In Why Software Will Never Replace Strategic Analysts, I laid down a theme I’ll be covering in my closing keynote for the Business Forecasting and Analytics Forum in Chicago on September 20: That data and information may belong to computers, but that knowledge, wisdom, and leadership will remain a uniquely human endeavor. Some took this to mean that I didn’t think infotech would play a critical role in the field. Oh, ye of little faith, you underestimate the degree to which my colleagues and I love to play with gadgets. In fact, several tech trends will drive the field of strategic intelligence, giving decision makers new powers, and increasing the need for professional human analysts. The future’s so bright, we gotta wear augmented reality goggles.
Tech trends behind the future of strategic intelligence
Let’s start by addressing the trends that will drive the practice of intelligence, notably the information tools that will be available to the analyst.
Principally, I believe that the analyst will have considerably more data – which sounds like a blessing and a curse. It is, but new storage, display, and analytical tools will help turn that torrent of new information into the blessing of insights that they should be.
Here are the trends for the next five to ten years.
Moore’s Law continues to drive all the new, cool toys
First, there’s the ubiquitous and predictive forecast of Gordon Moore’s Law, the most famous and accurate tech forecast in history. The CEO of Intel, Gordon Moore, laid out this forecast in 1965 that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months. For more than half a century, this forecast has held firm, and shows no absolute sign of hitting a limit in the next five to ten years. Even if it does in terms of transistor density, the industry plans on keeping the basics of Moore’s Law alive – making computers more powerful every year. Bottom line? We’ll have cooler toys to play with.
Advanced sensor arrays will proliferate
From cameras to heat sensors to motion sensors, Moore’s Law will continue to shrink the size and cost of a variety of information capture devices while making them more prevalent all over our world. No matter what you’re looking to analyze, the future will deliver bigger and wider varying data sets because of sensor technology. Cameras on everything, medical telemetry devices (FitBit, iWatch, etc.) on our bodies, drones in the sky: the world will be covered by more data capture devices than ever. Commercial data, geospatial data, health data – they will all flow at volumes previously unimaginable.
Big data will accrue, just begging you to notice trends in them
Through networks and cloud storage, all that data will be collected, archived, and made accessible. Want to look for the correlation of purchasing information and traffic patterns? Why not. Social networking patterns and gravity maps? Sure. Blood pressure versus number of Twitter followers? Can do. As long as you can get rights to the databases, the world will be ripe for professionals to seek insights through advanced analytics.
Algorithms will approach artificial intelligence in their sophistication
As software becomes more iterative, growing in sophistication with use, computer programs will begin to aid the analyst by helping with research. In the next five to ten years, the new frontier will be in predictive analytics. Computers will use what we’re asking of them already and use that information to recognize new patterns and suggest them to the analyst. Ultimately, these suggestions could grow to the point where, given enough information about what the decision makers are seeking, the output of these programs might look like the very rudimentary work of strategic analysts.
New information technologies will help but not replace analysts
For at least the next ten years, human analysts will enjoy the additional input from computers and then take it from there to make truly useful presentations to executives. I am particularly interested in the ability of augmented reality and virtual reality to get ideas and implications across to executives in a more powerful manner. The field will remain rich with possibilities on how to find new data, analyze them in different ways, come to novel, more insightful conclusions about what it all means, and to communicate more effectively with leaders and the public at large.
That said, I remain firmly convinced that software is not likely to reach the point of replacing analysts, because the sophistication behind understanding people and telling them a useful story to help them make a decision for an institution is not within the forecasted capabilities of computers in the mid-term, or next five to ten years, Ray Kurzweil’s forecasts of impending techno-nano-IT-bio immortality notwithstanding.
Here’s what I mean.
Computers will not soon “know” that they have to filter implications for executives they discover have already fixed their minds on a policy and just wanted validation from analysts. They will not know, for example, that if they even have as much as a couple spelling errors, that the project’s validity will be in jeopardy.
Computer software is unlikely to soon factor in the tragic human elements of hubris, fear, and lust when analyzing the behavior of certain actors.
Algorithms are not likely to soon be sensitive to how to present information differently to two MBAs, one with an engineering background, and one who studied literature.
Political winds of the organization will remain opaque to computer programs for the foreseeable future
Forecasts for artificial intelligence do not report that it will soon be able to moderate the conclusions of futures work simply because we just hit a recession and everyone up to the CEO is freaked out.
This is what the practice of strategic intelligence requires. I can give you examples from my last two decades of practice for each of the above observations. Can a computer? Will it in the next ten years? What about twenty?
I think eventually there will be artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to accompany leaders on such a journey. When that happens, I suspect that the economy will be shaped very differently.
Join me at the JPK Summits Business Forecasting and Analytics Forum in Chicago, September 19-20, 2016.