The Future That is on Its Way to You!

We should be preparing for a set of major macro trends, Bernard Marr has written, after a discussion with Scott Smith of Changeist. Some of the trends already pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, but have been accelerated by it, and both men warn that these trends are ones we should not ignore.

Decoupled economies

According to Marr and Smith, the ‘decoupling’ of economies has been happening for around a decade. The result is a turn to nationalism in some of the world’s biggest economies, such as the USA, the UK, Brazil, Russia and India. As they say, ‘globalization is in the rearview mirror’ now, and we can expect a ‘multipolar world’ where three or four large regions with their own “distinct economies, security networks, cultures, and laws.”

Social change

Education, transportation, energy, food, and healthcare are in the midst of massive changes, much of it spurred on by the recognition that climate change is not a hoax. We are seeing a swell in the numbers of vegans and vegetarians due to livestock production accounting for 14.5% of greenhouse gases. There is also a transition to cleaner transport, and in the energy sector there is a move to meet the emissions reduction targets agreed to as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Covid-19 has also produced a transition to more working from home, and we are still grappling with this sudden change in our work life.

A new social contract?

The traditional social contract between citizens and government is no longer working for a significant number of individuals. Marr writes, “Societies have become divided between the haves and have nots, and any differences, whether religion, race, or sexual orientation, create chasms rather than common ground in the echo chamber of social media.” Automation threatens some workers, while the idea of a universal basic income has become a much hotter topic, as will debates about the nature of the future social contract between people, businesses and governments.

An AI reset

Currently we are seeing what is called an ‘AI reset’. The technology presents challenges that need to be carefully considered now, such as the regulatory obstacles and cost of development. On the other hand AI is accelerating and Smith believes another big wave is on the way.

Who are you?

Our personal identity would seem to be solid, yet thanks to digital technology it is varied and complex. Marr writes, “Today we have the ability to represent ourselves as a “stack” of identities that account for various affiliations, situations, values, and more.” Virtual and augmented reality has added to this ‘stacking’. As Marr says, “Given the tools at our disposal, smartphones, social media, and technology, we are free to create a digital narrative about who we are that might not match our physical world persona.”

Finally, we are facing life in a “blend of the physical, biological, and digital worlds.” The ‘new normal’ will be a combination of the physical and digital, and “Every organization must now consider how they provide products and services equally as well and complementary, whether interacting online or in the physical world.”

Some will welcome these trends, while others will be less enthusiastic. Whatever your view, it’s not difficult to see that regardless of opinion, this is our direction of travel.

Covid-19 sparks the tech trends of 2021

This year, 2020, has been such a disaster that looking forward to 2021 is our only option. Of course, while making predictions used to be a fairly safe occupation, now it feels slightly dangerous. Furthermore, as Bernard Marr reminds us in Forbes, “tech has been affected just as much as every other part of our lives.”

It is also true that tech promises to play a major role in adapting to whatever the future may now look like. As Marr says: “From the shift to working from home to new rules about how we meet and interact in public spaces, tech trends will be the driving force in managing the change.”

You would be correct in thinking that Covid-19 has accelerated tech advances that were already in the pipeline, due to our increasingly digital lifestyle. Now they will happen quicker, because necessity is driving the change.

In Marr’s latest book, Tech Trends in Practice, he has identified some of the things we may see in 2021, many of which will support the recovery from the effects of the pandemic on almost every part of our lives.

He identifies Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a leading tech trend. In 2021 “it will become an even more valuable tool for helping us to interpret and understand the world around us.” We have seen an unprecedented amount of data collected around Covid, and machine-learning algorithms “will become better informed and increasingly sophisticated in the solutions they uncover for us.” Some of the AI tools Marr envisages include “ computer vision systems monitoring the capacity of public areas to analyzing the interactions uncovered through contact tracing initiatives, self-learning algorithms will spot connections and insights that would go unnoticed by manual human analysis.”

The provision of services that we need to live and work through cloud-based, on-demand platforms, known as ‘as a service’ providers are also key. Just look at how quickly Zoom entered our personal and business lives during the last few months.

5G is another key tool, and not just so you can download films faster. 5G will support services relying on advanced technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality (discussed below) as well as cloud-based gaming platforms, and it will likely make cable and fibre-based networks redundant.

Extended reality, virtual and augmented reality that uses glasses or headsets to project computer-generated imagery directly into the user’s field of vision is growing. Emergency services have already been using it for training during Covid, as real-life training situations for firefighters and police were not feasible. We may also see it used more in medical diagnostics, as face-to-face consultations decrease.

There will be many more tech advances as we grapple with an uncertain future. The aim is to make everyday activities safer for everyone, and to allow business to continue as we negotiate our way through a new environment.

Can AI reduce the world’s food waste?

Here is a shocking statement: “We waste 1.6 billion tons of food every year while 25 million starve and another billion are malnourished.” It should make us all pause to consider.

However, as John Koetsier writes, there is a Berlin startup with a possible AI solution to the complex problem of food waste.

It is a complicated situation because of the vast numbers of farmers involved in the global supply chain. As Koetsier says, “Tens of millions of farms feed millions of grocery stores and restaurants, which in turn supply almost eight billion people their daily food.” Add to that the transport companies, wholesalers, distributors, processors, and delivery companies and you have a massive web that needs to communicate effectively, and it has to do its best to preserve perishable products. And that is what startup company SPRK.global, is trying to fix.

The company was among eight winners of the Extreme Tech Challenge. Some 2,400 entrants sought to deliver solutions to global challenges and SPRK got the judge’s approval. Its goal is to “use AI to understand the flow of food and reduce waste.” Its theory is that this should stop over-production of food and reduce hunger at the same time.

SPRK’s CEOAlexander Piutti told Koetsier: ““Half of the food that gets produced gets wasted sooner or later. Once you move into understanding patterns — why there are food waste cases — you understand these patterns and see they come in a regular fashion … we can move from reactive to proactive, to anticipating, to predicting with a certain probability.”

Food waste is also an environmental problem. Overproduction uses resources like fuel, water, fertilizer and it increases greenhouse gas emissions, because when you waste food it goes to landfill and it emits more CO2.

How can AI fix food waste?

First it has to understand the supply chains and food economics. Oversupply is likely to be given to NGOs and food banks rather than competitors, and SPRK has to take account of this in the rules for its AI system. “Once we have these rules, we can inject them into the technology,” Piutti says. “The technology takes over … and matching between oversupply and demand … becomes more intelligent over time.”

It is starting with the foodbanks, which are typically low-tech. SPRK is building software for food banks that they can use to manage their own operations as well as collaborate with others, sharing being the key aim here. Piutti also says the software will give food banks better ways to access food at lower prices.

He said of the food banks: “They purchase food in a very normal fashion, they don’t get discounts. If we can connect the dots conceptually and say like, well, what if we distributed this food oversupply to the folks in need … they become a volume partner.” He says AI software can manage all this and save NGOs around 50% of the money they spend and reduce food waste at the same time.

As for SPRK, its CEO said, “Our vision is a world without food waste where everyone — including future generations — have enough to eat and thrive.” It’s an admirable goal!

Where AI Gives a Competitive Edge

Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing. According to International Data Corporation (IDC) forecast statistics, spending on the technology will reach $97.9 billion in 2023, which is two and a half times what it was in 2019.

David Schubmahl, IDC research director, said, “The AI market continues to grow at a steady rate in 2019 and we expect this momentum to carry forward,” adding, “The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) is occurring in a wide range of solutions and applications from ERP and manufacturing software to content management, collaboration, and user productivity. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are top of mind for most organizations today, and IDC expects that AI will be the disrupting influence changing entire industries over the next decade.”

Who is leading AI spending?

According to IDC: “Spending on AI systems will be led by the retail and banking industries, each of which will invest more than $5 billion in 2019. Nearly half of the retail spending will go toward automated customer service agents and expert shopping advisors & product recommendation systems. The banking industry will focus its investments on automated threat intelligence and prevention systems and fraud analysis and investigation. Other industries that will make significant investments in AI systems throughout the forecast include discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing, healthcare, and professional services. The fastest spending growth will come from the media industry and federal/central governments with five-year CAGRs of 33.7% and 33.6% respectively.”

Marianne D’Aquila, IDC research manager in the Customer Insights & Analysis department said, “”Artificial Intelligence (AI) has moved well beyond prototyping and into the phase of execution and implementation.” She also remarked, “Strategic decision makers across all industries are now grappling with the question of how to effectively proceed with their AI journey. Some have been more successful than others, as evidenced by banking, retail, manufacturing, healthcare, and professional services firms making up more than half of the AI spend. Despite the learning curve, IDC sees higher than average five-year annual compounded growth in government, media, telecommunications, and personal and consumer services.”

The biggest AI use cases

The three largest use cases for AI currently are: automated customer service agents, automated threat intelligence and prevention systems, and sales process recommendation and automation. But in the future, the use cases that will see the fastest spending growth over the 2018-2023 forecast period are automated human resources (43.3% CAGR) and pharmaceutical research and development (36.7% CAGR). However, eight other use cases will have spending growth with five-year CAGRs greater than 30%.

Where is AI investment happening?

According to IDC, the United States will deliver more than 50% of all AI spending throughout the forecast, led by the retail and banking industries. In second place is Western Europe where banking and discrete manufacturing will show the biggest demand. China will be the third largest region for AI spending with retail, state/local government, and professional services being the leading users, and Japan is another country to watch as its AI use is predicted to have a 45.3% CAGR growth in spending on AI up to 2023.