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Business technology: What will Britain look like in 2025?
At O2’s second annual Blue Door Conference in October, our keynote address came from Doctor of Technology and television presenter, Spencer Kelly. He shared his insights into three of the technology trends he believes will benefit businesses, and sought to answer a single question: What might Britain look like in 2025?
Connectivity is absolutely key for most of the innovations in technology we expect to see between now and 2025, according to Spencer. By then, much of the country will be connected by the 5G network, and millions – possibly billions – of devices will communicate and intelligently work with each other to improve our lives in ways we haven’t yet imagined.
In 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) will finally have come of age. Our smart, connected devices will enable us to control and reduce our energy consumption at home. Our home appliances will talk to each other, and our cars will be connected, communicating with other things around them; another vehicle, bicycle, traffic light, road hazard or car park at our destination.
Spencer offered us three examples of how connectivity could transform our workplaces and businesses too:
- The Intelligent Assistant (IA) that you’ve come to rely on at home (such as Alexa, Cortana and Siri) will get a smart upgrade for the office, says Spencer. Deploying natural language, it will perform actions like setting up conference calls, transcribing and distributing meeting notes and minutes, assigning action points, all captured and actioned by simply giving permissions for the IA to listen to selected conversations and meetings. All this reduces manual processes, allowing your people to focus on the creative aspects of their roles.
- Connected assets. Think of the benefits of having every part of your business connected and smart. Every vehicle in the fleet. Every item of stock. Every piece of machinery. But in 2025 we may have progressed further still. If each individual component of every piece of machinery is connected, your maintenance schedule is transformed. Now your machines are identifying wearing components before they fail, allowing pre-emptive actions to be taken, ensuring less down time.
- Connected efficiencies. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyse and interpret data collected by connected sensors, we will be able to benefit from all sorts of efficiencies to business processes. In agriculture, for example, networks of sensors in soil will monitor irrigation, nutrient and pesticide levels, ensuring the right balance at the right times to maximise crop yields. Meanwhile, food computers will control temperature, light and humidity, resulting in abundant, nutritious food grown more efficiently, in any climate and using fewer pesticides.
“Connectivity will certainly have a beneficial impact on business efficiency and productivity, prompting Spencer to conclude that “everything works better when devices are connected and communicating with each other.”
2. Display innovation and its impact on mobile technology
It’s hard to talk about the future of technology without considering the devices we carry around with us every day. History shows that advances in technology often lead to a reduction in a product’s size, but this isn’t true of our mobile devices because of our desire for bigger, higher resolution screens to cope with our appetite to consume content. It’s why many of the mobile phones we use today are actually bigger than the ones we slipped into our pocket more than a decade ago.
So what’s the solution? Have our mobile devices reached their optimum size? Not necessarily, according to Spencer, who has seen several advances in technology that will redefine fundamentally the form a mobile device can take.
We’ve seen already some of these innovations emerge, like the first foldable smartphones and tablets from Huawei and Samsung that provide form factors that can change as needed – from mobile phone to tablet. But others are considering entirely new approaches that separate device and screen, including:
- Displays, thinner than paper, that can be rolled or folded up and stored in your bag until you need them.
- Transparent displays that can take advantage of any flat surface, like a glass table or the windscreen of your car.
- Floating, touch sensitive displays which only require a curtain of mist to appear in front of you.
- Contact lenses that project your device’s screen straight onto your retina.
By 2025, your screen may no longer be connected to your device, separating the computing aspect and the display. This allows us to look again at the size, shape and form of the devices we use. If you have a virtual display, why not a virtual keyboard or mouse?
In 2025, we will still be carrying around devices that perform similar roles to the smartphones, tablets and laptop form factors we’re used to today. But they’ll more than likely adapt to the content you’re using, use edge-based computing to maximise battery life, and have different ways to interact with the content.
3. The marriage between automation and AI
Physical automation, or what we might call ‘jobs done by robots’, is nothing new. Think of a car manufacturing plant, and you probably picture a row of robots welding hundreds of identical seams, or fitting thousands of components, more quickly and efficiently than any human.
When physical automation is coupled with AI, however, we open up entirely new opportunities for the way we work. In the future, Spencer suggests, automation will reach many of the jobs that we thought were immune. He gave us a number of examples, including Amelia, the call centre chatbot from IPsoft, that can programme itself based on lessons learned from human operators. Or how about the computer program that writes computer programs? Or Spatial, the productivity application that lets you collaborate with clients and colleagues from anywhere using Augmented Reality (AR)?
All these are still some way off, and they may not be in our daily lives by 2025. But one marriage between physical automation and artificial intelligence almost certainly will be: autonomous vehicles. We’ve talked about them for a long time, but by 2025 driverless vehicles could be on our roads.
The momentum may come from the freight sector in the US, where the long and relatively straight freeways connecting major cities seem tailor made for self-driven trucks and lorries. In the UK, it could come from public transport. Stagecoach has already begun the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus trials, and last year the government announced Scotland’s first self-driving bus trial between Fife and Edinburgh planned for next year, with the service aiming to launch in 2021.
Whatever the position in 2025, Spencer sees autonomous vehicles as more than just a technology innovation. In fact, they have the potential to bring about a big, societal change.
Think of your self-driving car as your private, autonomous public transport. If your car is driving you to work in the morning, and then picking you up at the end of the day, then why do you need to own that vehicle? Why couldn’t it pick someone else up, and drop them off, before coming back for you? Could the driverless car actually herald a reduction in car ownership?
If it does, what would that mean for the fate of the car park? How would cities need to adjust their infrastructure to support more vehicles on the road during peak periods? Do city planners need to make provision for adaptable traffic conditions, and accommodate automated refuelling/recharging stations?
And how does this provision fit in a world where better connectivity allows us to tele-commute, in a virtual sense rather than physically? Much of this will be driven by user adoption. And that might not just be settled by advances in technology, but rather the acceptance of new technologies, and of new ways of working.
We’ll be reporting other highlights from O2’s Blue Door Conference in the next few weeks. In the interim, how is technology affecting the sector you work in? Do you expect to see substantial changes in the way you work, or the way that you interact and communicate with your customers? We’d love to hear from you. Let us know on Twitter.