Disruptive technology is any new technology or innovation that disrupts or displaces an existing market or industry.
Examples include personal computers displacing mainframe computers and digital cameras displacing film cameras.
In modern information societies, disruptive technologies can have a major impact on the way businesses operate and can cause major disruptions to industries and markets.
In some cases, disruptive technologies can create entirely new markets and industries, such as the Internet or the smartphone. In other cases, they can cause massive disruptions to existing markets and industries, such as the way Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the hotel and taxi industries.
Disruptive Technology Examples
1. GPT and Chat Bots
The most disruptive technology in 2023 was GPT, an AI technology that can answer just about any question you pose and engage in higher-order tasks like sorting, categorizing, and problem-solving at a rapid pace.
This chat bot has been cited as one of the most disruptive innovations since the internet, with its capacity to upend how people learn, conduct research online, and interact with technology in their jobs.
For example, the GPT API is used to underpin a massive influx of apps and is even integrated into search engines such as Bing.
As an example of how disruptive OpenAI’s ChatGPT was, here’s a graph showing how rapidly it grew, reaching over 1.8 billion users within 6 months:
2. Digital Cameras
The digital camera was first introduced to the consumer market in the early 1990s, and it quickly began to disrupt the film camera market.
Digital cameras offer a number of advantages over their traditional counterparts, including the ability to preview images, take an unlimited number of pictures, and instantly share photos with others.
As a result of these benefits, digital cameras rapidly gained popularity, and by the early 2000s, they had largely replaced film cameras in the consumer market.
While professional photographers continued to use film cameras for many years, digital cameras eventually became the industry standard, thanks to their superior image quality and convenience.
Today, very few people still use film cameras, and the once-mighty film camera industry is now a shadow of its former self.
3. Self-Driving Cars
The advent of self-driving cars is poised to disrupt the transportation industry on a scale not seen since the advent of the automobile itself.
Self-driving cars have the potential to drastically reduce the number of accidents, ease congestion on roads and highways, and reduce emissions by eliminating the need for idling in traffic.
However, it will also take away a lot of jobs in the trucking industry, which at its peak employed over 1.4 million Americans.
4. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality technology creates a simulated environment that can be used for gaming, entertainment, or even educational purposes.
While VR has been around in some form for decades, it is only recently that the technology has become advanced enough to create truly immersive experiences. The release of affordable VR headsets such as the Oculus has made this technology more accessible than ever before.
And as VR technology continues to develop, it is likely to have a major impact on the entertainment and gaming industries.
One of the most obvious ways that VR is disrupting these industries is the way that it is changing how people interact with games and other forms of entertainment. With VR, users are no longer just passive observers; they are active participants in the experience. This is a major shift that is sure to have a profound effect on the way entertainment is consumed in the years to come.
5. Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology is often associated with bitcoin, but its potential applications extend far beyond cryptocurrency. In fact, blockchain has the potential to disrupt a number of industries, including the financial sector.
For example, blockchain technology allows for the transfer of value without the need for a third party, such as a bank. This could potentially reduce or even eliminate fees associated with traditional money transfers.
Similarly, blockchain’s decentralized nature could make it possible to trade assets without the need for an intermediary, such as a stock exchange. This could lead to faster, cheaper, and more efficient trading.
6. Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles are much more efficient than gasoline-powered cars, meaning that drivers can get more miles out of a tank of gas. This will eventually result in less demand for gas and oil and, at some stage, significantly reduce the size of these extraction industries.
But electric vehicles have also opened up new industries that support them.
For example, electric vehicles are powered by batteries, which are made from a variety of materials including lithium, cobalt, and nickel. These materials are currently in high demand due to the growing popularity of electric vehicles, and this is driving up the cost of production for battery manufacturers.
7. Solar Energy
For years, the fossil fuel industry has been the undisputed king of energy production. However, that is beginning to change, as solar energy is increasingly being embraced as a viable alternative to traditional forms of energy.
Solar energy is now the fastest-growing source of energy in the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. This rise is largely due to the falling cost of solar panels and advancements in solar technology.
As solar energy becomes more affordable and efficient, more and more people and businesses are making the switch. Not only is the affordability a drawing card, but also the fact it is a cleaner and more sustainable form of energy.
The advent of the automobile in the early 20th century led to the eventual decline of the horse and cart industry.
Prior to the invention of the car, horses were the primary source of transportation for both people and goods. However, cars quickly became a popular alternative to horse-drawn vehicles as they were faster and more efficient.
With the Ford Model T and Henry Ford’s efficient production line model, cars became affordable for the upper-middle class.
As a result, the demand for horses and carts decreased, and many companies that specialized in horse-drawn transportation went out of business.
The horse and cart industry was further disrupted by the development of paved roads and the construction of the interstate highway system. These improvements made it possible for cars to safely drive between cities and travel long distances, further reducing the need for horses.
9. Mobile Phones
Prior to the advent of mobile phones, landline phones were the primary form of communication for people around the world.
However, mobile phones have quickly become the preferred communication technology of the 21st Century due to their convenience and portability.
As a result, landline phone use has declined sharply, leading to a decline in the number of installed landlines.
In addition, mobile phones have also disrupted the traditional phone service industry by providing customers with alternatives to traditional service providers.
For example, many mobile phone users now rely on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, which are often less expensive than traditional phone services. As a result of these trends, many people don’t even own traditional landline phones anymore.
10. Ride-Sharing Industry (Uber and Lyft)
Ride-sharing apps emerged on the market in the early 2010s. Smartphone apps like Uber and Lyft connect riders with drivers of vehicles for hire.
The company has been a disruptive force in the taxi industry, as it is typically cheaper and more convenient than traditional taxi services. Taxi services are full of bureaucracy that increases the price. Furthermore, in the 2010s, they failed to move to an app-based platform.
Ride-sharing apps were able to fill this market gap.
Interestingly, ride-sharing apps don’t own any taxis or even have many employees. They simply connect freelance drivers to people looking for a ride.
While Uber has faced some criticism for suppressing wages for drivers, it has generally been well-received by riders. As a result, the apps have expanded rapidly and the taxi industry went into sharp decline.
11. AirBnB and Vrbo
Airbnb is an online platform, founded in 2008, that connects people who need a place to stay with people who need to rent out extra space.
It has been particularly disruptive to the hotel industry because it offers a cheaper alternative to hotels for travelers and provides a more personalized experience for living with locals.
Airbnb often has more unique and interesting rentals than hotels, which can be appealing to travelers looking for an authentic experience. As a result of its lower prices and unique offerings, AirBnB has become a popular option for travelers.
12. News Websites
The newspaper industry was once thriving. But when the internet became more accessible to everyone, the traditional media moguls had to adapt or die.
Websites offered a more convenient way to access news and information. Over time, more and more people have turned to the internet for their news. As a result, traditional newspapers began to lose readership (See: internet pros and cons).
This decline in readership eventually led to a decline in advertising revenue, as businesses increasingly turned to online advertising to reach their target audiences.
The result was a sharp decline in profitability for many traditional newspaper companies, leading to layoffs and closures. While some newspapers have been able to adapt to the new media landscape, others have fallen to the wayside.
13. Web 2.0
Web 2.0 sites are websites that allow user-generated content to be uploaded online. Some of the most popular Web 2.0 sites include social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, video sharing sites like YouTube, and blogging platforms like WordPress.
While Web 2.0 sites were initially developed as a way for people to share information and connect with others online, they quickly began to disrupt the mainstream media landscape.
Traditional gatekeepers like publishing houses were undermined by ‘indie media’ outlets online who created more engaging content for internet users. This led to a decline in traditional media.
14. Online Encyclopedias
Online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia led to a sharp decline in the use of print encyclopedias. In fact, Encyclopedia Britannica, which was one of the largest encyclopedias in the world, stopped creating print editions in 2010.
It became far easier to search for content online than to pull out a thick book, and the information was updated faster by online encyclopedias.
Encyclopedia Britannica’s response was to move online itself to try to swim with the new tide. It has been quite successful in this transition, obtaining over 150 million monthly visitors according to the Ahrefs web analysis tool.
However, it is still used far less than Wikipedia, which is one of the most visited websites in the world.
15. Video Streaming
Video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have completely disrupted the television industry.
In the past, people would watch television shows when they aired on cable or network TV. This meant that people had to be available at a specific time to watch their favorite shows.
However, with video streaming services, people can watch shows whenever they want. They can also watch entire seasons of shows all at once, instead of having to wait a week for the next episode.
As a result, more and more people are canceling their cable subscriptions and watching TV online. This shift has had a major impact on the way that television shows are produced and advertised.
16. Audio Streaming
In the late 1990s, the nascent audio streaming industry began to disrupt the Radio and CD-ROM industries.
Audio streaming allowed users to listen to music without having to download and store files on their computer. This new technology quickly gained popularity, as it was more convenient and efficient than downloading music files.
In addition, audio streaming companies such as Pandora and Spotify offered users access to a wider range of music than the average CD-ROM. As a result of this increased competition, the CD-ROM industry began to decline.
In 2000, sales of CDs had peaked at over 1 billion sales before declining in subsequent years. Today, the CD-ROM industry has all but disappeared, as audio streaming has become the preferred method for listening to music.
17. Online Retailers Replacing Book Stores
In July 1995, a website called Amazon was launched, selling books online. Amazon quickly rose to prominence thanks to its low prices, convenience, and wide selection.
In just a few years, Amazon had become the leading bookseller in the United States. This posed a serious threat to traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores, which were struggling to compete with Amazon’s lower prices and wider selection.
Amazon then began offering Kindle e-books in 2007, further eating into the bookstores’ market share. As a result of all these factors, many bookstores have been forced to close their doors.
18. Online Shopping Replacing Retail Stores
The retail industry has struggled in recent years due to the rise of online shopping. Thanks to the convenience and vast selection of items available online, more and more people are choosing to do their shopping from the comfort of their own homes.
This shift has had a major impact on traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, who have been forced to adapt in order to stay relevant.
Many stores have closed their doors for good, while others have reinvented themselves with an emphasis on experience and ‘buy local’.
19. Compact Disks
In the 1980s, the music industry was revolutionized by the introduction of the Compact Disk (CD).
CDs were significantly lighter and more durable than cassette tapes, and they offered superior sound quality. As a result, CDs quickly became the preferred format for both consumers and music companies.
This had a devastating effect on the cassette market, which went into sharp decline. In 1982, cassettes accounted for 60 percent of all music sales in the United States. By 1992, that figure had plummeted to just 15 percent.
The CD’s dominance was so complete that by 2000, cassettes were no longer being produced. The CD’s impact on the cassette industry was swift and decisive, forever changing the landscape of the music industry.
Unfortunately for the Cassette Disk, the advent of audio streaming would also lead to its decline shortly after.
CRISPR is a new technology that has the potential to disrupt the medical and biotech industries. CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
This new technology allows for more precise editing of genes, which could potentially lead to new treatments for genetic diseases. CRISPR is also less expensive and faster than traditional methods of gene editing.
This new technology is already being used in research laboratories around the world, and it is expected to have a major impact on the medical and biotech industries in the years to come.
21. 3D Printing
3D printing creates three-dimensional objects by successively placing layers of materials based upon a 3D model. This technology has a wide range of applications, including even building houses from scratch.
It is also much faster and more flexible than traditional manufacturing methods, which are often based on subtractive processes such as milling or machining.
As a result, 3D printing is having a major impact on the manufacturing sector. While challenging traditional business models, it’s also opening up new opportunities for companies that are willing to embrace this disruptive technology.
Email has had a profound effect on the postal service.
In the past, if someone wanted to send a message to someone else, they would have to physically write it out and mail it. This could take days or even weeks, depending on the distance.
With email, messages can be sent instantaneously, regardless of location. As a result, the postal service has seen a dramatic decline in the volume of letter mail being sent.
Email has also had an impact on advertising. In the past, businesses would rely on the postal service to deliver flyers and other promotional materials. With email, businesses can send electronic messages directly to potential customers, bypassing the need for physical mailings.
Lucky for the postal service, online shopping meant that parcel delivery grew exponentially a few years after letter sending went into its decline.
23. Bionic Limbs
One disruptive technology that is expected to emerge in the next decade is the bionic limb, a limb that and replace a limb that a person may have lost in an accident.
Bionic limbs represent an example of transhumanism, which refers to the idea that humans can be enhanced to be stronger, more powerful, and smarter by integrating technology into our bodies.
Transhuman technologies have long been a piece of science fiction, such as with Wolverine in XMen whose bones are replaced with a steel substance to make him stronger. When such limbs become a mainstream part of medicine, it will disrupt what we think medicine is capable of. (See more assistive technology examples here).
Writing this article has made me reflect upon just how quickly technologies evolve. Businesses rise and fall with new technological innovations. If they do not adapt quickly, they will become redundant.
Thus, large companies that seem indestructible today may be eclipsed by smaller, more agile companies that are able to position themselves in the markets of the future. Opportunities will continue to arise for companies that choose to make the most of the next disruptive technologies that enter the market.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]