HOUSTON—This year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) wrapped May 5 with the d5 forum at Rice University, an event designed to spark innovation and help E&P leaders prepare for the industry’s future.

“The purpose is to find those little gems of ideas and hopefully create the next big thing,” said John I. Howell III, d5 advisory board chairman.

Vivek Wadhwa, author and technology researcher, said during his keynote presentation that the next big thing could be the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and advances in technology that would change the course of humanity—for both good and bad.

“This is the most amazing and most scary period of human history at the same time,” Wadhwa said.

He explained that humanity is at a moral crossroads as its faces questions on how to utilize and direct rapid advances in technology, including those in AI, the Internet of Things, quantum computing, genomics and synthetic biology.

He cited examples of researchers’ abilities to edit and create DNA and to eliminate hereditary diseases even before birth. Wadhwa predicted that by 2030, scientists and the medical community will have created a real bionic man, and at a much cheaper cost than the one Lee Majors portrayed in the late 1970s.

“It will now be a $600 man, not a Six Million Dollar Man,” Wadhwa said.

He presented a future in which robotics will have replaced many of the jobs humans perform today—particularly those in the transportation industry, should self-driving cars become a widespread reality. Such an evolution, he said, could create a reality in which only a select few would be qualified to work.

“Jobs are being created for the 10%, not the 90%,” Wadhwa said. “We’re creating all these types of intelligences without any clue where we’re headed.”

In order to ensure a future in which humanity has more control over its creations, Wadhwa said technology regulators such as kills switches, encryption devices and AI controls would need to be implemented and utilized.

Jose Olalla, head of business development for BBVA Compass, said companies should question if they are prepared for the economic disruptions that have profoundly affected industries like telephone companies, finance, big box retailers and bookstores.

“None of them thought [disruption] was going to happen to them,” Olalla said.

In an economic environment in which customers are more demanding, companies should be flexible to change, he said. Olalla cited BBVA Compass’ transformation in the 1990s and ito the early 2000s as an example of a company adapting to shifting industry dynamics.

“We adapted to this new ecosystem by creating, partnering and investing in disruptive business models,” he said.

BBVA Compass’ evolution has included eliminating job titles and creating a leaner corporate structure to enhance customer experience. The company has also focused on its social media presence and beefed up its mobile app after banking customers, for the first time last year, said a robust digital application, rather than the location of a nearby branch, was the most important factor when choosing a bank.

“The message was sent: We want to change,” Olalla said. “It’s going to be different, and this is happening at the top levels of the company.”

Riaz Siddiqi, founding and managing partner of Denham Capital, said disruptions in global economics are creating a new financial markets structure in which increased uncertainties and higher risks are creating market gains.

“The United Nations, NATO, the European Union—all of these multilateral institutions that promoted globalization are now under stress from evolving nationalists,” Siddiqi said. “The unwinding of globalization and multilateral institutions means a less efficient global economy over time.”

However, Siddiqi said those inefficiencies would be “actually good for the world.”

“Global Economics 101 says for any product, you search for the cheapest source of labor, the cheapest logistical provider, mix them into the lowest cost solution and sell it into the highest-cost market,” he said. “Society has benefited from this. It has also left some enormous pockets of human misery in its wake. Those pockets of discontent were not explicitly addressed.”

This lowest-cost labor, highest-cost market paradigm is present in today’s global economy, and also impacts the one that is emerging. The emerging market sees the same product output, but uses more labor, more capital and more inefficient logistics.

“That means jobs; that means economic activity; and that means increased GDP,” Siddiqi said. “Because of the strife, markets are saying happy days are here again.”

Brian Walzel can be reached at bwalzel@hartenergy.com.