Innovation isn't always a good thing. 

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking agrees. He gives some fierce examples of how progress in science and technology can create "new ways things can go wrong."

But with all due respect, Hawking omitted the most insidious innovation of all time: on-demand technology.

Innovate at Your Own Risk

History is filled with innovation gone wrong. According to Hawking we should have learned our lesson by now about the ill-fated consequences of technology advances. Hawking maintains humanity is at risk from a series of dangers of our own making, including nuclear war, global warming and genetically-engineered viruses.

Even more dangerous examples abound, whether we look to innovations in the distant past or as recently as last week.

Case in point, the Dum Dum soft point bullet. It was invented by a British army officer in 1896 to effectively increase stopping power. It was intended to shorten and contain battles, and it worked perfectly, so well in fact that it was ultimately determined to be too cruel. 

Fast forward to today where the scientists and arms experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland have issued a dire warning about a new era of warfare. They say that advanced AI robots could join wars and kill many people. As Hawking puts it, the development of smarter, full artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.”

Here’s a Good Idea

How about hoverboards, foretold in everyone’s favorite 80s sci-fi movie "Back to the Future"? In reality, today’s hoverboard technologies may indeed hold great potential but we'll definitely have to wait until the future to see it. Although the idea seems straightforward it’s difficult to get them to work in practice, like the electromagnetic force ones that only work over a conducting surface. 

Another technology approach calling itself hoverboard uses a skateboard and Segway-like gyroscopes to offer “skate but no levitate.” The scientist who founded this technology company calls his vehicle an earned experience which simply means it’s super hard to ride. 

And for hoverboard innovation gone wrong, look no further than the latest commercial gizmos and previous must-have gifts of Christmas 2015 that are causing back injuries (even Mike Tyson took a fall) and worse yet being recalled for their lithium ion batteries that burst into flame.

Tablet technology was a great idea. For sports, it has changed the face of coaching in football; with apps that assist from recruiting to player progress. Pre-game and at the sidelines it has replaced the erase board as an innovative and flexible play tool. But just last week we saw that more technology means more chances for things to go wrong, like when the Patriots tablets stopped working at the AFC title game. The Patriots communications were restored during the game, but it was one more trouble for New England in a game that didn’t turn out the way most predicted it would.

OK, you say. So maybe these examples of innovation had some bad unintended (or even intended) consequences, but what could possibly be so risky about on-demand technology? 

Truth or Consequences

The truth is on-demand technology started out just fine. Delivering significant benefits to the enterprise as a part of an overall company strategy, it allows users to access computing resources as needed and opens a path to leveraging service provider resources. As on-demand matured from time sharing to our current cloud environments, it encompassed such positive concepts as grid computing, utility computing and autonomic computing.

I proclaimed the advantages of on-demand cloud last year in Good Cloud, Bad Cloud. Why Cloud? and I haven’t changed my mind.

Learning Opportunities

For example, adoption trends in insurance have revealed that the cloud can provide companies with the flexibility needed to respond quickly to changing needs. While cost savings has been a driver for insurers to adopt the cloud, there are already a number of insurance cloud success stories that illustrate the cloud's real potential as a means of innovation and competitive advantage in a changing market with a changing customer demographic.

The appeal of leveraging the cloud as a platform for speed in a changing market is clear and especially resonates in the communications, media and entertainment sector, one that Gartner identified as second only to banking in cloud adoption. 

In Breaking Bad: How Technology is Changing Media & Entertainment, I wrote about the digital media supply chain and how entertainment and broadcast companies are experiencing no less than an industry revolution. The on-demand cloud can be the platform on which the digital media supply chain operates to better serve changing markets and consumption models.

Oh sure, on-demand presents itself as an awesome innovation with perhaps limitless applications. But something horrible happened when on-demand spread to our consumer viewing habits. The consequences have the potential to destroy the fabric of our society.

The Ed Sullivan Scenario

On Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, over 73 million viewers gathered around their television sets. The big event was here. The Beatles would be making their first American television appearance live on the Ed Sullivan Show. Now this might not mean much to you “youngsters,” but at the time it was pure excitement and a shared real time experience. 

Can’t relate? Think Adele’s Live in New York City concert special for NBC (but actually airing live on the date it was performed), or consider your anticipation of the shared live broadcast of Super Bowl 50. Still not convinced? Imagine how it will feel to await each week as the “new” show The X-Files plays out on your television screen. 

There is something undeniably exciting about an “in the moment” experience, even or perhaps especially when it is being broadcast across the nation and the globe. And when sharing real time on Facebook and trending on Twitter, we magnify the strength of our shared experience.

On-demand technology, while a boon to so many industries and enterprises, has the potential to destroy all that. Beware humanity, because nuclear war, global warming and genetically-engineered viruses may well pale in comparison.

With the 90 anniversary of the first demonstration of television just behind us, take heed lest you lose touch with reality and worse yet get lost in streaming and bingeing. Throw those DVRs away and experience life as it happens, as it was meant to be experienced … on your television and at the originally scheduled time.

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