MWC17: 5G is really all about giving mobile networks a brain

Softbank Group founder, chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son warns of the coming singularity at MWC17. Source: GSMA

If the opening keynotes of MWC17 are anything to go by, the “Next Element” of mobile networks is a brain –specifically, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence powerful enough to enable new services, empower customers and bring on the singularity.

Softbank Group founder, chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son characteristically stole the show during the morning keynote sessions by framing his company’s recent flurry of investments – from its $100 billion tech fund and investment in OneWeb to its acquisition of ARM – in terms of his vision of the technology landscape 30 years from now.

In essence, Son said he is developing Softbank’s strategy with one eye on the coming “singularity” – i.e. the point in which computers surpass the power of the human brain. In 30 years, Son said, the IQ score of AI will be around 10,000 (for comparison, Albert Einstein’s IQ was around 200), while chipsets will have 1 million times more transistors than the human brain has neurons (that’s around 3 quadrillion transistors).

Meanwhile, that “super-intelligence” will be installed in robots that will outnumber humans in 30 years, and there will be 1 trillion interconnected super-intelligent IoT devices. “Think about that,” he said. “We will have a chip in our shoes, and our shoes will be smarter than our brain – and we will be stepping on them!”

Son said he is investing in IoT not only to get in on the ground floor of the coming wave of super-intelligent “things” – and providing wireless connectivity via OneWeb – but to ensure that they’re developed in ways that benefit rather than endanger humanity.

“Scholars at Oxford Univerity made a list of 12 threats to human civilization, whch includes global pandemics, nuclear war, super volcanoes – and AI,” he said. “But I think super intelligence can solve the other 11 threats. Super-intelligence will be a risk if we misuse it, but a partner if we use it in good spirits.”

Som also wants to make the IoT a lot more secure than it is, pointing to ARM as an example of how bad the situation is.

“Until recently, ARM chips didn’t have much security in them. Today there are 500 ARM chips in a car, and none of them are secure,” he said. “That didn’t matter when cars were not connected. But now all new cars are connected, and it’s easy to hack and take control of a connected car. It’s scary!”

“That’s why I’m in a hurry to gather the cash to invest in this – and I’m looking for partners because we can’t do it alone. We have to do it quickly for the goodness of humanity.”

Cognitive power to the people

Son wasn’t alone in focusing on intelligence as the key technology to drive the mobile industry forward.

Telefónica chairman and CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López opened the keynotes by talking about the telco’s new cognitive intelligence platform “Aura”, which was launched on Sunday as part of Telefónica’s plan to improve the customer experience.

López likened Aura to giving the network a brain, which is the next logical step in digital transformation once you’ve invested in capacity, connectivity and digitization.

López said that telcos need to be seen by customers not just in terms of geographical coverage and departments, but also platforms. To that end he envisions four platforms: the physical network, IT and systems (i.e. the back end processes, etc), products and services( including IoT, video, cloud, security, etc) and the fourth platform: cognitive power – i.e. the brain of the network.

“Aura is Telefonica’s cognitive brain that will take all of the data from the other three platforms, and it will watch, remember and think – and this will be put in the hands of the customers,” he said.

López stressed that Aura isn’t a digital assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. “It’s much more than that. The goal is to empower customers by letting them decide what digital services they want, what they want to do with their data, how much of it they share and who gets to use it, including third parties.”

Everything is under control

Hwang Chang-gyu, chairman and CEO of KT, also focused much of his keynote on network intelligence, which he said was a key element of 5G alongside speed, connectivity and capacity.

Hwang outlined a number of scenarios where network intelligence could enable useful 5G apps. For example, it could enable location-based services to not only pinpoint locations with far greater accuracy (up to 1 meter), but also map them in 3D.

“So for example, if you make a call to emergency services from an office building, they will not only know your exact location, but also what floor of the building you’re on,” he said. Another potential app is smart life jackets that tell the network where they are if a ship sinks.

Network intelligence can also improve network security services and orchestrate moving “things” in the IoT like drones and self-driving cars, he added.

“In the 5G era, the sky will be filled with drones and the cars will be filled with autonomous cars. We’re already seeing reports of incidents with drones crashing into things, and that’s going to increase,” Hwang said. “Network intelligence can orchestrate movement of drones with apps like a “geofence” that limits where drones can go. Everything will be under control.”

Also, combined with big data, network intelligence can power predictive analytics to enable things like more efficient power grids and using roaming data to curb the spread of infectious diseases, Hwang said.

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