New superpowers, and what they mean for our future
Posted on 21st January 2018
Tomorrow, the World Economic Forum starts in Davos in Switzerland. The Forum is "committed to improve the state of the world" and brings together what it calls public and private "stakeholders" — in other words, heads of state, business, academia and society — and invites them to discuss shared interests and problems.
The growing importance of digital and its implications for our planet have been on the agenda at Davos for several years now. Currently, there is an article on the WEF website by Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware Inc., which makes an interesting case for what he calls the four “superpowers” that are shaping our world.
More specifically, these are mobile technology, the cloud, the IoT, and AI. As Gelsinger says, “Each of these capabilities is transformative in its own right, but together they unlock game-changing opportunities that have not been available to us until this moment in history. And we are just beginning to tap their full potential.”
A lot depends on your perspective, and whether you take a broadly optimistic perspective (as Gelsinger does) or a more pessimistic view of how the human race will cope with the remorseless advance of technology.
On the one hand, my colleague Stuart Alexander wrote in our blog recently of the very real impact of bank closures on local communities in Scotland, closures that are driven partly by banks’ customers increasingly doing their business online. Stuart is right of course but he acknowledged that this is definitely not a clear-cut issue. Conversely, all of us here at Be-IT make our living by helping a lot of generally brilliant techies to move to new jobs, some of which might have a major effect on how our society and economy will function now and in the years ahead. No-one here thinks that we should go back to an agrarian economy with bucolic cows grazing in meadows and an average life expectancy far below what that of today. More importantly, no-one wants to ...
That doesn’t mean that the future will not have challenges. While, as Gelsinger notes, “the cloud delivers capacity on a previously unimaginable scale, enabling organisations to add or remove various components to their infrastructure quickly and as needed,” it also creates an online store for cyber criminals to access and then steal our details and money. Online services exist for all sorts of reasons, but when they are hacked, whether for monetary gain or simply to embarrass a lot of people as happened when the Ashley Madison “dating” app was breached, it causes no end of grief (and the odd divorce or two I suspect).
As for mobile, at one extreme it means having to pay a grand for an iPhoneX, while at the other end it is able to transform the lives of poorer people across the world. Gelsinger describes how in Kenya having access to mobile money services “lifted almost 200,000 families out of poverty between 2008 and 2014 (and also) helped an estimated 185,000 female-headed Kenyan households become financially resilient by moving away from farming and into self-sustaining business occupations.”
Similar examples are given for AI and the IoT and the global reach of each of these four “superpowers” is projected to increase substantially in the next decade or so. What matters, of course, is what the human race does with them. Like Gelsinger, I’m an optimist. Yes, there will be problems along the way, but in the last few hundred years the human race has totally changed the way in which we live, vastly improving living standards and life expectancy for millions. We can’t uninvent technology, therefore we have to continue to find ways to harness it for the good of mankind and “continue to improve the world.”
Nikola Kelly, MD, Be-IT
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