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Winning the Race With Ever-Smarter Machines

Rapid advances in information technology — computer hardware, software and networks — are yielding applications that can do anything from answering game show questions to driving cars. But to gain true leverage from these ever-improving technologies, companies need new processes and business models.

Automated activities that once seemed impossible are becoming real because of plentiful accurate data, powerful sensors, massive storage capacity and increasing processing power. The capabilities of computers are now improving so quickly that concepts can move from the realm of science fiction into everyday life in just a few years, rather than a lifetime.

This remarkable progress is due to two concepts: Moore's Law (now generally accepted as the doubling of computing capacity every 18 months) and the power of exponential growth. The key to the future will be using machines to invent new organizational structures, processes and business models that mix human and machine capabilities. When businesses are based on bits instead of atoms, the possibilities for innovation are endless.

As computers get better at pattern recognition, complex communication and other skills, many kinds of jobs will become obsolete. But computers' limitations — such as an inability to think "outside the box" or to empathize — ensure that skills such as negotiation, good writing and good management will continue to be needed.

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