NZ Herald business editor at large

What will replace the fridge?

What will come next? What will disrupt the fridge? David Roberts explains.
What will come next? What will disrupt the fridge? David Roberts explains.

What will make your fridge obsolete? Is the box that chills your food immune from technological disruption? Don't bet on it.

Disruption has become a business buzzword, at risk of losing meaning as we scramble to make sense of rapid technological and social change.

But it won't go away. In fact the pace with which it is changing the world is accelerating fast.

"There is no choice, you've got to "get" disruption," says David Roberts.

Luckily, Roberts - regarded as one of the world's top experts on disruptive innovation and exponentially advancing technology - is here at the SingularityU Summit in Christchurch to explain.

An award winning CEO and entrepreneur, his CV is staggering.

He is chairman at HaloDrop, a global drone services company, chairman at 1QBit the world's first software company for quantum computers, an adviser to Made-In-Space, responsible for manufacturing the first object in Space with a 3D printer on the Space Station.

Roberts has led the development of some of the most complex, state-of-the art systems ever built, to include satellites, drones, and fusion centers.

He also worked as an Investment Banker in the Mergers & Acquisitions Group at Goldman Sachs Headquarters.

A lot of people confuse disruption with innovation, says Roberts.

Established businesses can be highly innovative and constantly improve their product.

"Disruptors do things that make old things obsolete."

Roberts illustrates the concept of disruption by talking about the transition from the medieval spice trade - a time when spices were considered to preserve food - to the trade and transport of ice blocks, through to the transport of refrigerated goods and the arrival of personal fridges in the home.

In each case there enormous industries and trade patterns were built around the technology and social trends.

In each case all the businesses involved in one version of the trade failed to make the transition to the new model.

But the disruption took place over generations. Individuals had time to adapt.

At the SingularityU conference held in Christchurch.
At the SingularityU conference held in Christchurch.

The pace of disruption has accelerated to the point that many industries no longer last long enough for a single working life.

There is no reason to assume the home fridge is the end point, says Roberts.

What will come next? What will disrupt the fridge?

Roberts' pick is rapid delivery of fresh food will change the game.

When you can get a drone to deliver your cold beer almost immediately then why will waste space and energy in your home by chilling your own.

We don't necessarily have to predict the next big technology but we need to be ready to adapt to it.

There are three big questions we need to ask ourselves, he says.

"What industry am I in?'

"What industry will disruption come from?"

"What jobs will humans always be better at than technology?"

Technology should enable us to be more human.
David Roberts

Ultimately, Roberts says, the answer to the last question may be: none.

But it doesn't matter if we structure the world so that we can choose the jobs we want to do.

"Technology should enable us to be more human," he says.

It is natural to worry about jobs. People look at the map of the USA where truck driving is number one job in many of the central states, and they say what will they do when trucks self-drive?

But less than 100 years ago the number one job in all those states was farming and truck driving didn't exist.

Despite what Donald Trump might say, job growth has been growing steadily in the US since 2009, Robert says.

Disruption isn't going to slow down.

"I believe the pace will keep halving," he says.

It will reach a point where businesses will have to be geared to readjusting their model every six months.

The good news is that companies are getting better at adapting. They are investing in future proofing themselves against disruption.

The bigger challenge now is to adapt our education system. Government will also have to do a much better job at adapting.

- NZ Herald

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