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Entering the next era of human machine partnerships

By Pang Yee Beng, managing director, Dell Malaysia, and senior vice president, South Asia & Korea, Dell EMC

We’ve worked with machines for centuries, but we’re about to enter an entirely new phase – characterised by even greater efficiency, unity and possibility than ever before.

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) recently forecasted that we’re entering the next era of human machine partnership, and that between now and 2030, humans and machines will work in closer concert with each other, transforming our lives.

Emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and advances in Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing – made possible through exponential developments in software, analytics, and processing power – are augmenting and accelerating this direction.

This is evident in our connected cars, homes, business and banking transactions already; even transforming how farmers manage their crops and cattle. Given this dizzying pace of progress, let’s take a look at what’s in the works for the near future.

  1. AI will do the ‘thinking tasks’ at speed 

Over the next few years, AI will change the way we spend our time acting on data, not just curating it. Businesses will harness AI to do data-driven “thinking tasks” for them, significantly reducing the time they spend scoping, debating, scenario planning and testing every new innovation.  It will mercifully release bottlenecks and liberate people to make more decisions and move faster, in the knowledge that great new ideas won’t get stuck in the mire. The APJ region, emerging as the leader in innovation in artificial intelligence, will start to see real examples of these benefits becoming a business reality.

Some theorists claim AI will replace jobs, but these new technologies may also create new ones, unleashing new opportunities for humans. For example, we’ll see a new type of IT professional focused on AI training and fine-tuning. This region will become the home of these skills, with AI dominating the skillsets of future talent. These practitioners will be responsible for setting the parameters for what should and shouldn’t be classified good business outcomes, determining the rules for engagement, framing what constitutes ‘reward’ and so on. Once this is in place, the technology will be able to recommend positive commercial opportunities at lightning speed. There will also be examples of AI’s thinking tasks in healthcare, agriculture and financial services. The challenge will be for organisations to prove the business value of AI technologies and make sure they have the right infrastructure and talent in place.

  1. Embedding the IQ of Things

Starting in 2018, we’ll take gargantuan strides in embedding near-instant intelligence in IoT-enhanced cities, organisations, homes, and vehicles. With the cost of processing power decreasing and a connected node approaching $0, soon we’ll have 100 billion connected devices, and after that a trillion. The magnitude of all that data combined, processing power with the power of AI will help machines better orchestrate our physical and human resources. We’ll evolve into ‘digital conductors’ of the technology and environments surrounding us. Technology will function as an extension of ourselves. Every object will become smart and enable us to live smarter lives.

We’re seeing this in our cars – the “ultimate mobile device” – which are being fitted out with ultrasonic sensors, technology that makes use of light beams to measure distance between vehicles and gesture recognition. In time, these innovations will make autonomous driving an everyday reality. Well before, we’ll get used to cars routinely booking themselves in for a service, informing the garage what needs to be done and scheduling their own software updates. Reka Studios, a homegrown Malaysian outfit, has been developing its own autonomous solutions since 2016, and it might not be long before we have self-driving technology we can call our own.

APJ is ground zero for IoT innovation and implementation. Investments are increasing and factors like government initiatives and 5G advancement are driving forces in realising the potential of IoT. Malaysia has launched its own National IoT Strategic Roadmap, and local companies have risen to the challenge to develop IoT solutions, such as REDtone International Bhd (smart city) and iSCADA Net Sdn Bhd (fire safety). In 2015, Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) launched Malaysia’s first IoT Cloud Data Centre and Research Laboratory to help individuals and organisations research and commercialise solutions for the local and global markets. However, barriers to IoT success are consistent globally: collaboration will be required to overcome barriers like inconsistent standards, a fragmented technology landscape, and the need to ready infrastructure.

  1. We’ll don AR headsets

It also won’t be long until the lines between ‘real’ reality and augmented reality begin to blur. AR’s commercial viability is already evident. For instance, teams of construction workers, architects and engineers are using AR headsets to visualise new builds, coordinate efforts based on a single view of a development and train on-the-job laborers when a technician can’t be on site that day. Trimble, a company that provides software, hardware and services in construction, is driving the modernisation of the industry. In Malaysia, Trimble is invested in introducing and educating Malaysian companies on its the Mixed Reality program which allows the user to see projected hologram of a design interacting with physical real-world environment, thus improving communication and collaboration efficiency.

AR at work will bring together people and humans, allowing people to interact with data in ways they never have before. This region will be the testbed for these applications, as it starts its journey to dominating AR innovation and application.

Of course, VR has strong prospects too. It will undoubtedly transform the entertainment and gaming space in the near term, thanks to the immersive experiences it affords, but smart bets are on AR becoming the de facto way of maximising human efficiency and leveraging the ‘tribal knowledge’ of an evolving workforce.

  1. We’ll journey toward the “mega-cloud” 

Cloud is not a destination. It’s an IT model where orchestration, automation and intelligence are embedded deeply into IT Infrastructure. In 2018, businesses are overwhelmingly moving toward a multi-cloud approach, taking advantage of the value of all models from public to private, hosted, managed and SaaS. Some markets like ANZ and Japan are already leading the way in this approach.  However, as more applications and workloads move into various clouds, the proliferation of cloud siloes will become an inevitability, thus inhibiting the organisation’s ability to fully exploit data analytics and AI initiatives. This may also result in applications and data landing in the wrong cloud leading to poor outcomes. APJ organisations will still be challenged to address their infrastructure to address immediate challenges but still have to keep a view of future applications.

As a next step, we’ll see the emergence of the “mega cloud”, which will weave together multiple private and public clouds to behave as a coherent, holistic system. The mega cloud will offer a federated, intelligent view of an entire IT environment. To make the mega cloud possible, we will need to create multi-cloud innovations in networking (to move data between clouds), storage (to place data in the right cloud), compute (to utilise the best processing and acceleration for the workloads), orchestration (to link networking, storage and compute together across clouds) and, as a new opportunity, customers will have to incorporate AI and ML to bring automation and insight to a new level from this next generation IT environment.

  1. A deeper relationship with customers

Dell Technologies’ Digital Transformation Index shows that 52% of businesses in the Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) region think they may become obsolete within 3-5 years and 83% feel threatened by digital start-ups. It’s never been more important to put the customer experience first.

Over the next year, with predictive analytics, machine learning (ML) and AI at the forefront, companies will better understand and serve customers at, if not before the point of need. Customer service will pivot on perfecting the blend between man and machine. So, rather than offloading customer interactions to first generation chatbots and predetermined messages, humans and automated intelligent virtual agents will work together, as one team. APJ consumers are already demanding: digitally-savvy and embracing mobile-driven interactions, they are also adopting technology driven interactions like alternative payment methods. In fact, much of the innovation in payments on a global scale is being driven by industry leaders in this region, and consumer demand for this will increase exponentially. 2018 will see brands being pushed to meet those consumer expectations.

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