The Invisible Force
We live in the age of an IT revolution. Information technology has become ubiquitous and human-centric, offering much sought-after services that are safe, analytical, and invisible.
Four core trends dominate today’s information technology domain. The first trend relates to the analysis and use of unstructured data that cannot be described using one specific algorithm. The world is overflowing with data like that, which is often referred to as ‘big data.’
Let’s use pictures as an example since everyone loves taking them. It would be virtually impossible to find a specific photo in your archive, even if your wife used a description like, “We were on vacation in Thailand or the Philippines – I guess it was back in 2006 – and I was wearing my red blouse and standing next to a big rock.” And could you tell Baroque and Rococo architecture apart just by taking a picture of a building?
Today, there are new ways to find, analyze, save, and safely transfer data. This information may help you manage your work and household, and organize your daily life. You can use this information to analyze everything from traffic to cyclones and make decisions accordingly. For instance, public transport and taxis in Tokyo use specific tracking devices to collect terabytes of road traffic data. The system automatically manages traffic light response and timing to optimize traffic flow. In other words, big data analysis leads to value-added innovations based on scientific methods.
The second trend revolves around safety and security. Information is a currency of sorts, that may be accessed by unauthorized users. If access to personal data is money-driven, what sort of protection needs to be deployed to realistically make such information safe? In today’s world, one does not need to have nuclear weapons to paralyze a country’s infrastructure – all it takes is a couple of serious cyber attacks.
The third pillar of today’s information society is mobility. This phenomenon pervades every aspect of our business and daily life. We have a situation where every manager, businessman, and user has access to every part of the globe. Back in 2006, I could hardly imagine not coming in to work every day. Today, it no longer matters where people are located, and the notion of vacation has become very relative. Mobility gives rise to a new quality of management.
The fourth trend is literally hidden behind the first three – information technology is becoming invisible, as ordinary as a TV or refrigerator in our home. The vast majority of people would not be able to explain how these things work, but what would happen if we were to disable IT? For instance, what if Wi-Fi were to disappear? How do we feel if we call someone and they don’t respond in a matter of hours even though we know they should be available? Panic sets in.
The IT world is not without its problems, chief of which is the lack of qualified specialists with the proper education, knowledge, and skills. No matter what we teach students today, five years from now technologies will be far more advanced. But while in the past solid IT specialists were few and far between, today universities offering IT degrees are experiencing unprecedented demand, and many experts have even been trained abroad. Furthermore, IT capitalizes on human potential regardless of experience. I know around 80 specialists, aged 15 to 17, who have become successful in the IT sector and now overseas companies are fighting to snatch them up.
The second difficulty is that this area remains largely unexplored. We are learning just as technology continues to develop and new challenges emerge. Information technology is a fickle friend – it is impossible to predict what will be needed tomorrow. That is why, often times, there is no return on the investments we make. Companies invest millions, confident that they are building a cutting-edge information system, when all of a sudden someone comes up with a different solution. In the end, it turns out that there was no need to build your own data center, but instead should have set up an application that enabled you to use the data center as a service.
I am convinced that two to three years from now, social networks as we know them today will become defunct. They will change and evolve, and will most likely be re-organized into specific communities. It will become easier for me to send a message to a specific group of people.
Another challenge relates to innovation. If innovation does not yield profits, it is not innovation, but a waste of money. In this sense, information technology is a tool that needs to be used. Gone are the days when new discoveries were made in a lab. Today’s geneticists and pharmacologists make breakthroughs through simulations using molecular genetics databases and deciphering genome sequences. This is the only way to find a cure for modern diseases, and soon enough they will probably find the cure for AIDS or cancer this way.
The BRICS countries also have their fair share of IT problems. Brazil and Russia are suffering from the resource curse – both countries have huge potential but limited populations. On the one hand, there are people to divert skills toward, but on the other, there are many education challenges.
Russia’s economy has its own unique characteristics; it finds itself in a world on the other side of the looking glass. I can’t think of a single sector of the economy that is not plagued by corruption. For a customer in this country, information technology is an economic hurdle. Imagine if information technology became truly ubiquitous – financial transactions would be fully transparent and low tax jurisdictions would become obsolete. Who would stand to benefit from that? To an extent, this problem also exists in the other BRICS countries.
India and China are a separate chapter. If the middle class in these countries, estimated at 200 to 300 million people, produced at least one million innovators, it would result in a technological explosion. These countries are capable of shedding their dependence on Western technologies; it is dangerous that we are all ‘addicted’ to Windows and Linux, sitting and waiting for new chips to be produced in Thailand, Taiwan, or the Philippines.
A world without countries
Still, I remain convinced that there are no developed or developing countries. In today’s world, where borders are becoming ever fuzzier and communications continue to evolve, we need to build our discourse around a global community. When it comes to the standard of living and levels of consumption, the developing countries are certainly different from the developed world. However, when it comes to the IT sector, the function of consumption remains the same: everyone needs a computer, communication, and access to specific resources.
Information technology is an invisible tool and a brick in the foundation of a new reality. I am confident that everything moves in a spiral – both the sanctions and difficult times will pass. However, the world will no longer be ruled by countries, parties, classes, or interests – it will be ruled by science, innovation, and new technology. This will be a human-centric society in which the identity of each member will exist in harmony, and not in conflict with the rest of humanity. This will be a world characterized by a multitude of analytical models created by a supercomputer. This is what the 21st century is going to be all about.