As Machines Get Smarter, How Will the Way We Live and Work Change? Part 1: Key Technology Drivers

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that machines are getting smarter. Every day, we see new examples of how entrepreneurs, businesses and academics are using new technologies to reimagine how things get done. Not that long ago, for instance, ADT provided armed security guards to protect property. Today, ADT has transformed to become the largest professional installer of home automation solutions in the United States. From manufacturing robots to self-driving cars to devices to help us manage our homes, technology is reshaping the dynamics of human–machine partnerships.

Depending on your point of view, the next round of innovation may be exciting, scary, confusing, uncertain—or all of the above. How will the next wave of technology disrupt our lives and change the nature of human and machine partnerships, and how quickly will this disruption happen?

Although no one knows the exact path this latest round of innovation will take, Dell Technologies has partnered with Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore how these trends are likely to take shape in their new report, The Next Era of Human–Machine Partnerships: Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030. In this post, the first in a two-part series, I examine the emerging technologies that will underpin these changes. In the second installment, I discuss how they will reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.

The Next Technology Wave

According to the Dell/IFTF study, the following key emerging technologies will radically change how humans and machines engage:

  • Robotics: Robots have been around for a while—especially in manufacturing, where they’ve mainly performed repetitive and/or dangerous tasks that don’t require a lot of problem-solving skills. But technology is expanding robots’ capabilities, enabling them to do more in manufacturing and to take on new roles, from driving our cars to administering physical therapy. For example, some rehab facilities already use wearable “exoskeletal robots” to help patients recovering from spinal cord injuries and strokes to stand, reach for objects and relearn to walk.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make computer programs and machines “smart” by enabling them to learn, change and predict patterns as they are exposed to new data, as well as to converse with users to answer queries and provide insights. Unlike humans, programs that use these technologies can crunch massive amounts of data quickly and efficiently. For instance, many financial trading firms use these systems to predict and execute high-speed, high-volume trades. In healthcare, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) is helping radiologists find early-stage breast cancers that might otherwise be missed. And, as I wrote about previously, Alice (which is powered by Circular Board and partnerships with Dell and Pivotal) is the world’s first AI platform for female entrepreneurs. Alice uses machine learning to guide and connect these women with mentors, referrals, capital and other resources needed to start and grow their businesses.
  • Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming how we engage in both virtual and physical worlds. VR “blocks out” the physical world, taking the user to a simulated, digital world. VR is often used for training, such as in the military, where soldiers can prepare for combat situations without the risk of death or a serious injury. AR adds a digital layer on top of the physical world. The best-known example is the AR game Pokémon Go, which uses your smartphone’s GPS to mark your location and move your Pokémon avatar, and uses your smartphone camera to show you digital Pokémon in the real world.
  • Cloud computing: I know, after 20 years, cloud computing no longer seems like an emerging technology. However, cloud computing is the backbone that provides scalability, flexibility, cost, speed and ease-of-deployment benefits that enable businesses and people to continue to take advantage of newer technologies. For instance, Chitale Dairy’s “cow to cloud” initiative uses the cloud to improve farming for 50,000 dairy farmers in India. Chitale has outfitted more than 200,000 cows with RFID tags to monitor their health habits. Information from the tags is sent to the cloud to be analyzed, and alerts are sent to local farmers regarding when to make dietary changes or arrange vaccinations.

The Chitale story also underscores how some of these technologies are maturing, converging and coming to life as part of the next generation of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to Liam Quinn, chief technology officer and SVP of Dell Technologies, the cloud provides the technology required to dynamically distribute and allocate resources across different platforms and devices. Now, organizations can attach gateway-to-legacy IoT systems so they can send the data they’re already capturing to the cloud to analyze and use it to run their businesses more intelligently. These advances also make IoT more cost effective and manageable, and they will enable companies to develop entirely new IoT solutions to improve efficiencies and facilitate new business models.

You can read the full Dell/IFTF report  for more details and insights on these trends and take the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Survey to help assess your organization’s readiness for the future.

This is the first post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell. The second installment looks at how these technologies are likely to reshape human–machine dynamics and how we can start preparing for them.