The world is evolving fast. New technologies are dramatically changing our present while fast-tracking our future.
We may not even recognize it, but groundbreaking IT tools are becoming ingrained in our day-to-day lives thanks to what has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Why are these innovations so important? How do they affect our current lives? And what role will they play in our future digital societies?
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
What it is: Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the ability of a machine or a computer program to think, make decisions, carry out tasks, and learn like humans. It is called “intelligence” for it should mimic human thought process and behaviour.
At the heart of AI is data: machines get access to information and use it to deliver an output.
The way this process is carried out has brought machine learning to identify with AI. Although frequently used as synonyms, the two concepts are actually non-overlapping.
While artificial intelligence is an umbrella term, machine learning is just one – even though the most common – application of AI, which includes other technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Neural Networks (AAN).
Machine learning is the ability of computer programs to access data and learn from themselves without human intervention. The information provided is typically a collection of past examples, direct experiences, or instructions.
Machine learning empowers computers to “learn through experience” – as humans do – by looking for patterns in data. Once identified, such trends become the background against which machines can make predictions.
Why it matters: AI is already transforming the world we live in as well as our lives. Some experts predict AI will outcast human performance in areas such as language translation and self-driving trucks as early as 2030 – just ten years from now.
Needless to say, AI may and will have a considerable impact on the workforce, with up to 800 million job losses by 2030 in worst-case scenario forecasts. It may also pose security issues and model manipulation risks, urging massive cybersecurity and risk management investments.
On the other hand, the benefits of AI are far-reaching: faster action, continued performance (machines do not need to sleep!), increased efficiency and cost reduction, and minimized human errors, to name a few. Not to mention all the potential benefits we may not yet be able to see.
Current uses and potential applications: AI already gives machines the ability to perform a wide range of activities involving human-like processes such as speaking and listening (smart assistants), seeing (facial recognition), and writing (chatbots). It is also increasingly accurate when tracking consumer behaviours or predicting customers’ needs (“You may also like…”).
But AI applications are potentially limitless:
- Autonomous cars;
- Disease prediction and drug creation;
- Artificial speech translation;
- Automated financial investing;
- Augmented and virtual reality;
And many more.
Internet of Things (IoT)
What it is: The term Internet of Things (IoT) describes the growing array of everyday items that are connected to the internet, receive and transmit data, and can be identified by other devices without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. These objects are commonly referred to as “smart devices” (smartphone, smartwatch, smartTV, etc.)
Why it matters: The benefits of the IoT on our day-to-day lives are significant. IoT allows for an easier and almost instant transfer of information between devices that are miles apart. That can help cut expenses, increase efficiency, and save time as human intervention is not required.
More information is also crucial to make better decisions, implement them, and follow up on the developments going forward. Such improvements may eventually turn into higher profits and bigger savings.
However, the potential drawbacks of the IoT should not be underestimated. Excluding fears of a greater control of technology over people’s life, some major risks relate to the complexity of the IoT network:
- Privacy/Security: a potential leakage of data shared among interconnected devices may expose confidential data – such as health or financial information – to the public domain;
- Efficiency: a single loophole or bug can crash the entire system and affect all its operators;
- Compatibility: unless built following common standards, different devices from different manufacturers may not be compatible. Once connected to the same network, they may create technical issues that are hard to solve.
Current uses and potential applications: Smart devices are everywhere: from personal items such as sleep or fitness trackers, to home and office automation tools (smart coffee anyone?).
However, smart devices are expected to be deployed in various domains going forward. These include:
- Wearables (smart eye – a futuristic type of glasses);
- Retail (self-checkouts);
- Agriculture (smart greenhouses);
- City management – also called “smart city” (traffic control via automatic sensing of traffic signals).
What it is: “Data is the raw material of the information age.” – A. Ross, Former Senior Innovation Advisor to US Secretary of State
Big data refers to the extremely large amount of data collected from a variety of sources, including business transactions, medical records, and social media, and coming in all types of formats (numeric, text documents, audio, etc.) that can be analyzed to reveal patterns and trends. The term is generally associated with information relating to human behaviour and interactions.
Why it matters: Being able to identify, access, and analyze big data can be a real game-changer in companies’ strategic management.
What makes such datasets so relevant is the vast amount of information they can disclose if properly collected and read through.
Corporations, governments, and other entities that utilize big data hold a potential competitive advantage over their competitors. The reasons are manifold and highly interconnected:
- Predictability: a solid data analysis leads to a deeper understanding of “the big picture.” It gives businesses and operators the ability to “connect the dots” – being here the relationships between data points. That makes it easier to predict future outcomes or identify the causes of possible failures.
- Smart decision making: good predictions smoothen the decision-making process. Managers and executives are thus able to make faster, smarter, and more effective decisions that are entirely data-driven and rely on trusted analytics.
- Cost and time reduction: improved internal processes translates into cost savings and time reduction. That in turn makes businesses and institutions more efficient and competitive.
- Customization and optimized offering: the more granular the analysis, the more tailored the offer. Big data analysis gives product and service providers the possibility to become more responsive to customer needs, while providing clients and users with a more suitable offering.
Current uses and future applications: big data applications undergo constant fine-tuning, and span several industries.
Common examples include refined marketing campaigns to suit customer preferences, ad-hoc medical treatments, financial analysis of real-time market data, and indeed government emergency responses.
Future big data trends and applications will mostly depend on the ability to collect and store growing data volumes, and perform a thorough analysis of such datasets to extract meaningful information. Increasingly powerful and precise algorithms will also play a decisive role in the big data game.
Technology is around us. It is in our pockets, houses, purchasing decisions, and increasingly in our perspective desires. It makes our day-to-day life easier and even funny at times.
As with everything in life, technology has challenges we need to be aware of. But innovation is definitely our vessel towards the future.
By Nadia Musumeci Creativity, accuracy, and passion
Nadia is a copywriter and content writer. She offers copywriting, ghostwriting, and blogging services to businesses of all sizes. Nadia worked in public affairs, publishing, and the beauty industry. When she is not busy freelance writing or working on her blog, she is sunbathing in a park nearby. Connect with her on LinkedIn.