The introduction of steam power during the late 18th and early 19th century was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution.
Britain experienced change in all aspects of life. Scientific advances and technological innovations brought growth in agricultural and industrial production, economic expansion and changes in living conditions.
The world has seen a remarkable improvement in the quality of life in the last 200 years or so. Starting in 1900, the commercialisation of electric power transformed society by providing lighting and heating while taking manufacturing and transportation to the next level.
These two technologies amplified mankind’s ‘muscle power’ and during this time, the size of the economic output per head in Britain and Ireland rose by 500%.
Similarly, between 1970 and 1990, computing technology and the Internet, helped in significantly increasing the ability of humans to compute and communicate large amounts of information quickly.
In fact, thanks to the computing and Internet revolution, the UK’s economy expanded more than 8 times in this period to reach $1.0932 trillion.
Spring forward to present day and the figures are equally staggering – more data has been produced in the past two years than in the entire history of the human race.
The way we live, work and relate to one another is fundamentally changing at an exponential speed and is considered by many as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
To put this into context, Gartner predicts that at this current rate, by 2020, there will be nearly 8 billion people and 20 billion devices connected to the Internet.
These developments are creating a world where humans and smart machines are becoming interdependent of each other.
Employees now work alongside computers in everything we do, with machines helping us operate driverless cars, write with voice activate controls and live with the likes of Amazon Dash – ordering exactly what we want by just asking our personal AI robot.
At the heart of it, each technological shift has resulted in increased connections between people. It is now possible for employees to collaborate with one another simultaneously regardless of geographical location.
This interconnectivity between people, between machines and between people and machines will help the economy to grow at an even faster pace, to an estimated US $150-170 trillion by 2050.
This machine-assisted era will transform the likes of banking, energy, retail, government and security. It will lead to homes being sold and rented on housing stock exchanges.
People will be able to completely customise a product to their preferences by designing it and then have it manufactured via 3D printing.
As digital technologies continue to gain momentum, how people work, save, transact and travel will change completely. While the impact will be across the board, there are some areas where this impact will have a phenomenal affect.
The retail industry will see a new shift of unique customer journeys in a seamless blend of physical and digital retailing.
Retail companies will use virtual reality in a big way to make the consumers ‘sample’ a product or a service before a purchase decision is made.
Consumers will then completely design their own products – be it shoes, clothing, eyewear – using an augmented reality or virtual reality environment to custom fit it, and then have it 3D printed at home or store.
The likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Lowe’s and The North Face have already been experimenting with introducing virtual reality into their stores.
The automobile industry and Silicon Valley start-ups are proactively developing driverless vehicles.
In 2015 there were 1,700 fatalities on UK roads and 162,000 seriously injured, and although this rate is improving year on year, it’s still currently more than the population of Oxford.
Close to 90% of these accidents happen because of human error, whereas by their nature, driverless cars will be much less accident-prone.
The other cause of long commutes is that people just cannot drive at an optimal distance and pace. They tend to speed up and suddenly stop or slow down drastically.
Driverless cars will be much more collaborative and with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication will accelerate and decelerate slowly, helping to reduce traffic jams.
The banking and finance industry has always been an early adopter of technology. The ATM, and then online and mobile banking have changed the way consumers engage with banks.
However, with artificial intelligence (AI) and the arrival of AI-powered wealth advisors, blockchain and wearable or smartphone-based authentication, banking and financial services will be delivered in totally new ways to the consumers.
Take, for example, blockchain; this distributed ledger technology will create extremely transparent and trust-based markets.
The impact of this on opaque markets, such as real estate, could be immense. Buying or renting a house or an office on a ‘Real Estate Stock Exchange’ may be made possible, while AI-powered wealth advisors are in the not-too-distant future.
The UK Government will soon put the power of these technologies to work. With computing power, distributed processing and cloud, it will be possible to model scenarios of simulation-driven policy making.
This will help political parties during elections, and make important policy recommendations at times of national and international crisis.
The security services will be able to better protect the UK borders by utilising these tools to predict threats as well as do large scale analysis and pattern recognition of video, photo, audio and social media feeds at very high speeds to pre-empt and prevent incidents.
As one of the world’s leading technology consulting businesses, TCS is deeply interested in the impact of this nascent technology and has invested heavily in understanding what’s at play – the opportunities and the challenges, the leaders and the followers.
The breadth of the impact, it appears, will leave almost no operational area untouched. This is both a massive opportunity and a daunting decision making process for business leaders to navigate.
Perhaps one of the greatest concerns that many people voice is the impact AI could have on jobs. Yet where there will be job losses, there will be job creation – just like in any industrial revolution before this.
Fears of AI as a ‘job-killer’ may well be overblown: while the technology will inevitably lead to certain roles being automated, business leaders are also confident that there will be an upswing in new types of job as well.
There will be more emphasis than ever on getting employees to adopt the technologies, using the new systems to boost executive decision-making capabilities and harnessing AI to identify new revenue opportunities.
The focus, it would appear, is not on displacing existing jobs, but working with employees to gain the most from the new insights that AI’s cognitive abilities offer.
The UK in 2050 will be a place where people will live longer and learning will be continuous. Like reading and numeracy 100 years ago or knowledge of computer skills 30 years ago, in the near future, people will have to learn to collaborate and work with intelligent machines to be productive in society. Those who adopt early are likely to make the greatest gains.
Sourced by Shankar Narayanan, head of UK at TCS