People will soon have to work with intelligent machines, to be productive in society - N Chandra, CEO and MD, TCS
Published in Special Issue of Business India - A Millennium of Change
The world has seen a remarkable improvement in the quality of life in the last 200 years or so. Throughout most of human history, the pace of economic growth was slow but since the 1800s, the pace picked up dramatically, primarily because of the technological revolutions. The first revolution was the steam engine in the 1800s, which transformed manufacturing and transportation. Starting in 1900, the commercialization of electric power transformed society by providing lighting and heating while taking manufacturing and transportation to the next level. These two technologies amplified mankind’s 'muscle power' and during this time, the size of the global economy increased by 11 times to what it was before the 1800s.
Between 1970 and 1990, computing technology and the Internet helped in significantly increase the ability of humans to compute and communicate large amounts of information in quick time. During the period of computing and Internet revolution, the world economy expanded 37 times to reach $75 trillion!
Currently, we are witnessing an even more rapid shift to the Digital Consumer Economy. The interplay between AI & Robotics, Social Media, Mobility & Pervasive Computing, Cloud and Big Data & Analytics and the Internet of Things - 9 billion people, 50 billion devices connected to the Internet in 2050 - is creating a Hyperconnected age, “The Age of man-machine continuum, a global network of humans and smart machines, interdependent on each other, working in synchronicity to transform the world.
Going by the past trends, each technological shift results in increased connections between people and when people connect, economies grow. The current shift is much more significant because of the connections between people, between machines themselves and between people and machines. This will enable the economy to grow at an even faster pace to an estimated US $150-170 trillion by 2050.
This machine-assisted era will transform banking, healthcare, energy, retail, government and security. We’ll see homes being sold and rented on housing stock exchanges. HealthBots/AI-assistants will do the first level of diagnostics on patients. People will be able to completely customize a product to their preferences by designing it and then have it manufactured via 3-D printing.
As Digital Technologies gain in strength, how we work, save, transact, travel, heal will change completely. While the impact will be across the board, there are some areas where the impact will be very easily visible. For Example, Retail, Transportation, Banking & Finance, Life Sciences and Government Services.
The Retail industry will see a new shift of unique customer journeys in a seamless blend of physical and digital retailing. Retail companies will use virtual reality (visuals) and haptographic sensors (for touch) in a big way to make the consumers 'sample' a product or a service in many ways before a purchase decision is made. Consumers will then completely design their own products, be it shoes, clothing, eyewear, use an Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality environment to custom fit it and then have it 3-D printed at home or at a store nearest to them. Consumers get the exact product they want and retailers will have to design a completely new supply chain to fulfil this consumer demand.
The Pharmaceutical Industry will for the first time see the benefits of personalization. Two clear shifts will happen. One will be preventive or predictive healthcare. This will be enabled through rise in wearables that will monitor an individual’s health parameters and persuade people to follow healthy alternatives through gamified incentives. The second shift will be personalized drugs and devices. At the moment, we are in a one drug-fits-all situation. With massive computing power being put to work to analyse the human genome data, person-specific drugs, medical devices and implants will become available. Researchers across the world are creating gene editing tools, which can alter the DNA at specific locations in the chromosome. In the future, gene editing could help in curing diseases such as cancer. There will also be a rise in robot-assisted precision surgeries to radically improve patient experience.
The Automobile industry is already on its way to develop driverless vehicles. The future of transportation will be safer with much less traffic congestion. About 1.24 million people die each year on the world's roads and between 20 & 50 million sustain non-fatal injuries. Close to 90% of these accidents happen because of human error. Driverless cars will be much less accident-prone. The other cause of long commutes is that people just cannot drive at an optimal distance and pace. They tend to speed up and suddenly stop or slow down drastically. Driverless cars will be much more collaborative and with Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) Communication will accelerate and decelerate slowly. This will reduce traffic jams dramatically.
Banking and Finance has always been an early adopted for technology. The ATM, online banking and Mobile banking have definitely changed the way consumers engage with banks but with the advent of AI-powered wealth advisors, Blockchain and wearable or smartphone-based authentication, Banking and Financial services will be delivered in totally new ways to the consumers. Take, for example, Blockchain. This distributed ledger technology will create extremely transparent and trust-based markets. The impact of this on opaque markets such as real estate can be immense. Buying or renting a house or an office on a 'Real Estate Stock Exchange' can be made possible. Another very exciting development is the development of AI-powered wealth advisors. As the world becomes more connected, economic and financial data is getting harder to analyse. AI-powered advisors can analyse voluminous data on economic linkages and also scrape social media channels for qualitative inputs and recommend investment advice. Since there is AI at work, these advisors will learn and improve their performance continuously.
Governments around the world will put the power of these technologies to work. With computing power, distributed processing and cloud, it will be possible to model the real world for Simulation-Driven Policy making. So central banks will model in detail the economy and its linkage with the rest of the world to see the impact of changes in interest rate or capital adequacy. Urban authorities will simulate and select the most optimal location for infrastructure projects like a Metro Rail or a Bridge. The police and the security authorities will carry out predictive detection of threats. It will be possible to do large scale analysis and pattern recognition of video, photo, audio and social media feeds at very high speeds to pre-empt and prevent incidents.
The world of 2050 will be one where people will live longer and learning will be continuous. Like reading and numeracy 100 years ago or knowledge of computer skills 30 years ago, in the near future, people will have to learn to collaborate and work with intelligent machines to be productive in society.