For the first time human life changed significantly in the 20th century after several centuries of incremental progress. After hundreds of years of social, economic and political change, technology was the harbinger of a complete transformation. Commercial electricity, automobiles, aircraft, refrigeration, radar, sound recording, radio, film, television, x-rays, rayon, aspirin, antibiotics, organ transplants, transistors, microchips, nuclear power, spaceflights, genetic engineering, ATMs, credit cards, mobile phone, computers, robotics Internet and the whole gamut of digital services, around which our lives revolve all in the course of a few decades altered our human society. The speed of change has only increased. Since the turn of the millennium, we have already discarded some of the things which came into existence in our childhood. E-commerce shared services and AI are creating a new ecosystem of 24 & 7 engagement and consumption. What will come in the next 10 years will supersede a lot of what came in fifty years earlier, including some products and services we consider au courant and new age today.
The most obvious change in the next decade will still be in the digital domain. While it may seem that we are already submerged in a sea of devices and media constantly glaring at us through various screens. The next iteration of all such familiar services will be smarter, effective and personal. With faster and more powerful microchips AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be the framework of tomorrow's mindscape. What exactly is AI? Simply put AI is the use of massive amounts of data that is processed through machine learning to mimic human intelligence. A computer or any other device with a microchip to process data acquires an ability to respond to certain actions and behavior through the use of algorithms in a manner the user would have in a similar situation. We already see AI being used in several home appliances or even websites like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and online news services. Depending on your viewing pattern content is served (and suggested) for you to read, listen or watch. Newer models of cars have AI embedded in their navigation system. In the years to come most of our mundane and routine tasks will be done by machines, often very inexpensive and omnipresent. Much of the tedium and often dangerous work will be tackled by AI-assisted service providers and devices. Smart homes and cities which for example Prime Minister Modi keeps talking about are not some Utopian dreams but tomorrow's reality.
Sine 2015-16 we are using Web 3.0 as the overlay of our digital universe. This is a Semantic web that incorporates Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Data Mining, Natural Language Search and Machine Learning technologies, Social Media, Internet of Things (IoT) and other customized online services including social media and streaming services. By 2025 we should usher in Web 4.0. This next development of the Internet will create services that will be autonomous, proactive, self-learning, collaborative and safe and secure, interacting with sensors and implants, natural-language services, or virtual reality. In simple terms, it means self-driving cars, remote diagnostics, and surgery, instant accounting, virtual reality in films and gaming, curated content and commerce, voice-activated devices and services, virtual assistants, digital concierge, and smart homes and offices. Blockchain ensures flawless data analytics and transparency in every transaction. From utility bills to land records, banking to governance all enabled seamlessly. The role of JAM (Jandhan Bank Account, Aadhar, and Mobile) along with India stack is what will enable the big leap forward in India-similar initiatives at different scales elsewhere too. While most are familiar with JAM, India Stack is less known. This truly empowering technology is the creation of a unified software platform that brings a billion-plus Indians into the digital age. A set of API (application programming interface)s that allows governments, businesses, start-ups, shop keepers, merchants and traders and soon farmers to utilize a unique digital Infrastructure to solve India's hard problems. Initially championed by Nandan Nilekani India Stacks is going to be a force multiplier in our lives tomorrow. Almost any service can be used anywhere in the world using a particular API and this infrastructure is cheap and convenient. There are concerns about privacy and data theft which I will tackle later in this article.
One of the fundamental principles of anything which is shared is trust. In a networked society that is increasingly based on a transactional economy or shared information, it is imperative that this trust is not only apparent but is inbuilt in the architecture of all contracts, monetary or otherwise. Today and in future blockchain provides trust and transparency. In a way similar to how Wikipedia is built where anyone can identify herself and participate in creating a shared resource, a blockchain, too, is just an immutable of record of data that is managed by cluster (or more) of computers and every bit of this data is simultaneously visible to all who are a part of the particular blockchain. It's a shared ledger that transparently records every transaction in real-time. Since each block of data is secured and bound to each other using cryptography it is entirely trustworthy. Blockchain is now used in social networks, banking, e-commerce, governance, Industry, security, trade, taxation, storage platforms, Intellectual Property Protection (IPR), education, content production, and distribution. In the next few years, blockchain will be the digital backbone of our existence. Cryptocurrency Bitcoin was the first to popularize blockchain but even in 2019, it is a bit unconventional to find mass acceptance. In India for example blockchain in the years to come will allow instant polling in a fully transparent manner eliminating a lot of costs and political bickering. Internet of Things (IoT) is dependent on blockchain as is autonomous mobility.
In the last 50 years owing to advances in science and technology-enabled healthcare humans are living longer. Thus for the first time, the world is faced with a demographic dilemma. How to take care of an increased number of geriatrics even as it grapples to treat millions of people suffering from various small and terminal ailments. There have been substantial breakthroughs in medicine. Vaccines for diseases like smallpox, measles, rotavirus, polio, yellow fever, rabies, hepatitis, HIV to common ailments like influenza and pneumonia are saving millions of lives every year. Digital technology is now routinely used for diagnostics. CAT Scan, MRI, Ultra Sound Scan, Doppler have in the recent past changed both the speed and accuracy of curative and palliative care. In the coming years, not only smartphones but other inexpensive wearables will allow almost anyone to monitor body functions. Blockchain will allow a healthcare professionals with access to a mobile phone to access the most advanced advice. Robotic surgery will in the next decade become miniaturized and much more ubiquitous. The most pressing need for the healthcare industry is to upgrade skills. Medical education has to move beyond Gray's Anatomy and stethoscope to next-gen healthcare. 60 percent of the world's population still has little access to a doctor or a hospital. Broadband and blockchain will empower even a paramedic or midwife to be able to provide first point care to the sick and injured. New digital tools paired with AI analytics will almost certainly boost diagnosticians' accuracy and speed, improving disease detection at early stages and thus raising the odds of successful treatment or cure.
Living well and longer are two primordial human obsessions. Helping us to be healthier for longer in the next decade will be rapid advances in genetic engineering, new age diagnostics, and stem cell therapy. As more research is done in genomics, microbiome and molecular biology we can expect the beginning of a new range of pharmaceuticals. Although we have had pacemakers and other simple implantable devices like contact lenses and cochlear aids for years the next decade will see the advent of IEMDs such as phrenic nerve stimulation to restore breathing function in patients with breathing disorders, glucose sensors for diabetics, sacral nerve stimulation for patients with bladder disorders, and implantable drug delivery systems. Epilepsy, Alzheimer's and other neurological illnesses will be treated by electrochemical sensors and miniature tissue oxygenators and drug delivery systems will be introduced within the next decade. Immunology, 3 D printed organs and Cancer treatment are other areas where data analytics and web-based tools will help tomorrow's healthcare professionals a lot. For billions of people around the world, these small scientific interventions may be the difference between life and death. However, the physical presence and skill of a doctor will be the basis of all technological advancements in medicine. In fact, technology is opening up several new opportunities for employment in diagnostic centers in small towns, even villages, online supply and delivery of medicines and other medical goods. Riding on Internet schemes like Ayushman Bharat will not only provide affordable healthcare to the poorer sections of India but also provide employment to young paramedics, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals across various touchpoints.
There are other changes in the offing. Most of these too are web-based technologies like cloud computing, AI, VR, Blockchain, Robotics, and Machine learning. According to a McKinsey report released in 2017, 800 million people around the world will lose their jobs in ten years due to automation. I believe while the actual job losses will exceed a billion, several hundred million will get redeployed in other jobs that the digital value chain creates. We have seen while e-commerce has displaced traditional merchants and shopkeepers, it has created perhaps a larger number of jobs in logistics, customer experience, and transportation. In India hundreds of thousands of artisans, craftspeople and small merchants were getting bogged down by a shortage of capital or changing of customer preferences. I recently bought a handcrafted lace table cloth from Amazon. After that, I got a message from an artisan based in South India who was the actual supplier. He messaged me a list of other items he could custom make for me and I did place a small order with him directly. When I called him up he said Amazon has changed his life by enlarging his customer base manifold that he now employs 12 people in his new workshop. In the last decade, we have seen how mobile phones empowered our neighborhood vegetable seller or fisherwoman. I spend regular periods in a village in Himachal. I am surprised at the speed which phones and the Internet are transforming the lives of these simple hill folk especially youngsters. This non-formal economy is where the growth will happen in the next decade. So expect more services like home improvement, repair & maintenance and sundry other service providers riding the digital infrastructure. So more Urban Claps, Zomatos, Just Dials, Swiggys, Groffers, Country Delight, Home Advisors, Prato, 1mg, etc all offering convenience to consumers and employment to others.
Transport is another area that will see a radical change. In 10 years more than half the automobiles in the world will switch to non-fossil fuel engines, largely electric. Of course, solar-powered vehicles, hydrogen cell cars will also appear on the road before the end of the next decade. Autonomous mobility should be a reality in the next five years. A switch to shared self-driving vehicles is already exciting for the large automakers to innovate and customize their product portfolio. The self-driving car market should start coming into its own in 10 years. In India, the Metro network will grow exponentially even as shared mobility expands. Maglev trains and vehicles and Hyperloop should be visible in some countries. Traffic management will be entirely managed by computers and GPS will sit on the AI engine. However, there is a limit to how many more vehicles the existing infrastructure even after upgradation can support. Obviously by the end of decade reverse migration from large metropolises will begin as newer towns and cities emerge. More airports and intra-city helicopter services will necessary. Smaller air ambulances will make an appearance. Drones will be a common form of delivery for various kinds of packages besides being used for security and surveillance.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.