Erik P.M. Vermeulen


Welcome to a World of “Artificial Intelligence” & “Smart Machines”

How to Prepare for the “Automation Revolution”

Dana Scully gets a drone delivery in X-Files Season 11 Episode 7 “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (original air date: February 28, 2018)

Whatever you may think of new digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and the Internet of Things, it cannot be ignored that they are changing the way we live and work.

But, how should we prepare for the “automation revolution”?

It’s happening all around us. Machines and intelligent systems are gradually taking over more and more routine tasks.

For the moment, these machines and systems are mainly designed to provide assistance for specific tasks in specific situations. They augment our intelligence and improve our skills.

Consider the automotive industry. Collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning and blind spot notification systems are standard features on many of today’s cars.

Artificial intelligence and other digital systems do not only become more common, but they also become more accurate.

For instance, artificial intelligence already outperforms human lawyers in reviewing and annotating standardized contracts.

And, there are of course plenty of more fascinating examples ranging from chat-bots in healthcare, data-analytics in agriculture, blockchain technology in the energy sector and robo-advisors in banking and finance.

These examples make it very clear that there is no turning back. We have to get used and prepared to living and working with smart and intelligent machines and systems.

Machines Will Only Become Smarter & More Autonomous

Preparing for the future will only become more crucial as machines become more advanced, connected and autonomous.

I don’t intend to make any predictions here, but I expect that the automation trend will only accelerate and that artificial intelligence will become the new normal.

The reasons for this are simple and straightforward.

  • The current digital technologies should not be looked at in isolation. The proliferation of IoT devices and sensors will lead to the availability of vast amounts of data, which will lead to smarter and more autonomous systems.
Clearly, we need artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • Investments in AI related technologies are snowballing.
AI Equity Deals, 2013–2017 (excluding hardware-focused robotics start-ups), Source: CB Insights
  • Corporations are betting on the new digital technologies. Mentions of the words “digital” and “technology” in earning calls are increasing. I see a similar trend in the acquisitions of digital technology startups.
AI Start-up Acquisitions, Source CB Insights
  • Governments follow suit by starting projects to digitize processes, “eliminate paper” and embrace a “cashless society”.
  • Consumer expectations of digital technologies are also changing. The majority already use AI-powered devices of service without actually realizing and understanding. Yet, when new tech products are introduced, they are often disappointed. The expectations are simply higher. Faster, safer and smarter services appear to be very attractive for consumers.

I am a believer in digital technologies and tend to focus on the many advantages that it brings today and will continue to bring in the future.

Computers, algorithms and big data improves our health and help medical doctors make better diagnoses. Sensors, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence leads to more transparency and a level playing field in the global food supply chain. Digital technology makes travel safer and more efficient. It results in more convenience and increased productivity. It also helps us be more creative (because we have to rely less on hierarchies and centralized systems). Finally, it facilitates financial inclusion in emerging economies.

Yet, I also realize that smart and connected digital technologies will have numerous challenges that cannot be ignored.

Large scale unemployment among both manual and knowledge workers is often mentioned. The same goes for social inequality as a result of automation. The concepts of privacy, data protection and ownership all have to be rethought.

This will be even more important when the IoT economy really takes off.

Machines and devices will act, interact and transact more often. They will also share data. The last thing you want is for your personal data to be shared with a “bad actor device”.

We should therefore turn our attention to potential issues and threats (without stifling innovation in a digital age).

How to Deal with the Digital Threat

Here we could learn from what’s currently happening in the ICO market.

The ICO has become a creative and largely unregulated way for startups to raise money while at the same time bypassing the traditional route of venture capital and banks.

Security breaches, cryptocurrency scams and a high failure rate (almost half of the ICOs of 2017 have already failed) have created attention-grabbing headlines. Yet, tech companies and investors are still using the “crypto-route” to raise money.

Monthly Investments into ICOs, Source: Bloomberg and CoinDesk

But regulators are stepping in, convinced that more regulation will provide the necessary trust and security.

There are four regulatory strategies to design a more trustworthy and secure environment:

  • Some countries prohibit ICOs.
  • Some countries choose to apply existing rules and regulations to new technologies.
  • Some countries focus on the regulation of the applications of the technology.
  • Some countries regulate the underlying technology (such as distributed ledger technology).

Yet, most countries stay silent as rules and regulations have a negative impact on innovation.

Those in charge of regulation also know that if the rules are too strict, ICOs and other digital applications will move to more friendly jurisdictions, which is economically and socially undesirable.

So, does this mean that we shouldn’t do anything and adopt a “wait and see” approach?

The answer is no.

But we shouldn’t focus on traditional models of rules and regulations. We shouldn’t introduce new regulations that are based on text, words, best-practices, guidelines and compliance.

We must realize that in the current digital age: rules, regulations and trust will increasingly be embedded in the technology itself.

To give you an example: I am very lucky to be involved in the Semada “blockchain” platform. The platform uses technology, algorithms and software code to implement governance, trust and security in the system of blockchain and smart contracts, potentially offering a solution to the problems and high failure rate of ICOs.

In a way, the platform attempts to “digitize” rules and regulations. The founders believe that we should not focus on traditional rules and regulations. We should find solutions that are embedded in tech.

The Co-Creation Economy

So, how can we deal with the current digital challenges and the technological disruption? How can we make sure that the trust is embedded in digital technologies?

The answer is “co-creation”.

New digital technologies and their applications must be “co-created” by technologists and non-technologists, including policymakers, regulators and start-up companies.

In order to become a co-creator, digital technologies (and the advantages and disadvantages) must be studied, understood and experimented with.

By doing so, innovation will be stimulated and encouraged while at the same time trustworthy and secure environments are guaranteed.

And there are other advantages to the co-creation model:

  • It will stimulate participation by all stakeholders.
  • It will offer (as much as possible) the necessary protection to all stakeholders.
  • It will empower communities and their stakeholders.

These advantages aren’t included in traditional regulations which are necessarily behind the fast-changing digital technologies.

Thank you for reading! Please click and hold the 👏 below, or leave a comment.

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