Overlooked Principles Shaping

The most important changes are often the least obvious. That’s especially true in business, where changes are taking place on a greater scale than ever before. The advent of digital technology has brought a number of these dynamics to the forefront. They can be thought of as principles. Like Moore’s law or Murphy’s law, they explain the way the world works.

If you’re in business in the 2010s, an understanding of these five principles is crucial, because digital disruption is quickly becoming the new normal. Many growth strategies that may have worked well in the past no longer pack a punch. The principles help explain not just what will happen to your company next, but why.

Turing’s theory of computability: Machines can calculate any of the ever-growing number of problems that are possible to calculate. In the 1930s and 1940s, the English mathematician Alan Turing (whose life was dramatized in the 2014 thriller The Imitation Game), made some pathbreaking observations about computability and its ramifications. He identified what he called “computable” activities: any task that a theoretical machine (in this case, a mathematical model with a process similar to a computer) can address. Having determined that computability can be identified mathematically, Turing then postulated that machines have the capacity to perform computable tasks as well as human beings can. In his e-book Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Language, Logic, and Machines, University of Virginia professor David Evans devotes a chapter to computability. “A problem is computable if it can be solved by some algorithm,” he explains. “A problem that is noncomputable cannot be solved by any algorithm.”

In 1950, Alan Turing provided a demonstration of computability that is still remembered today as the “Turing test.” He set up an experiment in which he asked his subjects to exchange typed messages with an entity in another room. Many onlookers could not guess correctly whether there was a person or a computer generating the responses. This demonstrated that a computer program could make a convincing representation of human intelligence, good enough to function as well as a person on that task. Or, as Turing put it in a paper (pdf) at the time, the program could “play the imitation game satisfactorily” for any computable task. He predicted that in 50 years machines would, for five minutes, be able to fool a human questioner 30 percent of the time. His prediction came true in 2014.