Sometimes, in this most innovative of innovative industries, it is hard to see any positives. In fact, the negatives seem to keep on coming.
Leaving aside DataGate, the effects of which will take a long time to work through, there seems to unavoidable gloom:
- Revenues from telecoms in India are forecast to be down 40% in Q4
- Smartphones sales will drop 7% this year – they just aren’t innovative enough
- While some revenues might flow from 5G next year, devices are still a way off and unlikely to produce revenues until 2021
- The trade war between the US and China can only be bad for business
- Already ZTE is feeling the pain, as US companies are banned from supplying it for seven years
- AI continues to cause suspicion and we are seeing examples of entities serious about developing weapons using AI
- Drones are fun, of course, but Russian ones bash into walls and, if unchecked, drones will soon fill the skies.
It is hard to fathom just how far and fast and un-thought through progress has been over the last few years. Not so long ago, we lamented the rise of the vast supermarkets that set up shop on the edge of town. Surely, we thought, this will ruin the center of our cities.
The truth is worse than that. New government research is showing that online shopping (apparently there are other sites than Amazon, but you have to look carefully) is affecting not only city center shops, but also those vast supermarkets on the edge of town. One-click shopping for almost anything is the future (not to mention the present).
Automation will not help this downward spiral. Richard Liu – the chief executive of JD.com (one of those ‘not-Amazon’ e-commerce sites) – expects that humans in the retail business will mostly be replaced by robots and AI in the next ten years or so. The fabled Industry 4.0 is all about automation – without the need to take care of workers’ needs, you could put a factory in the Antarctic, without heat or light, and let it get on with making things in the dark.
Meanwhile banks are coming tumbling down, as hitherto fundamental cornerstones of our world come under pressure from financial institutions whose only infrastructure is someone else’s network and an app.
There will, without doubt, be those who will come after Facebook (in both senses of the expression), and their USP will be that they will treat our data as we would want our data to be treated.
The changes that are coming are fundamental.
We have pondered before that there might be an opportunity here for us to embrace again more human values. In an interview with industry veteran Simon Montford, almost three years ago, some ideas were already emerging.
For instance, Montford believed even then that there will be a radical redistribution of value. “If you take jobs that can be automated, you can see that jobs that are valuable today will not be tomorrow. Software engineers, lawyers, accountants, analysts, all their skills can be automated and made more efficient and cost effective. People skills, on the other hand – carers, therapists, even comedians – will have the potential to become incredibly valuable. These are skills that are beyond automation.”
Art, perhaps, and literature, currently digitised and photographed, not remembered, might be about to take on a new importance.
We might even be looking at the beginning of a new Enlightenment.
Mind you, there are many who would say we never finished the last one properly.