Connected world… connected economies… connected ecosystems.. is there anything of significance in this world today that is not connected? Some of these connections are obvious, some not so obvious, and a few, downright counterintuitive! The connections of today are not just the ones between people and organizations- there are connections between machines and machines, machines and people, organizations and people… your next follower on twitter could be your microwave oven, and your latest picture on Facebook could be ‘liked’ by your prosumer camera! Your intelligent home could be sending IM messages to its neighbouring homes, warning them of a suspicious-looking car parked in its periphery! Your Smarphone app could be automatically tracking the movement of your child’s schoolbus, and send off a warning if there is a delay or deviation in the route…. phew!
The breathtaking array of possibilities this kind of a hyperconnected world portends for the future has me at once wide-eyed with amazement, and rattled to the core on a different plane.
Let me explain the reasons- for my eupho-paranoia!
The future of the world- the ‘digital future’ as some like to call it- is rapidly being shaped by its users, and is being fuelled by ever-adapting Connected Service Providers. Any service which links users together in a bond of meaningful information interchange is a Connected Service- and these are currently the Facebooks and Twitters and Google++es of the world- and not the traditional ‘Connection Providers’ like the traditional telcos. As a famous mobile applications guru put it, ‘ The Dial Tone of the connected world is http:// “ . In the new Connected Services paradigm, even forward-looking telcos are scrambling like startups - with their network and enterprise infrastructure rapidly relegated to the status of merely the basic plumbing needed for other, third party providers to create their applications and services.
The Connected Services paradigm has unleashed a wave of equality where audience aggregators like Instagram see unbelievable levels of value explosion in impossibly short timeframes.
And this equality has a social side. With Massively Open Online Courseware, high quality education is now available in the hands of anyone who has access- and this slices seamlessly across geo- and demographic barriers. Khan Academy and MIT open couseware are huge examples.
While the MOOC paradigm utilises the concept of connectivism to accomplish its objectives, there is another example closer to home where I live, in India. I refer to the ‘hole in the wall’ experiments hatched by Dr Sugata Mitra. This big-hearted genius, while he was working with NIIT in New Delhi way back in 1999, set up a literal ‘hole in the wall’, putting computers within physical reach of the inhabitants of the slum abutting his company’s campus. The slum-dwellers’ children were allowed to play with the computers unsupervised, and when tested a few months later, were found to have learned how to do significant amount of stuff on their own. Dr Mitra calls it ‘minimally invasive learning’ - and this too is based on access, albeit of a physical kind, with the content being enriched by online connectivity. Kids of today are, to state the obvious, going to be the active denizens of the future world, and so access to high quality education through such mechanisms is going to be a major factor in deciding the course the Digital Future will take!
So much for equality through education. We saw another type of equality unleashed by Access and Connectivity, in the Arab Spring uprising, where social media played a major role in disseminating information and thus aggregating parties to the movement. In the future, Connected Services will enable more and more such revolutions, but simultaneously, there will be improved and accelerated government response to them; and ‘online embarrassment’ could be the buzzword in preventing massive irregularities of the political kind from occurring.
Another aspect of the Digital Future is the way individuals and corporations handle themselves. Concerns of online security are major- both for individuals and for organizations. We will definitely see parents coaching their children about the dangers lurking in the cyber world and how to safeguard themselves from them at an earlier and earlier age. And there would be massive instances of spying and hacking, sometimes by corporations in pursuit of commercial gain, and sometimes by governments for geopolitical advantage.
I keep hearing about what happens on Wall Street and other markets - I hear about the Trading Bots and the lightning fast algorithms and Expert System platforms that put the entire game of stock trading in the hands of ruthless automatons- and it chills me to envisage the possibilities of the hard-earned pension monies of millions of people being wiped out by a software glitch that spirals out of control.
In a nutshell- a world where everything is connected with everything else, new kinds of possibilities emerge for people, organizations and machines to work with each other in collaborative ways that defy imagination. Where official machinery falls short, self-organizing communities step in and fill the gaps. Organizations reach out to their consumers and suppliers in new ways through social media connections. Consumers organize themselves in new and powerful ways to extract the best deals, vehicles talk to traffic signals and to each other to understand bottlenecks and change course ‘live’…
We, as providers of connected solutions, have a massive role to play in shaping this digital future. But there is a challenge here. The challenge is that our contributions could go either way- in giving the future a new, equal and wholesome shape, or of creating a misshapen monster .
This new future Digital Future then redefines the meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility for us. It is up to us to fulfil it, by embracing the right technologies and giving them the right direction, so that we create a Digital Future that engenders equality, and improves the lives of it citizens. And nothing is more important to me than that.
- The New Digital Age: Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
- Dark Pools: The Rise of the Machine Traders and the Rigging of the U.S. Stock Market