Smart Technology In The Cyber-Age

This article was first published on the World Economic Forum Agenda webite.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. This remarkable achievement had been unimaginable only years before and has been surpassed by few endeavors since. Today, half a century on from Apollo 11, technology developed for the programme is used in products ranging from kidney dialysis machines to water purification. Even our smart devices owe their existence to the Apollo programme. 

Today, smart technology places us at the edge of a new ‘cyber’ space age. The combination of connectivity, mobility and data presents almost boundless opportunities. 

Recently there has been a radicalisation effects of cyber-space on governments, insurgency groups and us as individuals. In just a few years, social technologies have captured the imagination of consumers, business leaders, and politicians. 
Hundreds of millions of people have adopted new behaviors: transferring social interactions online, forming connections, and creating and sharing content. Governments have fallen because citizens organised themselves using social technologies. 
Social technologies have become a fixture of modern life, in private, public, and commercial spheres. Companies of all kinds have started to use social technologies as a way to win customers, improve performance, and advance their missions. 
Today, most of our critical systems are interconnected and driven by computers. In the future, this connection will be even tighter. More decisions will be automated. 

Our personal lives will be reliant on virtual assistants, and IoT connected devices will be part of almost every function of our daily lives. Connected cars will make our daily commute easier, and virtually all of our personal data will reside in cloud computing, where we don’t fully control the dataflow and access to information.

Most large consumer-facing companies, and a growing number of smaller ones, now recognise that they must use social technology to compete.

What until recently for many in the West defined a country, its boarders, language, culture, climate, education, politics, social engagement and national legal systems are now beginning to fuse and partly dissolve as electronic systems are challenging and dissolving many traditional barriers and of course some groups are trying to create some new ones. 
Electronic interconnection is changing the way some people consider their nationality and citizenship. For others where important issues divide society the cyber connectivity is increasing their radicalisation and making them want the social changes to happen faster and some would say now in news/blog time.

Similar to earlier and other historical technological changes all of these movements are happening far quicker than most traditional governments and organisation’s structures can deal with. 

The attacks on infrastructure and the requirement to counter such cyber-attacks has recently become far more pressing and continuous. Now with the theft of everything from stored data, government intelligence to medical knowledge and commercial patents the imperative to protect has become increasingly important.

Cyber-attacks in the UK are costing commerce over 27 billion pounds annually and with the recent economic pressures and breakdowns hackers have been employed by governments for attack, propaganda and intelligence and by criminals to find new ways of stealing. 

From a personal perspective during the next decade we will be far more deeply and electronically engage with individuals and organisations from across the world in all areas of our life, personally, commercially and certainly politically. 
This is partly because in the next ten years the planet’s interconnected Internet population will electronically grow using mobile devices from 3.2 to over 5 billion. And the cyber technology will become more specific to us as individuals such that even some of our thought processes will begin to alter, as our short and longer-term thinking is affected by what we will expect from our electronic memory systems.

Our engagement with robotics and such elements as wearable computers that can monitor human health and help to improve our memory and decision processes are no longer science fiction and a little later we will discuss some of these new innovation in more detail. 

As these new electronic consciousness systems will increasingly offer individuals new information, analysis and decisions to maintain and grow our memory, personal plans, commercial and political strategies for our future development.

Today’s cyber space age may not have a moon landing, but its potential benefit for society in the next 50 years could just be even greater. Success is within our grasp, but the stakes are higher and the risks more complex.  A collaborative focus is once again required. It is time to come together in this next giant leap for human-kind. 

By Kristof Terryn Group Chief Operating Officer,  Zurich Insurance Group

WEF

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