8 Must-Ask IoT Connectivity Questions

John Candish

The Internet of Things (IoT) holds incredible opportunities for businesses, their partners, and end users, and much of its promise hinges on connections that exchange data and automate processes without human intervention. Cellular connectivity plays a key role with nomadic devices enabling a wide range of IoT technology.

By 2020, approximately 252 million healthcare devices will record patients’ respiration, blood pressure, and other vital signs. On our highways, 965 million automotive devices will collect information about vehicle maintenance, the nearest gas stations, traffic, and even pedestrians entering walkways. Smart city devices, the number of which is expected to reach 7.5 billion, will monitor water systems, traffic congestion, sidewalk damage, and pollution.

Connectivity among people, machines, and things is increasing exponentially. Enabling communications among billions of people and things represents a tremendous opportunity. However, for an enterprise to take advantage of the IoT and to build a thriving ecosystem, they must begin by asking themselves the right questions.

Eight must-ask questions:

  1. Are you prepared to scale?
  2. How will you manage operator contracts and connections?
  3. Is the last mile of the IoT rock-solid reliable?
  4. Can you IoT ecosystem connect to disparate networks?
  5. Can your network affordably handle additional traffic?
  6. What is your security and data protection plan?
  7. Can you support a global IoT strategy?
  8. Can you integrate connectivity management across any type of environment?

The value of IoT is undeniable, but so too is the potential cost, risk, and complexity of enabling the vast ecosystem. An honest assessment of these questions is critical to not only survive but to thrive in the world of Internet of things.

I will further explore some of these questions in detail through my subsequent blogs. Meanwhile, for a deeper dive into these eight questions, I invite you to read the SAP Digital Interconnect whitepaper “Best Practices for Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds of the Internet of Things”.

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About John Candish

John Candish leads the global business for SAP IoT Connect 365 for the SAP Digital Interconnect organization His goal is to make connecting IoT devices globally simpler for all enterprises. John has worked in both technical and commercial roles. Prior to his current position, John headed the global business for SAP IPX 365 mobile service for SAP Digital Interconnect.

Internet Of Things: Five Ways To Overcome Security Challenges

Jay Thoden van Velzen

The promise, benefits, and value of the Internet of Things (IoT) have been documented extensively, but a number of widely publicized IoT attacks leaves the impression that the IoT is deeply insecure. What is often not mentioned is that many of these attacks originated due to failures in implementing basic protections.

But even where the vendor has taken reasonable precautions, things can go horribly wrong, as can be seen in a – literally – fly-by attack on smart lighting.

Another challenge is that IoT-enabled devices are deployed “where the action is” – the factory floor, oil platforms, public roads, offices, stores, moving vehicles, or in cities running over wireless networks.

That means that they are often physically accessible by employees, contractors, and even the general public. If we compare that to modern cloud data centers, where only authorized personnel can enter, there is a substantial difference. More people with access means the risk of compromise goes up, so we may need to ensure devices themselves are physically protected against tampering.

But these are not insurmountable obstacles. The question is less one of not knowing what to do to protect IoT environments, rather how to implement and apply security measures to keep the solution safe.

Five recommendations for securing the IoT

1. Manage risk

Modern security practices follow a risk-based approach that considers both the ease of an attack and the impact should one happen – giving a strong indicator of how much security you’ll need. The reality is that an IoT solution that monitors, manages, and optimizes operations in a chemical factory requires much tighter security protocols than one that simply turns off the light in a conference room when sensors detect nobody is present. In the former, a successful attack could lead to a catastrophic industrial accident including injury and loss of life. In the latter, the worst that could happen is that an electricity bill is a little higher.

2. Limit device-to-device communication

There is a misconception that the Internet of Things, by definition, means that many devices are connected to many other devices, increasing the risk that a successful attack leads to catastrophic failure or takeover of a substantial portion of your IoT infrastructure. In many cases, devices have a single purpose and only need to send the data they collect to a single location. By limiting the number of IoT devices that talk to each other, we can better secure each one and limit the damage should any breaches occur.

3. Retain control over your IoT infrastructure

The risk is yours – any failure in security is your responsibility and you will be held accountable for the result – so it is important to maintain control. This starts with device selection: Make sure that devices either have the security features you need or, preferably, are “open” so you can analyze and understand how they work, and then add any features you need to fill security gaps. This includes the ability to update devices in an automated and secure way and to control that process yourself.

4. Use encryption from end to end

It’s critical to encrypt communication between devices and data-ingestion points to make sure nobody can listen in, tamper with sensitive data in transit, or recover enough information to spoof or impersonate the device and feed the system manipulated data. Modern encryption techniques work in much the same way as HTTPS does to protect information online. Encryption also needs to be tied to device identity to ensure the data we think comes from a particular device actually does.

5. Leverage existing expertise

Apply proven security technologies, tools, and best practices used in traditional IT landscapes. In many cases, they can be implemented directly: by using digital certificates or equivalent, by restricting what IoT devices can do and communicate with, and by adding protection and monitoring mechanisms. In other cases, such as micro-controllers and low-power networks, we may need to apply new techniques, but we can draw on existing principles and concepts.

IoT adoption is still in early days. Unfortunately, that means that there aren’t many established standards yet, and while the number of devices brought to market is quickly rising, certification schemes and regulations are lagging. As a result, adopters still need to carefully plan and build in security from the start and properly evaluate any IoT equipment brought in house.

As large technology providers recognize the security challenges with new IoT technologies and software solutions, the situation is rapidly improving. At SAP, we’re also committed to both describing the pitfalls and providing clear guidelines to overcome them.

This article originally appeared on the SAP Community.

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Jay Thoden van Velzen

About Jay Thoden van Velzen

Jay Thoden van Velzen is Director of IoT Security at SAP.

Why The IoT Means You'll Never Run Out Of Paper

Alfred Becker

In business, efficiency is critical. Any improvement to a standing process – even if relatively small – can have a profound impact when scaled up. Consider, for example, software that allows a train to travel more efficiently. While cutting a minute or two from a trip may not seem that significant, when those fuel savings are scaled up over thousands of trips, it becomes a serious cost savings.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has had a transformational effect on industries seeking to make their processes easier and more efficient. By leveraging the power of connected devices and data analysis, companies and governments are figuring out new ways to modernize established processes. Cities use IoT technology to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. Farmers use connected devices to improve crop yields. Railways use IoT technology to enhance safety and timeliness.

And companies can use it to ensure they never run out of paper supply.

How the IoT can keep paper supplies fully stocked

The applications of IoT technology are so varied as to seem almost unlimited. Companies are discovering ways, large and small, to increase productivity and efficiency through the use of data-based sensors and other devices.

Consider the case of paper companies and printer producers. The two have what should be a naturally synergistic relationship. Each produces half the equipment in a common office device. Yet, historically, paper companies and printer producers haven’t necessarily worked together. A business purchases its printers and paper from separate suppliers. Paper is restocked either through an ordering process initiated once paper stock runs low, or though a planning process that automatically orders paper through electronic data interchange (EDI). Both approaches are based on planned paper consumption, not real-world use, which often is different. In addition, there is always a time lag, even using the planning approach, between paper order and receipt.

It’s easy to see the inefficiency in this process. Waiting for the printer’s “load more paper” light to start flashing is a reactive move. It’s also inefficient, as it all but ensures printers regularly run out of paper, forcing workers to wait while paper is resupplied or go to another location.

Now consider an even larger problem for companies that require a variety of specific paper types in order to operate. If an error during the inventory process results in one paper type running out, the company’s productivity slows and costs rise while it waits for delivery.

Fortunately, this is a scenario that no longer needs to occur, thanks to IoT-driven process improvements. Paper companies and printer producers can collaborate to ensure paper supplies remain constant. Sensors can transmit data from printers to paper companies, showing the precise type of paper being used and predicting when it will need to be replenished. This real-time data can be integrated into the planning process – ideally using the print shop’s production planning software – and order paper automatically via EDI based on actual consumption.

This ensures there are no gaps in supply, no halt to productivity. The predictive power of IoT technology helps printer and paper companies collaborate in an efficient manner that benefits all parties: Businesses are guaranteed the timely replenishment of paper inventory. Printer and paper companies benefit from the synergies facilitated by the IoT. Print shops can offer customers the option to automatically stock paper as a value-added service, requiring no action from the customer.

The end result? Greater productivity, higher efficiency, enhanced collaboration, and new business opportunities.

The awesome growth potential of connected devices

Ensuring continuous access to paper is just one small example of the transformational power of IoT technology. Opportunities such as these can be found in virtually every industry. The way we work, live, travel, and take care of our health and our homes can all be improved through the use of smart, connected devices.

The most exciting thing? We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Because IoT technology is relatively young, even more revolutionary opportunities are likely to develop. According to Gartner, roughly 8.4 billion connected devices will be in use in 2017. This represents a 31% jump over 2016. Business spending represents slightly less than 60% of the overall market.

By 2020, overall IoT spending is expected to reach nearly $1.3 billion. This rapid growth will be driven in part by increasing adoption in the manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and transportation sectors. Cross-industry IoT spending, featuring use cases relevant to all industries (think smart buildings), will also be a significant growth driver.

The takeaway

Ultimately, IoT technology holds not only the promise of sustained innovation and business transformation, but profound changes to the way we live and work. Having printers that never run out of paper is but one example of the almost countless number of opportunities that will arise as IoT technology matures.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Energy and Natural Resource Companies. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

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Alfred Becker

About Alfred Becker

Alfred Becker is the global lead for Paper & Packaging Industry
and Manufacturing within Mill Products Industries at SAP.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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The Human Factor In An AI Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and its ability to perform human tasks accelerates exponentially, we’re finally seeing some attempts to wrestle with what that means, not just for business, but for humanity as a whole.

From the first stone ax to the printing press to the latest ERP solution, technology that reduces or even eliminates physical and mental effort is as old as the human race itself. However, that doesn’t make each step forward any less uncomfortable for the people whose work is directly affected – and the rise of AI is qualitatively different from past developments.

Until now, we developed technology to handle specific routine tasks. A human needed to break down complex processes into their component tasks, determine how to automate each of those tasks, and finally create and refine the automation process. AI is different. Because AI can evaluate, select, act, and learn from its actions, it can be independent and self-sustaining.

Some people, like investor/inventor Elon Musk and Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, are focusing intently on how AI will impact the labor market. It’s going to do far more than eliminate repetitive manual jobs like warehouse picking. Any job that involves routine problem-solving within existing structures, processes, and knowledge is ripe for handing over to a machine. Indeed, jobs like customer service, travel planning, medical diagnostics, stock trading, real estate, and even clothing design are already increasingly automated.

As for more complex problem-solving, we used to think it would take computers decades or even centuries to catch up to the nimble human mind, but we underestimated the exponential explosion of deep learning. IBM’s Watson trounced past Jeopardy champions in 2011 – and just last year, Google’s DeepMind AI beat the reigning European champion at Go, a game once thought too complex for even the most sophisticated computer.

Where does AI leave human?

This raises an urgent question for the future: How do human beings maintain our economic value in a world in which AI will keep getting better than us at more and more things?

The concept of the technological singularity – the point at which machines attain superhuman intelligence and permanently outpace the human mind – is based on the idea that human thinking can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. However, the limits of human performance have yet to be found. It’s possible that people are only at risk of lagging behind machines because nothing has forced us to test ourselves at scale.

Other than a handful of notable individual thinkers, scientists, and artists, most of humanity has met survival-level needs through mostly repetitive tasks. Most people don’t have the time or energy for higher-level activities. But as the human race faces the unique challenge of imminent obsolescence, we need to think of those activities not as luxuries, but as necessities. As technology replaces our traditional economic value, the economic system may stop attaching value to us entirely unless we determine the unique value humanity offers – and what we can and must do to cultivate the uniquely human skills that deliver that value.

Honing the human advantage

As a species, humans are driven to push past boundaries, to try new things, to build something worthwhile, and to make a difference. We have strong instincts to explore and enjoy novelty and risk – but according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these instincts crumble if we don’t cultivate them.

AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new products and business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements. AI doesn’t even have common sense! As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, a robot doesn’t know that water is wet or that strings can pull but not push. Nor can robots engage in what Kaku calls “intellectual capitalism” – activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought.

At the moment, though, we don’t generally value these so-called “soft skills” enough to prioritize them. We expect people to develop their competency in emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, curiosity, critical thinking, and persistence organically, as if these skills simply emerge on their own given enough time. But there’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

Lessons in being human

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level – and to do so not just as soon as possible, but as early as possible.

Singularity University chairman Peter Diamandis, for example, advocates revamping the elementary school curriculum to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and persistence. He envisions a curriculum that, among other things, teaches kids to communicate, ask questions, solve problems with creativity, empathy, and ethics, and accept failure as an opportunity to try again. These concepts aren’t necessarily new – Waldorf and Montessori schools have been encouraging similar approaches for decades – but increasing automation and digitization make them newly relevant and urgent.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is approaching the same problem from the opposite side, by starting with outcomes. This organization is pushing to redesign the secondary school transcript to better reflect whether and how high school students are acquiring the necessary combination of creative, critical, and analytical abilities. By measuring student achievement in a more nuanced way than through letter grades and test scores, the consortium’s approach would inherently require schools to reverse-engineer their curricula to emphasize those abilities.

Most critically, this isn’t simply a concern of high-tuition private schools and “good school districts” intended to create tomorrow’s executives and high-level knowledge workers. One critical aspect of the challenge we face is the assumption that the vast majority of people are inevitably destined for lives that don’t require creativity or critical thinking – that either they will somehow be able to thrive anyway or their inability to thrive isn’t a cause for concern. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, which means that everyone will need help acquiring them. For humanitarian, political, and economic reasons, we cannot just write off a large percentage of the population as disposable.

In the end, anything an AI does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique human abilities into account. Why would we want to give up our humanity in favor of letting machines determine whether or not an action or idea is valuable? Instead, while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. That’s how we’ll keep coming up with groundbreaking new ideas like jazz music, graphic novels, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning – and AI itself.

Read the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

Build an intelligent enterprise with AI and machine learning to unite human expertise and computer insights. Run live with SAP Leonardo.


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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu