We, as human beings, are explorers by nature. From the moment of our creation, it’s this spark that has led mankind to new frontiers. What if we had continued to think that the universe orbits around us? Would we have then discovered space?
From the Renaissance to more recent ideas—including tectonic shifts in ideas like the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Physics, which have redefined our worldview—the most dramatic changes have been seen in the last 20 years, mainly driven by advances in computers and computing. And now, with the introduction of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning-driven automation, I believe we can leapfrog even further and substantially faster.
In my mind, it’s clear: These technologies hold the promise of a future in which repetitive tasks are delegated to technology and innovation and creativity become the primary concern of our species.
Human value becomes the fruit of organization
Civilization has always been the result of the organization of human societies in a fashion that harnesses labor to create abundance. We have, over centuries, even built ourselves on societal structures that facilitate the intellectuals or elite to leverage the masses to give themselves an enviable life of luxury and meaning.
Take, for instance, our historical domestication of certain animals as beasts of burden. For many centuries, delegating certain types of labor to more physically powerful but docile species, allowed humans to move more weight faster, travel further, build larger buildings, and till more land for agriculture. It all boils down to one ethos: We as humans get bored with the mundane. We all want to enjoy finer things and experiences in life, rather than having to do repetitive, labor-intensive or uncreative tasks.
So how is this connected with emerging technologies? Beasts of burden allowed our ancestors to overcome their physical limitations. With AI, machine learning, and automation, humans can look forward to an age in which they can empower their creative potential and indulge their inspiration to the utmost—based not on any exploitation but the marshaling of technology in the service of humanity.
Most of us spend our lives doing tasks that involve some creativity, but with a lot more repetitive elements to our work. If we were to think about it, most commercial activity on the planet is the result of the creativity of a very small fraction of the human population. What kind of world might it be, in which all of us are able to express our creativity? What would it mean for businesses? How many more services, how many more products, how many more innovations would result if the creative potential of humanity was engaged even two, three or ten times more?
For us to imagine the full impact of such a world is probably as impossible as someone from a century ago being able to imagine the transformation that the internet and mobile connectivity have brought to our lives.
To my mind, the highest manifestation of universal human dignity is in being able to unfetter every single human mind to pursue its inspirations and aspirations. The consequences of automation that excite me the most are the possibilities for the dramatic refashioning of our civilization and society down to the last individual.
Let us introduce a new age in technology
Imagine being able to walk into a hotel and access the facilities you have booked without a check-in process. You enter your room and receive a personalized welcoming message. The water in the shower has automatically been set at your preferred temperature and your choice of meal arrives, unprompted, to your room exactly at your dinner time.
Cut to work the next morning: A driverless vehicle arrives to take you to a business meeting, syncing automatically to your schedule and anticipating the duration of your journey. During your business meeting, a seamless, technology-assisted service creates the minutes of the meeting and forwards them to concerned stakeholders, intuitively identifying individuals who need to be informed. And your drop back to the airport glides in just as you finish your meeting, thanks to your intelligent calendar scheduler.
These scenarios seem quite impressive on their own, but you probably think they are too hypothetical to be true. The fact is that today we have the real opportunity of driving hundreds of such interactions that could soon facilitate our lives, unobtrusively, every day.
The ability to entrust countless repetitive tasks to self-managing automated processes is a tantalizing possibility that excites me. In conjunction with the digital revolution that has added unimaginable convenience to our lives, the applications of such emerging technologies escalate new possibilities from mere convenience to unprecedented empowerment.
Creating a world of limitless potential
There are two points in history that I believe can be considered watersheds for our current civilization—the Industrial Revolution and more recently, the Digital Revolution. While the former was all about optimizing and mechanizing the fastest and cheapest way to produce products, giving birth to modern economies; the latter enabled us to optimize our lives itself, giving us the chance to make time for the things we want to do, intelligently.
I would place automation technologies prominently as being another stage in the progression of this dramatic transformation. Sometimes incorrectly perceived as a means to replace human intervention, automation, in fact, simplifies, enables, and enhances human interventions in ways that allow us to live more fulfilling, more sustainable and more unconstrained lives.
Empowering human potential is the central purpose of technology
Science fiction has often imagined robots as AI-enabled assistants to humans. This, for even the most imaginative amongst us, remains an obvious vision of the of the future. However, if you think of the emergence of AI as software instead of a physical robotic presence, we are suddenly faced with far more amazing possibilities.
To me, the most striking feature of the way AI-enabled systems and devices will interact with us is how much less obtrusive and how seamless their presence will be in our lives.
AI-powered computing will come with prefabricated intelligent abilities that will be industry standard. Through the power of machine learning, these devices will be able to further enhance their proficiency interactively. Even recent innovative capacities including Big Data and analytics will receive a boost—given that interactive computing will completely redefine the ways in which technology can identify and react to information flows and data sets.
From intelligent supermarkets, restaurants, and public spaces to anytime-anywhere access to government services and emergency healthcare, every aspect of our community living will be enhanced with minimal disruption and in a completely personalized way.
The UAE enjoys a unique vantage point in this regard and is gaining a well-deserved reputation as a leader in innovation and digitally enabled transformation. The UAE Centennial 2071 vision articulated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is particularly inspirational. Together with Dubai’s win to be the first Middle East city to host a World Expo since the Expo’s inception in 1851 also underpins the countries standing as a global trailblazer in innovation and cooperation—two key pillars of World Expos.
Beyond national prestige and branding, World Expo’s bring many quantifiable benefits to the host country. For example, Expo 1998 allowed Lisbon to transform an abandoned area into an important economic center of the city. Hanover Expo 2000 helped Germany present its new unified face to the world; with Expo Astana 2017, the Republic of Kazakhstan was able to increase its international appeal and affirm its key role in the development of sustainable energies. Similarly, Shanghai is reusing the site of Expo 2010 by creating into a major cultural and entertainment sector there.
In the UAE, we have a rare intersection of dramatic technology, an enlightened administration, a business sector eager to adopt innovation and a community that has a mature relationship with technology. I am personally highly motivated to help enact this dramatic transformation in our society.
It’s time for us as business leaders to orient our efforts and thinking around creating capabilities, capacities, and efficiencies that have not previously existed. It is, therefore, a truly exciting time in history for us—one in which we can anticipate a better-run, simpler, and more intuitive world within our grasp, in our immediate future.
For more thoughts on future tech, see The Humanity In The Machine.