The digital butterfly effect

ServiceNow’s Dave Wright on the unintended consequences of tech innovation

Technology butterfly effect

In New York City, a butterfly flaps its wings, days later causing a storm over Tokyo.

So goes the classic example of the “the butterfly effect,” the concept in Chaos Theory that one isolated event can ripple across the entire planet in ways nobody imagined. It’s also a fascinating lens through which to examine how technology impacts our lives and society in unexpected ways.

In his Knowledge 2020 thought leadership session, ServiceNow Chief Innovation Officer Dave Wright broke down his theory of the “digital butterfly effect,” explaining the unforeseen effects of new technologies and posing big questions about product design in the digital era. Here’s how he broke down these trends.

The Y2K bug wasn’t a disaster—until 2008

“People say, ‘Was there ever a Y2K disaster?’ Yes, there was. It just didn’t happen in Y2K. To understand what that means, reverse the butterfly effect: Start with the storm and find the butterfly that’s connected to it. The ‘butterfly’ for the financial crash of 2008 was the legendary Y2K bug.”

A single photo posted on Facebook reshaped the Middle East

“When Mark Zuckerberg sat in his Harvard dorm and built Facebook, did he ever think that he had created a piece of software that could change the political landscape of the world? No, it’s something no one would have expected. But in December of 2010, a picture taken in Tunisia that was published on Facebook ended up instigating the Arab Spring.’”

Autonomous vehicles are accelerating human cloning

“The guy who wrote the code to make the car drive itself never, ever thought, ‘This is going to change the way we look at cloning technology in the future.’ But investment in human cloning is increasing because doctors see that, 10 or 15 years down the line, there’s going to be a shortage of donor organs because of self-driving cars.”

You can still check out Wright’s session as he explores how rapidly accelerating technology could cause powerful ripples across the world and in our lives. As Wright explained, “There are a lot of butterfly wings flapping now—and that’s really exciting.”