Man, Machine, and the Autonomous Future

By Priyanka Khaitan — DAV IoT Advisor

We are still the masters of our fate. Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers, cannot predict the future. All it can do is to map out the probability space as it appears at the present and which will be different tomorrow when one of the infinity of possible states will have materialized. Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability space all the time; it is now incomparably larger than it was before the industrial revolution — for good or for evil. (Inventing the Future, written by Dennis Gabor in 1963)

Priyanka Khaitan, Head of Emerging Technologies, Digital Supply Chain & IoT — SAP

What was the probability of the traditional taxi business being disrupted by an app on a marketplace? It wasn’t too long ago when we called a taxi hotline to hail a ride. Until Ubers of the world came along, that is. Uber, Lyft, Grab, Ola, and Didi. Each has built a sophisticated network that matches riders to drivers. Many benefited from disruption of the traditional taxi business. You didn’t need to own a million-dollar medallion to operate a cab. It created new and equal opportunities for anyone who owned a phone, and democratized transportation in the sharing economy.

Whether we realize it or not, networks have become core to our existence and we transit through multiple networks every day. Networks connecting passengers to drivers, buyers to sellers, lodgers to guests, carriers to shippers, networks of friends and professionals. These are networks owned, operated and dominated by companies that emerged in the last decade or two. However, if we are to learn anything from history, the present will be different tomorrow.

Automation and intelligence has been employed in industrial settings for decades. As it comes out of the cage, manifests itself in our everyday lives, takes over the monotonous, repetitive and labor-intensive jobs, time will tell whether it’s AI that poses an existential threat or humanity to itself. But, today, we are on the cusp of yet another technological revolution that will dramatically change how we interact, transact, consume services within and across networks, and the consequences thereof. The built-in intelligence and autonomy in self-driving vehicles, unmanned drones, and delivery robots, will give rise to a new era in computing. An era of man to machine network.

Imagine a world wide web of connected, autonomous, intelligent machines offering services on a network running on its own and at will. It is not far-fetched when I will discover and connect directly with machines sitting idle around me. The machine we entrust and empower to make decisions will, depending on its health, schedule and workload, decide to provide services. Or perhaps the machine might direct me to another machine. There will be no companies, no intermediaries, no humans running the network. Networks will become distributed, decentralized, democratized. A true sharing economy will emerge powered by new business models.

As the cities and legislation evolve to meet the needs of the impending autonomous future, we will see an influx of new and emerging technologies converging to redefine the transportation landscape and the overall industry. Everything will be running on smart contracts. IoT will become the plumbing and pipeline that will connect everything and through which data flows continuously across the network. The hub and spoke model will give way to the edge. Sensing, inferencing, and action will not be disparate processes, but rather pushed to the machines itself. Intelligence will be inbuilt and not an afterthought. Machines will transact with humans. Blockchain will re-establish the trust and transparency. And we humans will move up the value chain. For good or for evil, the advances in computing will continue to fuel the symbiotic relationship between man and machine.

As we reflect on the dichotomy of man and machine, the future is upon us, and we have to embrace the inevitable. I am excited about joining DAV Foundation, as an advisor, in its efforts to map out a probability space for a different tomorrow, to invent the future and create an Internet of Transportation. It is, after all, humanity’s inability to limit ourselves that pushes us beyond limits. And push we must to seek the truth, to empower and be empowered, and not outpowered, by technology.