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Welcome to 2050

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The year 2050 is more than three decades away, but forward-looking organisations are beginning to build it today, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The journey to the future always begins tomorrow. That may be a glib statement, but it’s also a strategic rule that is guiding many technology companies’ planning for the way the world is expected to be.

At the Cisco Live conference in Barcelona last week, the world’s leading networking hardware company revealed that this was one of the keys to its innovation.

“We like to make predictions of the future so that we can think about where we should be going, and contrast that with Cisco’s overall strategy,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president at Cisco. He is also Cisco’s general manager for the Internet of Things and Applications, meaning his day job is not only to think about the physical shape of the future, but to guide its creation.

“The reality is we are heading into an age of intelligence from a technology perspective, made possible by all the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning we’ve seen in the last few years. Those two advances are what underpin many of the innovations you’ve seen from us already.”

In a keynote address, Trollope took his audience through the key inventions and technologies that can already be predicted today through to 2050. However, rather than taking the safe route of predicting general directions and periods, he gave exact years when we could see specific innovations come to pass:

2022

“Dubai has announced that, in 2022, they will launch the worlds first driverless hover taxi. A flying car. We finally get a flying car! This is real, this is happening.”

2025

“By 2025, we believe you’re going to start seeing smartphones disappear. Last year I went to Florida to a little office park and visited a company called Magic Leap. They are launching an Augmented Reality headset, completely wireless, with all the capabilities of a smartphone, but you don’t have to carry around this brick in your hand. Google Glass was version 1, Magic Leap is version 2, and there will be many more versions. The experience I had was so much better than looking at a piece of glass. It’s hard not to imagine a world in which we don’t carry smartphones.”

2027

“In 2027 we should see the first commercial launch of a technology called text-by-thinking. It was launched in 2010, and has been tested in medical applications. It’s pretty exciting but also super weird.”

2028

As we reach the end of the 2020s, says Trollope, complete simulations of the human brain will become possible.

“This will allow us to achieve an incredible milestone, which is to fully simulate the functioning of the human brain. They can already do this for mice in the lab, so it’s only a matter of time. This will also be important for medical purposes.”

2030s

“The 2030s,” says Trollope, “will make the 2020s look like nothing has happened.

New job tiles on LinkedIn that will be common in 2030s will include positions like Avatar Manager, Body Part Maker, Vertical Farmer, Nano Medic, Climate Change Reversal Specialist, and Waste Data Handler. The world of work looks very different.”

2034

“By the early 2030s, in 2034, we will see 1 Terabit connections (1000 Gigabits or a million Megabits per second) to the home become common, and even with on-person connection technologies, built into what we wear.”

This is where the role of organisations like Cisco becomes clearer. Because the company is the world’s leading supplier of the routers and switches and other equipment that allows computer networks to communicate, it also has a central role in making possible the rapid increase in data speeds on the Internet. Particularly with the rise of the Internet of Things, connected sensors and devices – and analysis of the data they generate – will play a key role.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in next 12 years to get to that world of 2034,” says Trollope. “Gathering data from every object around us, will transform the way we live and work. We will see really astounding progress from a networking perspective.”

2036

“By 2036, as a result of reverse engineering the human brain, experts predict, Alzheimer’s will finally be cured. But between now and then we will see many of the diseases that afflict us today wiped out.”

2040

“When we get to the 2040s, things really start to happen. We believe by 2040, the average home PC will have the computing power of 1-billion human brains. While today you have a thousand songs in your pocket, you will have a billion brains in your pocket by then.”

Trollope also believes that many of the computing giants that are household names today will have disappeared, become new entities or merge. He showed a mock-up logo for a brand called DELLnovo, cheekily suggesting the merging of Dell and Lenovo, today respectively the American and Chinese leaders in PC production.

2045

“By 2045, Ray Kurzweil, the chief futurist of Google, has predicted we will reach the Singularity. That is the moment AI becomes smarter than humans. What Elon Musk and Bill Gates are concerned about, is that it might decide that it doesn’t need us pesky humans around anymore. Regardless of whether we believe that or not, we must be prepared for a future that is radically different.”

2050

“By the end of the 2040s, virtual telepathy will dominate personal communications. Advancing text-by-thinking over the next 20 years, that technology will become good enough for personal use and cheap enough for most people on earth. It will radically change our culture and society in ways we can’t imagine.

“By the 2050s, we will have the first permanent human presence on Mars. We will finally become an interplanetary species. If you believe Elon Musk, it will happen even sooner.”

The big question, says Trollope, is what happens to planet Earth? It will need to support almost 10-billion people, but scientists believe it doesn’t have the “carrying capacity”.

“It will require two Earth-sized planets to support 9.7-billion people. The problem is that we only have one. The only way to survive comfortably in such a future, is that we have to be vastly more efficient with our resources, and that requires technology.

“We cannot have clean water and air for all people on earth without technology infrastructure. Every single system will require the groundwork we are doing today as a company and as an industry.”

Trollope has a warning that is both hopeful and ominous: “We have to think about how we are going to get there with technology. This puts in perspective why we do what we do. We have no choice.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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