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Not tech, but social and business revolution under way

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Former Microsoft number 3 and ex-head of VMWare, Paul Maritz shared his journey and insights with South Africans at the recent MyWorld of Tomorrow conference

Veteran industry executive Paul Maritz opened the recent My World Of Tomorrow  technology expo and conference with a technology vision of businesses that is not about the technology itself.

In his keynote address at the Sandton Convention Centre, he said that we were experiencing not a technology revolution, but a social and business revolution.

Maritz currently heads Pivotal, a landmark company created through the combined forces of GE, EMC and VMWare. It was born for a new purpose: to create the next generation of operating systems that will power our future. Those platforms are vital, as Martiz set about to explain.

He first illuminated his own journey: as a fresh-faced varsity graduate from South Africa, Maritz left for the US to engage with the new world of PCs. It was the start of the Eighties and mainframe computers were being replaced by new maverick innovations from companies such as Intel. Maritz wanted in, kick starting a career that took him through giants such as Intel and Microsoft – where he was number three behind Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He would later move to EMC, soon heading up VMWare, then Pivotal.

This gave Maritz a good sense of history and a clear vision of where we are going. He looked at how the Eighties and Nineties were spent creating digital equivalents for paper-based processes, leading to the development of applications such as Microsoft Office. But now it is time for the next step:

“Those applications are not going away – they are going to stay with us for a long time to come. But they are no longer where differential value is coming from. Those are not where the new business models are being driven out of. We’re moving into an era where we are now starting to tackle things that you cannot imagine in a paper-based world. There is no paper-based equivalent to Google and Facebook. We’ve had to evolve structures and architectures to allow us to tackle those kind of use cases.”

To illustrate his point, Maritz looked back at mainframes. The cost to generate enough computing power to track a computer mouse was huge. Then the desktop-style PCs we are familiar with arrived, bringing that kind of power spend to virtually zero and thus ushering in the era of graphic user interfaces.

Yet the client/server PC world has its own limitations: the power available is still dictated by the capacity of an individual machine. So if something required ten machines to do its job, it would be an expensive and rare practice: Maritz called it avant-garde development.

The world needed a new way to evolve technology – especially if it expected to match the consumer-driven revolution pegged by smart devices and connectivity.

“Google is actually the pioneer here. In 1998, when they set out to index the entire world’s information, they already knew that the index would be petabytes in size. If you had gone to your favourite database vendor in 1998 and buy a petabyte of capacity – even if they could have supplied it to you at the then-going prices of $1 million per terabyte – it would have cost you $10 billion. For Google that was just a non-starter, so they had to go a different route. They had to tackle their problem by ganging together lots and lots of very cheap machines.”

Google’s thriftiness sparked the new technology platforms that are increasingly driving our world today, creating new use cases and opportunities for business. By combining many machines, the power of technology has become a commodity. Like the leap to graphic interfaces, now we can tackle big data, contextual behaviour and more. One example is General Electric, a century-old company that has become the standard bearer for transforming to the new digital epoch. GE’s aircraft engines famously generate terabytes of data over one single transatlantic flight, prompting the company to wonder what value lies in all of that data. This in turn brought new opportunities, which is why GE invested in Pivotal: it wants the next generation of technology to fuel its newfound ambitions.

Ultimately all that brought Maritz’s main point to book: what we are experiencing is not a technology revolution. It is a social and business revolution, exemplified by among other things how companies reach audiences.

“A lot of businesses used to operate on the principle of spending huge amounts of money on broad, horizontal media-based advertising to drive the masses to them. Now instead innovative companies spend their money on building compelling, useful ways of engaging with their customers in realtime. They rather spend their time and money into building useful apps that gives information and service in context to the user.”

The maverick automobile maker Tesla counts as one – it uses applications and in-car software to extend the experience well beyond simply owning a vehicle. Uber, the favourite example of this revolution, also uses apps and analytics to improve customer engagement. If you ever pondered why a food retailer wants you to swipe its shopper card, that’s towards gathering trends for improved service. All of that is being run on what Maritz called the third platform: the world of cheap, powerful parallel computer systems.

But to access this new world requires companies to shift their mindsets. Technology is becoming inseparable from business, at least if that business hopes to keep engaging the new consumer.

“One of the big changes many companies have a lot of problems with is to realise this is not an IT problem. This is a business problem. Google has an IT department, but they make sure every machine has an IP address and that’s about it. Everyone else in Google doesn’t think of themselves as IT people. They think of themselves as part of the product department. They build products. The business and technology people sit as equals around the table.”

Maritz rounded his point with a call to action for companies: “Find partners who want to do this with you as opposed to doing it for you. It will not help you if they do it all for you. At the end of the day this capability is going to be your differentiator for finding value. You can’t outsource that. If a partner says ‘No problem, just write me a cheque’, that’s a big red flag. Don’t go there.”

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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