Tech in ten years: 5 insights into our digital future

Predicting how technological advances will shape businesses and organizations in the years to come is like playing charades, blindfolded. It’s a guessing game. “If you would go back to the 70s and tell someone that in fifty years they’d have a telephone in their pocket that included a camera, an interactive map and a massive database filled to the brim with content, you’d be declared sci-fi nut,” explains Paul Brook, Director Data Analytics & AI Pre-Sales at Dell Technologies. “And yet, that’s exactly what has happened.” He’s right: it only takes one brilliant idea to reset technology’s course, so anticipating its developmental trajectory is extremely hard. Yet, it is exactly what we asked Paul to do when we sat down with him. Here’s what he said:

1. Processing goes up, the price goes down

One thing is certain: due to the rapid pace in technological development, processing power will go up, while prices will go down. Back in 2009, alongside Dr Paul Calleja, from the University of Cambridge, Dell built a relatively cheap, high-performance supercomputer. “Unprecedented at the time,” explains Brook. “It was the 20th most high-performing supercomputer in the world and it was built for a fraction of the price it cost to build the one in at 19.” Its creation pushed HPC into a new era. “We made something that set the stage for cheaper, easier high-performance computing.”

And yet, nowadays recreating that supercomputer is a piece of cake. “When I asked Paul the other day what he would need for another computer like that, he jokingly said ‘a Playstation and a couple of graphics cards.’ Now, while he’s obviously joking, his story has a ring of truth to it. Right now, you could stack two C4140’s, load it up with a bunch of GPU’s and you’d have computing power similar to what we had in 2009.”

2. Data is the new gold

Working in IT, you’ve probably heard this phrase a million times. Over the last years, it has become evident that data is an extremely valuable resource. One that’s inevitably going to keep defining the success of businesses around the world. For Brook, it’s the Formula 1 teams that are on the forefront of that data-driven revolution. “McLaren, which we work with, runs a simulated race 3000 times before it actually starts. If you could run a business like that, that would be amazing. Imagine planning a sales pitch with 3000 iterations, calculating all possible outcomes. It would benefit your business immensely.”

But, hoarding data isn’t the solution to everything. “It’s easy for a technology business to claim that if you have lots of data you will be better. You don’t need to collect every tiny bit of it. If nothing happens for two hours, that’s one piece of data, not two hours,” explains Brook. Time and time again, it’s been proven that understanding your business is essential. “First understand your problem,” says Brook. “Then, articulate if more data or better data can help improve things. And then go and do it. If you don’t know what your business problem is, fix that first. Otherwise collecting data is just useless.”

3. AI is powerful, but understand it first

The same can be said for artificial intelligence, which is fueled by the aforementioned data. And it’s something that inevitably comes up in discussions on the impact of new technologies. AI, it seems, is here to stay. More so because it can help you get ahead of the competition. But we’re not quite there yet. “One of the problems with AI is that it is still pretty difficult to do. It isn’t new – far from it – but most people don’t know how to use it yet. If you’re going to automate a process, understand it first. It’s like walking onto a rugby field without any proper knowledge of rugby. Chances are, you’re going to get hurt. That’s not because of the game, that’s because you don’t understand what you’re doing,” explains Brook.

“AI is like that. It isn’t creative or intuitive. Pick something you understand, and automate that,” he continues. “High impact with a small change: that’s how revolutions happen.”

“Step one is having programmers understand that. They used to go: ‘oh I don’t care, hardware’s just there.’ Nowadays, Dell Technologies develops hardware that fits the code. Combine that with some grade A programming and together, they form a powerful tool. If not, you’ll risk being very ordinary, and ordinary doesn’t cut it anymore. That way, the whole concept of AI and machine learning gets a bad rep.”

4. AI is going to enhance the labor market, not destroy it

When we ask him whether this AI and automation is a danger to our workforce, the answer is a resounding no. “Sure,” Brook says “certain jobs have disappeared, but new ones are emerging daily. We used to have bankers on the Wall Street floor making sales. Now, that’s fully automated. But has there been a decrease in jobs in the banking sector? Last time I checked, no.”

If anything, these technologies will enhance people’s working lives. A good example is digital pathology. “We recently worked with a company called Huron. They wanted to develop a better service for pathologists,” says Brook. “AI helps them assess risks and prioritize certain patients. It’s giving high-value knowledge to high-value knowledge workers.”

5. 5G and IoT will be game changers

And then there’s 5G and Internet of Things – two subject that brought Brook to Dell Technologies Forum in the first place. “The reality is, this is all around us,” explains Brook. “My daughter updated her phone recently, and as we’re sitting there, doing all the paperwork, I’ve noticed that the telco sells a system which can connect to your house, your smoke-alarm, camera’s; the likes. That’s an internet of things.”

“Now imagine if, for example, an energy company tapped into that information – with consent, of course. They could measure a data feed from the house, not just from the smart meter, but from the things that are in the house and start to measure what people are doing at certain times. Then they’re not only aware of what people are consuming, but what they are consuming it for.”

But, to work with IoT and 5G means being mindful of the future. “5G will generate a mash of connectivity,” Brook concludes. “So get your architecture ready now.”

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