ILTA 2014 Keynote Speech: Technology changes everything. You must change, too.

August 18, 2014

ILTA 2014 logoThe International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA) 37th Annual Education Conference kicked off this morning at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, with today’s keynote speech by Peter Diamandis, M.D.

You may not have heard of Peter Diamandis until today.  But you have probably heard of one of his many ventures, one of the most prominent of which is the X PRIZE Foundation, which offered a $10 million prize for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.  The organization has since expanded its focus into other future-thinking projects.

Diamondis’s speech was likewise very future-oriented.  He began talking about how technology moves in exponential (e.g., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc), rather than linear steps (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc), and that every field in which technology is applied also experiences similar exponential growth in its technology.

Diamondis described a veritable utopia created by technology – one wherein problems such as poverty and illiteracy have been replaced by abundance and interconnectedness.

But technology’s advent won’t necessarily be an automatic benefit to everyone – particularly those who fail to adapt to the changes wrought by it.  Diamondis’s warning can be summarized with the case of Kodak, which was a dominant force in photography as late as the 1990s and early 2000s.  In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy.  What happened?

Diamondis attributes the sharp decline to the company’s thinking being “linear” instead of “exponential.”  That is, failing to identify and adapt to future technologies.  As evidence of this, Diamondis spoke of how in 1975 – in Kodak’s labs, no less – Steven Sasson invented the world’s first digital camera.  However, Kodak, being a print and chemical photography company at the time, failed to adjust their business model to the technological revolution that the digital camera would usher in.

Had the business adjusted its thinking and reimagined itself and its place in the photography industry, its position could very well have been markedly different from a company just emerging from bankruptcy.

Technology and the changes that it brings along with it are inevitable.  Either you make the change to (or, “disrupt,” as Diamondis referred to it) yourself and your organization, or, Diamondis warns, “someone else will.”

The legal industry is not immune from the catalyzing reach of evolving technologies, nor should it be.  Diamondis prophesizes that artificial intelligence such as IBM’s Watson will one day be applied to a variety of fields, which would then be made available to the general public.  In short, your average person could one day – within the next ten years – have an app on their smart phone that is able to accurately answer potentially complex legal questions for them.

In such a world, traditional legal industry business models would be obsolete, and it will be those organizations that grow and adapt to these new changes that prosper in that brave new world.