On my last day at CES, I had a chance to talk with HP CTO Shane Wall about HP’s vision and particularly where it would be making its big bets. One of the signs that a turnaround is complete is when the firm moves from quarterly block and tackling, clearly struggling to make sure the firm survives, to creating and executing against a long-term vision. That pivot has clearly happened and, increasingly, HP’s eyes are shifting focus from next quarter to next decade.
HP Labs have been around almost as long as I have and the lab was once known for making big bets and even bigger predictions.
Let’s talk about the trends HP is anticipating and what it is doing about them.
Rapid Urbanization: Folks are moving to cities now and that means the cities will be getting larger. This drives up prices in the cities and this is driving a related trend for smaller, more efficient spaces. The concept of micro-homes has been spreading like wildfire and concepts for this type of living are rotating to using technology to make far better use of space. I still believe that we will come around to the idea of arcologies eventually, which should eliminate much of the need for commuting. I also think there will be a pull back from this trend as technologies, like those HP itself is creating, will allow far more people to work remotely with ever increasing productivity. (Some of the related visions of the future are amazing.)
Changing Demographics: The boomers vs. the millennials: Two of the most powerful groups are sharing power but with very different needs. This is putting huge stresses on retirement programs and medical institutions as the boomers age out, and psychiatric care has vastly higher use among millennials. So, while these groups are very different from each other, they’ll both need a lot of medical care and the costs will be untenable unless digital health and robotics can bridge the gap.
Hyper Globalization: (I would argue there is also a counter-trend being driven by some of the autocratic governments like North Korea, Russia and China.) Our lives are increasingly connected globally, thanks mostly to social media. This is driving an unprecedented focus on security as this hyper connectivity is creating nasty exposures for us all. But this global connectivity is also creating massive opportunities for positive change and allowing opportunities that might have otherwise never have existed to scale to their amazing potential. Now if we could just deal better with the fake news (false information) contaminating these efforts.
Accelerated Innovation: Remember when appliances and devices didn’t change for decades? Now we are lucky if our new prized possession remains current for six months. Even cars seem to be going into accelerated advancement windows. If your firm isn’t pushing the development envelope, it is likely getting ready to push up daisies. Once very powerful companies are struggling with this massive accelerated advancement.
Disruptive Technologies Fascinating HP
The technologies that HP is looking at and investing in represent its response to these mega trends and they are equally fascinating.
Bio Convergence: This is one of the fascinating areas of research right now because it blends technology and nature. Flying machines designed after birds and insects, robots designed after dogs and cats, and even batteries made from alfalfa seeds and pine resin. This increased blending of technology and nature is resulting in some amazing things.
Beyond Human: As we age, the need to better integrate technology with our bodies and medicine is becoming ever more critical. HP is already using microfluidics in ink jet printers and this same technology could be used to administer a whole host of drugs far more accurately, far more safely, and with far less related pain (I’ve always hated needles). Things like robotic limbs, exoskeletons, wearable technology and ever smarter AIs will increasingly blend us in with the technology we use and create. Netflix, at CES, even had a showcase for replaceable bodies. (I could use that today.)
Frictionless Business: One of the biggest areas HP is working on is 3D printing, with the promise that eventually you may be able to print what your heart desires. You go from ad or imagination to product with just a click of a button, and we are getting ever closer to being able to print complex products from plastics, ceramics and metal. Even food may be one day be printed, and that day is coming surprisingly fast.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+