Editor’s note: Technology futurist Shara Evans, founder and CEO of Market Clarity, will deliver the closing keynote address at North America CACS 2018, which will take place 30 April-2 May in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Evans recently visited with ISACA Now to discuss topics ranging from the future of travel to why many executives struggle to take a long view of technology. The following is an edited transcript:
ISACA Now: What inspired your passion for technology and scientific research?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a science fiction fan, devouring sci-fi novels like they were candy. One of my earliest recollections was watching the original Astro Boy cartoons. I remember him flying around fighting giant robots, aliens and all sorts of bad guys. So, there I was at 4 or 5 years old, trying to figure out how to design rocket jets for the heels of my shoes.
So much of what I read in science fiction novels inspired me. Unfortunately, I grew up in a period where science and technology were thought to be outside of what little girls should aspire to. In fact, my teachers actively discouraged me from taking classes in this area, instead enrolling me in things like “Home Economics” (being a good little housewife) and Typing (which actually worked out well once I started programming).
I originally thought I was going to be a lawyer/politician because I saw so much injustice in the world and wanted to do something with my life that could make a difference … But much to my surprise, I found I had an aptitude for computer programming and logic when I was finishing my undergraduate degree in political science. In the last semester of my senior year, while taking a sociology course, I had to use SPSS for a research project about cultural bias in the media. That was a long time ago, in the days when computer mainframes used card-punch machines for input. I picked up SPSS very quickly, then went on to teach myself a range of programming languages. I did my graduate work in computer science rather than going to law school. I’ve been in the technology field ever since.
ISACA Now: What are some recent technology innovations that you think bode especially well for society?
Whenever I look at technologies, I always see a double-edged sword: wonderful advances that can come from using a given technology, and conversely, threats to our security and privacy. We really need to think ahead to what can happen and balance how we use technologies so that we end up with a wonderful future, rather than a dystopian nightmare.
Some of the advances that I'm particularly excited about are in the med-tech area. For instance, a project in Brazil called Walk Again used a combination of virtual reality, robotic exoskeletons and brain machine interfaces to help eight quadriplegics regain feeling below their waists, dramatically changing the lives of the people involved with this experiment.
There are so many examples of combining biology, chemistry, medical science and technology that have the potential to really help people. Bio-printing is another example, where 3D printers are used to print living tissue. Already, noses and ears have been bio-printed, sometimes in combination with cutting-edge stem cell therapies that allow cells matching the recipient to grow on top of the 3D bio-printed scaffolding. Eventually, we will be able to print entire organs – no more waiting for transplants.
ISACA Now: You recently gave a talk about the future of travel. What do you anticipate will be the biggest changes on that front?
Two things: Hyperloop transport and the exploration of outer space.
There are already a number of companies actively exploring pilot hyperloop transport systems. So far, experiments with pilot test tracks are going well. If this comes to fruition, we will have large transport tubes taken to near-vacuum conditions to eliminate air resistance, which can autonomously transport people or cargo at speeds of up to 760 mph or more. This technology has the potential to change what it means to live in regional areas, taking the pressure off increasingly dense and expensive metropolitan areas.
Outer space exploration is another exciting area. Because of the emergence of re-usable rockets, exploration of space is going to be feasible within the next 10 years. Imagine the job possibilities and adventure that would bring!
ISACA Now: What are the biggest keys to getting more women into the tech workforce?
I think the only way to successfully achieve gender balance in the technology workforce is to encourage little girls (elementary school or younger) by presenting technology as something they can relate to, have fun with, and imagine themselves doing as a career.
One of the things that I noticed at [the Consumer Electronic Show] last year was the number of robot educational games designed to teach children how to program robots. We need to ensure that the teaching games being developed also appeal to little girls.
I think companies also need to be more open-minded about hiring women with a technical aptitude who may not have formal qualifications in this area. Give them a chance, offer training opportunities, and you’d be surprised how many shining stars are groomed.
It’s also important to understand and communicate that not all tech industry jobs are about writing code. So much of what we have developed is the result of imagination (often taking hints from science fiction) or trying to solve real-world problems. And, with AI and many other technologies, there are repercussions with respect to privacy, security and ethics. We need input from women on these issues, too.
ISACA Now: What are some common challenges with inspiring executive teams and boards of directors to take the long view in thinking about the potential impact of technology on their businesses?
I do keynotes and workshops for boards of directors and executive teams all the time. One of the biggest challenges is getting them to look beyond the 12-month horizon. As a futurist, my medium-term horizon is two to five years out – but to my clients, medium-term is six months. My long-term is the five- to 10-year horizon and beyond, whereas long-term to my clients is typically 12 to 18 months out.
So, when I talk about medium- or long-term opportunities and risks, I need to take them on a timeline journey about all kinds of technologies, how they relate to their businesses, and the consequences of failing to take action, whether it be missing out on huge opportunities, loss of competitive advantage, planning for the impact of automation – especially on their workforces – and the exponentiality factor as applied to today’s technologies. Most people are used to gradual changes, but we’ve now hit a curve in our technological advancement where the baseline is already high and we’re doubling capabilities every 18 to 24 months.