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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Shaking things up


Disruptive technology has become something of a catchphrase in contemporary conversation. Most believe that Harvard Business School professor Clayton M Christensen coined the term in 1997, and it refers to groundbreaking technology that displaces established methods, shaking up and sometimes creating completely new industries.

Marjorie Ngwenya
Marjorie Ngwenya is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries
Technologies that were once seen as revolutionary have now become the norm

Innovation continues to shift many of our long-held paradigms and yet many are still dismissive of these technologies and the way that they will change our realities. However, many technologies that were once seen as revolutionary have now become the norm. 

Emails are now commonplace and have transformed not just business practices but also the fabric of societal customs. The advent of email and the internet displaced the role of postal services and reshaped how communities interacted, the fluidity of information and indeed the accuracy of that voluminous data. 

The year 2016 was a breakthrough one for disruptive technology and now leaves us with more questions than we have answers. 

Let’s consider how many of us use wearable health and fitness trackers on a daily basis today and how this seemed such a giant leap only a short while ago. We now think nothing of the fact that our watches can monitor our sleep, and a number of enterprises have capitalised on this disruption; creating an entirely unique approach to insurance. For any industry in which we work, there are many digital technologies that propose to change the status quo. Among them, 3D printing is already becoming a core factor in manufacturing and construction, reducing production time from years to months. 

The race is on for who will be the first to crack quantum computing and who will create the new methods of protection for our digital data. Many of the current techniques will be rendered obsolete.

Will Elon Musk’s idea of ‘neural lace’ to achieve symbiosis of the human brain with intelligent computers come to fruition? Is it more a case of when than if? The University of Washington is already working on a purportedly less invasive approach to Musk’s idea; using brain signals to communicate and allowing us to exist together in a shared virtual reality. It could provide limitless horizons to those confined to wheelchairs/beds and improve the way we experience multimedia.

Relating to our profession, data science and analytics methods are evolving at a rapid pace. It is certain that many of our long-established techniques will need to adapt to what is a dynamic and present reality. The IFoA, like other organisations, is updating its education programmes to cater for this brave new world; an iterative process given that our backdrop is not static. 

From a professionalism viewpoint, there is much to consider as we seize these opportunities; supplementing our toolkits and revisiting our former hypotheses. There are many questions to be answered, including the nuanced and complex area of ethics as they relate to big data.

Our profession has a long history of adaptation, having shape-shifted since the 1700s. With the pace of change becoming exponential, we needn’t look too far ahead. What will be the silhouette of the actuarial profession at the close of this decade?

Marjorie Ngwenya is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries