2018 could be a watershed moment for AI and Robotics, as the telecoms industry looks to invest in critical infrastructure

As the new year rolls around, so too comes the inevitable flood of articles predicting the "top trends for 2018". While it is easy to feel a little overdosed on the eternal optimism and fanfare that these articles tend to churn out, they do offer a really good insight into how developments in the telecoms sector could influence and govern our lives in the years to come.

This is particularly true when looking at the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and broader technological advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. The potential for these sub-sectors to revolutionise every aspect of our daily lives is hard to overstate. For example, it is already possible for a person to control a robotic arm, using the power of thought alone. With these technologies still in their infancy, the question remains how quickly will this potential be realised?

Many articles predicted that 2018 will be the year that prioritise investment in the basic infrastructure upon which these future technologies will be built.

"Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) were the buzzwords for 2017. In the next 12 months, we expect to see more businesses finding ways to make these technologies work for them. AI and digital communications for example have the potential to deliver further improvements in customer experience and help to deliver business gains when companies embed them into their core processes," said Anne Sheehan, enterprise director, Vodafone UK.


Making the impossible possible

But why should the industry invest in the next generation of AI and Robotics technologies? It’s enormously expensive and nobody wants to plough that much money into anything without a plan in place for how exactly they will recoup a return on that investment.  

A recent article in The Economist argued that advancements in Smart Medicine and Bio-Implants could revolutionise the way we treat illnesses and disability. Indeed, they could radically redefine the boundaries between human and machine.

By acting as a mediator between brain and machine, Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology allows people to control machines using the power of thought alone. The technology is still in its infancy, yet it is already possible for a paralysed person to use a robotic arm to feed themselves, using only brain power. The potential for technologies like these to evolve and grow is seemingly unlimited. Currently BCI technology is only capable of communicating with a few hundred of the 85 billion neurons in the human brain. However, increased computing power and advanced chip manufacturing are opening the door for the creation of new BCIs, capable of communicating with hundreds of thousands of neurones. This in turn could open the gates for a new generation of bio-mechanical implants and enhancements that could revolutionise modern medicine, blurring the lines between robot and human as they do so.  

Granted, the dawn of a Blade Runneresque world where mechanically enhanced humans enter a new age of near immortality is not one of the predictions for 2018. I may be going a little off-piste here, but it is worth considering where this path could take us. Investing in the critical infrastructure upon that will support these advancements is the first step of that journey.


Cloud coverage

Whether it’s smart healthcare, automated factory workforces or self-driving cars, the innovations of tomorrow will be contingent upon cloud based applications.

In 2018 a number of industry leaders have already pledged to focus their attention on the realm of cloud computing.

"We are resolutely accelerating the digital transformation of companies and organizations around the globe. We continue to enhance our products and solutions – specifically in cloud, campus networks, data centres, and IoT – which have all seen wide application in smart city and safe city projects, as well as in the finance, energy, transportation, and manufacturing sectors," said Ken, rotating CEO of Huawei in his New Year’s message.

In 2017 Huawei created its Cloud Business Unit, to accelerate its focus on cloud-based solutions.

"Since the formation of the Cloud Business Unit, resource utilisation and our number of cloud users have both tripled. In 2017, after announcing plans to collaborate more broadly on a range of public cloud offerings, we have forged over 1,000 strategic partnerships around the world," Hu added.  

New research, conducted by the Synergy Research Group, shows that revenues in the Cloud Computing sub-sector increased at a compound annual growth rate of 24% in 2017. This growth in revenues has prompted further investment from the industry’s key players.

“We tagged 2015 as the year when cloud became mainstream and 2016 as the year when cloud started to dominate many IT market segments. In 2017 cloud was the new normal,” said John Dinsdale, a chief analyst and research director at Synergy Research Group.

“Major barriers to cloud adoption are now almost a thing of the past, with previously perceived weaknesses such as security now often seen as strengths. Cloud technologies are now generating massive revenues for cloud service providers and technology vendors and we forecast that current market growth rates will decline only slowly over the next five years.”

Whatever 2018 brings, it is unlikely that the global telecoms sector will see any seismic shifts. However, well placed investments in AI, Robotics and IoT technology could be the first step on the road to a more technologically ambitious tomorrow.




Friday Review  –  5th January 2018