaptability of connected computers to maximize the benefit.
Welcome to ubiquity for fun and profit.
Of course, saying what machines “want” is figurative. Computers don’t think, let alone desire. Still, cars “want” roads so they can be driven. Chainsaws “want” trees to sink their teeth into. Snowblowers “want” snow…you get the picture. Without these things, machines can’t express their purpose. Throughout reality, even inanimate things seek to connect.
And computers? Initially, they seemed to want to calculate numbers in large, solitary cubes. That is still an attribute, but consider how much more important in life they have become as they grew smaller, cheaper, and connected to one another. Today their presence in laptops, phones, cars, speakers, doorbells, and billions of sensors — almost all of these devices connected to cloud computing systems — gives us a clue to the deeper purpose of computers. They want information, and information is everywhere.
They take on all kinds of data. They carry out all sorts of tasks, depending on the need of the moment. Perhaps most important, they are connected, and often those connections make it possible to reconfigure computers and computing tasks as needs change.
This presents a lot of opportunity –the nice way of saying “challenges” — where this machine is concerned. Chainsaws and cars are pretty straightforward — but what’s the best thing to do with a machine that wants to be everywhere, wants to be connected in as many directions as possible, and wants to seek and process information?
As the man said in a somewhat different context, “the readiness is all.” Increasingly, organizations need to be clear about their purpose, who they are seeking to serve, and what they have, in terms of equipment and data, that can help. Teams need to organize similarly.
Moreover, as computing hardware and software become more configurable, they generate new parameters of choice. These revolve around whether to move to the cloud, but also how to get there — one cloud, multiple, or a hybrid of on-prem and cloud. Anthos, recently announced by my employer, Google Cloud, is a powerful enabler of this more advanced infrastructure capability.
Organizing around the primacy of insight, choice, and flexibility seems likely to afford organizations a significant competitive advantage, particularly as these new systems of decision-making become industry best practice. While it may seem challenging and new, it is in fact the same kind of customer responsiveness we’ve always sought, but in a more rapid form.
Even data gathering and data use, with appropriate security and privacy rules, become customer-centric activities that affect parts of an organization once remote from customers. Centralized policies can help create common visibility, which both informs decision making, and keeps teams focused on important goals.
That should make change less jarring, because it’s more likely to be both purposeful and incremental. And the focus on customer needs and customer delight can stay clearer, with more frequent reinforcement from data. Ideally, what computers want can be what we want too.
This item, with some changes, originally appeared in “The Speed Read,” my monthly newsletter from Google Cloud. Sign up here.
Note: Kevin Kelly’s estimable book “What Technology Wants” inspired the title. It’s an entirely different work that you should check out.