Disruptive Technologies UK 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Disruptive Technologies UK 2016 event in London and found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

The event was the first annual UK conference on disruptive innovation and included a combination of keynotes, workshops and networking sessions. Different speakers, from academia, industry and government institutions shared the stage and presented new ideas and theories.

The event revolved around the idea of fourth industrial revolution. In the last two hundred years, three industrial revolutions shaped the way we live and work. These revolutions have been initiated by major disruptive innovations, such as the introduction of steam power, electricity and IT systems.

Nowadays, we are on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by cyber physical systems.

The emergence of cyber physical systems, thanks to big data, robotics, Internet of Things, drones and advanced biology, holds the potential to revolutionise the world as we know it.

The Government has already invested billions of pounds in Catapult centres and the Innovate UK agency. This funding aims to create the right business environment to nurture and sustain the numerous new commercial ventures in this area.

The morning session focused on how the fourth industrial revolution can disrupt buildings and shape the cities of the future. Smart cities are not only connected and highly technological cities, but they should be analysed using a wider, holistic approach.

Citizens should be at the centre and the aim must be to improve the quality of life.

Local councils are already embracing this revolution and for example Cambridgeshire developed an API from which businesses can use the data collected by the council. Smart buildings will be a fundamental block of the cities of the future and thus the traditional concept of buildings must be re-thought. The overall experience of living and working in predefined places will change and technology, along with new workforce management ways, will allow people to work from anywhere, at any time.

The afternoon kicked off with elevator pitches from different tech start-ups which are looking to solve problems around parking, product design, teleconferencing and passports on mobile devices. After, two case studies have been presented. The first on Tekcapital, a company who invests in University intellectual property and makes it accessible to private companies, and the second on Epicardio, an Oxford based startup which developed a real-time 3D simulation of Cardiac Electrophysiology and Electrocardiography, set to revolutionise academia and hospitals.

The next talk explored the concept of bitcoin and blockchain. The blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin, carries many expectations on how it will impact the financial industry. However, many barriers, such as the lack of national and international regulatory frameworks, along with the lack of technical skills, are slowing its integration in our society. Another barrier to bitcoin becoming mainstream is the vast amount of energy required to power the pools of computers used to mine bitcoins.

The day was wrapped up by two final talks on financial inclusion and on how to holistically look at the technological landscape and not pick a particular innovation as the only “winner”.

The ideas shown and the great panel of speakers effectively conveyed the significant opportunities that the fourth industrial revolution carries, impacting businesses, people and government.

Disruption can only happen if people and communities are buying into the benefits that technological advancement can bring

For this happen, a change in thinking is required, starting to ask why instead of the how.

If you want to know more about some of the technology trends disrupting our future, why not read what we have to say about the digital horizon and smart cities or contact me by email.

The Brave Little Toaster

We are currently sitting on the precipice of the fourth industrial revolution which is set to re-think the way we live and work on a global scale.  As with the first industrial revolution, what we know roughly is that change is being driven by technology, but we lack any concrete knowledge of how great the change will be or just how dramatically it will disrupt the world we live in.

The technologies driving the upcoming revolution are artificial intelligence and robotics, technologies which have been the territory of sci-fi for generations which think and act as humans would.  Just as steam power, electricity and ultimately computers have replaced  human labour for mechanical and often mathematical tasks, AI looks set to supplant human thinking and creativity in a way which many see as unsettling.  If the first industrial revolution was too much for the ‘luddites’ doing their best to stamp out mechanical progress, the reaction to AI and robotics is going to be even more unsettling.  There are several clear reasons I can perceive that may drive people away from AI which are:

  • Fear of redundancy: the first reason we can see replicates that of the first industrial revolution. People don’t want technology to do what they do, because if a machine is able to do it faster, better and stronger than they can then what will they do?
  • Fear of the singularity: this one is like our fear of nuclear bombs and fusion. There’s an intrinsic fear people hold, entrenched in stories of Pandora’s Box where we believe certain things should not be investigated.  The singularity of AI is when a computer achieves sentience, and though we’re some way off that (without an idea of how we’d get there) the perceived intelligence of a machine can still be very unnerving.
  • The uncanny valley: the valley is the point where machines start to become more human-like, appearing very close, but not exactly like a human in the way they look or interact. If you’re still wondering what it is, I’d recommend watching these Singing Androids.

Just like we’ve seen throughout history, there is resistance to this revolution.  But if history is anything to go by, while it’s likely to be a bumpy road, the rewards will be huge.  Although it’s the back office, nuts and bolts which are driving change behind the scenes, it’s the front end where we interact with it that’s being re-thought to maximize potential and minimize resistance.  What we’re seeing are interfaces designed to appear dumb, or mask their computational brains to make us feel more comfortable, and that’s where the eponymous title of this blog comes in.

“The Brave Little Toaster” is a book from 1980, or – if you’re lazy like me – it’s a film from about 8 years later, ‘set in a world where household appliances and other electronics come to life, pretending to be lifeless in the presence of humans’.  Whilst the film focused on the adventure of these appliances to find their way back to their owner, what I’d like to focus on is how they hide intelligence when they come into sight – and this is what we’re beginning to see being followed by industry.

Journalism is a career typically viewed as creative and the product of human thought, but did you know that a fairly significant chunk of the news that you read isn’t written by a person at all?  For years now weather reports from the BBC have been written by machines using Natural Language Generation algorithms to take data and turn it into words, which can even be tailored to suit different audiences with simple configuration changes.  Earlier this month The Washington Post also announced that their writing on the Rio Olympics would be carried out by robots.  From a consumer standpoint it’s unlikely that we’ll notice that the stories have been written by machines, and if we don’t even notice it shouldn’t be creepy to us at all.  Internally, rather than seeing it as a way to replace reporters, it’s being seen as an opportunity to ‘free them up’, just like the industrial revolution before which saw people be freed up from repetitive manual tasks to more thought based ones.

Platforms like IBMs Watson begin to add a two-way flow to this, with both natural language generation and recognition, so that a person can ask a question just as they would to a person, with a machine understanding their phrasing and replying in turn without ever hinting that it’s an AI.  At the stage when things become too complicated, the AI asks for a person to take action and from there on the conversation is controlled by them, with no obvious transition.

A gradual approach to intelligence and automated systems is also being adopted by some businesses.  Tesla’s autopilot can be seen as an example of this, continuing a story which began with ABS (automatic breaking) over a decade ago, and developed in recent years to develop a car which, in some instances, can drive itself.  In its current state, autopilot is a combination of existing technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic steering on a motorway and collision avoidance, but the combination of this with the huge amount of data it generates has allowed the system to learn routes and handling, carefully navigating tight turns and traffic (albeit with an alert driver ready to take over control at all times!).  Having seen this progression, it’s easy to imagine a time not too far from the present day where human drivers are no longer needed, with a system that learns, generates data and continually improves itself just as a human would as they learn to drive, only without the road rage, fatigue or human error.

The future as I see it is massively augmented and improved by artificial intelligence and advanced automation.  Only, it’ll be designed so that we don’t see it, where the boundary between human and machine input is perceivable only if you know exactly where to look.

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Augmentation, AI and automation are just some of the topics researched by Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team.

Is Blockchain in the MASH for Local Government?

In their latest insight briefing, SOCITM pose the question, Blockchain technology: could it transform digital-enabled councils?

They urge councils and wider public sector authorities to follow developments around blockchain Distributed Ledger technologies with a view to experimenting with their potential use in the development of future service transformation plans.

It is safe to say that blockchain is currently one of the hot technology topics trying to establish itself as a new way of handling trusted transactions. The rise and publicity surrounding BitCoin has driven this current hype and whilst the underlying technology of blockchain is very appropriate for financial-based systems, it is still unclear what viable (and practical) uses there will be across other sectors.

UK Government has issued a number of articles and papers regarding this topic, and they are actively investigating the potential of the technology to support a number of public-facing services. But the challenge is: ‘what is the use case that can exploit the capabilities of blockchain?’.

As an organisation, Sopra Steria sees the potential of this technology to provide immutable chain of evidence based systems and we are actively working on a number of potential use cases across a number of sectors.

The opportunities for Local Government need further investigation to consider how blockchain could be used to improve services, reduce costs, or help tackle fraud. As the SOCITM article suggests, these opportunities have yet to be clearly defined and articulated. Whilst G-Cloud 8 now shows services related to blockchain, there are only two of any real substance – one from a leading provider of blockchain Distributed Ledger Technologies, and the second a consultative service on what, and how, to use blockchain.  The others simply make reference to blockchain – so there is still a substantial way to go before there are pre-defined services available for Local Government.

Should Local Government be investigating the opportunities for blockchain/Distributed Ledger technology?  Absolutely!

There are a number of potential areas where the ability of providing chain of evidence based capabilities could be used, but the challenge for Local Government is to define the business and application processes needed to use blockchain. One of the areas in which we see major opportunities is the ability of coordinating MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs) by providing a means of identifying master records across different agencies. The ability of establishing a clear data level trust relationship is going to be critical to delivering successful MASH services.

Sopra Steria supports SOCITM’s call to identify the appropriate uses and applications of blockchain which will stand the test of time. As an integral part of their design process, councils should now be considering the advantages of using both blockchain, and other emerging technologies, when shaping future transformation programmes.

Take a look at our paper, “Blockchain: harnessing the power of distributed ledgers”, earlier posts on this topic on our blog or leave your thoughts on this subject below.

Assisted evolution

Natural selection is Charles Darwin’s most celebrated theory.  It depends on the fact that in each generation there will be mutation. This mutation creates variation in a species affording some with an advantage to survive in a changing world.

Today we are seeing a new world emerging.  A world of rapid change, iteration and re-invention, even within a single lifespan.  This is the digital world.  As we observe the rise of the digital world we are also seeing the evolution of a new ‘breed’ of human, the Digital Human.  In place of favourable genetic mutations the Digital Human augments his or herself in a shroud of technology which is constantly mutating, iterating and updating, and bolting on modular upgrades as and when they see fit to suit their individual needs and desires.

The Digital Human feeds off data, and demands a highly personalised experience from the applications that they use and the services that they interact with.

The evolution of the Digital Human can be seen through the lens of the three technological topics in Aurora, our Horizon Scanning Programme: Intelligent Insight & Automation, Ubiquitous Interaction and Distributed Disruption.

Intelligent Insight & Automation explores the future of data beyond predictive analytics, through to prescriptive analytics and full robotics. Critically this technology is adaptive and able, like the most successful creatures in evolution, to respond to changes in its environment.  For the Digital Human analytics and automation platforms help them to understand the changing world around them and automate responses quickly to survive through, or take advantage of these changes.

The Digital Human feeds its desire for data through a ‘Device Mesh’, a shroud of devices and sensors connected to each other via the cloud.  These devices may manifest in many different forms from manual entry on a PC, to obvious collection on our smartphone and wearable devices to almost invisible gathering and transmission.  All of this data however is nothing without intelligent use of analytics to provide insight back to the user, automating changes, evolving with the world around them seamlessly.

The way that technology is able to play back its insights to us is critical to our digital evolution.  In order for us to interpret an all pervasive layer of information interactions must be subtle but clear.  Technologies like augmented reality offer a platform for information to be layered on top of the world around us, allowing us to draw on the crowd sourced knowledge of the internet to obtain a ‘perfect knowledge’ of any given subject without having the need to learn or memorise any details.  This trend is set to continue with the ‘interfaceless interface’ silently helping us about our daily lives. The ambient or embedded nature of these interactions enhances the sense that we are ‘evolving’ as digital humans.

The way that we interact with services is also shifting from centralised control to distributed mediums.  Services like Airbnb and Uber have been a great expression of this change, connecting consumers directly with individual suppliers of services, but even systems like this still depend on centralised validation for their financial transactions.  A technology taking this world by storm is the blockchain, the fundamental technology behind bitcoins distributed validation of transactions, which has the potential to change not only the way that we carry out payment, but how do we as individuals play a part in the collective validation process, forming a part of a crowd sourced consensus of validity and building up a quantified self, a digitised self through a history of transactions and validations?

It makes you wonder, is it our digitised self that is evolving
or is it us?

What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Learn more about Aurora, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, and the topics that we are researching.

Blockchain – survival of the fittest

Recently, I took part in a discussion on blockchain broadcast by Digital Leader’s DLTV team. Guided superbly by the BBC’s Kate Russell, myself and three others (Maja Zehavi, Anish Mohammed and John Bertrand) wandered through the latest thinking and future possibilities of the world of distributed ledgers.

And it left me with something really quite striking.

Blockchain is complicated – we know that. It relies on a vocabulary that includes sophisticated cryptographic terminology and brain-aching concepts around decentralised consensus models. And yet, the principles are beguilingly simple. Aside from the complexity of the solution, the concept of everyone involved in a transaction having open, trusted access to a distributed ledger is something that a rapidly expanding community are eagerly pursuing.

And it’s the speed at which this community is collaborating that is so striking. We are at very early days in the development of this technology. (Never mind the applications, many of the core protocols are still being debated.) Despite its formative state, research and development around blockchain is distinctively collaborative, with start-ups, big business, regulators and academia all openly sharing knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

In the programme, one of my co-speakers, Anish described this as being ‘Evolutionary’, in a Darwinian sense. Progress is being made through collaborative experimentation and a form of natural selection that enables progress to be made at speed through ‘generations’ of iteration.

It’s an approach that reflects our digital times. The value of knowledge is now ephemeral. It’s the application of knowledge that is key. The accessibility of digital technology – be it blockchain or otherwise – invites us to develop new use cases, test solutions and refine them. Openly. Collaboratively. And rapidly.

And in the end the fittest ideas survive. ‘Distributed Digital Darwinism’ in action courtesy of the blockchain.

Why not watch the episode on YouTube? and read our latest thought leadership paper “Blockchain: Harnessing the Power of Distributed Ledgers”.

Sopra Steria is proud to support Digital Leaders – helping to organise and host digital salons for Digital Leaders Scotland and Digital Leaders Northern Ireland. Learn more about Digital Leaders.

What are your thoughts about blockchain? Leave a replay below or contact me by email.

What will be disrupting our world in the next 3 – 5 years?

In 2015, we used this blog forum to talk about how our future digital business world is being shaped by some key technologies, what impact they are having and the resulting societal challenges they are bringing about. You may have listened to the podcasts from ‘Aurora’, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team that discussed digital automation and human augmentation.

In 2016, we are broadening our research and focusing on three areas of disruptive technology and the effect they have on us as individuals, the world of work and the planet as a whole. We are even more fascinated by where these stories interconnect, as shown on the matrix below:

(See end for text description of this image
Aurora horizon scanning: our six areas of research in 2016

Listen to our first podcast of 2016 where we describe the approach for our research and an insight into areas that we are interested in – and getting excited about!

We are hoping to include guest speakers for our future podcasts, so let us know your ideas for them and thoughts about our areas of research for 2016.

Leave a reply below or contact us by email.

Don’t forget to follow the team on Twitter:

@timdifford
@richpotter_
@ben_innovates

And enjoy our Flipboard magazine on iOS, Android and Windows devices.


Description of Aurora’s six areas of research in 2016

  1. The digital human: interacting with services and each other through ubiquitous devices and data-driven experiences
  2. The organic enterprise: flexible, distributed, collaborative and networked organisations
  3. The connected planet: a crowded, ageing, more connected and fluid world
  4. Intelligent insight and automation: the increase in the application of prescriptive analytics and automation to augment or displace human activity
  5. Ubiquitous interaction: the growth of sensing and interface technologies that make interactions between humans and computers more fluid, intuitive and pervasive
  6. Distributed disruption: the growth of decentralised processes enabled by the adoption of technologies which assure and automate security and trust

 

Internet of humans and whether smart devices are boosting our capabilities

Will information by sensors bring about the ultimate human augmentation?

I’ve spoken previously about how our future digital business world is being shaped by some key technologies, what impact they are having and the resulting societal challenges they are bringing about.

If you’ve listened to the first two podcasts from ‘Aurora’, Sopra Steria’s horizon scanning team, you’ll know that we are fascinated by advances in the technologies that will increase digital automation (the displacement of human work by machines – or robots) and bring us closer to becoming fully augmented humans.

We’re increasingly familiar with people wearing fitness trackers and using other health monitoring apps and devices and are now well into the era of ‘the quantified self’. Our third podcast continues this discussion about wearables and other smart devices aimed at boosting human performance and capabilities.

We start to ponder nanotechnology as the ‘ultimate augmentation’ and if implants will change things in our bodies to the extent they could orchestrate our genetic code and influence the make-up of generations to come? However, as this is still more science fiction than fact, we focus on how the current plethora of wearables send data to external displays for our analysis and whether this data could be captured for use in real time to interact with our bodies to, for example, ‘inform by sensors’ for service providers to anticipate service delivery requirements and modify our behaviours.

If all this sounds a bit too futuristic for serious consideration at the moment, we bring our discussions back to more sound assumptions about current technologies enabling – or driving – us to become augmented humans of the nearer future. The course is charted where smart devices are becoming increasingly assimilated into the physical being of ourselves and the interactions between the technology and human beings are becoming more seamless. We’re starting to see this transition towards becoming augmented humans – for example, better management of our IDs and more enriched service experiences – as recognition that the human being is becoming part of the Internet of Things ecosystem in which we increasingly live.

Have a listen to this continued discussion in our podcast, and learn more about Aurora and the topics that we are researching by reading our brief opinion paper on the world ‘beyond digital’.

  1. Digital automation
  2. Augmented human
  3. My Data
  4. Disintermediation
  5. Securing the net
  6. Hyper innovation

What are your thoughts about human augmentation? Leave a comment below or contact the Aurora horizon scanning team by email