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Technology in a transformational age

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Technology users are faced with a growing multitude of devices, software and apps which promise to make life easier, but we’re never entirely sure what the algorithms behind them actually do? What do they filter out of our awareness? Where does our private information go? Society is struggling to cope with disruptive technology that impacts our lives and is changing the way we understand our place in the world. Can we regain control of online innovation?

Social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, exchange-based mechanisms Amazon, Airbnb and Uber, content-based mediums YouTube, Medium and Netflix, blockchain software including GE’s Predix, Ethereum, EOS, and artificial intelligence - all typify a concerning upsurge in how we share data and interact with others.

If you weren’t already aware, be under no illusion that technology is busily compiling your digital ‘bio-record’, for some of us from the very beginnings of childhood. While this process may appear fragmented across a mass of devices and websites, our most personal details are accessible by AI crawlers that join the dots between seemingly separate databases. But for what purpose?

The rapid acceleration of science and technology over the past several decades has created a new social and economic environment which has become the most important driver of competitive success that humanity has ever witnessed. An interconnected series of technological innovation has included increased automation, the everyday implementation of artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, nano-technology and blockchain.

The rate and scale of innovation has become so significant that the economic, cultural and social impact of change is being felt everywhere. A consequence of this is a move away from Newtonian to Quantum Mechanics, and from biological hardware to biological software. High-speed sequencers and supercomputers that statistically analyse data are now enabling scientists to move on from the form-sequencing of individual organisms and into the realm of sequencing entire ecosystems.

Science is making it possible to build batteries with viruses, manufacture drugs with yeast, produce synthetic bio-diesel, and encode data onto DNA for storage purposes. This biological world is steadily displacing machines as the accepted model of design in areas ranging from micro-reactors and organic parts, through to self-assembly edible proteins.

In the very near future products engineered and manufactured at the nanometre scale will affect service providers, intermediaries and end-users. Every industry involving manufacturing will be impacted as goods are made better, stronger, lighter, cheaper, faster and easier to recycle.

Digitisation is continually shifting organisations from being functional to ‘networked’ based on human-AI interactions that are universally connected and technologically controlled. An immediate example of a technically-enabled business innovation is the ‘smart contract’ – an online agreement delivered by software in place of hard-copy legal documents. Smart contracts are now increasingly embedded into software executables and automatically trigger terms as soon as agreement conditions are met.

AXA (France) introduced the ‘fizzy’ solution in 2017 to provide compensation for passengers in case of flight delays. The legal basis for this is enshrined in international EU flight regulations, which specify passenger eligibility for compensation from airlines in the event of a hold-up. An Ethereum-based, or shared record of an entire transaction’s history, blockchain contract automatically tracks commercial flights that a passenger has registered for. The insurance triggers a compensation claim on behalf of the insurance-holder the moment a flight is delayed beyond the compensation threshold. This means that instead of waiting for a claim from the policy holder, fizzy insurance actively triggers the claim process, based on monitoring data. The insurance-provider is not being paid for covering a risk, but instead for enforcing the policy-holder’s legally-mandated compensation from the airline.

Such automation is redefining the relationship between insurer and policy-holder by executing the customer’s legal rights. In addition, application programmable interfaces (APIs) are connecting software programs and applications to form wider systems that share and execute a firm’s products and services instantaneously.

While this technological responsiveness might appear on the surface like the dawn of outstanding customer-driven convenience, the truth is we are living in a transformational age that is creating uncertainty at all levels of human existence. Rapidly developing industry has become real-time e-advice and activity that is telling us how to live, share and even love. I suspect we are losing an important part of our humanity in the process.

Published 4 February 2019
Leading insights

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