Sweeping technological developments such as IoT, Big Data, and AI have a far-reaching impact on the functioning of governments, business ecosystems as well as everyday lives. Putting this double-edged sword to its best use lies in how responsibly we incorporate it for development of all rather than few.
The world is plunging into an unprecedented era of technological revolution. It has made foretelling what the future holds a difficult task, though one can make a few educated guesses. Connecting the dots on how technology has evolved over the last few decades is a good start in identifying the road for the future.
From landlines to pagers to smartphones, the last 50 years of electronics and computers have brought about far-reaching changes. Today, digital technologies are defining businesses and are an active propeller of competitive advantage. We have seen game-changing business models emerge, based purely on technology, owning no assets and yet packing a serious punch against long-established incumbents. The erstwhile equation between business and technology has been redefined, with these virtual entities setting stellar standards in customer experience.
DATA WILL BE KING
As we step into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an organisation’s ability to interpret data from the external world and make intelligent insights will become a key business growth driver. Additionally, machines and computers can be made to learn and revise the models by churning vast volumes of data with very high velocity to ensure that the generated outcomes are on real-time. The adage, ‘Knowledge is power’ would still ring true as data will be king and ownership of data will be a definite competitive advantage.
Our robotic brethren will helm the next technological revolution through spheres of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Next-generation drones and robots would be smarter, lighter and faster than today’s versions with single board computing footprint, robust connectivity, advanced processing power and longer battery life. Such improvised drones can avoid collisions with bi-directional detection, an electronic speed controller that recognises propeller obstructions and provides indoor and outdoor flights with autonomous ‘sense and avoid’ capabilities.
OF IoT and 3D PRINTERS
Internet of Things (IoT) is a technology that places sensors in desired places, which can collect all sorts of data in the surrounding environment and allows devices connected to the web to interact with each other. For example, the GE aircraft engine receives all kind of data on the run, transmits them to the people on the ground where data analytics and simulations can point out the issues so that by the time the aircraft lands, the maintenance team precisely knows what to do. Upwards of a trillion sensors will shortly be gathering data from devices, wearables, drones, robots, satellites, cameras and the like.
3D printing of objects in materials ranging from plastics to glass, metals, ceramics and even biological substances have gained much ground in recent times, with organisations like GE, Airbus and Boeing going the extra mile in such efforts. Interestingly, doctors are now using 3D printing to check complex anatomical disorders and practise critical surgeries on 3D printed life-size human body models. A Chinese firm is printing an entire house using 3D printer technology. It is not too hard to imagine a day when 3D printers will be an integral part of every home, as much as printers are these days.
MICROPROCESSORS, 5G AND QUANTUM CRYPTOGRAPHY
Extraordinary advances in micro-processing power have stirred a raging storm in the computing world. In contrast to Moore’s law, chips with just 5nm-gap may be released by the early 2020s. Designing chips with specialised circuits will better industrial performance, leading to the onset of domain computers. Researchers are toying with the idea of three-dimensional chips as opposed to the current flat ones.
Quantum Computing will be inthe-top-legion as a catalyst to massive transformations. Quantum chips, which embed counter-intuitive principles of quantum mechanics to achieve higher speeds of calculations, are already available to experiment. With 5G on the horizon, coupling quantum chips could open-up a wide array of formidable possibilities in personal computing and information management. Security, secrecy and protection of information are already of paramount concern for governments and corporations alike. Quantum Cryptography can help transmit data over the network in such a way that any effort to eavesdrop can be detected. Any attempt to observe a quantum system inevitably alters it, thereby protecting the secrecy, confidentiality and non-repudiated nature of information exchange.
CLOUD COMPUTING, BIG DATA, AND ANALYTICS
Organisations often build and operate the multiple versions of same application systems resulting in non-standardisation and high operating costs. Cloud computing can enable a ‘Build Once, Deploy Many times’
1: N model where one instance of the application can be used across different government agencies, allowing colossal cost savings and ensuring process standardisation.
Technologies like the IoT and Big Data Analytics will achieve more prominence over the years with the continual steady rise in connected devices, projected to hit the 1 trillion mark by 2025. ‘Connected’ cars, wearables, healthcare and ‘Smart’ appliances, homes and even whole cities will be the norm sooner than you think. Due to the proliferation of smartphones and pervasive connectivity, provisioning public services through mobiles will empower citizens to access services through an ‘Anywhere Anytime Anyhow’ paradigm and tremendously increase service outreach. Big Data, coupled with Artificial Intelligence technologies, will enable the government to derive deep and sharp insights from multiple sources of massive data and create concrete interventions based on these insights.
AUGMENTED REALITY, VIRTUAL REALITY
An augmented reality, which mixes Virtual Reality imagery with the real world, will be the next big step in computer interfaces, leaping far and wide beyond the humble touchscreen. A world in which imaging is overlaid on reality, implemented using smart contact lenses or body implants is not a just reserved for sci-fantasy, for it is possible to create digital twins of everything that is physical and simulate its behaviour.
Sectoral trends and impacts:
(a) Education and skill development
The pattern of modern-day ‘home-schooling’ has begun with entities such as Khan Academy using Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) shrinking whole universities into a PC screen. It delivers simplified training for the masses and can morph into personalised modules, which can take cognizance of the understanding and learning capability of the student. AI tutors by Carnegie use this for customised tutoring of students requiring remedial learning, thereby reducing the cost of collegiate education. On similar lines, MOOCs can also be leveraged for vocational training by adding a curated set of content, cataloged and organised to teach vocational skills on an open platform. MOOC can help provide the required impetus to the Skill India Mission, thereby supporting the country realise the real potential of its demographic dividend.
The healthcare industry has now reached a point where the datasets are large enough, machine learning is sophisticated enough and the investments on research big enough that it is increasingly evident that health care will be thrust by AI. The recent block-chain technology will be of immense help to the electronic medical record industry by securely storing health records and maintaining a single version of the truth. Mobility and digital technology platforms have the potential of allowing doctors to treat patients in remotely under-resourced areas efficiently and economically.
Autonomous cars are already in existence. Though with clear regulations and focus on safety methods for initial deployments, these will become an everyday reality. Collective machine learning of the millions of cars moving on the roads will ensure much better safety and reliability compared to human-driven vehicles.
A significant shift in the energy consumption is already underway, thanks to advances in solar and wind power. The cost of production of a carbon-free renewable source of energy per kilowatt-hour is on the decline and the storage and associated battery technologies have vastly improved. The production and storage of such renewable energy will become more distributed ‘behind the meter’ in businesses and homes. Such combined distributed generation and storage will be large enough to supply all sorts of services to the grid which will make the high-capital-expenditure- based building of power plants and centralised storage capacity unnecessary or significantly reduced.
Farms in 2030 will be even more mechanised, automated and factory-like than today. By 2030, we could see robot tractors, harvesters, drones and satellites to monitor how a crop is doing. Much of the irrigation is likely to be through a grid of pipes controlled by soil monitors, laid alongside rows of plants rather than sprinkler systems. Precision Agriculture, that’s its name, uses AI in a
variety of areas, be it weed removal or pest monitoring and control or advisory tools. AI-powered advisory tools to keep track and predict the right time for planting, irrigation and harvesting have also been deployed.
This technological revolution like any of its predecessors reflects man’s indomitable quest to explore what lies beyond, to search for new knowledge and invent new technologies. Our lives and the lives of future generations rest on our collective wisdom to use these technologies wisely, for development of all rather than few, for peace rather than destruction, for the preservation of the planet rather than its extinction.