The Swedish scientist Hans Rosling is a very inspiring character. He was born in Uppsala, Sweden. From 1967 to 1974 Rosling studied statistics and medicine at Uppsala University, and in 1972 he studied public health at St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India. He became a licensed physician in 1976 and from 1979 to 1981 he served as District Medical Officer in Nacala in northern Mozambique.
On 21 August 1981, Rosling discovered an outbreak of Konzo, a paralytic disease, and the investigations that followed earned him a Ph.D. degree at Uppsala University in 1986. He spent two decades studying outbreaks of this disease in remote rural areas across Africa and supervised more than ten Ph.D. students. Rosling likes to argue based on facts and his research has focused on links between economic development, agriculture, poverty and health. He has been health adviser to WHO, UNICEF and several aid agencies.
In a little YouTube video (https://youtu.be/6sqnptxlCcw) Rosling presents in his own humorous and lively style the impact, which the invention and introduction of the washing machine had, on his personal life, since it allowed his mother to invest more time into the education of her son Hans.
For most of the people in the developed, so called „first world“ washing machines are part of their daily life and most of these people would probably consider washing machines as commodity stuff and not as disruptive technology. Hans Rosling shows, that this is wrong – depending on your perspective.
So what can we learn from this little example? At first, disruptive technologies are game changers, which have a fundamental impact on the life of people.
The invention of electricity, automobiles, airplanes or computers belongs into this category, without any doubt. The introduction of the iPhone as combination of existing technologies with an user friendly interface and affordable access to broadband mobile networks is one of the most recent examples for disruptive change from the last decade. However, besides these high-tech examples, we always should be aware, that a comparably „simple“ invention such as a washing machine can be a game changing disruptive technology as well since it has a huge impact on people’s lifes.
Hans Rosling was able to understand this, because he spent a significant part of his life in Africa. Based on the experiences he made there, Hans is able to look at things from a different perspective than „first world“ people usually do. This is an important insight: If you want to discover disruptive technologies – „the next big thing“, to use Steve Jobs‘ famous idiom – you need to be able to leave your „first world“ perspective and look at things from the perspective of the majority of people including analysis of their daily life and their daily problems. Apart of this ability to change perspective, Hans Rosling consequently utilizes facts and figures as basis for his analysis.
I would like to illustrate the aforementioned thoughts based on two examples:
- According to the World Food Programme some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year, approx. 8,500 per day, 354 per hour, 6 per minute (http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats). This is even more shocking, since 225 million (not billion!) Euro per year would be sufficient to provide these 3,1 million children with at least one warm meal per day. The good news is that hunger is entirely solvable. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and no scientific breakthroughs are needed. Today’s knowledge, tools and policies, combined with political will, can solve the problem. For the aforementioned 795 million people it would certainly be the most disruptive improvement they can imagine, to get rid of hunger and thirst.
- A significant number of the people in the „first world“ spends 8 to 12 or even more hours per day at work, to earn the necessary money for living. Computers and Industry automation have already fundamentally changed the way, how we steer and control companies and manufacture goods. It is already obvious that Digitalization and Industry 4.0 will accelerate the further development of manufacturing and logistics processes and make it even more efficient, so that less workers are required to produce the same number of goods. Beyond these examples, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will change the life of people even more radical, as soon as they are mature enough to substitute workers in service oriented branches – including teachers, doctors, nurses, waiters, sales reps, or service technicians. This is not a matter of „if“, it is only a matter of „when“. The consequences of this disruptive technologies – I would even name it technological „revolutions“ – are today still diffult to imagine. However, from my point of view two consequences are already clear: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will provide a huge contribution to solving the demographic problems resulting from aging societies as in Germany. In addition we need to develop strategies how to occupy people, who lose their jobs in course of this technological revolution, in a meaningful and value-adding way.
When I started working in 1989, so more than 25 years ago, the working environment in my sales office consisted of mainframe terminals, mosaic printers, telex machines, internal paper mail or pneumatic delivery („Rohrpost“). We had neither internet access, nor mobile phones. Looking at the breathtaking development of technology, I experienced in course of the last 25 years, I am more than curious, what disruptive technologies the next 25 years will bring up and how these disruptive technologies will change our lives.