Tools of Revolutionary Change Are In Everybody’s Hands

I heard Ray Kurzweil speak yesterday at the NAB conference. His keynote address was titled: Acceleration of Technology in the 21st Century and simply put, I was knocked out by his insights and clarity on our changing world. The Wall Street Journal describes Kurzweil as the “restless genius” and Ray has been included in PBS’ list of “16 revolutionaries who made America”, along with inventors of the past two centuries.

To hear people like Ray Kurzweil speak, is exactly why I attend the NAB conference every year. Sure, it’s fun(and overwhelming) to walk the show floor and see the latest and greatest tech tools and toys, but my focus is always on listening to and soaking up whatever bits of insights I can from visionaries like Kurzweil.

In speaking about information technology and its affect on us all, Ray stated “There’s no way to establish the same business model and social contract and protect intellectual property if the public doesn’t embrace and respect it”.  Just look at what happened in the early days of shifting from analog to digital, and how the recording industry reacted when it became easy to “share” music electronically. When they tried to hold onto their old business model and along with that bullied the “public” – it pretty much blew up in their face.

We all should have learned from that. But if you look back to when photography went from the analog to the digital world – many photographers made that same mistake with their clients. Ray goes on to say that “technology progresses in an exponential manner and if you measure the underlying trends in technology – it’s predictable”. “Our intuition is linear”. What that means is that this paradigm shift in information technology is only going to accelerate.

He went on to say that “once things become based on information technology, they progress exponentially”. This is happening right now in the world of healthcare and medicine. As it too becomes based more on information technology as far as research and development, it’s not hit and miss or trial and error anymore.

Information technology is democratizing our world. One could say that this is a prime reason for political systems like the old USSR to collapse. It’s hard to control a country’s people when they are open to information. ” The tools of revolutionary change are in everybody’s hands”. Kurzweil cites the example of the Chinese and Google. He says, “When you limit your own success like the Chinese with Google, ultimately you will strangle yourself”.

So what can photographers and other creative types get out of all this? We must recognize that if we base our business model on our gadgets and our tools – we will limit our own success or worse yet create our own demise because the tools of disruptive change are in everybody’s hands. But if we understand that and build a business model that is not based solely on technology but on our vision and it’s perceived as “fair” to our clients and the public – then we will thrive. We need to open our eyes and adjust as to how we distribute our intellectual content.

I’ll leave you with a simple analogy that Ray cites: In the early 1900’s if you saw yourself in the horse and buggy business, you should have been concerned. But if you saw yourself in the transportation business, then you saw opportunity as the automobile changed that paradigm. So, if you see yourself and define yourself by what camera you shoot with – you’re in big trouble as technology races forward. But if you see yourself as a visual communicator and embrace the opportunities made possible by technology – then you’ll survive and thrive.

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