The toolkit for societal progress is digital – let’s not skip reading the manual

© George Rudy/Shutterstock
9 November 2017

Tomorrow’s workplace will not be run by machines, but by highly-skilled workers assisted by intelligent devices. Academia and business must join forces now to get them ready

The race is on for Europe to lead the world in next-gen digital technologies, but an often-voiced concern is that progress is happening too fast. Too fast for what? For societies and mindsets to adapt of course, for regulation to keep pace, for safeguards to be put in place, for curricula to be updated, for skills to be acquired, for businesses to be restructured, and for habits to be changed.

Technological progress is a given, but we scramble to keep up with it rather than anticipating and preparing for its outcomes. Predicting scientific evolution in the longer term may be the stuff of science fiction, but based on current projections and ongoing research, we can make certain educated guesses about our technological near future:
 

  • Market-ready 5G technology is just around the corner. With its expected advent in 2020, seamless, ubiquitous connectivity will be available across Europe, speeding up advances in other key areas of digital change.
  • The Internet of Things will reach around 24 billion connected devices by that time, generating new growth and new opportunities, and transforming industries and lifestyles.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) ‘feeds’ on Big Data; with more data being collated every day, more intelligence is being embedded into devices, machines and systems.
  • These three key technologies drive mutual progress, delivering vertical concepts such as smart cities, smart factories or robots, and triggering holistic change in the process.

A number of hurdles, including technological, spectrum and infrastructure requirements, need to be overcome before these technologies can be deployed on the announced scale and within the expected deadlines. However, we do not need to wait for these obstacles to be overcome before addressing their consequences – in fact, we cannot afford to do so. To enjoy the full benefits of these amazing new tools, we need quite literally to learn how to use them, how to keep them up-to-date, and how to keep them safe.

The machines are not taking over

The good news first: we are not about to step into a future ruled by robots. While the body of scientific evidence suggests that AI and digital technologies in general will have a significant impact on many job profiles, especially mid-wage occupations, it also hints to faster growth among occupations involving computers and a rising demand for new skills and profiles.

There is no room for complacency though. Change is underway, it will impact our workplace and we need to prepare for it now. The better coordinated the collaboration between research, education and private business, the better equipped we will be to reap tomorrow’s opportunities. This cooperation will embed research, training, knowledge and resources in a framework where the three work hand-in-hand to foster the right skills for a changing global marketplace, and to ensure that the take-up of new technologies is smooth and sustainable, that their deployment is secure and that the benefits are evenly spread across society.

Learning from successful hubs

Last year, a Science|Business report commissioned by Huawei highlighted European tech clusters as a flagship example of how this approach is successfully being put in practice already. Munich, Greater London and Stockholm are among 10 European digital hubs where sustainable economic growth goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection, better services, strong connectivity, and ground-breaking innovation – all thanks to efficient collaboration between local firms, research sites, universities and public authorities playing a facilitator role.

We now need to look at how we can use those success stories as blueprints for turning the whole of Europe into a successful digital hub. Collaboration across vertical industries, and between research and business, is springing up everywhere. As a company, Huawei is living up to this idea, cooperating with over 150 academic institutions across Europe and working with over 200 scholars and experts. Our Seeds for the Future training scheme is helping to bridge the divide between curricula and the changing workplace, by offering hands-on training in China to over 2 000 European students by 2020.

The questions of how we can break down cultural and political barriers holding back the digital transformation of Europe, prevent digital inequalities and address privacy and security concerns linked to data will be at the heart of debates at a Brussels conference organised by Huawei in partnership with Science|Business on 24 November 2017.

“The Digital Transformation of Europe - How the Internet of Things, 5G and artificial intelligence will change Europe” will bring together policymakers, academics, business leaders and other experts to discuss the way forward.

Find out more and join the debate