Scientific American asked readers in 1913 to write in their vote for the top invention of all time. The magazine published the ten inventions that received the most votes. They repeated the exercise 100 years later in 2013.
The difference in answers reflected one’s perception of their current environment, journalist-researcher Daniel C. Schlenoff, observed. But, also in the findings, reader’s rankings were based on an invention’s societal benefit, its resulting service capabilities. And, yet, not one respondent for either survey mentioned a service.
“We might not appreciate the work of Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison on a daily basis (today), as we are accustomed to electricity in all its forms,” Schlenoff wrote. “But we are very impressed by the societal changes caused by the Internet and the World Wide Web (both of which run on alternating-current electricity, by the way). A century from now they might be curious as to what all the fuss was about.”
Looking out near and long-term, technology will be more pervasive, yet less visible; and we will come to embrace technology with a greater sense of ease. Our perceptions will merely evolve with demonstrated reliability, sufficient to discard skepticism and excess caution. Increasingly, we will find better results to our queries, tailored more specifically to our needs, and what’s more, the entire process may occur without our input—or perhaps even our knowledge.
The notion of invisible technology is rather significant. It adequately answers the question about economic value and logical progress of service innovation, raised above. For two, it reinforces the idea that service quality is in part, dependent on delivering experiences with seamless technology, and even better, invisible to users. And three, that our standard of living is far greater due to technology; but alas, we have little means of validating without relying on our traditional five senses.
Might someone whose measure of progress is a robot rolling up and down a corridor, and failing to see that, offer up failing grades for today’s innovation? Would they also diminish our prospects for economic growth because they were unable to see, touch, feel or smell the innovation? And what about someone from 100 years ago visiting today? They might marvel at our inter-connectivity based on looking at an Internet screen, or even recognize the convenience of a smart home. But beyond that …? Or would it be satisfactorily impressive telling an onlooker we have come to entrust our lives with some of the capabilities resulting from technology?
To that point, an algorithm working in tandem with another algorithm, and perhaps another, can access and compile unformatted data from multiple sources thousands of miles apart, in volumes that exceed the content of most libraries, and present meaningful results in seconds. Many of us don’t recognize or realize algorithms at work, but they monitor and predict terrorist activities, execute millions of stock trades simultaneously at any time of the day, (Bloomberg Media), and guide passenger-full airplanes into the air and safely back down again. We also rely on algorithms to find mates, a $2 billion industry that would not exist otherwise. And, we grant permission to algorithms to suggest our entertainment choices, down to the fine points of genre, plots, characters, actors and endings.
For Service Design, service designers make use of algorithms to predict and shape our behavior. Moreover, the technology is accessible and affordable. (A more thorough discussion on using algorithms for Service Design is later.)
The overarching point of this discussion—to bring the ideas presented here back to center—is technology is and will remain a catalyst and accelerator for innovation. By way of innovating, we should anticipate innovators using technology, including algorithms, to gather our individual attitudes, tastes, preconceptions and real-time expectations. This will result in new trends, or disruptive markets, and ever-rapidly changing needs and wants, with greater anticipation for worthwhile, or satisfying experiences. With increasing rapidity from innovation, our desires will be more fleeting but no less compelling.
We should anticipate change, assume change, even though we may not necessarily know when change has occurred. Nonetheless, we should plan for its impact. The cleverest among us will take advantage of service innovation to solve ever more complex challenges, and resolve answers to questions long ago abandoned due to impracticality. None of this is truly new information, but hopefully helpful setting the context for powerful innovation from combining Service Design techniques with technology.
Finally, to be sure, technology will continue to be a visible access point. But thereafter, the experience will best be served invisibly, even while governed by technology. The ideal is technology ensuring flexible circumstances to accommodate individuality, yet with parameters to prevent failures, or to ensure failure when a boundary is crossed, say, as with Uber.
This may begin to sound a little dark, because individuals will be subject to others’ influence. Yet the choice will remain ours, because while innovators are motivated by many factors, they only succeed when our desires are adequately satisfied.