Looking at the history of networked technologies, there is an important underlying shift in the center-of-gravity, from communication, to commerce, to coordination. First, the early Internet dramatically changed the scope and speed of our communications with one another. Then, as it continued to mature, it disrupted commerce, (and our models for buying and selling are still in transition). At the Institute for the Future, my colleague Devin Fidler and I have been exploring the next story of network technology evolution that will unfold in the next decade, what we’re calling the new coordination economy.
We can already see early examples of the changes today from startups like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb coordinate people and an overabundance of resources. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are coordinating financing to help realize a wide range of projects. And dozens of cities around the country are using smartphones to coordinate CPR-trained citizens as potential first responders.
But these examples are just the beginning. Over the next decade, a few key technologies—machine learning, cloud computing, smartphones, and an Internet of connected and sensing physical objects—will finally work well together, transforming a rapidly expanding list of things into coordination platforms.
We will start to see the coordination economy take shape in the ways that we work. Services like oDesk and MobileWorks offer anyone an army of on-demand micro-workers perfectly tailored to the task at hand. Gigwalk takes micro-work to the streets, letting anyone find or hire pick-up work from the local area.
Toward the end of the decade and beyond, the technologies and algorithms of coordination have the potential to transform how we transport people and resources, from Google’s self-driving car to the drone delivery systems being prototyped by Matternet and ARIA.
As these tools of coordination are combined, their true disruptive power will be unleashed. Imagine a software app developed to "build a house" by first helping to customize the design, then automatically placing and tracking supply orders, hiring and coordinating workers through each stage of building, filing government paperwork, and automatically contracting for site cleanup and landscaping once the structure is completed.
The basic recipe of success in the coordination economy is how quickly and cheaply you can activate, mobilize, and deactivate resources when and where they’re needed.
Silicon Valley has been accused of creating technological solutions to invented problems, and you don’t have to squint to see the potential downsides of this future. In a deeply coordinated world, we might become unthinking drones bounced from one task to the next—think of being a Borg from Star Trek—activated by an impersonal technological system, assigned a job, and simply disconnected when no longer needed.
And resistance to this future certainly abounds. The California Public Utilities Commission, for example, only recently dropped its long fight with Uber and Lyft. AirBnB is going up against housing regulators in New York, and online workers are creating their own tools and even global micro-unions to combat race-to-the-bottom wages. Expect to see many more agencies and entrenched organizations fight these upstart services in the coming years.
But the promise of the coordination economy is a future of truly level playing fields, where anyone can amplify their impact in the areas that are important to them, in their local community or across the world.