A comprehensive, industry-wide study of the different ways that technology impacts the way we do things, and what governments and decision-makers can do to leverage the power of technology to deliver more efficient and high-impact services and solutions to people around the globe
Blockchain, AI, IoT, and the Connected Future
The rapid technological progress that the world has seen over the last two decades or so has made it a truly global village. Instant telecommunications, quick travel, the unobstructed delivery of goods and services, and borderless communities that exist both in the physical world as well as in the online one connects us all like never before. Despite all of this progress, however, every nation faces a unique set of challenges – ranging from human displacement, health and food insecurity, corruption, rising sea-levels, underfunded and underperforming schools in inner-city zongos, and stagnating economic growth. Thankfully, we have the technology to help raise ourselves out of the mire, but only if we understand how to leverage it to our benefit.
For technology-based solutions to our problems to succeed, we first need to understand when and how to use specific tools and solutions that are at our disposal. A failure to recognise which solution is the right one for a specific problem, or implementing it the wrong way, can be as dangerous as not addressing the problem to begin with…or even worse.
This is the first in a series of articles on the benefits, challenges, uses and limitations of technology to provide the reader with an ability to do just that.
The world today is run on technology. It makes tasks faster, cheaper, simpler, and easier. It also allows one individual to do a lot more within a given timeframe; that, too, with limited resources. However, technology is something of a double-edged sword and its benefits come with a number of disadvantages. While technology can help make our lives richer, more entertaining, safer – and even longer, an overdependence on it can be a handicap of sorts. Imagine living a day without electricity or the Internet! Although we are so much better for it, there are numerous risks, challenges and dangers that technology comes with as well.
Consider one somewhat recent issue that has come up thanks to technology: that of privacy. With so much data created and transmitted online every day, data mining and analysis tools can be used to extract information on individuals by the thousands. This enables companies and governments to track people’s physical locations, the way they spend, their family and personal information, and more. This, in turn, has spurred numerous tech projects such as anonymous cryptocurrencies like Monero to decentralised storage, identification; and health data privacy projects such as Storj, Civic, and Patientory.
What we learn from this is that whenever one challenge or issue comes up, there are people who will come up with the necessary alternatives and solutions. We just need to remain vigilant during this never-ending battle. To illustrate this point, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are three relatively new pieces of technology that are transforming the world for the better. Let’s talk about each one in turn.
Many people have heard about Bitcoin, but not many people know where it came from or what the revolutionary power behind it is all about. First proposed roughly 10 years ago as a publicly verifiable and decentralised way to store records and information, the technology that runs Bitcoin – which is known as blockchain – promised the ability to replace manual record-keeping with a series of permanent and unalterable records that no one single entity is in control of.
Think of Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Drive. All of the data on these platforms is technically under the control of the company or organisation providing those specific platforms to you. If Facebook wanted to, they could delete your profile without warning. The same goes for banks, insurance companies, hospitals, and more. Individual users have no control over their data, or how it is used.
Blockchain enables people to interact with each other, share and send data and currency, buy and sell goods and services, and participate in other meaningful exchanges without ever having to worry that a central authority could shut things down without notice. This decentralisation of authority and public verification of data has taken the world by storm, and we now see blockchain projects transforming industries as diverse as agriculture, healthcare, finance, shipping, education, social media, governance, politics and more.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
We define AI as the ability of a computer (or even a computer-controlled robot) to execute tasks generally associated with intelligent beings. It is a cutting-edge branch of computer science that aims to make better and smarter computer programmes that can imitate human behaviour and responses with a very high level of precision.
AI systems can be programmed how to make correct responses by feeding them many different scenarios which require responses of some sort, along with correct and incorrect responses. The system then identifies trends in what constitutes a correct versus an incorrect response, and can use this information to provide correct responses of its own when faced with a new scenario that requires a response.
To better understand how this might work, imagine an AI system that scans millions of pictures of cats along with millions of pictures of rabbits. The system can be programmed to compare pictures never before seen with pictures that have actually been seen, and to identify which new picture most closely resembles cats versus rabbits which are stored in the system’s memory. In this way, the system can be ‘taught’ to identify rabbits and cats with a very high level of accuracy.
This process can be repeated with everything from faces, numbers, text, hand movements, signs and logos to weather conditions, roads, X-rays, medical documents and more. AI systems that are fed this type of information can be programmed to identify trends and make decisions about what output to provide in response to a specific input. These systems can be fed vast amounts of data in no time, and they can scan and ‘learn’ from them almost instantaneously – meaning these systems and programmes are fast and scalable.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
When we talk about the Internet of Things, we mean the network of devices, appliances, vehicles, and other physical items that are fitted with software and sensors which enable these objects to connect with other such devices and exchange data and information. The Internet connects computers and servers; the Internet of Things connects practically everything else.
Various estimates place the yearly growth rate of IoT devices around the world as high as 30%, and there are expected to be 30 billion interconnected devices around the world by 2020. By that time, the global market value of the IoT will be roughly US$7trillion, with IoT devices being used in everything from healthcare and engineering to city planning and transportation.
Just how are some of these tech innovations changing the world? Consider the following use-cases of AI, Tlockchain, and the IoT.
In the home
Amazon Echo and the Nest thermostat are just two among hundreds of products that can be used to perform a wide range of functions such as playing music, providing weather reports, getting sports scores, calling a ride and more.
Ecobee is a smart sensor that uses weather data and data on activity levels within the home to reduce energy consumption. With savings of up to 30%, this device can make your home more comfortable and your bills substantially lower.
Hue lights are web-enabled lights that can be programmed, for example, to glow a certain colour when your bus or Uber ride is a few minutes away. They can also help reduce electricity usage by automatically turning on or off depending on whether or not someone is in the room, and they can also provide home security by turning on or off on a preprogrammed schedule.
Health, Sports, and Wearables
Fitbit and Jawbone are revolutionising health and fitness by providing users with better data on their exercise routines. These devices can track your steps, the calories you’ve burned – and they can even assess the quality of your sleep.
The Mimo monitor collects real-time data on your baby’s temperature, breathing, and position, and can be used to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS – which is a leading cause of infant death.
Manchester United, the world’s most valuable soccer club, uses wearable tech to collect data on player-performance and accuracy as well as to measure a sportsperson’s stamina limitations – to optimise training and warn the individual when they are nearing their physical limits.
Technology can be used to address real problems that cities face every day, such as traffic congestion, crime, and pollution.
SmartBelly trash cans are an example of technology being used to totally reimagine a very specific function. Garbage bins that are fitted with sensors can transmit data to civic agencies, informing collection crews whenever a bin needs to be emptied. This can drastically reduce the number of trips and collections that garbage disposal teams have to make, resulting in actual fuel and financial savings for neighborhoods and service departments.
ParkSight combines the use of sensors, mobile apps and web applications to help drivers find parking more quickly, thereby reducing their carbon footprints.
Vehicles fitted with Internet devices and sensors can collect and transmit travel and transportation data that can be used to create better driving plans, faster journeys, and better safety – resulting in saved fuel and lower insurance costs.
Construction, Finance, Energy, and Utilities
From smart meters and sensors that can identify and pinpoint pipeline breakages or other bottlenecks, construction, energy, and utilities are also being changed for the better with technology.
SightMachine is another example of technology in action in the field of construction. This device uses sensors installed inside mechanical equipment to monitor whether or not any part of the machine has exceeded its design threshold. This helps in maintenance and supply ordering. SmartPile is also an interesting construction use-case. It uses sensors placed inside concrete foundations to measure whether or not a structure meets specific quality and integrity thresholds.
Syncfab is an online industrial marketplace that connects manufacturers with suppliers and customers in a fast, secure, transparent, and cost-effective ecosystem. Built on blockchain technology, the system guarantees trustless verifiability of contracts and agreements, as well as impenetrable security of data and transactions. It provides users with convenient on-demand purchasing, tracking and reordering, as well as high-quality manufacturing quotes from suppliers of all sizes all over the world, and ensures transactions that are safe and secure. The system provides users with a highly streamlined supply chain that reduces marketing, administrative, and manufacturing costs.
Aitheon has made the world’s first blockchain-powered platform that combines AI, robotics, IoT, human specialists, and cryptocurrency to enable organisations to combine the work of humans with that of intelligent machines to automate monotonous and tedious back-end functions – such as customer service, recruitment, fulfillment, transportation and logistics, data entry and retrieval, remote piloting of semi-autonomous vehicles, and more.
Versara Trade combines the benefits of using fiat currencies with the advantages of using cryptocurrencies to meaningfully and positively impact financial markets. Versara aims to help millions of individuals and SMEs around the world fund and grow their businesses by using cryptocurrency as extra collateral and providing blockchain-powered invoices, risk diversification options using proprietary AI algorithms, and constructing efficient financial models to make trade finance accessible to the retail investor. Doing this will allow Versara to deliver viable and effective solutions for credit risk mitigation and access to financial capital. Credit enhancement tools based on cryptocurrency are expected to bridge important gaps where needed, giving the US$600billion emerging SME market better options for growth and expansion.
What the Future Holds
Now that we have a better understanding of the power of technology, how it has changed and evolved over time, where and how it is being used, and some of the industries that are being revolutionised by new ways of doing things, let’s look at a few important trends and developments that anyone getting involved in a large, tech-based initiative should know about before setting the groundwork of their project.
The writer is a Management Consultant (Australia)