Technology: The shape of things to come
Let’s take a look at the future of technology to see what the future landscape presents as opportunities and threats to businesses
The nature of technology is changing. There was a time, not long ago, when technology made it possible for doctors, engineers, designers, geologists, scientists, pilots, bankers and other professionals to push the envelope of their practice. Technology gave them tools to work faster. Technology delivered greater accuracy. And, often, it lowered the cost of the products and services even as it created or increased safety. Today, technology is pervasive. It is sweeping across society to make a deeper, broader and more direct connect with people. It is no longer confined to or controlled by privileged professionals.
You and I are using technology — to read this paper, to distribute it, to make it searchable, to extract and edit portions of it, and to store it for quick retrieval. It’s interesting to note that we consider this completely normal. But pause for a moment. We can do an incredible lot more: we can all be producers and global distributors of the movies we make; we can be our own bankers online; we can make excellent lobster bisque just by looking up an expert’s video guide; we can instantly share our knowledge with the world using mobile technologies; we can be a DJ at a friend’s party; and we do not have to deal with ignorant or inefficient customer service officers any more — we just use an IVR system. Capability, expertise and control are moving from the core to the very fringes of society.
This dramatic shift in the accessibility of technology is altering everything, from utilities, healthcare, banking, retail, transport, hospitality, media & communication to government and public infrastructure. But, things are not getting any simpler. Nano technology and IT are coming together in novel ways to create new capabilities. The capacity of our networks appears to be infinite. The ability of social media to generate thought, debate and opinion that drives loyalty and business is boundless (even revolutionary). And we have barely begun to scratch the surface. If anything, we are moving towards unprecedented complexity.
How do we, as technologists, manufacturers and service providers — who also happen to be consumers once we leave office — prepare for this? What does the future landscape present as opportunities and threats to businesses? What are the key developments that we need to reflect on today, so that tomorrow is safer, better and sustainable?
CRAVING AN UNCOMPLICATED LIFE
Intrinsically, human nature craves simplicity. It longs to experience an efficient and uncomplicated life. Take the mobile phone — it is a simple device that performs complex operations. The mobile phone’s form factor is unfussy and natural. It has a set of keys that everyone understands. It can communicate using a variety of channels from voice to text to images and video. It can be an entertainment center and show your location through simple triangulation or using GPS technology. One moment it can become a tool for social interaction, and the very next it can be used for sales and support or to record a crime. It can also be extend as an educational device or a medical gadget. Building simple technologies and applications is where the future lies. But with great simplicity, comes great backend complexity.
THE FOUR VECTORS OF CHANGE
The changes we are witnessing in technology are driving our attention and focus to four chief areas of interest. Firstly, at the intersection where the cyber world meets the physical world tremendous capacity is building up — increasingly intelligent machines in the public space that have idle or spare capacity can be used once they
are networked. Secondly, networks are changing from passive to interactivity, offering extraordinary control to users. Thirdly, as technology permeates society, user experience is moving to the forefront becoming top priority. And fourthly, as networks and technology deliver new capabilities, the threat to individual and corporate security will be a reason for mounting governmental and societal concerns.
Imagine you are sitting in a café and need computing power to solve a problem. Your phone could ping other phones in the vicinity, and check if it has permission to use their spare computing capacity. Using a dynamic network of intelligent machines, complex problems can be solved in real time at dramatically lowered costs. Technologies such as these can make products and services more affordable for the masses. Affordability is the key to address emerging markets and reach the bottom of the pyramid. Already, using affordable technology, the cost of delivering employee insurance in India through the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) is a mere USD 1.07 per person per annum. How will machine2machine communication affect costs?
Machine2machine communication presents several revolutionary possibilities outside of enhancing and augmenting computing power. Take the case of a bank heist where the alarm system has been disabled. With machine2machine communication, the alarm system does not have to communicate over a phone line. It can use several ambient networks and devices to raise an alarm!
Analytics and the semantic web:
When you are in distress or trouble what is your first response? Chances are you flip out your phone and reach out to a friend or someone in the family. It’s unlikely that you connect to the web, looking for an answer. Can machines respond to human requests based on natural meaning? Today’s analytical engines are inching closer to realizing the semantic web. The amount of machine-readable data is growing exponentially, bringing us more rapidly to the reality of a semantic web. Imagine a Close Body Network that monitors your physical condition and relays it over a Bluetooth network to the phone in your pocket, which in turn delivers the data over a 3G network to a remote hospital system. The system can analyze and respond to your own body metrics and sound an alarm if necessary. It can also compare your body metrics with that of similar people over other networks to create new real-time understanding of your condition. Such networks with a layer of analytics can touch end-consumers and have inconceivable impact on individuals in the areas of healthcare, hospitality, banking, financial services
Human nature craves simplicity — building simple technologies and applications is where the future of technology lies
and insurance, etc.
At the center of use is the experience. iPod’s success can be attributed to its user experience (and, admittedly, the exquisite design). iPod is intuitive, simple, and effectively uses the human need to touch and feel everything.
Tomorrow’s world will demand a severe extension of this type of user experience to encompass all the five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. How can technologies of today help improve user experience? The answer will provide the key to business success. For example, the music player in your car is capable of playing radio, CDs, music from pen drives and from a few other devices. Cars have a typical lifetime of a decade. Over this decade, entertainment technology is likely to change dramatically. So what happens when a new media format is introduced? Do you really need to rip and replace your hardware? Or will you be stranded with a music player that is rapidly getting outdated? Is it not possible to turn your “music player” into a simple device that plays content accessed over the Internet, regardless of the format? In reality, user expectations will change in ways that call for a higher level of engagement but simplicity of use.
As networks proliferate and integrate to grow deeper, the society will have to face and address a new dimension in security. Networks have no borders and the state has no control over them. Personal data will be stored across devices, social networks, groups and organizations, making security a nightmare. Identities will be stolen, pictures morphed, and presence data will be manipulated — giving birth to new crimes and criminals. These developments will call for a more stringent regulatory environment, better security standards and a new method of creating and managing watchdog bodies responsible for your digital security. Some of these scenarios may appear to be trend snapshots. Some of the scenarios may take decades to develop and mature. Others will simply fade out. No one can predict the future accurately. But the emerging picture is doubtless of a technological future that is simplified but which must be viewed with caution.
As technology moves across the masses and deep into the fringes of society, it will create unprecedented innovation. As technology becomes more accessible, we will see the emergence of applications that serve smaller user groups, at lowered costs and with the same robustness connect enterprises, society, physical world and governments. The future looks great but needs responsible behavior at the consumer end. Like they say “with great power comes greater responsibility.”