Numero 322
Numero 322

TTM 2018

“I am aware: Evolution of Ambient World”

When looking at ambient one has to consider chemistry and biology as well. All the scientific areas converging on “ambient” area actually pointing out the need for a new science taking a holistic view.
Timeline: Coal and Steel > Electrification > Compute & Communications> Fusion of Physical, Digital and Biological. The incoming wave is leading to Ambient
What does it mean “I am aware”.

Data is not just required by Biz, it is now the way biz operates.

The ambient effect is made possible and stimulate merged reality, artificial intelligence, distributed ledgers, 5G and beyond, Smart machines, cognitive systems, 3d printing

 PC > Internet > Mobility > Cloud > IoT > AI > Ambient
 Office > Business > Access > Services > Industrial > Cognitive > Transactional
 Personal > Public > Smart > Enterprise > Commercial > Autonomous > Trustworthy (Transformational drivers)

Person’s digital twin can act as a proxy. It is also a dematerialisation of each of us overcoming distance and eventually time barriers.

Women Making the Future Panel

Men are better than women at STEM particularly if you disregard the facts (Alicia).
Our lives change because of innovation, a big cart, actually a fleet of quite diverse carts that need wheels to roll, they need technology but wheels, technology alone is not enough.
We need people that are able to pick up wheels and build carts that are affordable and a growth of society culture that can make use of those carts and as they get used changes its values.
At IEEE we often focus on tech only and that is sort of the neck of a hourglass. We often forget the upper part that is the production aspects that in turns make a technology turn into some concrete products at an affordable price and we forget the lower part where the sand, products actually are used. I am using the hourglass as a mockup because really the effort in creating technology dwarf with respect to the set up of a competitive production process and to the adoption of innovation.
We may discuss on statistics on the number of women actually involved in creating technology on the number of women graduated in STEM (that changes in different parts of the world) but there is no discussion on the fact that women have been and are key in the adoption, in the success of innovation. It was pointed out that although most products today are designed by men, they are chosen and purchased by women, hence given the variety of offer the demand is actually steering the market and indirectly the evolution of products and technology.
One of the nice thing about this panel was to see how the panelists took seriously the innovation part, the delivery and adoption of technology, be it on AI, Robotics, 5G, Digital Twins to the adoption of machine speaking in a human like manner.
One interesting observation was that the rapid pace of technology evolution, particularly those changing the way people communicate are highlighting the fragility of our Society, which probably is not surprising since any society is living in a state of –precarious- dynamic equilibrium and the glue keeping it together is human to human communications (mediated ever more by technology). Change this glue and you immediately change the core of society and shit its equilibrium to a new state.
The bigger role of the cyberspace in society is exceeded by the bigger role of cyberspace on the single person and this at the expenses of the “natural” social relations. What can and should be done to take not a step back, which is unlikely to be feasible, but a step to the side to ensure technology helps making the most of natural social relations?. Women that are clearly much better versed in social relations can contribute to meet this challenge.

Far Future Panel

The panel ventured far in the future exploring various themes.
It started considering a future with smart materials. Care for a future with zero emission, both in production and usage? Turn to smart material.
As an example you can decrease fuel consumption on an airplane and decrease emission by burning it at much higher temperature. The problem is that your engine will blow up, … unless you have a smart material that can resist those high temperature. Of course, having a lighter plane would reduce consumption, and emission too. Can you have a plane weighting one third of today’s plane. Use smart materials.
Now that’s easy since by combining the raw elements on the periodic table you have the potential of creating over 1 trillion alloys, and manufacturing potentially 30 billion of them, so pick up the one fitting your needs. The problem of course is both to know which alloy would meet your requirements and how to produce it.
This is what will become possible in the coming decades: designing materials starting from requirements and working at atomic level to create the right structure.
By 2050 smart materials will provide super effective solar panels, we will have plasma engines powering planes and floating cities leveraging on very strong, but light smart materials.
Taking as a given that humans will become augmented in the coming decades how will these interact with machines, who is going to control what would happen?
This new scenario is rising new ethical questions.
The overall scenario is evolving, most of the time in a bottom up fashion. This evolution shall be considered also from a holistic view because it is setting the stage to a completely new environment (think of the IoT being deployed “locally” and forming from a holistic view a global sensing for planet Earth). How will be life like in such a different environment, how will humans adapt to it and change themselves because of it. Tools have been created by humans but those same tools did change what it meant to be human.
Newer tools will be far more effective in shaping us and will change even more radically what it means to be human.
In a far future panel it is just fitting to talk about remembering the past! As life will extend in the coming decades it might get more and more difficult for a person to remember her past and we know that what we remember defines who we are.
Will it be possible to enhance our memory capability as our life time span extends?
Memories is related to the hippocampus, at least as the starting block, and researchers are looking at ways to have prosthetics that can make our memory more efficient and resilient.
We are now aware of circumstances that can degrade, even disrupt our memory capabilities, like epilepsy, Alzheimer and stroke.
Mathematical models have been developed of the memory processes with the goal of creating a sort of alternative path to replace malfunctioning ones.
Researchers are now pinpointing the codes used by the brain to remember an object and are using those codes translating them into electrical stimulation of the brain that would result in an improved memory. Does this work? Experiments today are showing that persons subject to this focused electrical stimulation can have an improvement of about 30% of long term memory capacity.
As we work out the memory code, would it be possible to find ways of reading recalled thoughts? We have learnt that memories are stored in many neurons (and synapses) and are actually based not just on a spatial distribution but are time coded, i.e. it matters how synapses fire over time to get a specific memory. In principle those same synapses firing in a different time pattern would generate different memories.
Having the key to the neural code would speed up the evolution of brain computer interfaces and this will happen, likely, in the coming decades.
As more progress will be made more ethical and societal issues will emerge.
In the 2050 timeframe we may expect to see a symbioses emerge from the human and machine augmentation that eventually may give a different tackle to the concern of machine intelligence exceeding human intelligence. Symbioses may create a loose partnership, however the result might not be, in the long term, a greater augmentation of human intelligence (leveraging on the one of machines) rather an emergent intelligence out of the new symbiotic entity. This raises significant and new ethical questions that are beyond our current horizon.
This evolution towards symbiotic autonomous systems is seen as inevitable, not because we expect to have technology enabling it but because economic (as well as political) reasons that are already visible today. The market of smart prosthetics is growing in the billions $ within the next 7 years. No question that prosthetics will become smarter and more performing. Hence, they will reach a point where they will deliver more performance than the limb they are supposed to replace. At that point it is just a short step to have people wanting that prosthetic to give them a competitive advantage.
Education is an area that is both crucial in creating a generalized culture, a tool to manage the short term future, and an impossible task exceeding human capability. Knowledge is growing so rapidly that it will just be impossible for any person to keep up-to-date. New approaches will need to be worked out to move from the education of a single person to the education of a community, bringing brains together and also brains and machines together. At that point one question might be: Who should be educated? A brain or a machine, ensuring that the brain can connect to the machine?
Clearly ethical and societal issues abounds and the sooner we face them the better, since discussing those questions and attempting answering them will create a framework for technology evolution.

Neuroscience and Brain
The evolution of Brain Machine Interfaces is expected to progress at an accelerated pace in the coming decade, thanks to a multitude of research endeavor in many parts of the world.
Work is progressing both in the area of non-invasive and invasive approaches.
The centrifugal (brain > machine) path is more developed than the centripetal (machine > brain) path. This latter is usually limited to activate some muscle movement and some basic image visualization (i.e. you cannot transfer a sentence or a thought from a machine to a brain).
Companies like Paradromics are working on implants and on software to make sense out if the data harvested through the implant.
A main focus is in helping people with disabilities (suffered from a stroke resulting in paralyses, blindness, deafness, ALS,…). Clinical studies are distributed in several part of the world and in 20 years time it can be expected that BMI will become a standard rehabilitation procedure.
Technologies are being explored to assess the potential of communicating with patient in a coma, exploiting the remaining sensitivity to aural reactions (differential from high tone and low tone). Experiments have shown that coma patients may react to stimuli and “hear”.
Clearly the brain area is fraught with ethical issues. Some general principles exist, derived from previous situations (like the Nurnberg trial after the II War World) and can be clustered under Respect for people, Benefiting people and society and Justice/fairness. Notice that even these self understandable principles are fuzzy and “slippery”.
A presentation in this area emphasized how each principles is actually tough to implement since it has some antagonist interpretation of subjective nature.
Benefitting by improving a person life seems a no brainer, but the criteria of feeling better are subjective and sometimes a procedure intended to benefit a person is actually perceived as an imposition by the person (that is not given the choice to back off).

Agricultural Food Systems

There are plenty of opportunity in applying advanced technology to agriculture by embracing a Digital Transformation, like using sensors and data analyses to identify presence of bugs and their location for focused spraying of insecticide. This would dramatically cut on cost and on pollutants. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are paving the way for this transformation.
Data analyses can also lead to minimize risks, hence decreasing insurance cost. In Hungary a project has started for applying blockchain to the agriculture value chain so tracing all players and making it possible to bank to evaluate risk and provide funding to small players.
An interesting presentation was given on using AI to assess food quality. The whole process is “re-engineered” starting with automation in the field, using sensing devices to inspect packaged food (like strawberry in boxes ready for shipment) and having the data analyzed by AI based software to draw the assessment. The AI is replacing human assessment making the assessment much more objective and standardized. Sensors are replacing the human eyes and AI is replacing human assessment.
The sensors (computer vision) and the AI can also be used for sorting (like separating strawberries with white shoulders and seedy tip from nice strawberries) resulting in different quality packaging and of course over time the sorting process will feed back to the harvesting so that the quality will keep getting better over time.
Notice the complexity of the assessment handed over to the AI: for strawberry 4 different quality parameters are considered, whilst, as an example, for cashew the parameters are 20.
IEEE has launched a Smart Agriculture Initiative looking at the whole value chain, addressing, among other thing the enormous waste of food world-wide (estimated in 40%).
The demand for food is expected to grow by 60% by 2050 (9 billion people better fed), increase of water demand by 55% and increase in energy demand by 40%. The goal is to promote smart technologies for enhancing the whole agriculture and food supply chain.
All presentations were linearly disruptive pointing to significant changes in the value chain and on who will be involved (more and more machines and AI).
A great presentation on “what happens when data velocity, variety and volume overwhelm us?” closed the session. One point is that potentially, thanks to AI industry can predict the future “with high accuracy” and then change it.
It is quite different to manage risk and quite something else to eliminate it.
Blockchain can be considered as the art of provenance ensuring food safety. IBM has demonstrated that by applying this technology the time to track the whole supply chain, from production to shelves goes down from a week to a second. More than that. It is absolutely accurate, identifying bad products and only those.

There might be, in the longer term more disruptions in terms of approach: rather than changing the production side change the consumption side. Use genetic modification to let humans eat differently, use Augmented Reality to make the new food palatable in the transition phase…

Overall messages
 Digital Transformation is affecting every area
 Data are taking the lead everywhere
 Artificial intelligence is already replacing human intelligence (and gut feeling)
 The changes are disruptive and impactful on society. Education is both affected and needs to be reinvented since it is going to be needed even more
 Ethical issues permeate the whole landscape
 There is no silver bullet pointing to an evolution that will be seen beneficial by everybody.

Leggi lo speciale di Media Duemila dedicato alla digital transformation

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Roberto Saracco
Roberto Saracco si è innamorato della tecnologia e delle sue implicazioni molto tempo fa. Il suo background è in matematica e informatica. Attualmente è chair della Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative di IEEE-FDC. Fino all'aprile 2017 è stato a capo dell'EIT Digital Italy e fino a settembre 2018 è stato a capo della Scuola di Dottorato industriale digitale EIT. In precedenza, fino a dicembre 2011, è stato direttore del Future Centre di Telecom Italia a Venezia, guardando all'interazione dell'evoluzione tecnologica, dell'economia e della società. All'inizio del secolo ha diretto un progetto Banca Mondiale-Infodev per stimolare l'imprenditorialità in America Latina. È membro senior dell'IEEE, dove dirige l'Industry Advisory Board all'interno del Future Directions Committee. Insegna un corso di Master in Previsione tecnologica e impatto sul mercato all'Università di Trento. Ha pubblicato oltre 100 articoli su riviste e riviste e 14 libri. Scrive un blog quotidiano,, con commenti sull'innovazione in varie tecnologie e aree di mercato.