Future Technology Trends Explained

Future Technology Trends Explained

Earlier this month I went to Microsoft’s Future Decoded event at the ExCel in London. I’ve already written a piece on Matthew Syed’s – the growth mindset, so check it out if that’s your thing. 

This time I’m going to try and do justice to the ‘future technology trends’ covered by the Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft in the UK; Michael Wignall, a man who speaks quickly but very clearly and has a genuine passion for the work he is doing, he’s also smiley – I like smiley!

Michael kicks off by telling us not to worry if you aren’t a ‘techie’ – you will in fact understand some of what he’s about to say – ok, so I should just about be fine…He then gives us his first disclaimer ‘we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten’ – a quote from Bill Gates famous book – The Road Ahead written in 1995. Michael also confesses to being a bit of a Satya ‘fanboy’, yes, I’m with you there Michael – he is an awesome man!

Michael tells us that this briefing should be considered in the context of the global technology landscape and that right now we are very much in the era of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

We’ve shifted from people power to mechanical power in the 1st revolution – that moved people into cities and changed the rural landscape of Britain forever. And on a global scale it increased economic output and productivity. Fast forward to today and we are consumed by digital disruption driven by the Intelligent Cloud (best summed up as ubiquitous computing) and Intelligent Edge (think connected devices and/or experiences). These places are now inter-connected and have AI at the core.

There is a systemic change taking place across all industries, the pace and scale of which has not been seen before, it will have a big increase on output and productivity, but also with that, bring a big social change that will have a profound impact on the way people work and live their lives.

Michael then moves us on to his three big technology trends which he’s based on Satya’s recent book ‘Hit Refresh’. This is what Microsoft believes will be the drivers of this fourth revolution:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  2. Mixed Reality
  3. Quantum Computing

Artificial Intelligence

The foundations for AI are:

  • Data
  • Cloud services (such as machine learning)
  • Algorithms or code that go into designing AI.

The image in the header of this blog shows the scale of data that is and will be collected. But how in the future are we going to be able to store and manage all of this data because at the current run rate of storage vs amount of data we are going to run out of capacity even with the cloud. There are several options in this space, one being synthetic DNA storage.

He shows an image with a small amount of synthetic DNA equivalent to the size of a pencil lead that can hold 10 TB of data. And why is DNA storage a strong solution, well because it is very durable; it lasts a long time in the context of us being able to read it and it’s incredibly dense.

Microsoft have been working on a research project, that takes the basis of DNA and pairs encoded binary data on to it, mapping the individual base layers to create synthetic DNA that represents it. You can then put this in a data centre. I’m thinking at this point that we are right at the very end of my technical intelligence…

So now we’ve got all this data and potential ways to future proof the storage of it, we still need ways to power AI to do bigger and better things. And generally, the cloud is good for this but there is an increasing need for specialised hardware that can deliver real-time AI and that can be embedded in Intelligent Edge devices.

In addition, there is a requirement to bring compute closer to where it’s needed so expect to see hyper scale cloud complimented by much more local solutions. Michael then shows us ‘Project Natick’ – a self-sustaining underwater data centre with cameras looking at the environmental impact. These cameras are counting the sea life around the data centre using Microsoft’s image recognition and cognitive services to look at trends over time.

Then there’s the algorithms or models.  Through deep neural networks parity has been reached on a number of key attributes such as vision, speech, language translation and machine translation.

One particular focus is helping computers to communicate with us as people better. Translation services are delivering outstanding results but what Microsoft are also seeing is an increase in the context of natural language – so text to speech and we hear an example to prove the point – impressive!

This is a segue into a subject that Microsoft are keen to ensure we know they are taking seriously, which is the whole ethics of AI. And what they mean by this is that if in this context we have reached the ability for machines to reach parity in terms of speech is that something that ethically we really want?

The phrase ‘be careful what you wish for springs to mind’…

Microsoft’s answer to this is a programme they call ‘Design AI to Earn Trust’ which includes a number of components:

  • Fairness
  • Reliability & Safety
  • Privacy & Security
  • Inclusiveness
  • Transparency
  • Accountability

This is the first time I’ve heard a tech company have a kind of social mandate when it comes to AI and frankly it’s reassuring.  The late Stephen Hawking’s repeatedly warned about the perils of artificial intelligence, even calling it the biggest threat to mankind – its good therefore to see Microsoft’s stance on AI and with Nadella at the helm you have the belief that they mean it.

Mixed Reality

Next up mixed reality and the first thing we learn is that in fact these trends of AI, Mixed Reality and even Quantum Computing are in fact, as we look into the future, starting to converge and that one will impact the other. Mixed reality is informed and empowered by AI, when we do some of the interactions, look at a space and detect objects – that is image recognition and when we speak to it – that’s voice recognition.

We then hear about ‘digital twining’ – the fusing of the physical and digital world. It effects devices in how we replicate them in the digital world, it effects people – as we become more digital we want to replicate more of our attributes in a digital context and it also impacts spaces in general (think the physical space and its digital twin that we work in). The view is that in the future everything will have a digital twin.

And so, says Michael, this technology is really going to be the game changer. When we think about how we interact with technology today its been via a small screen, a keyboard and a mouse and for the last 10 years the addition of a mobile phone. The future is very much about mixed reality – that’s the new paradigm of how we interact with technology. Microsoft is very much on that journey with HoloLens, which is the first self-contained, holographic computer that enables you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you – it’s magic, it really is!

Quantum Computing

Right concentrate Keith – this really is out of my comfort zone…

So, what is it and why is it important. The analogy Michael uses is that in the binary and classical world, in a world of 1’s and 0’s when you are trying to solve a maze, you have to try one option after the other. In the quantum world based on a world of something called quantum superposition we can try all options at the same time meaning you reach the end of the maze directly.

Now I’m in trouble as Michael tells us that he’s going to take us through the next section slowly as it even blows his mind – he’s right, if you are interested to find out more go to www.futuredecoded.com.

The conclusion I do understand is that when quantum computing comes, the computing power it will give all of us is going to be exponential, it’s going to transform not only productivity but the capacity we have as humans.

Phew – I made it, fascinating – a real journey into the future of what technology is going to deliver!

What is a growth mindset?

Can a growth mindset really be the difference to a better life – Matthew Syed thinks so.

A few years back over a couple of pints in a pub in Soho after work with some friends, the conversation had reached its normal stage on the merits of our individual football teams which is always given a particularly large dose of vociferous banter.  For some reason we got onto the subject of ‘natural talent’ and one of my friends was challenging the very notion of it, based on a book he’d recently read called Bounce. At the time I remember thinking how it could be that this isn’t a thing, for nearly all my life it had been the justification for any (mostly sporting) individual that had a talent that was clearly so much better than his or her peers.

A couple of weeks later having read the book by Matthew Syed I was a complete convert, to the degree that if I heard friends/people talk about an individual with natural talent I’d (probably irritatingly) take them to task.  Now I’m not one to glamorise a situation – I’m a Brit after all – but Bounce really did change not only my view of natural talent but more importantly how I saw the opportunity for my three children.  You see Matthew Syed’s view is that forget natural talent, you get to be who you want to be through two things; circumstance and practise. 

Fast forward to November 1st2018 and I’m sitting in London’s ExCel arena waiting for Matthew Syed to wrap up Microsoft’s very good 2-day conference entitled Future Decoded.

Psychological and cultural conditions needed to flourish

Matthew sets the scene, he’s going to spend 30 minutes giving his perspective on what the psychological and cultural conditions that enable us to flourish as individuals, teams and organisations are.

Matthew opens with a quick bio – he was the UK’s number 1 table tennis player for 10 years and played in a couple of Olympics and won 3 Commonwealth titles – Matthew’s a confident but self-deprecating character who plays down these achievements, we find out his first interesting and surprising fact; more than half of the top players in the country came from the same street as him – that’s odd… And at the end of this street was a table tennis club that had a fantastic coach and 24-hour access – ok that’s starting to make a little more sense.

The fixed and growth mindset

He then segues into a branch of psychological research that probes into how different cohorts of people view success and where high performance comes from. And broadly speaking you reach 2 different types of answers. The first is the sometimes-called fixed mindset where people typically talk about: talent, having a high IQ, having the right pre-disposition or aptitude or the right genetic inheritance and that if you want a successful team or organisation you need to hire people of that ilk. And on that face of it, many of us would agree that this isn’t false, after all talent is a real phenomenon and is an explanation for some of the variables most of us see in performance.

Conversely, in what is sometimes called the growth mindset, talent whilst not irrelevant isn’t, in a complex world, enough.  The focus is on other more deeply predictive measures of success such as disciplined practise, constant self-evaluation and crucially a recognition that however good I am, even if I’m a genius, even if I’m a leader of one of the most prestigious institutes in the world I can still get better. This turns out to be of incalculable psychological significance because it enables people to do something that is otherwise challenging, for some people threatening – namely, learning from mistakes and failures.

Now it’s not quite as binary as that you have either a fixed or growth mindset – most people are on a spectrum somewhere between the two. But what this does allow you to do, based on effectively the answer to one question, is (using randomised double-blind control trials) measure behaviour which turns out to be radically different depending on where you are at on the spectrum. This dichotomy of fixed and growth mindset explains a great deal about the differential we see in performance.

Aviation and healthcare

Matthew then demonstrates how these contrast in mindsets and the different behavioural dynamics play out in two safety critical industries; aviation and healthcare – who have fundamentally different performance outcomes that map to fixed and growth mindsets.

In aviation, when it comes to the key objective of system safety, aviation displays a growth mindset because of its inherent culture of continuous improvement. There is a recognition deep in the culture that even though they are smart and talented and deploy sensible protocols, procedures and behaviours, the system is sub-optimal. And that’s not because the individuals and businesses lack intelligence – far from it – it is purely because they understand the deep complexities that lie within the industry.

As a result, the minds of the professionals and the industry are open to the learning opportunities, that are always out there in a complex world, but are very easy to neglect. Collecting data and the analysis of it is deeply rooted in this industry, as is learning the lessons to drive a dynamic process of change. And even in the darkest moment, in the event of a crash, the reasons why are recorded through the ‘black box’ – meaning its failures are data rich. 

The effect of all of this on the most critical of metrics is quite profound. In 1912 more than half of the US army pilots died in crashes, fast forward to 2017 and there were no accidents. We are now at a ratio of 1 crash to every 17 million take-offs, a staggering safety record.

Matthew then contrasts this with healthcare where the senior people are arguably more talented, have longer and more expensive educations, on average higher IQ’s and something quite deep in clinical culture that says when you get to the top you don’t make mistakes – you’re that talented in diagnostic reasoning and clinical intuition you just get the answer right. But what happens when there is a sub-optimal outcome such as death, unlike in aviation where there is the opportunity to learn, to ensure it doesn’t happen again, there is a measurable tendency towards self-justification and concealment. And thinking about the psychological dynamic of self-justification; if I’m super bright and I get everything right and someone’s died then it can’t be anything to do with me, it must be an unavoidable death right…err, no wrong actually…

According to the journal of patient safety, 200,000 people die every year in the US because of preventable medical error, the third biggest killer in the country. Matthew draws the conclusion therefore that this is not a lack of talent but simply a mindset that is closed to the idea of continuous improvement.

Matthew quotes other examples taken from his book ‘Black Box Thinking’ of the negative correlations between a talent metric and performance when people are in a fixed mindset. Put simply the growth mindset means that talent really doesn’t matter, it’s about liberating our talents to see the data for what it is. Being an expert isn’t just about what we do know, it’s about finding out what we don’t know.

Satya Nadella

Matthew also discusses the time he spent with Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s visionary leader of the last 4 years, a man often described as humble. Satya himself, felt the need to move Microsoft from a fixed to a growth mindset stating that when he took over as CEO the organisation had a critical mass of ‘know it all’s’. Everybody wanted to look like the smartest person in the room which conversely meant they didn’t want to hear about the errors, the failures, the deficiencies in the product line, what the competitors were doing better.  Pivoting to something better would be a threat to the image of the smartest person in the room.

And Matthew argues, this mindset suppresses the flow of creativity and innovation.  Satya wanted to shift from a culture of ‘know it all’s’ to a culture of ‘learn it all’s’ – they are people who wanted to know about the mistakes and the failures and the opportunities for growth. As a result, there has been a measurable change in the psychological environment and the social dynamic in Microsoft felt by everybody you talk to who works there.

David Beckham

And then finally as if bring to bring it all back to the worlds most popular sport, Matthew talks about his more recent association with footballers and in particular David Beckham; a man who had a seemingly unique skill for crossing a football with unbelievable accuracy, a natural talent some would say – but read a little more about David Beckham and you’ll find out that it was the sheer number of hours he put into practising this art that made him so good, possibly the best the world has ever seen.

Matthew Syed is an Arsenal fan, I’m a Tottenham fan – I shouldn’t like him, but I do!