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The Top 3 Most Powerful Technologies Driving Economic Growth in the 4th Industrial Revolution, Part II — The True Power of Using Combinations of Multiple Technologies

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

We are living in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. In Part I, we described how each of the prior three industrial revolutions demonstrated greater and greater economic expansion compressed into shorter periods of time. Within the evolving fourth revolution landscape, we focus on the top three most powerful tech enablers. These are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and Blockchain. Importantly, they leverage and capitalize on Big Data. The explosive proliferation of massive datasets or “Big Data” is both an output and a key marker of the fourth industrial revolution.

Here in Part II, we outline the potential hazards of commercialization with unfettered access to Big Data. But, provided there’s proper governance, Blockchain has a few inherent attributes that could help mitigate some of the risks.

Rapid Growth of Data

International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts that Big Data will hit around 40 zettabytes in 2020 from 28.8 zettabytes in 2019. Put into context, an iPhone photo averages 2 to 3 MB. At today’s typical high-speed Internet download rate of 50 MB per second, a person could download 20 photos in a second. In one year, 630 million photos could be downloaded. But, it would take 25 million years to download 40 zettabytes of data. Growth estimates are only based on known sources of data and data growth is not likely to stop anytime soon. Various social media platforms, that did not exist 15 years ago, grew exponentially. This changed the ways in which we collect, ingest and analyze data. And, of course, so did growth forecasts for the data created by these platforms. If history has taught us anything, it shouldn’t be surprising if we ended up with a brand new source of data in the next few years that doesn’t exist today.

Given the magnitude of data we’re amassing, we don’t have the option of not utilizing computing power and technology. We are seeing this play out in the fourth industrial revolution. Indeed, AI, IoT and Blockchain technologies are quickly maturing. And these powerful business enablers are helping us to both utilize and derive value from Big Data.

Big Data and Governance

Having access to the convenience of tools like these enabling technologies is not without cost or peril. This writer has addressed how a lack of diversity or poor governance can create embedded bias in AI and machine algorithms. Machines simply follow their programming. AI develops from the “training data” the machine learns from. If we neglect to keep an eye on how machine systems learn, source, collate, and report, we may end up allowing machines to run our lives in ways we didn’t want or expect.

Let’s imagine what the consequences could look like. What if a large volume of stories and other data points about “bombs” are published in order to generate global confusion and chaos. Then, learning machines could take this data as their “training data” and consequently would give us a very skewed version of world events. Aside from this, even if appropriately representative data were properly sourced, how data is ingested could also significantly change the outcome. Or, maybe data is sourced properly, algorithms are tested to satisfaction, and the design of the solution is aligned with human wants & needs, but how the data should be protected wasn’t considered. Data governance is a “must have”, not a “nice to have”. We need to have a built-in checking mechanism from the get-go, as well as at every juncture of product development, implementation, and beyond.

Blockchain’s Inherent Value

AI and IoT technologies have demonstrated either deep or widespread commercial applications in consumer or manufacturing businesses. Blockchain is the youngest and most emergent of these top three most powerful technologies. It runs across use cases that are industry-agnostic. IDC forecasts that Blockchain solutions spending will hit nearly exponential growth to $11.7 billion by 2022.

It’s evident we’re in an environment where Big Data is growing bigger at explosive speed. This presents many unique challenges. Blockchain technology can help in the following ways:

1) Truth: Blockchain’s immutability makes it so that bad actors would likely hesitate for fear of being caught red-handed. They will think twice before spreading malicious rumors and lies in order to profit from the resulting uncertainty.

2) Verification: Since verifying the custody and quality of data sets is not in question, data analysis can be conducted more confidently. Today this is a huge time sink and a necessary precursor to even starting data analysis.

3) Time/Resource Savings: The decentralized nature of Blockchain allows data administrators to act with more freedom and efficiency. They can focus their time and energy on other initiatives vs. supporting a big centralized data warehouse.

Admittedly still in its infancy, real life applications are emerging beyond the most popularly known use case of Bitcoin. Some of them are more game changing than others. Diamonds might “be forever” but not so much if we worry that a stone is compromised. Think of “conflict” diamonds behind human rights abuses. So, being able to track jewelry to its source on a shared network like Blockchain would alleviate such concerns. Systems like Tracr from De Beers Group address this very issue. Food poisoning is something that should be avoided at all cost. If there were a way to know where only the contaminated food originated, similar foods from other locations could safely remain in distribution. This would also eliminate huge food waste. Blockchain makes such operations possible. IBM has completed a trial of tracking mandarin oranges from China to Singapore earlier this year. Solutions like this will play a key role to making food traceability really happen. Health records can be lengthy and complex. When doctors ask patients for information, it may be difficult for them to be accurate. It’s not because they intentionally leave out important details, it is simply hard to remember every detail of one’s medical history. In a perfect world, there would be a place where health records in their entirety can be safely kept. Patients would choose to share particular records with a given doctor as needed and on demand. Indeed, emerging companies like Medicalchain use Blockchain technology to securely store a single version of a patient’s health records. Health practitioners in turn can request permission to access these records.

Combination Use of AI, IoT, and Blockchain — Economic Impact and Value Creation

These days, we say data is the new currency. But currency does not exist in isolation without us “assigning” value to it. Otherwise, it would be just a random collection of printed papers and pieces of metals. Data behaves in a similar way. If we didn’t analyze data and thereby “assign” value, it would be just a collection of words and numbers. IDC estimates we’ll produce 5,000 GB of data per person by 2022. Data is created and stored in a variety of places and formats. Manual analysis of such vast quantities of disparate data sets is a huge challenge, if not an impossible task. But emerging technologies like AI, IoT, and Blockchain, when used in combination, solves for this. They can provide decentralized data access, easier monitoring of work progress, and faster and easier data analysis.

Immediate benefits include:

1) Lower costs. These technologies enable data analysis that can better detect resource waste. And, they can bring ordering systems much closer to “just-in-time”. Bottleneck issues in assembly production lines can also be resolved more quickly.

2) Faster, better decision-making. Data analysis can be conducted by and from a variety of sources. This can ensure more accuracy and safety, thereby allowing for faster and better decision-making.

3) New products and services. The ability to collect and analyze big data sets gives a whole new meaning to identifying customer wants and needs. We wouldn’t have to rely on painstaking collection of individual feedback or conduct social listening. We could interpret and understand trends based on accurate real world data. We could tap into the needs/wants of customers and prospective customers like never before.

The ability to access, collect, and analyze data is what gives us the power to correctly identify and pursue business targets. It’s what makes progress possible via innovation, customer care, or efficient operations. Each emerging technology we have come to know in the last decade is powerful enough and useful enough on its own. But, when they are used together in concert, the possibilities become manifold. That is the true power of the fourth industrial revolution — the amplifying power of these enabling technologies when used in combination.

It’s easy to visualize combination use of IoT and AI because of IoT’s ability to collect data and AI’s to analyze it. Meanwhile, AI and Blockchain are two major technologies that have been leading the pace of innovation for the last few years. However, academics and commercial practitioners are still debating about applications combining AI and Blockchain. How exactly can AI use data stored in encrypted distributed ledger format when AI needs to ingest lots of it to make sense?

The answer may lay in a better understanding of how valuable our data actually has become. As a society, we are only beginning to see how large institutions are benefiting from using our data, which they collect for free. In some cases, our data is collected to the point of invading our privacy, and we as individuals don’t know or have much control over it.

The emergence of Blockchain may change this by starting to store data securely on a distributed system, and only permitted data to permitted entities will be allowed access. This way, individuals would know exactly what data is being used and when. And, people may even be able to monetize properly the data that’s being used.

A number of solutions that pair up AI and Blockchain technologies are beginning to emerge. BEXT360 is an example. They have AI predicting the quality of coffee beans from a given climate and growing pattern. Meanwhile, Blockchain is used to keep an immutable record of farms about where the beans come from with exact details about specific coffee shipments along the journey. As an added bonus, payments get processed more quickly because of Blockchain’s built-in payment ledger attributes.

Whatever happens in the Big Data scene, we must keep in mind ethical and logical use of it. We always have to be mindful so that we can continue getting the maximum benefit out of this new currency, data. It may not be so far out in the future that we come across another set of data that may truly advance our lives.

Developing or adopting a new solution, even without working with a brand-new technology, is a hard-enough task as is. Having to understand an emerging technology while developing a solution makes the process even more complicated. Overlaying governance work on top of that seems nearly impossible, but we could end up with a solution that is not practical in real life without it. If we can make the technology work for us properly, it could be a great asset to conduct our work effectively. Within this governance framework, employing a combination of AI and Blockchain can be a truly powerful way of enabling the amplification of the economic benefits. Of course, with the emergence of Quantum Computing, governance could jump to another level entirely, but we need further data points about its development before we can really factor this in, so it’s a topic to explore another day. At this stage, with what we know today, we’d put a stake in the ground that the fourth industrial revolution will follow the trend and become a faster and greater economic expansion than the previous ones. This economic reality could be just around the corner.

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Harumi Urata-Thompson

Harumi Urata-Thompson

HUT Consulting is transforming one business at a time. harumi@hutconsulting.com

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