The heaviest snowfall in two decades led to treacherous weather and avalanche warnings in Davos this year. Yet, the warmth of optimism seemed to thaw through the deep freeze at the WEF Annual Meeting focused on ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’.
Among the early upbeat notes struck at Davos was that by the International Monetary Fund, which after years of downgrades, revised upwards its 2018 outlook on the global economy. Then the result of the PwC survey, which suggested that 57% of global chief executives believe that economies will be stronger next year.
But even as the spotlight shifted at a dizzying pace over the power-packed deliberations, there was just one protagonist (or antagonist, if you will) beyond the hoopla. And that was new age technology; Artificial Intelligence in particular.
Discussion on AI and its future permeated sessions across the conference – even those that had little to do with technology. Not surprising then, new humanoid delegates, including HCL Technologies’ powered robots Pepper and NAO, drew their fair share of attention, as they were ambassadors representing a new world order of partnership between minds and machines.
The subject of AI and an AI-powered future witnessed some tough discussions, some rolling up of sleeves, and some serious brainstorming. I was part of a stimulating discussion on ‘Putting jobs out of Work’ moderated by Andy Serwer, Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Finance. Being the only panelist representing the technology industry I got to hear some truly diverse views on the subject from outside the tech world. In particular, Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild’s insightful study of the impact of job losses in Louisiana and Professor Yuval Noah Harari’s perception of “saving humans not jobs” gave me immense food for thought.
The fact is that AI driven machines are equipped to do certain jobs more efficiently. Now, should that be seen as a problem? Or, as an opportunity, a solution? As a change that can solve global problems while removing drudgery from our daily work lives? In my mind, there is no doubt whatsoever, even more so after attending Davos.
The solution is staring us in the face. Technology is the enabler, the “collective solution” for a divided world.
Be it education or healthcare. Be it climate change or international security. Be it clean air or water security. Be it energy or conservation. Be it world hunger or inequality. It is not an exaggeration today to say that if you have an old problem, technology has a new solution.
Let’s take a look at just some of the sectors where the techno-metamorphosis is evident.
Improve global health and wellness
New age technologies are transforming the most fundamental techniques of healthcare. Wearables and sensors, DNA sequencing, big data analytics, AI based systems like IBM Watson are changing the face of medical care. Paradoxically, while the developed world is having trouble breaking out of legacy systems, countries in Africa are leapfrogging ahead with transformative solutions based on new technologies. For instance, Rwanda and Tanzania are among the first countries in the world to incorporate drone technology into its their healthcare systems, to deliver blood for transfusions.
Breaching the walls to learning
Education is perhaps one of the last surviving legacies of the old world. And it is the very sector that is perhaps going to witness the greatest transformation through technology. While digital technologies have been persistently opening the doors to education in remote areas for a while now, the buzz is now around transforming education from a one-time stamp of achievement to a fluid and continuous lifelong learning experience. And the new talk of the town is AI in education. You’ve probably heard of Jill Watson, the first AI based Teaching Assistant at Georgia Tech. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Virtual reality, augmented reality, customized curriculum, adaptive learning, there is a veritable tsunami waiting to disrupt education as we have known it; to give it a much-needed overhauling to meet the relentless need for change.
Arresting world hunger
Despite the fact that the world does produce enough food to feed every human on the planet, as many as a billion metric tons of food is wasted every year. As a result, a mind-numbing 800 million people in the world go to bed hungry every day. This tragic paradox can be addressed resolved by eliminating key causes of food waste through advances in Internet of Things (IoT)-related technologies. As explained in detail here, an efficient IoT based food supply chain can help arrest the wastage problem by improving yield from harvesting and storage, augmenting existing distribution networks, leveraging real-time data with track and trace capability, extending shelf life of produce, even optimizing food purchase habits and enabling surplus food sharing in areas of affluence.
Making finance more inclusive
Innovation in finance, or ‘Finnovation’ as they call it, is helping repair a fractured financial services world. Even if we leave out Blockchain for now, innovations in the banking system are building a more inclusive economy, working in ecosystems, and reaching out to the bottom of the pyramid, delivering new and innovative services more economically, while continuing to increase quality.
I could go on and on, sector after sector. There is no end to the solutions and the hope that new technologies can offer our world. For we have reached a stage where all the pieces are in place. What is more, people are ready, in fact excited, to surf the tide of change. There is only one small hurdle. We need to get beyond discussions. The right decisions have to be taken. Now. By humans. To be implemented with the help of machines.
That’s the only way forward …. Would you agree?