Technology will continually fuel compelling advancements in virtually every industry and sector. The pace of disruption will be so fast that veterans and professionals alike will find it difficult to keep pace with the changes. So the mantra today is to ‘learn and earn’ and be prepared for the new jobs that will be created either in the same industries or in new ones. Multiple factors will be at play—some positive, others negative. Post coronavirus, the trends of automation and artificial intelligence will be accelerated. Contactless switches via automation, sanitation tunnels, increased emphasis on hygiene plus other new practices will be the new normal. There will be a shift in global supply chains, both inwards and outwards. We might be heading towards a phenomenon that is being termed ‘gated globalisation’.
By Devashish Ganguli
Mark Twain once said, “The two best days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Purpose is the fuel of a great career.
Of course, most of us are not Jobs, Brin or Musk, fundamentally changing the world almost right out of the gate. Over time, how you want to make a difference will likely change, and how you can make a difference will expand. So don’t focus solely on the difference you can make in the short term, but do expect to find meaning in your work early on.
On the shores of Lake Ontario, a Canadian startup raised one of the earliest alarms about the risk posed by the mystery virus that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. How did it do this? Artificial intelligence. BlueDot has developed an algorithm that can sift through hundreds of thousands of news stories a day along with air traffic information in order to detect and monitor the spread of infectious diseases. It sent an alert to clients on December 31 about the new coronavirus outbreak -a few days before major public health authorities made official statements.
Staqu, a Gurugram based AI startup, has been ramping up the way police forces work, with its expertise in artificial intelligence. Staqu not only digitises records, but its AI-powered app also allows police forces to carry the data in their pockets and retrieve the information whenever needed. Thus,from security checkpoints to tenant verifications, task forces are able to authenticate innocent users while proactively nabbing the miscreants.
Staqu is bringing out other trailblazing innovations for task forces, including smart glasses, GAIT technology and gang analysis. The startup has till date collaborated with the police departments of Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, with more pan-India associations underway. It has a database of over 1 million criminals and has assisted the police forces in solving over 1,100 high-profile cases.
Stressed out, a little worried, and quite anxious? These are common terms now being heard due to the extra strain being endured through these trying times. A nursing home in Bengaluru is using artificial intelligence to combat loneliness among its elderly population. Scientists believe that loneliness is as detrimental to your health as being severely overweight or even smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We know that feeling lonely can contribute to poor mental health. If this is caused due to the lack of social contact with others, an AI service might be helpful, particularly for those of us who are unable to make new social connections or need to stay in social isolation. With the growth of AI companions and the increasing sophistication of chatbots, the use of virtual assistants will play a key social role in pandemic-induced isolation.
Healthcare: Where tech will play a decisive role
The mantra is on how to transform artificial intelligence and computer vision from algorithms to real-life diagnostic products that will help doctors to provide more effective and advanced patient care. This is the current vison of every pharmaceutical company.
Damo Academy, Alibaba’s future driven research institute, can now test coronavirus infections using AI analytics at a reported 96 per cent accuracy rate by simply looking at a CT scan. This new algorithm could tremendously alleviate the pressure on hospitals, completing recognition processes in 20 seconds—much faster than the 5-15 minutes it takes a doctor to do the same.
To conduct temperature measurements, drones use infrared thermal imaging, which has not only proven more accurate than human-conducted readings, but also massively expedites the evacuation of community personnel. Simultaneously, drone readings help reduce close contact between community workers and residents, minimising the risk of secondary infections. UAVs are now also delivering medical supplies and the like. Having taken its maiden flight on February 6, a now routine drone flies to the Center for Disease Control in Xinchang County in China, as part of the nation’s first ant-iepidemic ‘urban air transport channel’.
Medical personnel in China are using robots in big way. Robots now deliver items to patients’ doors, avoiding contact between those infected and those who are not. After completing a route, robots automatically return to the nurse’s station, where they are disinfected and continue delivery. In some hospitals, these robots can even provide contact-free delivery services to 20 wards, on an average. And in the food and beverage arena, robots and driverless vehicles are now servicing hospitals and communities alike with the touch-free delivery of everything from coffee to fresh vegetables.
Biotech innovation: A medical company in China has released a new food line of ‘medicinal’ noodles, touting immune-boosting ingredients, in an attempt to help stem one’s vulnerability to infection. The idea of a bionic man remains science fiction, but rapid technological advances in medicine are having amazing results. This means that the TV show’s catchphrase, “We can rebuild him; we have the technology,” is no longer as impossible as it once seemed.
A pill that lets you know you have taken it: Patients on regular medication can find it difficult to remember if they have taken the right dose at the right time. A new pill has been created that contains a tiny sensor that records when it is taken – this information is transmitted to a patch worn by the patient and then sent on to a smartphone. Patients and doctors can now ensure the medication is being taken as needed. This innovation is already being used in the treatment of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. That is just one idea making up the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), using networks of connected devices to sense vital data in real-time. Other applications include telemedicine, where healthcare can be provided from a distance via phones and IT. Patients can use devices to measure blood pressure, monitor glucose levels and test for conditions from blood samples, and send the results in real-time to their doctors.
Regrowing damaged body parts: When your knees get creaky with age, the worn-out cartilage – the connective tissue that helps joints move smoothly – does not regenerate. So there are only two options—painkillers or an operation to replace the joint. In the future, stem-cell technology may be able to help cartilage and other parts of the body to regrow. That could help vast numbers of people since severe osteoarthritis is expected to affect well over 25 per cent of the adult population by 2030, some reports say. Regenerative medicine is promoting the move towards ‘cells as pills’. It refers to the branch of medicine that develops methods to regrow, repair or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs or tissues.
Medicine that’s tailored to fit: Precision or personalised medicine refers to treatment that factors in not only the genetic and biological make-up of individuals but also their environment and lifestyle. This willreplace the ‘one size fits all’ therapies, where all patients are prescribed the same dosage of the same drugs. This is particularly promising in the treatment of cancers, as their genetic makeup varies widely.
Boon for the disabled: Wearable AI devices can augment human cognition and give voice to those who have lost their ability to speak. Arnav Kapur is working on a device called Alter Ego, which lets users converse with machines, AI assistants and other people by articulating words internally. Using bone conduction to transmit and receive streams of information, the result is a totally discreet and completely internal method of communication. As Kapur says: “This work is about enabling people and extending human intelligence. Can we weave artificial intelligence and computing into the human condition, as an extension of our cognition —combining human creativity and intuition with the power of AI, computation and information? Can we build technology that enables us, not distracts us; that augments us, instead of replacing us; that disappears into the background of the human experience, raising us to new levels of curiosity and creativity?”
Over time there has been a greater awareness about the dissemination of baseless or biased information, and a greater need to address this disturbing phenomenon.
Twitter has just announced it has picked up London based Fabula AI. The deep learning startup has been developing technology to try to identify online disinformation by looking at patterns of how fake stuff versus genuine news spreads online, making it an obvious fit for the rumour-riled social media network. Social media giants remain under increasing political pressure to get a handle on online disinformation to ensure that manipulative messages don’t, for example, get a free pass to fiddle with democratic processes. Fabula has patented algorithms that use the emergent field of ‘geometric deep learning’ to detect online disinformation, where the data sets in question are so large and complex that traditional machine learning techniques struggle. This does really sound like an algorithm designed with big tech in mind.
Fabula likens how ‘fake news’ spreads on social media vs real news as akin to “a very simplified model of how a disease spreads on the network.” One advantage of the approach is it looks to be language agnostic (at least barring any cultural differences, which might also impact how fake news spreads). There are technological tools for fighting disinformation. These include Internet browser add-ons (for example Adblock Plus, Botcheck.me, etc), platforms (like Bot Sentinel), and other tools, some of which are based on artificialintelligence. Their role is to find bots, fake websites, content that has been manipulated, and more.
Enter next-gen e-commerce and unmanned retail
Jack Ma’s original launch of an ‘unmanned supermarket’ in 2017 made a loss of about US$ 565 million. However, the time is now right for this concept. China Open 24/7, a supermarket that touts self-serviced checkouts (with no receipts), received over 200 customers on its opening day. Companies from Meituan and Ele Me to KFC have launched ‘nocontact distribution’ services, one after the other, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. While China’s e-commerce ecosystem is already far ahead of the rest of the world, there are still numerous items people prefer to buy offline. But post the outbreak, there is a huge market for no-contact groceries and online firms such as Sinopec that have groceries put directly into the trunk of your car, so that there’s no need to leave the driver’s seat or even open the window.
Indian smart cities will now need to be further integrated with response efforts through the use of Big Data and cloud computing. These cities may need to be equipped with yearly warning mechanisms to rapidly detect infection, notify communities, and stem the spread of diseases. Integrating drones, robots, e-commerce platforms and novel biotech (as discussed above), the smart city in the times ahead will need to be an integrated platform in order to defend society against the spread of diseases, creating a network of real-time information. We are yet to see how 21st century smart cities serve as community defence mechanisms during virus outbreaks. The smart cities of the future need to have preventive tools that track and analyse everything for rapid decision making in real-time.
Microsoft has been working closely with Spektacom and its founder Anil Kumble, a former captain of the Indian cricket team, to incubate and launch the artificial intelligence bat called Power Bat. The bat provides players, coaches, commentators, fans and viewers with a completely new and unique way to engage with the sport and help improve the game – all powered by the Microsoft Azure cloud platform using AI and Internet of Things (IoT) services. Star India, the leading cricket broadcaster in India, has used the technology successfully in a recent series to provide real-time statistics and insights.
The Power Bat is a unique concept whereby a lightweight, Azure Sphere-powered sticker is stuck on the shoulder of the bat – a form factor that is completely unobtrusive. In a live match, as soon as the batsman hits the ball, data on different parameters (speed on impact, twist on impact and quality of the shot – percentage proximity of the ball’s contact to the sweet spot of the willow) are captured in a new unit of measurement titled Power Speks. Microsoft’s Azure Sphere ensures that the data is securely captured and processed. Using advanced analytics and AI services on Azure, real-time insights are captured through the stump box and displayed via the broadcaster. During practice or coaching, the same data can be viewed through a mobile app.
Digital transformations and AI
Innovative developments are easing the pain points of customer-connected devices to ensure true smart living via automation, IoT, AI and even voice assistants, which have integrated themselves to cater to both our basic needs and offer more luxurious conveniences. When did you start thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) in your daily life? The arrival of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, back in 2011, may come straight to mind, followed a couple of years later by its counterparts, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.
By 2021, digital transformations will add an estimated US$ 154 billion to India’s GDP, and increase the growth rate by 1 per cent annually, an IDC study commissioned by Microsoft reports. The study also predicts that approximately 60 per cent of India’s GDP will be derived from digital products or services by 2021. With the government’s vision of becoming a US$ 5 trillion economy by 2024, technologies like AI will propel India to achieve that target and even surpass it.
Beyond that, those who control the data could eventually reshape not only the world’s economic and political future but also the future of life itself. The combination of AI and biotechnology will be critical for any future attempts to redesign bodies, brains and minds. Elites in the United States and China who have access to those technologies could determine the course of evolution for everyone, according to their particular values and interests.
Tech firms think the home is the next big computing platform
Consumers can buy smart light bulbs from many Indian companies, which can be switched on or off by phone or voice and can generate thousands of tones and shades. Viewers of ‘12 Monkeys’, an American science-fiction TV series released in 2015, can download an app that will sync with their light bulbs, automatically changing their colour and brightness to match the mood of an episode, moment by moment.
Gsma Intelligence, the research arm of a mobile industry trade body, reckons that smart homes will be the biggest part of the consumer side of the IoT. Besides light bulbs, technophile consumers can use voice-activated window-blinds, robotic vacuum cleaners, and mattresses that track heart rates, movement and sleep patterns (and also nag you about your poor ‘sleep hygiene’). Wi-Fi-connected, camera-equipped refrigerators can let you check their contents from anywhere in the world.
Smart doorbells have built-in surveillance cameras and motion detectors. Their users can choose to let visitors in by unlocking the door over the phone. IDC, a market analysis firm, reckons 833 million smart home gadgets of various sorts were sold in 2019, a number that it forecasts will double by 2023. Most of these devices sell on a combination of comfort, convenience and cost-saving.
Film buffs will tell you that watching a movie on the big screen is a much more immersive experience than watching it at home. Matthew Ball, who used to be head of strategy at Amazon Studios, the tech firm’s TV division, spends a lot of time thinking about the future of film and TV. He is especially interested in the possibilities offered by connected, computerised homes. Imagine an action film, he says, in which a smart television, equipped with the sort of gaze-tracking cameras already used in smartphones, can wait until it has a viewer’s full attention before showing a monster leaping out from behind a door. Or a horror film which commandeers a house’s lights and makes them flicker at the appropriate moment, or plays eerie sounds—even whispering the viewer’s name—from speakers in another room.
Smart homes to drive consumer robotics demand to 39 million shipments a year by 2024
ABI Research has forecast that nearly 79 million homes around the world will have a robot by 2024.There are two key home robotics markets— home care robots, which typically take on a specific chore within the home; and personal/ social robots that can be companion devices capable of responding and interacting with an individual in the home. Both have a role within an integrated smart home setting. The separation between home robotics and smart home functionality has begun to blur. Traditional smart home capabilities, such as a wireless security camera, are beginning to be embedded in robot vacuum cleaners. However, the key integration point is in voice control support.
Voice control has driven smart home adoption since the first Amazon Echo devices were launched in 2014. Extending control to home care robots will bring that appeal, functionality and awareness to them. Robots geared to delivering personal/social interaction and care continue to struggle to win consumer adoption, and lag as a market segment and in smart home integration capabilities. However, the voice control platforms driving smart home adoption may well be set to push personal/social care robot adoption.
Echo and Google Home devices increasingly support screens and cameras alongside microphone arrays, providing the resources to support facial recognition with existing voice recognition.
Voice is moving from music requests to becoming an integral part of popular culture
Voice shopping will grow from US$ 2 billion to over US$ 40 billion by 2022, with AI driving 95 per cent of consumer interactions by 2025. This presents a big opportunity for businesses to understand and adapt to the ‘talking’ consumer, not on a telephone line with a live agent but on a voice activated app. This will be relevant in both B2C and even B2B scenarios. For example, an office worker can ‘voice order’ his travel tickets, hotel and taxi service, even while having his printer print out some key documents for a presentation. In this scenario, here is a big opportunity for a voice tech based company that can help re-purpose existing apps to obey voice commands. This will help businesses personalise customer experiences in real-time. This will involve AI and ML, besides the need to incorporate elements of linguistics, speech recognition, natural language processing (NLP), among other things to make the interaction relevant and reliable. Commands will be more conversational—requests for updates on deliveries, status of loyalty rewards, and so on. The focus will need to be on real-time personalisation combining individual consumer behaviour and past data to build enriched user profiles. Building a startup in this space will take a lot of skill, effort, deep tech and resilience.
Mastering the new logic of competition
Internet and mobile technology ushered in the information age and profoundly affected technology-intensive and consumer-facing industries such as electronics, communications, entertainment, and retail. But the emerging wave of technology—including sensors, the
Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence— will turn every business into an information business. The combination of an exponential increase in data, better tools to mine insights
from that data, and a fast-changing business environment means that companies will increasingly need to, and be able to, compete on the rate of learning. Scale will take on a new significance in the learning economy. Instead of the ‘economies of scale’ that today’s leaders grew up with—based on a predictable reduction of marginal production costs across a relatively uniform offering—tomorrow’s leaders will pursue ‘economies of learning’,
based on identifying and fulfilling each customer’s changing needs by leveraging data and technology.
The author is currently working at Havells India.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are his personal.