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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
IoT at starting gate
South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).
Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.
There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.
Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.
In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation. Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.
This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.
It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.
Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?
In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning. Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.
The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.
If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.
What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.
ERP underpins food tracking
The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP
Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.
Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.
Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.
ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.
With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.
So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.
Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.
In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.
This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.
Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.