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The many faces of Digital Transformation – What is Reality today?

The medium is the message. Marshall McLuhan statement rings ever more true today

The amount of literature on Digital Transformation is staggering—and it keeps growing. Why, then, the Digital Reality Initiative is planning to come out with yet another such document? Moreover, any text aiming at explaining the Digital Transformation by presenting a snapshot is going to become obsolete in a blink of an eye, most likely to be already obsolete at the time it is first published.

The FDC Initiative on Digital Reality felt there is a need to look at the Digital Transformation from the point of view of a profound change that is pervading the entire society—a change made possible by technology and that keeps changing due to technology evolution opening new possibilities, but is also a change happening because it has strong economic reasons. The direction of this change is not easy to predict because it is steered by a cultural evolution of society, an evolution that is happening in niches and that may expand rapidly to larger constituencies and as rapidly may fade away. This creation, selection by experimentation, adoption, and sudden disappearance, is what makes the whole scenario so unpredictable and continuously changing.

Technologists are responsible for the tools they are developing and they need to understand the slate of implications generated by use of these tools. Technology has already passed a threshold, separating reality from artefacts that is taking us into a fuzzy space where it is not just difficult to tell one from the other, but where it is often meaningless to make this distinction.

When McLuhan said the medium is the message a long time ago, it was a revolutionary and possibly absurd thought—yet it has become true even beyond McLuhan imagination. Technology is today’s medium, reaching single individuals and communities that are no longer defined in space but in aggregation roots. it is not just serving those communities and individuals: it is shaping them and it is being shaped by them. The very same technology can lead to completely different behaviours in different communities, sometimes making it harder to understand the reasons, even afterwards.

The question then becomes What is Reality today? Philosophers have debated for century this issue, along with the possibility of humans to grasp it. Physicists and science in general decided that reality is what can be measured independently by different people at different point in space and time, and in the last century has postulated that this measure would be valid everywhere, at any time, in the knowable universe.

Math has progressed with the assumption that given a starting point and an agreed set of rules anybody could agree on the conclusions. Both physics and math in the last century came to the realisation that our systems cannot be complete (or, therefore, not integrating everything).

Yet, those limitations did not affect our everyday life, reality was perceived as … real.

The Digital Transformation, the flanking of bits to atoms, is changing this perception and this is in a way much more important to our everyday life than the quantum uncertainties and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.