Yesterday Quartz hosted The Next Billion: A Forum About the Connected World at Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In the next five years, there will be nearly five billion people connected to the Internet, up from 2.4 billion at the end of 2012. This shift will inevitably change the way consumers behave, businesses react and the way we work. The goal of The Next Billion was to “foster lively debate and spark productive collaboration about the next wave of Internet users.” To do so, Quartz gathered an impressive group of global business leaders and academics, including: Susan Athey, Professor of Economics at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Chief Economist at Microsoft; Peter Bale, Vice President and General Manager of CNN International; Dr. Ulrich Quay, Managing Director and partner at BMW iVentures; Dave Gilboa, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker; and the acclaimed photographer Platon.
Below is a quick recap of my three favorite discussions from yesterday’s event. Other topics included online learning, global commerce, digital finance, social cities and crowdsourcing ideas.
The Future of Work
“What is the work of the future? Faster.”
There’s no doubt that adding a few billion people to the connected world will change the way we work. We’ll be doubling the online workforce. The important questions are how it will affect us, and whether it’s a good thing. To answer these questions, Quartz brought in Daniel Debow, Senior Vice President at Salesforce and Co-Founder of Salesforce Work.com, and Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Hightail. Neither denied the dramatic effects of adding 2.6 billion people to the workforce, but both seemed rather optimistic.
We’re quickly leaving the world of everyone working in an office together, Debow said. Whether or not some people like it, it’s happening in every industry at the micro and macro levels. Garlinghouse added that even though it’s becoming the norm to have fifteen jobs in fifteen years, it’s human nature to want to be a part of something important and that’ll still play a big part in the decision-making process of potential employees.
Results matter in a hypercompetitive world more than they ever have. This is one of the biggest changes Debow and Garlinghouse see in the future of work. We’ll be able to track the quality and impact of work in ways that have never before been possible. Those with the best results will move forward. For example, you’ll quickly be able to see how many times your work is shared, edited and referenced inside and outside of your company, showing tangible value. Expecting yearly raises or promotions for simply continuing to exist will be a thing of the past. Debow explained that while the Millennial generation is often accused of being disrespectful or entitled, he thinks it’s a result of growing up in a world of measurable results, the direction in which we’re headed. Earning attention and respect in this hypercompetitive environment will be taken to a whole new level as more people gain Internet access.
In a nutshell, “leapfrogging” is the idea of going directly from archaic to advanced technologies, skipping many of the developmental and trial and error stages. It’s what allows emerging countries in Africa to bypass wireline infrastructures and go straight to wireless, for example. Although developed countries are usually to credit for technological breakthroughs, developing countries often find the most innovative ways to use them.
When it comes to learning about the billions of new Internet users, Jana (Sanskrit for “people”) is ahead of the curve. Jana CEO Nathan Eagle explained how they’re running the world’s largest rewards program by tapping into the billing systems of mobile operators in developing countries and offering users rewards for certain activities, such as downloading apps or watching videos. In the early days, he’d have to show up with duffle bags full of cash to carry out his plan. Luckily, he’s moved on to more traditional payment methods. Jana rewards 3.48 billion consumers in 102 countries. Clients are mostly global corporations trying to understand consumers in emerging markets and include CNN, Microsoft, Google, Johnson & Johnson and General Mills.
Mike Bell, Corporate Vice President and General Manager of New Devices at Intel, said that we “need a fundamental breakthrough in battery technology” for the newest wave of wearable gadgets to take off. Without an improvement in battery life, he thinks it will be difficult for us to leapfrog into the next wave of innovation. Battery life is the one area where we haven’t seen significant improvement in the past ten years, according to Bell. He hinted that Intel may be making some progress there, but dared say no more.
Open source systems are going to be the most important factor in the success of emerging markets, according to Jay Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at Mozilla. They’re going to have to breed and rely on local talent, which can be only realized and sustained through open source systems that allow collaboration. Sullivan may have been referring to Mozilla’s Linux-based open source operating system, Firefox OS. Still, he has a point.
Wesley Chen, General Partner at Google Ventures, thinks the most notable effects of the next billion Internet users will those on the sharing economy. Anytime there is inefficient use of an expensive resource we may be able to find a way to share rather than buy. Of course, we’re already seeing this with Uber, which is shifting the focus from car ownership to convenience of transportation, and Airbnb, which is disrupting traditional lodging. According to Chen, this progression of the sharing economy will be just as important, maybe even more important, in developing countries.
What effects will the next 2.6 billion Internet users have on cybersecurity? A lot. William Stewart, a Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, and Edward Stroz, a former FBI special agent and Co-President of Stroz Friedberg, led the discussion. Companies can either take an offensive or defensive stance against cyber attacks. It’s very difficult to defend a network, Stewart said. Without fail, he finds what he calls “sophisticated adversaries” embedded in every advanced network. Defensive plans must be in place but are often ineffective, while offensive plans (i.e. gathering intelligence about what your adversaries are likely to do) walk a thin line legally.
Stewart and Stroz agreed that one of the biggest challenges companies face when it comes to cybersecurity are insider threats (remember, Stewart comes from Booz Allen Hamilton, Edward Snowden’s former employer). They discussed algorithms that flag “at risk” threats within companies, which could be considered unethical, and they were quickly asked how we avoid building and living in an Orwellian world. Stewart said that if we’d been able to gather more information before 9/11 we might have been able to prevent it, but agreed that privacy is a huge issue and we do need to create a system where data is secure. “The amount of technological oversight in the private sector is unprecedented. If the FBI took on an adversary, we had to take them to court,” Stroz, the former FBI agent, said before pointing out that the other three letter agencies don’t have to. “This leads to different outcomes and cultures.”
Quartz hosted a wonderful first full-day event yesterday and I encourage you to go to the next one if you have the opportunity. Hearing the thoughts of so many global leaders in person allows you to truly gauge both what they’re excited about and the challenges they’re facing, subtleties sometimes lost on paper. Although connecting the whole world to the Internet will give us access to an unprecedented amount of resources, I’ll leave you with a quick thought from “Cognitive Surplus” author Clay Shirky: “Just because we can be connected doesn’t mean we are.”