Pervasive or Progressive? Part 1

How pervasive is technology in our lives today? Is it the answer to information’s storage, accessibility and visibility problem? How do we explore an unknown world without leaving home? How do we connect and share expertise through visual, immersive technology of the future, today? This is the first of three articles on future technology and their potential issues and uses in the publishing industry and the wider commercial world.
Pervasive or Progressive? Part 1

I shared this article on LinkedIn earlier this month, which details a number of key points from Accenture’s recent report titled Accenture Technology Vision 2018. The first of which states that:

“Four out of five executives (81 percent) agree within the next two years, AI will work next to humans in their organizations, as a co-worker, collaborator and trusted advisor.”


“Eighty percent of executives believe it will be important to leverage XR solutions to close the gap of physical distance when engaging with employees and customers.”


“Eighty-two percent of executives say their organisations are increasingly using data to drive critical and automated decision-making at unprecedented scale.”

Do these predictions scare you? Some would consider the technologies referenced as possible threats to jobs, to corporate culture and to customer privacy. Alternatively, I see this technology as providing an opportunity to increase business efficiency, improve communication and enhance decision-making processes on a major scale. 

This series of articles looks at three of the technologies referenced here, offering insight into the general use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality in corporations, and specifically to leverage expertise to build a smarter world. I refer to multiple sources to bring together the conversation from numerous industries.

Artificial Intelligence


First, to look at artificial intelligence.

Jen Thoroughgood’s recent article explains both sides of the coin for publishers:

"What are the possibilities? When it comes to AI, the main benefit to publishers seems to be the opportunity it offers for better user understanding, leading to more targeted delivery of content, a personalised user experience. Know the user better, give them more of what they want (or seem to want as indicated by past behaviour) and the more time they will spend with your content, the argument goes."

So, what are the flaws? 

“…at the same time [however], as algorithms learn what content we consume, we find ourselves in echo chambers, delivered an ever-decreasing range of sources, experiences and viewpoints. What we act like we want isn’t necessarily what we desire when it comes to content consumption.” 

Algorithms, previously, have only been able to go so far in understanding customers and audience behaviour. As any good marketer or researcher will tell you, consumers are not 'rigid' beings in either behaviour or purchasing patterns. We like new and different things all the time. Machine learning with the capacity to understand and even predict irregular patterns, however, will be very exciting not only for publishers but for many industries, helping to better understand those they are targeting or indeed to better understand the wider world...

As Lucas N. Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental officer relates in this article from Springer Nature's Grand Challenges

“Today's powerful digital technologies can help us keep close tabs on natural systems”. 

A great example of this comes from a farm in Nepal, as related in David Heiner and Carolyn Nguyen’s article on OECD's The Forum Network, a story you simply have to have to read to realise the true power of artificial intelligence technology and its potential to improve lives in a truly meaningful and positive way. As stated in the same piece: 

“AI developed in this manner can help people achieve more in nearly any field of human endeavor.”

NESTA Chief Executive, Geoff Mulgan, however, “expect[s] a bumpy ride” for the future of artificial intelligence while governments invest in and experiment with it, as detailed in this recent article, also on the OECD Forum Network. Although advancements are being made, Geoff questions why governments "largely depend on the spill-overs from the military or from commercial developments" for understanding of how this technology can be best utilised, as opposed to R&D into the possibilities of its application in other government sectors such as tax and welfare, education and criminal justice.

Potentially worrying is also the research being done into 'deep brain stimulation (DBS)’ where “doctors use tiny electrodes directly inserted into the brain to deliver zaps that give brain circuits a boost.” This seems alarming but it...

“is already clinically approved to stop seizures in severe epilepsy and reduce tremors in Parkinson’s disease. Scientists also think that it could help people with memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease or trauma”

as Shelly Xuelai Fan, Neuroscientist and Vantastic Media Science writer explains in this article on the npj Science of Learning Community. These are the sort of implications of this technology that I am most encouraged by and eager to see more of in the near future.

When it comes to the concern over job security and economy inefficiencies due to machine replacing man, this TED talk from Daniel Susskind will put your mind at ease. As Daniel explains, considering a national economy or even the global economy as a pie with GDP value making up the sections of the pie, machine learning and AI technologies will serve to increase the size of that pie by complementing current and also future jobs. This talk is well worth watching for further insight into the 'Myths about the future of work (and why they're not true)'.

Technology such as a AI should not be attempted to be leveraged simply for it’s potential or for the sake of using ‘futuristic tech’ as it requires a sophisticated application to benefit processes on a grand scales. For B2C and B2B media publishers however, AI has the power to “identify trends and spot opportunities to create valuable insights” for subscribers. Furthermore, it can be

“used to analyse user behaviour, possibly to identify segments interested in new niche content, or spot the warning signs of a disengaged subscriber who might lapse.”

as described by Carolyn Morgan, InPublishing last month. This is a truly necessary and relative utilisation of this technology and should therefore be considered by all publishers as a means of reconnecting with lost audiences and prevent current readership from moving away from your expert content.

I think this piece puts it best to simply keep a personal, human touch with followers, customers and audiences when it comes to sales approaches in utilising this highly robust and potentially effective technology.

You will find a conclusion to this article and the series as a whole following two further articles, one on virtual reality and another on augmented reality. Watch this space!

Part 2: VR>  Part 3: AR>


Go to the profile of Darren Gough
about 4 years ago

Excellent read. Just flagging this to my colleague Todd also who is very interested in this sector.

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
about 4 years ago

I always appreciate positive feedback Darren, thanks! If you have any constructive suggestions for my writing, please do let me know (I'm here to improve)

Go to the profile of Todd Nilson
about 4 years ago

Thanks for the share @Darren. I've been increasingly involved in discussions about AI and other disruptive technologies. The potential for good is at least as great as the disruptions to business as usual. I do not think that most smaller organizations have fully understood how much of an advantage technologies like AI will provide to large enterprises that can invest in the latest tools and approaches. The augmentation of human workers with AI assistants that can tirelessly process large amounts of data and make decisions with increasing accuracy will make even the largest organizations at least as agile as small companies. When that advantage of smallness goes away, it feels to me like we will have some serious upheavals. 

On a less gloomy note, my hope is that there will be many startup organizations that build and distribute AI-engines that will be affordable and easy to integrate into smaller business operations that will level the playing field.

At any rate, the element of this that interests me right now is the talk about how employee "reskilling" needs to happen. What skills will be needed to adapt to having AI-driven intelligence engines at our beck? More data analysis training? 

I'm very much looking forward to the rest of your series, Max.

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
about 4 years ago

Hi Todd thanks for the kind and thought-provoking response. I would agree, "The potential for good is at least as great as the disruptions to business" and I also like the sound of your theory for levelling the playing field for smaller companies.

'Reskilling' is also something that interests but also concerns me slightly. Although it may, as you say be necessary, I wonder if many will see it negatively as just a way of actually serving machines and not the other way around.

If you've not seen it already, I would invite you to watch the TED talk that I shared in this article ( for further insight into how this incredible technology is going to shape not only the economy (both on a micro & on a macro level) but also culture and attitude towards learning and skill development.

I trust you'll enjoy the rest of the series just as much

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
about 4 years ago

Hey Max, this is a really impressive part 1 of your series. Can't wait to see more. Here is another article to check out.

"The second issue is the question of values and morality. We humans make decisions on the basis of our values. Can computers have values? The artificial intelligence expert Stuart Russell argues that it is already possible to programme computers on the basis of utility, in terms of gaining the highest-value outcome. However, programming is still carried out on the basis of the values of the programmer."

All technology has the potential of both positive and negative impact. If the values of the programmer manifest in the AI and those values perpetuate in the AI, then the debate should start now. We are a long way off having collective human intelligence and maybe AI can facilitate that. What are your thoughts about AI and Expert Networks?

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
about 4 years ago

Thanks Charles. This is very true - any technology has the potential of both positive and negative impact. And I would certainly agree that the debate regarding morals and the awesome power of AI should indeed start now as we develop it as opposed to once it already has capabilities beyond our complete control - as this video emphasises: 

The question in your shared article here, "Will machines ever make better decisions than humans?" is critical to the debate over how this technology should be best utilised and how it is formed. I am fascinated by it and how it should be best harnessed for collective good and shared knowledge.

You will find my thoughts on 'AI and Expert Networks', and also on the following two technologies in this series and Expert Networks, in the final piece of these ;)

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
about 4 years ago

Since my article, Sky have published this special report on automation and the fear associated with the potential for job losses during and after the 'rise of the robots': 

A similar theme to that worry over the possibility of computers replacing humans (not only in the workplace but even in society). "There will be winners and losers"

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
about 4 years ago

An interesting read on predictive content creation powered by AI and why brands should take notice:

Go to the profile of Max Inchcoombe
almost 4 years ago This is what powerful technologies such as AI should be used for - improving and even saving lives. Theresa May: “Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths. The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease.”