The future was inevitable, but it is already here, speeded up by the pandemic. While going high-tech was usually an “option”, now it is no longer so, becoming part of the very DNA of the business and economy of the world. A look at the complete global transformation that we are entering
We will live, work and entertain ourselves in the Cloud
There is no cloud that is “out there”. There is no cloud option that you may or may not be part of. It’s not a question of if but when we go on the cloud, “all in”. We are the cloud. We are part of the cloud. It is all around us. It is part of us. We work in the cloud. We chat with our friends in the cloud. We entertain ourselves in the cloud. We live in the cloud.
As I have said many times before, today we live in a world where millions of data centers are used by billions of devices to transfer trillions of GBs of data each and every day. For the common man, the cloud is Device + Bandwidth. For the techies, it’s more complicated than that and there’s a lot of software and hardware behind the scenes that keeps everything running. Cloud is a very complicated computing model that has to be fine-tuned all the time.
we live in a world where millions of data centers are used by billions of devices to transfer trillions of GBs of data each and every day.
That means the end of the paper is finally here
Hyper digitization. Hyper digitalization. Complete Digital Transformation. It’s all happening. What that means is that the paperless office we have been hearing about for decades is finally here. In the corporate office, we have already shifted to electronic transmissions for everything and high-end collaboration tools will ensure that remains so.
Earlier key digital data was scanned or converted from its offline form, the latter which was never disposed of. Alternatively, digital data was duplicated in the offline world and sometimes even came in triplicates. Now data is being collected digitally with no paper involved. Online banking and mobile money are further reducing paper.
The government was the biggest source of red-tapism and triplicatism. With their offices getting computerized, digitized and e-governance expanding, the need for paper is also coming down. That also applies to all the citizens, companies, and organizations dealing with them. There used to be so many documents related to the identification. Now it’s all online. The mobile has replaced things like film-train tickets and plane boarding passes. Facial recognition is the next step.
Work From Anywhere.
Work From Any Device
First you by and large had to Work From Office (WFO) with Work From Home (WFH) being frowned upon. While a lot of people thought WFH would become permanent with the pandemic, that may not be so. That’s why the new mantra is Work From Anywhere (WFA), with the bonus: Work From Any Device too. You can work on vacation and be part of the desktop, laptop, mobile workforce, or any other device you can think of.
The biggest effect of this will be on real estate and urban planning. The home will become more important and will double up as the office. It will have to be more luxurious as many will spend all their time there. Office spaces will get lesser importance, especially large ones. A Smart Home will not be a luxury but a necessity. Everyone will be free to move to the suburbs or B Towns as commuting will not be an issue. The spending power of towns will also go up as it will be flooded by professionals. It will be a WFA economy in more ways than one. In fact, the globe will be dotted with Smart Cities of all sizes thanks to this.
While Electric Vehicles (EVs) are expected to dominate, the truth is that “autonomous connected vehicles” will rule. What they will be powered by is still up in the air.
Finally a disaster-proof BCP
Business Continuity Planning (BCP) was another option contemplated by many companies but is now being threaded into the very fabric of the business. The Cloud. Its backup opportunities. The non-dependence on paper. The WFA +
culture with any device options. Rich collaboration tools. No-touch technologies. The replacement of the human worker with digital tools. All this means that a BCP is already in place.
Businesses suffered a great deal during the pandemic. For some, the disruptions were tough to bear while others went out of business altogether. But through it all, we came out with solutions that will help us go through any disaster of any kind in the future and not just a pandemic.
We will have Universal HealthTech
While smaller European countries have succeeded with universal healthcare, not so the largest democracies in the world, superpower America and rising power India. This is quite a tricky issue in larger populations. That’s where technology steps in, which can drastically bring down costs and operate in remote areas. A complete transition to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) will ensure that every citizen and every doctor will have access to any medical record at any time for anywhere consultation.
Wearables and home testing kits will monitor health and help in early diagnosis and treatment. Telemedicine will be the first stage of consultation. When you finally visit the hospital, you will have robotic receptionists, assistants, and maybe even surgeons. AI-ML will help the doctor in diagnosis while XR (VR-AR-MR) will help in simulation training, thereby easing the burden on medical colleges.
A new form of transportation
The Rivian IPO was one of the largest in US history, putting its valuation ahead of both Ford and General Motors. This is despite Rivian hardly selling anything while the giants sell millions of vehicles regularly. That’s because the future is expected to be different. While Electric Vehicles (EVs) are expected to dominate, the truth is that “autonomous connected vehicles” will rule. What they will be powered by is still up in the air.
Autonomous taxis or Robotaxis are plying the roads of America and China. Autonomous trucks are whizzing along highways. Once this becomes commonplace the driver’s seat will be removed. Vehicles will become rooms of all sizes which you can use for business, tourism, transportation and what have you. Drones of all sizes will take off and they can be used for almost anything, from transportation to surveillance.
This will form the backbone of the e-commerce economy which is already ramping up the use of robots in their warehouses. Ecommerce giants have a goal of delivering every piece of goods no matter how big or small to every citizen no matter how remote, that is a cent percent market share. They can do that via a network of autonomous vehicles (terrestrial and aerial) along with all types of robots.
Are you ready for the Robot Economy?
Contrary to what people think, there is no global population explosion happening which will lead to overpopulation and depletion of resources. Every continent has gone through a period of population growth. First, it was Europe and very recently Asia. Now only Africa is left as the rest of the world is in terminal decline.
We have entered a stage wherein the short run there will be a smaller workforce and a higher number of senior citizens. In the long run, there will be a declining global population. Robotic assistants of all shapes and sizes for all tasks (powered by AI) will step in. With the way we humans are heading, there will be no alternative to robots and a robot economy.
A new form of industry
Fewer humans. More technology. More data and AI. More automation. What this means is that the entire industry will be turned on its head. 5G and its successor technologies will ensure widespread 24X7 connectivity. There are already tens of billions of IoT devices embedded all over the world which are quietly collecting and transmitting data along with trillions of sensors.
That is why the new paradigm is being referred to as Industry 4.0 or the fourth Industrial Revolution. The first refers to the one in 1760 that led to a machine-factory revolution. The second was the rise of the telegraph and railroad which connected all cities and towns in the country and ultimately the world. The third was purely digital. The fourth will encompass the above-mentioned concepts. We will have lights out or dark factories where no human beings will be required.
Two further game changers will be nanotechnology and 3D printing, both of which offer endless possibilities. Nanotech has applications in electronics, engineering energy, semiconductors, organic chemistry, molecular biology, medicine, etc. The futuristic sci-fi possibility is its promise of molecular self-assembly or microfabrication by which all kinds of manufacturing can be done automatically in perpetuity.
While 3D printing hasn’t taken off the way it should have, a day will come when it will be able to use any material and come out with products of any size and that’s when it can supplant or replace the entire manufacturing process of the world.
A new form of energy
There was a time when we needed mechanical devices filled with fuel for energy. Think of filling your car with petrol or your generator with diesel. But now you have a digital device with a battery like your mobile or any other gadget. This concept was extended to a car, so you had a smart car and smartphone which worked with similar technologies. Tomorrow you could have a smart airplane on similar lines.
The main point is: We no longer need to think of fossil fuels. The more batteries are miniaturized and made to last longer, the more things they can be used on. A new generation of batteries could well revolutionize the way we use energy. Hydrogen. Miniaturized fusion. Gen IV nuclear plants optimised by algorithms. Even antimatter (remember Dan Brown’s 2000 thriller Angels and Demons?). Anything is possible and a smart AI system will be there to harness just about anything.
In the short story, Earth is divided into four geographical regions, each with a powerful supercomputer known as the Machine managing its economy.
A new form of government
In the 1957 novel The Deep Range by sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke, everyone in the world has a digital identity and digital voting power. Global issues are simply voted on immediately and decisively. No disputes after that. In Isaac Asimov’s 1950 short story The Evitable Conflict, the description on its Wikipedia page reads, “Earth is divided into four geographical regions, each with a powerful supercomputer known as the Machine managing its economy.”
Both these scenarios are nearer than you think. While once heads of state would look at the morning newspapers and make decisions, now they look at the ever-changing social media trends. Billions of citizens post trillions of opinions a month and that becomes the global zeitgeist. Now it’s just a matter of time in formulating that into a transparent digital (blockchain-backed?) digital vote. Algorithms are more and more deciding what we buy, what we feel, and who we should vote for. One day a super algorithm could be the Machine in the Asimov story.
Billionaires’ Space Race will transform
There is thinking going around that the Space Race going on amongst the billionaires of the world is a vanity project and should be frowned upon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The World Wars along with the US-USSR Space Race and Cold War led to unimaginable advances in technology. The same will happen if Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson go head-to-head with each other.
Musk’s SpaceX has already created a reusable large rocket system and innovated what could be called satellite launch as a service. Starlink, the satellite broadband service, uses Low Earth Orbit. After that they are planning LTE/4G on the moon, beyond that Musk is planning for the Internet on Mars. From Earth to Mars, light takes 3 minutes to travel. A protocol is being developed called Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN) by none other than Father of the Internet Vincent Cerf. We cannot even imagine all the things that will come out of the new Space Race.
Cyber Warfare is the new frontier
If everything is digital and everything is online 24X7, that means everything is open to cyberattacks all the time. In most cases, it’s simply a case of whether you know you have been attacked or not. Cybersecurity was not a top priority for many businesses once upon a time but that’s not so now: For every large enterprise and small, the government and every common citizen need to make security at the center of it all.
Cyberwarfare is the final frontier between governments along with intelligence agencies, bad state actors, corporations, and of course hackers. Alexander and Caesar needed big armies to conquer. The British ruled the world with the navy. Then came the age of planes and missiles. In the future probably the group with the best tech army will win.
We will all be learning all the time
Like WFA, the hybrid education model is gaining ground. But the new paradigm will go beyond that. Thanks to online education and collaboration tools, remote areas can be included. Costs are going down. This means is that education won’t be cheap and accessible just for the students but for everyone. In a fast-changing world where skillsets keep changing, you will be wanting to upgrade yourself all the time. Today it is more important to have the right skill rather than the right degree. The future will be: Educate at any age.
Hybrid entertainment (but digital will dominate)
The first tech took over Hollywood and special effects ruled almost all the movies at the top of the box office. Then the last couple of decades ticket sales have been on the decline even as the population has been increasing. The box office has been saved by high ticket prices and obscenely high popcorn (and other beverage) rates. But in the 2010s Streaming had been gaining ground and that fully cemented its place in the pandemic era. It saw record growth.
While online won’t fully rule it will be a hybrid world. IPL 2020 was played in front of empty stadiums outside India and saw one of the highest viewership ratings ever. Similarly, pop stars can perform in an empty outdoor space knowing they are reaching out to millions live. Immersive experiences like those related to Virtual Reality will change the way we experience all kinds of events.
The real question is not “whether crypto is here to stay” but whether it can supersede the current order. It’s rather: “Whether the old financial order is here to stay”.
The New Financial World Order
We started off with barter and then had the coin system. In all this gold ruled and we had the gold standard of paper money. Then the gold standard was dismissed. We had fiat money. The next great innovation was online money followed by mobile money. We are on the cusp of the next big financial revolution. That doesn’t mean the above will cease to exist. Countries still barter goods and people still invest in gold. But going forward virtual money will dominate.
That online money is inevitable, nobody questions. That all countries will ultimately adopt an official digital currency also seems certain. That brings us to the hot topic of cryptocurrency which has divided the world into declaring it either a fraud or the next big thing. But think it over, the value of cryptocurrencies was zero on New Year’s Day in 2009. And in 2021 all cryptocurrencies were valued at $3 trillion!
What that means is crypto is a separate country in its own right. It has already got integrated into the global economy. How much further can it grow? The principles of blockchain are sound, transparent, and can decentralise and democratize the global economy. That’s something that is being missed in the debate. The distributed ledger can revolutionise banking. The real question is not “whether crypto is here to stay” but whether it can supersede the current order. It’s rather: “Whether the old financial order is here to stay”!
We will one day (maybe soon) live in the Metaverse
What is Web 3.0? What is AR-VR? What is blockchain? What is crypto? All this has one thing in common. In the sense that Web 3.0 will be built in the fabric of crypto and AR-VR. That’s one of the ideas that is gaining ground about the new reality that we will live in. Either way, the metaverse is already being built and we will save that happen. Many small steps were taken but the biggest has been Facebook changing its name to Meta. It’s all about optics and that move has given the metaverse global acceptability.
The world of AR-VR-MR is called XR or Extended Reality. What if tomorrow’s XR headsets become commonplace? You wear an XR monocle or glasses when you go out. You have an XR cubicle at home or maybe the term is not Smart Home but XR home. What if this virtual world indeed does take care of your socializing, collaboration, office, entertainment, and everything else. What if it’s an XR globe? The metaverse will change our lifestyle and habits and subsequently the way the entire world does business.
It all ends with the Singularity
Even as most of the populace doesn’t know about 4.0, already a new term has been coined. Industry 5.0. That refers to the collaboration between man and machine. But there is something called Singularity which goes beyond that and man and machine (in this case AI) merge to become one. This is one of the pet projects of Silicon Valley and a way to gain immortality. Is it possible? If that happens: Will you still be you? Will we come out with a brand new species that will supplant Homo Sapiens?
Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow explores a similar concept. Johnny Depp merges with the quantum computer to wreak havoc in the Hollywood film Singularity. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is making this practical. Musk is also associated with OpenAI while Alphabet has DeepMind.
Is all this a great thing or should your alarm bells start ringing? Are we entering Utopia or Dystopia? Will we be liberated, independent digital citizens or metaverse slaves? It’s hard to tell at this stage. As the lyrics to the song Hotel California by Eagles go…
“And I was thinking to myself:
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell!”
(More profoundly on the same lines are the lyrics in Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here…
“So, so you think you can tell,
Heaven from Hell?”)
Or maybe both actually. Just look at China which has become a tech supergiant in such a short time. It is a techno paradise for sure, but tech has also enabled the Communist regime there and made its authoritarianism that much more effective.
Either way, it’s too late. We have entered a one-way street with no point of return. The techceleration genie has been unleashed. Most of these changes will take place in our very lives. Let us sit back and watch them unfold and embrace them.
(What other choice do we have?)
Jargon you will hear a lot.
Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machine Learning (ML). Deep Learning (DL). Natural Language Processing (NLP). Data Analytics. Blockchain. Cryptocurrency. Distributed Ledger. Non-fungible token (NFT). Web 3.0. Metaverse. AgriTech. HealthTech. FinTech. InsurTech. 5G. The Internet of Things (IoT). Quantum computing. 3D printing. Industry 4.0. Nanotechnology. XR-extended reality = Virtual Reality (VR) + Augmented Reality (AR) + Mixed Reality (MR).
By Sunil Rajguru