MIT Podcast host Jennifer Strong once wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “for AI to get used more, it has to get a lot more boring.” I love this idea. I think the concept holds true for a lot of technology and, really, a lot of life.
There’s a difference between hot technology and effective technology. One can become the other. But what’s funny is that once it’s effectively used, tech tends to get a lot less hot, all in the pursuit of whatever else can be positioned as the latest and greatest. That’s why we keep getting sucked in with stories of flying cars, self-driving vehicles, or dancing robots that sort of look like us.
Truth be told, working technology eventually becomes boring. For example, enterprise IT networks now allow dispersed families worldwide to connect with each other whenever they want. We’re glad of this outcome - we even take it for granted - but the network itself isn’t exactly exciting news. For the past few years, the breaking news that has caught our attention is that we can turn ourselves into cats online, and that political parties use TikTok to communicate with your children in election campaigns.
I get that’s how news works. No problem. But what gets missed is that the “boring” aspects of technology are often the most crucial.
Anyone who works in the business understands that enterprise networking is comparatively boring to what’s dominating tech news in the mainstream media today. But the “network” matters, even if Facebook and the applications that function over the network get most of the attention. This concept is also relevant with cars: autonomous vehicles get all the hype, while you only pay attention to the highway when it’s closed because of construction. This is life.
Let’s consider drones. A few years ago, drones were considered hot stuff. Cameras, action, remote-controlled surveillance, and new movie-making tech: What would have Lord of the Rings looked like with drones! etc. Amazon and Jeff Bezos were going to rapidly deploy delivery drones any day now. These magical flying devices would be the end of the postal worker – drones were always in the news. But today, they aren’t seen as the same kind of cutting-edge technology they once were. Instead, things like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and robot cars have dominated the headlines.
But here’s the catch: That doesn’t mean people aren’t working on drones or that they are any less potentially relevant to our lives. People didn’t stop working on drones when the flashy headlines went away. Instead, drones have quietly found their way into a variety of industries. Shipping warehouses now use drones to monitor and account for inventory. Drone camera technology is being used for all types of real estate listings. And guess what? Flying drones are now used to make your favorite movies and television shows. Or at least they make your entertainment differently.
Because people are decent, innovation began in industries where a drone could also benefit society. You may not be entirely interested in crop monitoring, spraying, or watering, but drones now have a massive role in agriculture that affects what food we end up eating. Drones go into mines that aren’t safe for people to enter. Drones can surveil endangered species without those invasive ankle bracelets and ear tags you watch the scientists attach on those nature shows. Aerial drones can deliver food and water to people caught in natural disasters until it’s safe for first responders to arrive with further help. Trials have been held using drones to quickly deliver organs to hospitals for people who require replacements.
And drones may end up providing Internet connectivity to millions of people who would otherwise never have access, by creating a new kind of wireless network.
So there’s a lot going on. We’re going to talk about drones in an upcoming episode of Inflection Points, Extreme’s Podcast on big ideas and the future of tech.
These accomplishments don’t make headlines very often. Do you really care about how your home Internet works? Do you really care whether 5G or Wi-Fi is faster? Instead, you probably just want consistent quality access available at your fingertips.
However, the boring parts of technology also change the way people live. Enterprise IT network technologies such as cloud, SD-WAN, and Wi-Fi 6E are changing the world. And aerial drones have shifted from headlines screaming, “they are going to change the world!” to actually changing the world.
And in the end, isn’t that a better place to be?