What kind of solutions could technology provide to meet the hierarchy of needs and build better cities?
I think one of the more important things to look at – and it’s really important for the future – is the ability to make data accessible to citizens. Through this they can be more active in the community, including economically. They can create more revenue, which will benefit that location, potentially making it a desirable place to be and to visit. It’s important because everybody is fighting with each other to be the new Silicon Valley, so I tend to advise differently on how to approach it and suggest not necessarily trying to create a carbon copy.
As I mentioned before, in terms of service delivery, there are potentials for distributing medical supplies and treatment. There is a huge shortage of doctors in South Africa because most trained doctors go overseas to earn more money and they don’t go to the rural areas, where they are most needed. As a result, we’re forced to get doctors who have just graduated from university to spend a year in these places. The advent of smart technologies means we can now use artificial intelligence to provide video connections and doctors can treat patients from a distance. It is also possible to do things like X-rays remotely, which can be picked up by AI and there’s also the potential to do much better work with getting the right medications to the right places. I believe that you can use these technologies as services that can start providing decent medical care.
Clearly there’s some amazing potential for technology to bring about positive change, but there’s also some ethical issues and uncertainty, especially around a company like Huawei. What’s your experience there?
It’s interesting to me that everybody’s worrying about that tech, when Amazon can pull your data down and quote everything you’re saying through Alexa, yet with Huawei it’s all open source and open standard. It’s the only technology in the world, which has been analyzed right down to its code level by a special unit at GCHQ in England – there is no other company which gets taken apart and looked at so closely. You can get those reports and they’ll tell you everything. If there are ways to get the data, it’s because of incompetence or neglect rather than intent. Personally, I don’t think it’s that much of a threat.
In terms of the ethical issues around personal data and the power of tech companies, it comes back to service delivery again – tech companies rent services to us now, when before we would have bought them outright, for example, formerly we would have bought Microsoft Office, and now we rent Office 365 as a subscription. It is getting harder to do these things ourselves. It gives a lot of power to the companies offering the services, and a lot of access to our information, while they need an awful lot of power to make it function. When we’re working with this service model, there are various challenges around the ethics of the technology, the control of data and data ownership.
There are lots of questions around technology and ethics, especially as new smart technologies continue to develop. What do you see as the things that we need to be preparing for as business owners or as business leaders in the next five years in terms of technology?
Recently we have moved into unchartered territory where in a 2-3-month period, as a result of the COVID pandemic, we’ve jumped five years forward in terms of people’s acceptance of digital technology, through the use of Zoom, social media and other virtual forms of communication. It has moved forward much quicker than anybody expected, which means there’s going to be a mass scramble to build the infrastructure to be able to support, build and drive these changes. Due to what we’re seeing now, we’re going to shift a lot more towards the cloud, which will be too difficult for anybody to actually maintain on their own premises. There’s also the skills shortage, which is going to get severe. We have in most of the developed world an ageing population, which will not be able to sustain this work and there’s not enough young people coming through to keep it going.
What can be done to prepare better for the future and plug the skills gap?
We’re going to have to see a lot more optimization and concentrating of skills around these technologies. I tend to look to the young and to innovation hubs, which I’ve recently started lecturing at. It’s time to see the young, get to know them and encourage them to come up with the ideas to take it forward because I think the young can handle the current technology better than anyone else.