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

InformationWeek - - Opinion - Anurag Sri­vas­tava

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.

Ma­chine2­ma­chine com­mu­ni­ca­tion:

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.

User ex­pe­ri­ence:

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.

Se­cu­rity:

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.”

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