Living with technology a decade from now. Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future conducted an in-depth discussion with 20 experts to explore how various social and technological drivers will influence the next decade and, specifically, how emerging technologies will recast our society and the way we conduct business by the year 2030.
There is no universally agreed upon determination of which technologies are considered emerging. For the purpose of this study, IFTF explored the impact that Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), and Cloud Computing, will have on society by 2030. These technologies, enabled by significant advances in software, will underpin the formation of new human-machine partnerships, according to the IFTF.
Talk of digital transformation is virtually everywhere in Information Technology circles and Operations Technology circles. My long and varied experiences have often placed me at the boundaries where the two meet—and are now increasingly overlapping.
The take on robotics is right on target. And forget about all the SciFi scare stories that mainstream media loves to promote. The future is definitely all about human-machine partnership or collaboration. For example I often talk with EMTs about life in the rescue squad. These people are always in the gym. Our population in the US has gotten so large and obese that they often have to lift 300+ lb. people who haven’t the strength to help themselves up. Think about a robot assistant helping the EMT.
The AI discussion is also fraught with prominent people like Ray Kurzweil or Elon Musk giving dystopian SciFi views of the future. We are a long way from “intelligence.” Where we are is really the use of machine learning and neural networks that help machines (and us) learn by deciphering recurring patterns.
Back to the study, the authors state, “If we start to approach the next decade as one in which partnerships between humans and machines transcend our limitations and build on our strengths, we can begin to create a more favorable future for everyone.”
Jordan Howard, Social Good Strategist and Executive Director of GenYNot, sees tremendous promise for the future of human-machine partnerships: “Many of the complex issues facing society today are rooted in waste, inefficiency, and simply not knowing stuff, like how to stop certain genes from mutating. What if we could solve these problems by pairing up more closely with machines and using the mass of data they provide to make breakthroughs at speed? As a team, we can aim higher, dream bigger, and accomplish more.”
Liam Quinn, Dell Chief Technology Officer, likens the emerging technologies of today to the roll-out of electricity 100 years ago. Quinn argues that we no longer fixate on the “mechanics” or the “wonders” of electricity, yet it underpins almost everything we do in our lives. Similarly, Quinn argues, in the 2030s, today’s emerging technologies will underpin our daily lives. As Quinn provokes, “Imagine the creativity and outlook that’s possible from the vantage point these tools will provide: In 2030, it will be less about the wonderment of the tool itself and more about what that tool can do.”
By 2030, we will no longer revere the technologies that are emerging today. They will have long disappeared into the background conditions of everyday life. If we engage in the hard work of empowering human-machine partnerships to succeed, their impact on society will enrich us all.
While offshoring manufacturing jobs to low-cost economies can save up to 65% on labor costs, replacing human workers with robots can save up to 90% of these costs.
China is currently embarking upon an effort to fill its factories with advanced manufacturing robots, as workers’ wages rise and technology allows the industry to become more efficient. The province of Guangdong, the heartland of Chinese manufacturing, has promised to invest $154 billion in installing robots.
Buoyed by their commercial success, the adoption of robots will extend beyond manufacturing plants and the workplace. Family robots, caregiving robots, and civic robots will all become commonplace as deep learning improves robots’ abilities to empathize and reason. Google recently won a patent to build worker robots with personalities.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Approximately 1,500 companies in North America alone are doing something related to AI today, which equates to less than 1% of all medium-to-large companies. We’re seeing this in the financial services industry already, with data recognition, pattern recognition, and predictive analytics being applied to huge data sets on a broad scale. In a 2015 report, Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated that the AI market will expand to $153 billion over the next five years—$83 billion for robots, and $70 billion for artificial intelligence-based systems.
In addition to their ability to make decisions with imperfect information, machines are now able to learn from their experiences and share that learning with other AI programs and robots. But AI progress also brings new challenges. Discussions surrounding who or what has moral and ethical responsibility for decisions made by machines will only increase in importance over the next decade.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Although both Virtual and Augmented Reality are changing the form factor of computing, there is a simple distinction between the two. VR blocks out the physical world and transports the user to a simulated world, whereas AR creates a digital layer over the physical world.
Despite the difference, both technologies represent a fundamental shift in information presentation because they allow people to engage in what Toshi Hoo, Director of IFTF’s Emerging Media Lab, calls “experiential media” as opposed to representative media. No longer depending on one or two of our senses to process data, immersive technologies like AR and VR will enable people to apply multiple senses—sight, touch, hearing, and soon, taste and smell—to experience media through embodied cognition.
Over the next decade, Hoo forecasts that VR, combined with vast sensor networks and connected technologies, will be one of many tools that enable distributed presence and embodied cognition, allowing people to experience media with all their senses.
It’s important to recognize that Cloud Computing isn’t a place, it’s a way of doing IT. Whether public, private, or hybrid (a combination of private and public), the technology is now used by 70% of U.S. organizations. This figure is expected to grow further, with 56% of businesses surveyed saying they are working on transferring more IT operations to the cloud, according to IDG Enterprise’s 2016 Cloud Computing Executive Summary.
While the cloud is not a recent technological advancement, cloud technology only really gathered momentum in recent years, as enterprise grade applications hit the market, virtualization technologies matured, and businesses became increasingly aware of its benefits in terms of efficiency and profitability. Increasing innovation in cloud-native apps and their propensity to be built and deployed in quick cadence to offer greater agility, resilience, and portability across clouds will drive further uptake. Start-ups are starting to use cloud-native approaches to disrupt traditional industries; and by 2030, cloud technologies will be so embedded, memories from the pre-cloud era will feel positively archaic by comparison.
Human Machine Partnership
Recent conversations, reports, and articles about the intersection of emerging technologies and society have tended to promote one of two extreme perspectives about the future: the anxiety-driven issue of technological unemployment or the optimistic view of tech-enabled panaceas for all social and environmental ills.
Perhaps a more useful conversation would focus on what the new relationship between technology and society could look like, and what needs to be considered to prepare accordingly.
By framing the relationship between humans and machines as a partnership, we can begin to build capacity in machines to improve their understanding of humans, and in society and organizations, so that more of us are prepared to engage meaningfully with emerging technologies.
Digital (Orchestra) Conductors
Digital natives will lead the charge. By 2030, many will be savvy digital orchestra conductors, relying on their suite of personal technologies, including voice-enabled connected devices, wearables, and implantables; to infer intent from their patterns and relationships, and activate and deactivate resources accordingly.
Yet, as is often the case with any shift in society, there is a risk that some segments of the population will get left behind. Individuals will need to strengthen their ability to team up with machines to arrange the elements of their daily lives to produce optimal outcomes. Without empowering more to hone their digital conducting skills, the benefits that will come from offloading ‘life admin’ to machine partners will be limited to the digitally literate.
Work Chasing People
Human-machine partnerships will not only help automate and coordinate lives, they will also transform how organizations find talent, manage teams, deliver products and services, and support professional development. Human-machine partnerships won’t spell the end of human jobs, but work will be vastly different.
By 2030, expectations of work will reset and the landscape for organizations will be redrawn, as the process of finding work gets flipped on its head. As an extension of what is often referred to as the ‘gig economy’ today, organizations will begin to automate how they source work and teams, breaking up work into tasks, and seeking out the best talent for a task.
Instead of expecting workers to bear the brunt of finding work, work will compete for the best resource to complete the job. Reputation engines, data visualization, and smart analytics will make individuals’ skills and competencies searchable, and organizations will pursue the best talent for discrete work tasks.