Digital technologies are growing faster than ever. From diagnostic tools for doctors, and renewable energy supplies, to advanced robotics and autonomous vehicles, significant breakthroughs are happening across disciplines. These high-impact technological advances all have one thing in common: they are all powered by cloud computing and related technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
76% of enterprises report that their most successful cloud initiative drove expansion into new industries - IBM Institute for Business Value
Many scientists think we are on the cusp of seeing emerging technologies having a significant impact on how society and industry operate in the next five to ten years. Blesson Varghese, Director of Edge Computing Hub, University of St Andrews, believes we’re going to see the golden era of cloud computing in the next decade. “I believe the services that it will offer will drive the digital transformation of this world,” says Varghese. Yangqing Jia, Senior Fellow of the Computing Platform BU, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, thinks we are seeing a potential eruption of application innovation thanks to technological change and development.
From ride-sharing to product recommendations, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already part of our daily lives. In the near future, in combination with high-performance computing power, AI is set to help turbo-charge the development of products and services.
AI has the potential to drive an economic boost of US$14 trillion across 16 industries in 12 economies by 2035 - Accenture
A 2018 study by Deloitte found that consumer attitudes towards self-driving cars is changing, with one of the biggest turnarounds in perception coming from China where only 26% of consumers think autonomous cars will not be safe, down significantly from 2017’s 62%. In the US, 47% of consumers now think self-driving cars will not be safe, compared to 74% in 2017.
Futurist Haresh Shah believes we will eventually shift entirely from human-driven cars to self-driving vehicles that will talk to each other and the road. According to Shah, this will have a significant impact on efficiency and safety: “Your route from point A to point B will be rendered intelligent, so that every vehicle is allocated the fastest, most efficient route possible, while at the same time minimizing road congestion and ensuring road safety.”
57% said Connected & Autonomous Vehicle technologies would improve their quality of life - PwC Survey
There is also an environmental impact of reducing congestion, particularly in the logistics industry where GPS sensors are able to stream data to distribution centers which can guide trucks around traffic hot spots and towards lower traffic density areas. Similar benefits can be found in the aviation industry. Alibaba has collaborated with Huangzhou airport, where its headquarters are located, to build an aviation brain project. Leveraging GPS information, Alibaba built a digital twin of the airport. This allows the air traffic control staff to work out which runways are the most congested and shows them how to operate the airport more efficiently. Jia says the benefits are multifold: “It’s good for the passengers. It’s good for the flight companies. It’s good for fuel consumption, and it’s good for the environment.”
The demand for sustainability action is increasing, with many businesses facing regulations on climate risk mitigation and greenhouse gas emissions as well as pressure from consumers and employees. Many cloud data centers use 75-percent less energy than a typical corporate data center. They contribute to a more circular economy by designing, building, deploying and recycling hardware. This reduces waste and helps achieve net-zero carbon.
By 2024, cloud computing can reduce CO2 emissions by 1 billion metric tons - IDC
As Blesson Varghese explains, we are not yet at a point where the global demand for energy can be met by renewable sources, requiring forecasting to optimize usage. “Artificial intelligence technologies backed by the cloud are able to predict peak demands, and map that data onto when and where renewable sources of energy are available so that it can create an excellent plan of supply and demand for the grid,” says Varghese. AI can process large amounts of different data, from satellite images to local readouts of temperature and humidity, and combine it with historical data to predict very accurately, what the weather will look like in the next hour in any given field, and given direction.
Advances in AI could also have a major impact on the healthcare industry. Doctors, for example, spend a long time memorizing symptoms related to a variety of conditions. AI could be used to assist doctors in identifying symptoms and prescribing medicines or treatments for a particular disease or condition.
71% of companies indicate they are cloud-enabled innovators - IBM Institute for Business Value
There is a common fear that AI will replace jobs. However, this assumes there is an overabundance of trained professionals willing and able to take up jobs. The reality in many parts of the world is that there is actually a labour shortage, particularly in medical and healthcare systems.
In China, for example, there were just 2.9 general practitioners per 10,000 people in 2019. Jia says doctors could be helped to treat many more patients during their working day, “AI could make one doctor work 10 times more efficiently and that can only be a good thing.” AI can also be used to screen for serious diseases such as cancer at scale. Using AI programs trained on thousands of ultrasound images, doctors will more easily be able to identify cancer recurrence and metastasis with higher accuracy.
The robotics industry is also expected to grow significantly over the next few years. Boston Consulting Group estimates the global robotics market will climb to $260 billion by 2030. One use will be to help in dangerous environments such as disaster recovery zones. With the development of natural language processing and speech recognition robots will also be able to assist people with navigation. Already in China and other countries, robot assistants are being used to guide people around hotels and shopping malls. Advances in this technology could see robots being used in place of seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired.
Thirty-five percent of service companies will introduce physical robot workers in 2022 - Forrester
Robots will also play an important role in the factory of the future. Cloud computing will enable robots to store their own data, process their own maintenance records, and essentially do whatever they need to do to operate by themselves whether connected to a centralized system or not. With the advent of autonomous vehicles that can do pick-ups and deliveries, Harish Shah sees a future in which the entire B2B process is entirely automated, “we are looking at a future that's within reach where from production - starting from the very raw materials that enter a factory space to the warehouse - to the delivery to a business retailer or a physical store, or directly to a customer, is entirely humanless.”
The metaverse is a virtual reality world where people can have three dimensional experiences with other human beings or automated processes. According to a Bloomberg report, global metaverse revenue opportunities could approach $800 billion in 2024.
Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Director of Cloud Architecture and Chief Architect of Infrastructure Products, Ruirui Huang, says creating the metaverse requires an enormous amount of computing power to render simulations and enable interactions. Such an infinitely flexible resource is exactly what cloud computing can provide. “Without cloud computing, I don’t believe the metaverse is possible,” says Huang.
While initial metaverse applications have centred on gaming, entertainment, and retail, Hatten Land Chief Metaverse Officer, Lionel Chok, thinks the metaverse is likely to benefit other niche industries or pockets of the economy. Applications could include legal training, sales training, remote learning and working. Alibaba’s Huang cites integration between the metaverse and physical world already taking place in the construction industry. Here, the concept of digital twins - where real-world objects have a corresponding virtual counterpart - is used to allow remote operators to control real world machinery.
The NFT revolution has shown that there is a demand for a variety of virtual art and objects. Deloitte’s Linthicum says there is also going to be a marketplace for metaverse-based houses as well as metaverse-based advertising in the same way that social media has been used as a marketing tool for the past 10 years or more.
As more and more companies start to explore the metaverse, one thing they are finding out, says Hatten Land’s Chok, is that everything is rooted in the Blockchain, enabling a decentralized way of securing assets.
25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026 - Gartner
The role of cloud computing in the advancement of technology is going to be varied and diverse. The ability to democratize technology and put it in the hands of anyone who needs it will allow smaller companies to be creative and innovative in ways that are going to change the game across many industries. As Deloitte’s Linthicum says, “If you look at where the innovations are occurring, it's not from the Global 2000 companies. They're consuming innovations and perfecting innovations for sure. But the more things are distributed, the more opportunities there are going to be to build advanced technologies, and the more disruption we're going to see. And I think that's a good thing.”
For businesses of all sizes, action to future-proof against potential industry disruption is going to be key to making the most of our accelerating digital world. Alibaba’s Jia says he hopes one day AI will become a really close friend that we can consult with, and that cloud will be carrying that friend to all of us.
As one of the leading global cloud service providers, Alibaba Cloud provides a comprehensive suite of cloud computing, data intelligence, and AI technologies and services for enterprises and emerging businesses to help them build, scale and grow. The technological evolution will continue in 2022 and beyond, powering massive opportunities for accelerating digital transformation. Together we will build and foster an open, collaborative environment for innovation.
Co-authored with New Scientist and originally published at newscientist.com/
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