Mis/DisInformation

Executive Overview

You would think we should have been enlightened by the past few decades of the Knowledge Age, so why do people seem badly misinformed, confused, emotional and unreasonable? Many do not believe in evolution, climate change, vaccination and other established science. 

Right-wing Americans have accepted conspiracy theories like Qanon and lies about how the 2020 US presidential election was “stolen.” Roughly 70 percent of Internet users think fake news causes doubt and confusion, with social media the least trusted news source worldwide. And 83% of people believe disinformation negatively affects their country’s politics. [6]  Norman Lear, the famous TV producer, said: “We just may be the most-informed, yet least self-aware people in history,” [1]  and Senator Ben Sasse worried, “We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence.” [2]

Extensive studies confirm that attitudes, beliefs and even rational decisions are largely shaped by a variety of well-known biases, political party allegiance, and other extraneous factors.[3]  Even hard-nosed business people admit that bias in decision-making is a major problem.[4] These irrational tendencies explain why demagogues successfully use the lure of self-serving fantasies that blind people to the truth and mobilize them into violence.[5]  

This dilemma poses one of the great ironies of our time. The digital revolution has created a wealth of knowledge that is almost infinite. The smartphone alone has made the world’s store of information available at the touch of a finger. There is no shortage of knowledge, but its power is badly limited. Although the world is covered with an abundance of communication, it is not a very happy place. Just as the Gutenberg printing press unleashed a flood of information that led to disruptive change, brutal conflict and the Protestant Reformation, this deluge of digital knowledge has brought a “post-factual” wave of nonsense, fake news and conspiracy theories that pose global threats.

 

Mis/DisInformation

“Mis/DisInformation” includes misinformation (honest errors) and disinformation (intended to deceive). There is a constant stream of mistakes, distortions, false news, and endless other information corruption in public media. Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants have faced mounting criticism for allowing inflammatory and even violent traffic to spread dangerous falsehoods. Even where care is taken to avoid mistakes, ethical behavior is hard to enforce.  Revelations of widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence organizations have brought demands for public exposure of data-gathering practices.  Transparency in government is often promised but seldom delivered. In parts of the world, rampant corruption is taken for granted.

Here are some major sources of Mis/DisInformation:

 

Willful Ignorance 

It does not help that large parts of the public embrace this confusion out of sheer perversity. TV and the Internet have produced what has been called “the dumbest generation” with a brazen disregard for books and reading, often favoring religious and political beliefs. [6] Following are choice bits of willful ignorance in the US and other modern nations.

  • The US ranks near the bottom of nations whose citizens believe in evolution, with less than 40 percent saying they accept the science.  [7]
  • Two-thirds cannot name the three branches of government. [8]
  • Half of Trump voters believe President Obama was born in Kenya. [9]
  • Thirty percent of people think cloud computing involves actual clouds.[10]
  • Twenty-five percent don’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun.[11]
  • Fewer than half know that humans evolved from primitive species.[12]
  • Two-thirds of undergraduate students score above average on narcissism personality tests, up 30 percent from 1982.[13]

 

Corporate Misbehavior  

Despite a drive to increased openness, corporate secrecy and cover-ups remain common. In the US, whistle-blowing events have increased, and SEC actions against public companies hit an all-time high. (Bloomberg, Feb 14, 2017)

Public Complicity

In many countries, corruption remains a major problem. In India, the most corrupt country in Asia, almost 70 percent of the population accessing public services report having paid a bribe to do so. (Forbes, Mar 8, 2017)


Fake News Proliferating

Intentionally false articles and slanted reporting have proliferated in recent years. US intelligence agencies found a widespread Russian program of fake news and disinformation, although they are unsure of the impact. Fake news imposes real social costs and serves to destabilize society. (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 2017)

Deep Fakes Are Hard to Detect 

Increasingly sophisticated machine learning can create, often in real-time, convincing but fake audio and video. While being developed, tools to guarantee the authenticity of a given video or audio clip are lagging behind. (MIT Technology Review, May 1, 2017)

Post-Factual Mess

The advent of today’s “post-factual world” carries the problem to an extreme by forcing us to sort through fake news and conspiracy theories. An entire cottage industry has sprung up to produce books titled “Assault on intelligence,” “The death of truth,” “A world without facts,” “The death of expertise” and “Truth decay.” [14]

 

Governments and Corporations Responding 

Throughout Western democracies, governments are requiring disclosure of corporate information to ensure ethical dealings. Many shareholders want even more.


DARPA Working to Spot Fake Media

With machine learning algorithms becoming adept at generating believable fake audiovisual content, it’s important to be able to detect the fakes. To that end, DARPA has launched a project aiming at catching the so-called “deep fakes”.  (MIT Technology Review, May 23, 2018)

 

Shareholder Demands 

Investors in growing numbers are demanding greater transparency from corporate boards and executives in matters of compensation, company operations, and political contributions. 

 

Social Media Companies Responding to Fake News

In response to concerns about fake news’ impact on society and even election results, organizations are taking further steps to prevent fake news from spreading. Facebook, for example, has created algorithms that automatically flag suspicious stories, are then sent to fact checkers. If shown to be false news, the company attempts to limit their spread across the social network. (Advertising Age, Aug 3, 2017)

 

Crises Forcing Corporations to Act

Recent corporate scandals have highlighted the need for greater transparency in business, recruiting even top executives to the cause.

Corporate scandals ranging from dishonest mortgage practices (Bank of America, et. al) to bribery in Mexico (Walmart) and fixing of LIBOR trading (at least 10 multinational banking firms) have brought growing demands for business transparency. So have legitimate but largely hidden activities such as political contributions. (Inc, Jul 8, 2016)

 

Executives Endorse Ethics  

A survey of business executives in 30 countries found that 79% believe their companies have an ethical duty to fight corruption. Executives said the most effective anti-corruption tool was the transparency enforced by investigative journalism. (Institute for Global Ethics, Jul 8, 2016)


[1] “Norman Lear calls for leap of faith,” The New Leaders (May/June 1993)

[2] Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult (St. Martin’s, 2017)

[3] Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” (The New Yorker, Feb 27, 2017). Yuval Harari, People have limited knowledge. What’s the remedy? Nobody knows,” (New York Times, Apr 18, 2017)

[4] Tobias Beer et al., “The Business Logic in Debiasing” (McKinsey, May 2017)

[5] Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth,” (The New York Times, May 24, 2019)

[6]  Statistica (June 16, 2021); Latterly (2021); Mark Bauerian, The Dumbest Generation (New York: Penguin, 2008)

[7] Ker Than, “US Lags … Acceptance of Evolution” (Live Science, Aug 11, 2006)

[8] Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon, 2008)

[9] Catherine Rampell, “Americans … believe crazy, wrong things,” Washington Post (Dec 28, 20015)

[10] Mark Morford, “Human stupidity is destroying the world,” alternet (Mar 20, 2013)

[11] John Amato, “25% of Americans don’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun,” National Science Foundation (Feb 25, 2014)

[12] Ibid

[13] Bauerian, Op. Cit. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a well-established phenomenon in which those who know little actually believe they know more than others. Angela Fritz, “What’s Behind the Confidence of the Incompetent?” (Washington Post, Jan 7, 2019)

[14] Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018) Anne Applebaum, “A world without facts,” Washington Post (May 20, 2018)   Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford, 2018) Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay, (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018) Adrian Chen, “The fake news fallacy,“ The New Yorker (Sep 4, 2017) George Will, “The high cost of cheap speech,” Washington Post (Sep 21, 2017)

 

Comments

Ian Browde

My sense is that the platform company business model is the problem. Here is my rationale.

Section 230 (https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230) is being used by platform companies like FaceBook, Twitter, etc., to evade responsibility for curation and editing information. Consequently, we find ourselves plagued (advisedly chosen word) by claims of 1st Amendment support for any idea, thought or opinion, whether or not supported by any evidence, advanced by people with an ax to grind, an ideology to push or a belief system to maintain. When these ideas are either promulgated by elected officials or famous people, they tend to carry more weight than they would typically and there is little the public can do to mitigate their effect.

Companies that are supported by advertising could and should be regulated like advertising companies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al fall into this category for the most part. Others that push ideology and/or propaganda (Fox News a lot of the time, CNN some of the time) should be regulated as newspapers or entertainment companies and hence not permitted to use the word “news” in their name.

The platform companies could provide a service that curates and edits much like newspapers, et al are mandated to which could start to separate out the fact from fiction world in which we find ourselves currently. However, I don’t see them doing that voluntarily.

The key to understanding this whole issue is an understanding of what a platform company is. It is a 3-legged stool of technology (the infrastructure), data (knowledge about users, subscribers and their likes and dislikes, etc) and community (where folks feel they belong and resemble others in the same group). The key to a platform company’s success is the “network effect” i.e., people generating buzz and telling others about it. Going viral is the most obvious example of the network effect. In order to keep people engaged and enhance the network effect, content needs to be more and more edgy, more and more titillating, more and more outrageous. 

Until we understand that the business model is the problem things will only get worse.

Peter King

I think your proposal to address misinformation and disinformation is an excellent idea. I guess there have always been snake oil sellers but now they have the communication means to reach millions anonymously.  While the solution escapes me, I am hoping your experts will have some idea of how a trusted “fact-checker” system could be launched.  Perhaps that is the next version of Techcast?  

 

Expert Survey Results

 

 

We are tentatively planning to invite estimates on how bad Mis/DisInformation is likely to get, and how well various solutions are likely to relieve Mis/DisInformation. Here are some tentative questions:

  1. How serious is the Mid/DisInformation problem now?
  2. How effective would it be to have media companies self-manage their content using committees?  (like Facebook’s committee of experts)
  3. How about Federal regulation of media companies?
  4. How effective would it be to encourage a social ethic of “Seeking Truth”?
  5. Strong national leadership?
  6. How about AI systems that automatically detect and remove inaccurate content?
  7. Can you suggest other solutions?
  8. How serious is the Mid/DisInformation problem likely to be in 2030?

Please offer what you think would be good questions to answer

How to Plan for Revolutionary Change

 

Concerned about surviving today’s revolutionary changes?

 

This report  provides an authoritative guide to the principles of strategic foresight.  Using these key practices should give you, your team and your organization confidence in planning for the future.

Strategic foresight is not limited to large corporations.  Small business firms, government agencies, non-profits, and even individuals are being transformed by the technology revolution, globalization, and social trends. In principle, all planners and leaders today must plan for the ongoing wave of disruption or face disaster.

The generic strategic planning cycle below outlines the logic of strategic foresight. As shown, it begins by setting goals and defining an inspiring vision.  Strategy can be best thought of as a “two-person game” (game theory) between the organization and the environment. The next step is to anticipate the future environment. The difference between where decision-makers hope to go (goals) and where the environment is leading (forecasts) then defines critical strategic issues. Strategic issues are the heart of good strategy because they pose the major obstacles to progress. After studying issues, it is important to pose a few alternative strategies, and to evaluate how well each is likely to perform in this environment to reach the goals.  Decision makers are then able to select the most attractive strategy and implement it by defining tactics.

 

Yes, this requires lots of hard work, but it is crucial for a rapidly changing world. Netflix wiped out Blockbuster’s 6,000 retail stores by recognizing the competitive advantage of  introducing streaming video.  Toyota became the world’s largest car maker by anticipating the need for green transportation and developing the first hybrid autos. Apple dominates electronics because Steve Jobs bundled together major breakthroughs to create the iPhone.

Now, let’s get started by looking at the following strategic principles:

 

7 Principles of Strategic Foresight

 

1. Form a Cross-Disciplinary Team 

The place to start is by organizing a small team of strategic thinkers from across your organization. To obtain diverse views, staff the Strategic Foresight Team with key personnel from all disciplines and units – operations, marketing, research, etc.  Select persons with knowledge of foresight, strategic planning, environmental scanning and forecasting. Make sure they are curious and committed to change. The team should meet regularly and assign tasks to different members. They should also plan to keep the entire organization informed in order to promulgate strategic thinking throughout the system.

2. Define Your Vision and Goals

You cannot know where you are going without an inspiring vision.  This requires hard abstract thought, and it may take several iterations to get it right, but please persist. Your vision should define an aspirational concept of what you hope to accomplish ideally and what it would look like when completed. The goals, in turn, define measurable outcomes that collectively make up the vision.

3. Forecast the Future Environment

 To forecast effectively, allocate responsibility for scanning useful magazines, journals, websites, and other sources to specific individuals on the team.  There are endless trends so focus on those that affect your organization and define the trends with a title and short description and examples. The team should review the results and select items of interest to be reported on.

4. Study Critical Issues

Do not confuse critical issues with forecasts as they are quite different. Forecasts tell you what is likely to happen, while Issues focus on the crucial problems facing your organization.  A variety of forecasts may point to the same issue.  Most organizations have several issues that resisted solution for years. People usually know what these problems are, but they are so difficult or poorly defined that they lay unresolved. But if you really want to energize your organization, bit the bullet and confront them head on.

5. Propose Alternative Strategies

Here is where creative thinking is needed rather than sheer objective efforts. Your most obvious strategy is to continue the present course of action, but please force yourselves to move beyond the status quo and think of bold new possibilities. Some may prove unworkable so narrow the options down to 2-5 major strategies.

6. Estimate Outcomes  

The hard work begins now as you evaluate each alternative against the future trends the organization is facing, its power to cut through critical issues and the most likely outcomes in terms of achieving your goals. This is also a good opportunity to work together by pooling the estimates of team members and producing a consensus of your collective intelligence.

7. Select a Strategy to Implement

 The final test of foresight is a creative strategy. Ideally the team should engage the organization’s decision-makers in thinking about which strategy would be best for the future environment you anticipate.  Be sure to frame the task in concise terms and ask the organizations leaders to participate by providing estimates and comments. Again, use the power of collective intelligence. The resulting evaluation data is likely to be “owned” by the decision-makers, taken seriously, discussed for implications, revised, and acted upon.

 

Final Thoughts  

Please note that this is a generic framework for strategy.  Managers do this intuitively because it is basically problem solving.  The process can take years, however, because managers usually cycle through these steps until all elements fall into place. And all organizations do this somewhat differently, so feel free to adopt your own modification of this approach.

If you have trouble with the process, TechCast is always available to help.

                                           Good luck. The TechCast Team

Technology Giveth and Technology Taketh

Uber’s disruption of the taxicab industry is the latest case in which IT “disintermediates” a business sector, driving out the middlemen and making huge profits. This article brings together a few of TechCast’s 130 international experts to analyze this economic upheaval and outline where it is going.

This is only a short essay, rather than the type of in-depth forecast we normally do. But it illustrates how our research method can provide the value of collective intelligence on almost anything.

 
Creating the Digital Economy

These economic upheavals caused by Uber, Airbnb, and a host of new ventures are now possible by harnessing the growing power of information technology (IT). The first mover, Uber in this case, creates a new communication system to automate some process, giving them an unbeatable competitive advantage. 

But the smashing success of Uber, has, in turn, attracted about a dozen competitors. Even cab drivers are building IT apps that offer the same flexibility in bringing together passengers and drivers. With the playing field leveled, what determines who succeeds and who fails? Will it be the first mover advantage of Uber? If it’s reputation and safety, cab drivers could come back fine. 

These industry transformations leave no question about it — IT is an irresistible force, one of the ultimate realities of nature, which is why controlling it confers great power. But this power is temporal and passes in time. A wave of tech disruption yields to a successive wave, and then another does the same again.  Film cameras were replaced by the digital camera, which were replaced by the smart phone. To put it in biblical terms, technology may giveth, but technology also taketh.

Here’s what some TechCast experts said:

Mark Sevening, Northrop Grumman Corporation  “Good point about how technology gives and takes.  In essence, it enables change and innovation, and those who stand still are left behind. 

Tom Abeles,  On-The-Horizon  “Both Uber and Airbnb found a market niche that grew so rapidly that even the standard participants such as cab drivers found that they could bypass the middle parties. It’s the same deal with e-insurance.”

Rupam Shrivastava, ePlanet Capital  “Both Airbnb and Uber are a direct result of the drive for market efficiency. The stock market went through this process in the â??50s, commodities in the â??70/80s, and derivatives in the â??90s. Retail made the change through eBay and Amazon, airline tickets through Expedia, and real estate through Zillow/Trulia in the early/mid 2000s. Now Uber is doing that in transportation and AirBnb is in home rentals.”                                  

Ken Harris,  Consilience “The automobile sales industry is being disrupted by Tesla.  Traditionally auto dealers have been the middle men between car buyers and manufacturers.  Tesla is upsetting that model by direct factory sales to car buyers, even successfully challenging state laws that actually mandate sales by dealers. But there are backlashes against these companies.  Uber drivers and Handybook cleaners don’t get employee benefits and have no control over their schedules; they are beginning to organize.  In addition, there are disasters waiting to happen that could become front page news.  What if an Airbnb renter turns someone’s home into a brothel or rents an apartment in a large building for the purpose of making it a terrorist target or using it as a terrorist base?”

Verne WheelrightPersonal Futures Network “Uber may be simply a forerunner to selfdriving cars.  As the technology becomes available and enabling legislation is in place, Uber may simply replace their drivers with self- driving machines. Reliable, automated door-todoor transportation will allow more people to get along with only one vehicle per family, and eventually, no owned vehicles.”                                       

Marcel Bullinga, Futurist & Trendwatcher  “Uber will not die as soon as self-driving cars arrive but become a platform for connecting people to machines (cabs). The cab driver can probably make more money than he does now â?? not by doing the driving but â?? by renting the self-driving car he owns.”

Robert Finkelstein,  Robotic Technology Inc  “The drivers for Uber and the Uber business model are temporary.  With the advent of driverless cars around 2020, a car owner could send the car out to make a living as a taxi or delivery vehicle. Uber might still provide a management service for the vehicle owners, or they might become independent, facilitated by software and communications providers.”                                                  

Olivier Adam,  5Deka Inc.  “Uber is more advanced than car sharing using ZipCars. Car sharing is a somewhat marginal phenomenon. It is not cheap and only slightly more flexible than ownership (most of them force you to bring the car back at a specific location, before a specific time). Imagine if you can press a button on your smartphone, a car shows up, brings you to your location and goes on to pick up another passenger. This is what Uber does, and a driverless car is a simpler version, reducing the costs and increasing even more the flexibility. Everyone would want their own private car, and they would want to avoid public transport. The Uber model of peak hour fares would then be key as there would be incentive for public transport use. When driverless cars become the norm, I predict the number of cars sold worldwide will be halved by 2025 (it has steadily been increasing up to now). Car fleet management then becomes a big source of employment, with individuals inspecting the cars and cleaning them up as needed. Car insurance companies disappear as the private ownership of vehicles is only done by the well-off as a sign of luxury.”

 
Economic Disruption is Everywhere

In addition to the many examples of disruption just noted above, there has been the passing of encyclopedias, travel agents, newspapers, and now possibly movie theaters

(Netflix). Which industry or profession is next? Medicine? Teaching? Law? And where is this economic transformation heading over the long-term?

Our TechCast experts see this happening everywhere:

Anamaria Beria, University of Maryland  “I think healthcare is next. We see everywhere an emphasis on virtual medicine, both from the policy and the insurance points of view. We also see more and more often a “pairing” between lifestyle and preventative medicine. I think the lifestyle-healthcare- finance axis is deeply connected and this is where IT can possibly disrupt the most. There are health tracking apps and studies based on “Big Data” regarding epidemics and the access to more information about healthcare, patients, doctors and research. I have also seen companies that are providing diagnostics and prescription online. But there are many situations where the doctor has to meet the patient face to face. This means that the evolution of virtual reality, robotics and IT, together, have the greatest power to disrupt the medicine industry. But we still have not understood the impact of these technologies on society and the social changes that come out of all this. So I believe the

21st century will belong to the social sciences.”                                            

Clem Bezold,  Institute for Alternative Futures  “I concur that health care will see significant disintermediation. One of my primary care scenarios for 2025 is “I Am My Own Medical Home.” This scenario considers how health care would interact with IBM’s “doc Watson,” digital health coaches, and increased personalization using genomics, epigenetics, zipcodeomics, and other Big Data. Education and legal services are other sectors where IT will make humans more productive or take over their jobs altogether â?? leading to higher unemployment.”

Dan Abelow,  Expandiverse  “A new book Medicine 2025 includes these examples of what is coming in healthcare automation:

  1. Patient zero: preventing a new pandemic
  2. Ground zero for medical emergencies: immediate diagnosis anywhere, anytime
  3. Digital medical coordination between organizations, including emergencies     
  4. Containing a lethal contagious disease, or bioterror attack, in an unexpected hot zone
  5. Delivering digital medical service to anyone, including under developed countries     
  6. Treating and curing infectious diseases at the source
  7. Bringing digital transformation inside the first world’s medical system
  8. Turning medical drugs into a “strategic stockpile” for treating diseases worldwide                         

Chadwick Seagraves,  North Carolina State University  “As both a librarian and IT professional, I see traditional libraries being forced to evolve and compete with technologies of all types.  The profession has had to focus on value added services and roles the library plays in addition to providing information.  Placing emphasis on being able to find “authoritative information” has been a focus in our profession for over a decade. Redefining library services to compete with the plethora of tools that replace a flesh and blood mediated experience has driven a massive development of applications and platforms for libraries to serve up deep web content that the average Googler has no idea exited.”                

Carlos Scheel, TEC de Monterrey  “I would say that Earth Sciences are next to be transformed. The planet has lost its resilience and is unable to recover its land, water, and air from the consequence of an irrational industrialization. Distinguished technologists must shift their efforts to finding solutions for drinkable water, soil recovery, clean air, equal food distribution, infectious decease.”                                                  

Govindaraj Subramani, PA Consulting Group  “A recent article in the Wall Street Journal quoted workers of on-demand services like Uber and Handy saying â??We are not robots.’ There are signs of rumbling discontent in the shared economy.”

Will TV Networks Be Next? Much the way major newspapers fell into decline when the web took over, signs point to something similar for the big TV NetworksSigns of the imminent decline is newspaper readership were visible years before the fortunes of the NY Times and other prosperous papers fell off a cliff about 2005. As people switched to the web for their news, selling stuff, and other forms of e­commerce, printing and distributing papers that consume forests of trees no longer made much sense. And the general nature of mass media could no longer serve the complex tastes of modern societies. Print newspapers will always fill an important niche, but big changes in consumer behavior always sweep away outmoded industries. Something similar seems likely to happen for TV Networks. With Smart TVentering the picture, people are increasingly choosing shows they want when they want them, avoiding paid commercials, finding movies and TV shows they prefer, and watching all this on PCs, tablets, smart phones, and other devices. And with good speech recognition, a la Siri, we will soon just talk to all these platforms. The U.S. cable TV industry lost more than 400,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2012, according to a Sanford C. Bernstein estimate reported in the Wall Street Journal. The figures are fueling speculation that American homes are “cutting the cord” on cable TV in favor of free or cheap alternatives such as services from Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube. Our forecasts suggest it may take a few years for this profound shift in consumer behavior to reach mainstream. But it appears that TV is likely to suffer the same fate that befell newspapers when their business model collapsed.

 
The Value of Collective Intelligence

This simple article nicely illustrates the power of collective intelligence.

Starting with the few paragraphs outlined by the TechCast Team, our Global Brain Trust of experts quickly fleshed out this analysis with insightful points. The many examples of IT driven economic transformation in the quest for market efficiency. The temporary advantage of Uber being replaced by self-driving cars leased out by private owners. The likely transformation of healthcare, professions, libraries, and even the environment as next steps in this inevitable unfolding of a high-tech society based on invention.

 

TeleWork

TechCast expert Steve Lowe provides a report on TeleWork from the trenches. Steve is a consultant working out of London.

 

TechCast’s forecast makes it clear that the argument for teleworking seems a “no-brainer,” offering lower costs and greater agility than traditional on-site employment. Yet, there are important barriers to its adoption. I have seen many of them as a consultant to telecoms and tech companies and in corporate finance supporting tech start-ups. Here are some insights drawn from these years of experience:

By 2025, some 30 percent of employees in the industrialized nations are likely to be teleworking two to three days a week. If that estimate seems low, it is because fewer than half of today’s jobs are suitable for telework. Today at least, drivers must work on location. Ditto teachers, doctors, farmers, care givers, shop workers, uniformed personnel, and many others.

There are several more issues to consider as well:

Although it costs little to link a home-worker to the office in this digitized age, associated expenses can build up quickly. This is especially true if the job involves dealing with private commercial or third-party data.

Many employees in the industrialized world have broadband, but their homes may lack space or other facilities they need to telework effectively.

Most people enjoy being part of the team. Periods apart can erode this sense of belonging, and therefore worker satisfaction.

Traditional offices provide dedicated spaces for impromptu meetings, telemarketing, admin, training, and ideation. High-performing businesses use them to help optimize their performance. The ability to move among such spaces enriches the employee experience. Full-time teleworkers miss out.

Belonging and variety form the positive side of corporate life. Office politics and management structure can be the negative. People have a strong defensive wish to be where they can preempt any maneuvering that might harm their careers. Because of this, adopting telework often requires changes in corporate structure and culture. The net impact is that teleworking has tended to penetrate entire organizations, top-down or bottom-up.

Top-down situations are relatively uncommon. They tend to occur after senior management calls in consultants or systems houses to help implement Business Process Reengineering or “Lean” (continuous improvement) programs. Such implementations tend to have all the bells and whistles, including tailored virtual conferencing environments, structured training, and written protocols.

Bottom-up deployments often are ad-hoc mixes of free or cheap services. Unlike top-down programs, major long-term commitments are rare, and groups learn by doing.

Either approach can work well, depending on the company culture and employee buy-in.

The huge growth opportunity for teleworking is in servicing middle management: beneath the C-suite and above team managers. Improvements in cloud-based technologies and growing interest in collaborative tools and citizenship make this a good time to reap its rewards.

Yet, the best use of telework requires one more key innovation: a way to give middle managers the kind of agile, tailored support that basic ad-hoc services cannot. These services need provide security, tailored virtual environments, and user support, but without the high costs of today’s top-down implementations.

Imagine, for example, a team of 20 regional salespeople coming together for an hour-long virtual meeting. At $0.20 per minute each, the gross cost of their service will be just $240. It would take a huge number of meetings to cover the supplier’s development costs and overhead, but that massive scaling is now feasible. After a few years of frenzied activity, these services probably will come from just two or three dominant global suppliers.

The next big change will be in the teleworker’s location. Working from home can be great, particularly if you have an air-conditioned office and the discipline to maintain both good work and your health. However, many people find it physically and emotionally draining.

Since the dawn of digitization, people have talked of teleworking centers, where people could “touch down,” but these facilities have never become common. Today, shops are becoming vacant in communities from tiny hamlets to big cities. This offers a chance to revisit the idea of community-based teleworking. Many teleworkers could find this alternative very inviting.

Until recently, the capital cost of equipping such centers would have been enormous. Fiber broadband, today’s Wi-Fi, and users able to “tunnel” through this with their own secure networks, using their own devices, have made them practical. Are today’s coffee houses and flexible workspaces already serving this opportunity? Not quite.

New business models are required to deliver the drop-in flexibility of a Starbucks with the mix of task-focused facilities available in a small innovation center. Users must able to protect sensitive data, even when talking on a video or audio connection. They will want more screen space than they can be expected to carry. They will need the safe and ergonomic workspace any employer should provide.

One can imagine local authorities and businesses backing such workspaces, as they will help keep local high streets vibrant, reduce employee commuter miles, and help big employers operate more sustainably. Telework also will benefit the environment, the vitality of dormitory towns surrounding urban centers, and those employees who get to keep their jobs because they can work remotely. This appeal could make public workspaces important community centers.

One big market for them will be among self-employed “portfolio workers.” Large companies already use on-demand workers in growing numbers alongside their regular employees. By enhancing their “virtual proximity,” community workspaces could make portfolio workers still more attractive.

Better teleworking technologies also should benefit the rapidly growing number of nonemployees. Given reasonable procurement policies, the self-employed will be able to use them in agile, virtual teams, to compete better against big companies. Retirees also might find an opportunity to build a second career. If local authorities and agencies support telework, the unemployed and vulnerable should be able to feel part of a more inclusive society.

Telework is of course just one of many innovations now bringing change. Organizations, public and private, have a duty to embrace these developments and make tomorrow better than it might otherwise be. Innovations in telework are likely to be more enabling than most.