The speed of technological change makes it hard for businesses to bet on what the future will look like or their place in it, but we know enough to start making plans. We know from here-and-now technologies like cloud, AI and early iterations of the metaverse that we are heading into a digitally enhanced world, where old rules defined by the offline world may no longer apply.
Everything will change as the physical world comes alive with new capabilities. How work is carried out and the way products are brought to market will be as radically different to what we look back at now as the pre-internet world. As a business and a workplace, leaders need to start thinking about their relationship to a new playbook that is still being written.
While most of the Ireland executives interviewed in our 2022 Technology Vision report (‘Meet Me In The Metaverse’) believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on their businesses, only 26 percent are saying it will have a transformational impact, much lower than the global figure of 42 percent. With this in mind, I would urge Irish business leaders to focus on four factors highlighted in the report that will ensure companies keep up with the next wave of digital transformation.
1. WebMe: Putting the ‘me’ in Metaverse
Perhaps the biggest change will be in the way we interact with the internet. Instead of clicking on a disparate collection of sites and apps, you will enter a persistent 3D environment where you can move seamlessly move between your own virtual workplace and social platforms. It will be your world, defined by your choices.
Two areas of innovation will make it happen: the metaverse, which is the platform that provides the digital experience, and Web3, a decentralised version of the internet that will reinvent how data moves through it. Together they provide the building blocks for a new kind of digital experience. It must be intuitive to use – the metaverse part – and safe, which is where Web3 comes in. By letting people control their own data, Web3 will inspire trust and confidence in the platform’s veracity.
2. Programmable World: Personalising our Environments
Emerging technologies like 5G, AI and augmented and virtual reality will allow the virtual world to be woven into the fabric of the physical world in ways we are only beginning to see. Smart devices will be the great enabler, leveraging advances in natural language processing and edge computing to provide an ambient layer across both physical and virtual environments that is persistent and familiar.
Crucially, people will be able to control the combined worlds and choose what they see and how they interact with them. Customisation and automation will make it a highly personalised experience. It’s not hard to imagine how businesses might build these experiences into manufacturing or customer-facing services, reinventing their operations as the physical world becomes more like the internet.
3. The Unreal: Making the Synthetic Authentic
Prepare for ethical discussions about whether it matters if we are interacting with something that is unreal, such as synthetic data and human machines powered by AI. The use of both will depend on context and authenticity, determined by purpose, provenance, policies and the people that have designed them. Executed properly, the reward will be more seamless experiences and novel interactions with AI that will save time and resources.
Setting up synthetic data to correct a programming error or a machine to run a more efficient service will be easier, but businesses will also need to know how to correct data bias and protect data privacy. To make AI fair and secure, they will need to be clear on policies and appoint people who can steer them on the right course, because cyber crime will proliferate with deepfake content and more sophisticated malware bots.
4. Computing the Impossible: Unlock New Frontiers with New Cachines
A new class of machines with astonishing compute power will reset the boundaries of what businesses can achieve, not least by enabling the three factors above. Problems that proved hard to solve in the past, because of cost, IT inefficiencies or simply because the technology wasn’t able, will be cracked with tools like quantum computing, biomimicry and biocompute.
Companies need to start thinking about what the extended boundaries will mean for their industry as previously intractable problems are solved. Think of the consequences in financial services, for example, if modelling risk was easier and accurately predicting stock market movements attainable.
What we’re talking about is evolution rather than revolution, a continuum from technologies we are already using today. But the leaps when they come will be big and businesses need to prepare in the best way they can or risk missing out on new paths to competitive advantage. That means forging relationships with trusted technology partners who can take you to the leading edge and nurturing the internal skills needed to keep you there.