In recent articles, I have talked about the ways I see digital technology transforming our individual lives, our workplaces and companies, our cities and ultimately the world at large. These are the key areas that I envisage feeling the biggest positive impact and full, dramatic transformation enabled by digital. But what's next?
The digitization of everything
You have heard of the Internet of Things, you have probably also heard the term ‘Internet of Everything’ – but now we are very much along the road to the digitalization of everything. It has become difficult to think of many areas of our lives which have not been impacted by technology, and while we might not have jetpacks and food in pill form (something I personally am quite happy about!), the evolution of technology has largely gone in directions never foreseen by the science-fiction movies of several decades ago.
Movies such as ‘Star Wars’ featured medical care given by androids and robots, while in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ back in 1968 gave us the first tablet computer and the first intelligent digital assistant. 2002’s ‘Minority Report’ introduced us to personalized advertising billboards and gesture-based interfaces, both of which exist today. But while these movies got some predictions right, they could never really predict technology’s scale of growth and quite how much we would come to rely on digital technology for so much of our lives by 2016. Office environments, for example, were always predicted to become increasingly paperless, but nobody perhaps expected the impact that smart building technologies have had on energy and cost savings in the workplace.
In a previous article I mentioned the significance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what it will mean for our way of life. This revolution will be powered by hyperconnectivity, and the speed at which people, organizations and objects will become interconnected – and reliant on one another – will be rapid. Technology will make the shift from being a trend or a tool into being a genuine cultural influencer and touchpoint.
Continuing changes in interaction
As social networks continue to grow and connect hundreds of millions of people around the world, we can expect the way we interact to evolve too. Next generation messaging apps will see us engage with companies, suppliers and retailers in new ways, with richer content – shared photos, video and more – becoming commonplace inside what until now we have known as instant messenger clients. Businesses will adapt and evolve their own practices, using chatbots to engage with customers in a similar way and mobile payments will be embedded in the same messenger apps.
These types of application enter into the realm of digital and human merging together, and developers have already created bots that humans cannot tell from the real thing. Which potentially leads into the ‘Internet of Inhuman Things’ posited by Gerd Leonhard, where technology’s algorithms become mixed up with our essential human traits and habits and could force us to become more ‘mechanized’ ourselves, even to the point of risking losing our own humanity.
This ‘mechanization’ of the self, possibly inevitably, extends into the health arena. We are already able to 3D-print organs, with the longer term goal of being able to use them for transplants, and experiments are being done into how to potentially extend life using technology. If we think of our body as more like a machine and treat it as such, we could eventually make it programmable and simpler to repair; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already backed an initiative which will seek to use artificial intelligence to try and cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of this century.
Further down the human/machine fusion line, we might even come to talk about utilizing our own DNA for storing data. Scientists at Harvard have already succeeded in storing 5.5 petabits of data in a single gram of DNA, so we could even be looking at using human DNA as the next generation secure storage bank for data.
In our increasingly digitally-powered and reliant world, we will interact with more and more devices and connected machines as the influence of the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow. Smart home technology already exists that lets us manage numerous household activities remotely from our smartphones, from heating controls to burglar alarms. The next generation of Rich Communication Services (RCS) technologies will enable us to interact with those devices much more deeply, and again, using bots, engage with them in a ‘conversational’ way. Customer services contact centers are already using this type of technology to engage with customers in more proactive ways. So, in a similar way to how during the third industrial revolution robots took the place of many human jobs and automated them, the fourth industrial revolution will see robots being much more intelligent and capable of adaptation, communication and interaction on whole new levels. This merging of the human and the digital opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Everyone becomes their own ’CIO’
What this evolution could mean is that every individual effectively becomes their ‘own CIO’, taking charge of our own data, our own personal information security, our own cloud – essentially managing our own personal digital world. Digital natives, or ‘Generation Y’ citizens, are already playing a major role in driving the digital world forward, and their lives are and have always been powered by technology. They represent a new category of consumer and are also the business leaders of tomorrow. They are networked, collaborative and highly social and are entirely used to managing numerous technologies and all their personal data across multiple devices and applications in any environment – they are effectively already their own CIOs.
The next few years will be fascinating. We can expect to see the first 5G mobile broadband deployments, bringing superfast, super reliable connectivity to the world and also significantly more bandwidth – the bandwidth that we will need to transport the enormous amounts of data we will be using.
Another potentially exciting development is quantum computing – imagine computers up to a hundred million times faster than those we have now – the capability of these machines to power AI, and to enable faster algorithms and much faster processing would almost certainly drive digitization forward.
And of course there is IoT – new smart technologies, faster chips and the highly likely improvements in battery technology will continue to increase mobility and the central role of IoT and hyperconnectivity in our digital lives. I think that the digitization of everything is not too far away, including the increasing crossover of the human and the digital. Do you agree?
This article first appeared on LinkedIn here.
Helmut joined Orange Business in 2007 to head up Europe and Russia. He is now CEO of Orange Business.