As fellow telecom professionals I’m sure you looked at these, nodded your heads and thought but there’s not much direct impact I can have on these issues, apart from maybe re-double my re-cycling and trade in my polluting diesel car and sell my first-born child to able to afford a Tesla.
Although I had mentioned 5 issues, I also left out two and promised to cover those in a separate article. Well the time has come to end the big suspense:
6) Artificial Intelligence. (AI)
7) 5G, 6G and beyond.
Yes, AI and the next generation telecom technologies are about to take us on a journey where yet again borders and individual Nation states have nothing to offer. What’s even more scary is the fact that the 5 I talked about in the previous article (bar climate change) pale into insignificance when one considers the upheaval 6 and 7 are going to bring.
To understand this a bit better, we must take a slight detour into an area almost equally claimed to be the domain of neurology and philosophy: Free Will1, or in a more simplistic speech, how humans make choices and decisions.
It is not in scope of this article to explain how and why, but it will suffice to say that many recent experiments have proved that Free Will is an illusion, and the way human brains work is just like any complex algorithm. And if that is all we are, then AI can produce much superior algorithms which are much better at performing any tasks and indeed decision making.
Google’s AI chess playing game AlphaZero, just took 4 hours to learn chess and in 24 hours was able to beat the best chess playing programmes. All AlphaZero was given were the rules of the game, and in 24 hours it had taught itself to a level of super human ability at chess. AI with Machine Learning particularly Deep Learning Algorithms is already proving to be much more efficient at diagnosing diseases like cancer than medical professionals with many years of training and experience behind them.
It doesn’t take long to leap to the question: so if humans are nothing but algorithms on legs, what does it mean for humanity and society to have vastly superior algorithms who can do almost anything better than a human being can. Imagine an algorithm that knows you better than you know yourself.
Let’s fast forward a few years, your smart phone is now provided to you for free by the manufacturer but it has an algorithm which knows the exact buttons to press to make you buy something. The calendar on your phone already knows that it’s your two year old daughter’s birthday next week, so for the last month whenever your daughter borrows the phone it plays videos of “Zopheus the magic horse” (don’t bother googling it, it doesn’t exist … yet) for her, and she keeps singing that song. You find that whenever you leave the house the electronic bill board outside your house changes to show a graphic of Zopheus, and your-self driving car for some reason seems to be taking the route to and back from work which passes the nearest toy shop to you. Every time you call your daughter, you hear the Zopheus jingle as a call back tune. You call your spouse and promise him that you’ll arrange the birthday present, while on the call the algorithm can make out from your speech that you are tired and most prone to taking a lazy decision so the minute you put the phone down, it pops up the promotional advertisement of 20% off on Zopheus, but you are stronger and you resist and don’t buy. On the way back home, your car takes a detour to stop at a specific gas station, and while you are filling up, your phone has already informed the display on the pump which obligingly plays the Zopheus advert for you. You enter the station to pay for the gas and again notice the display behind the cashier change to 20% off on Zopheus, and then your phone replays your daughter reciting the jingle … you just walk to the next aisle and pick up Zopheus, happy and thankful to technology that it helped you buy what you always had on your mind at a cheaper price.
Just before entering home you look up at the electronic billboard and for the first time in weeks it’s not Zopheus, but the picture of the sports car your spouse (who turns 40 next month and understandably is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis) has been dreaming of buying!
I must warn you that the above scenario is massively limited by my imagination, but a Deep Learning AI module will be far more superior, in fact to a level perhaps no human could understand. Various sensors could pick up subtle clues about yourself, which could then be used by third parties for various purposes.
Ah, I see you still think this is science fiction … you are in complete control and no one knows you better than yourself, right? There’s nothing about you that can be used against you. Here’s a real-life famous example; did you know that Andre Agassi continued to beat Boris Becker in grand slams, because he figured out from the position of Boris’s tongue how he was going to serve. Boris had no idea that just before serving, his tongue would come out and the way it was pointing would show which way he was going to serve. Just by watching many tapes Agassi figured this out and used it to great effect. You can see a short video of Agassi’s confession here.
Now can you imagine what a deep learning algorithm can pick up with vast amounts of data and computing power available to it?
So, this brings us back to the point, that unless as a human race together we bring in rules and regulations to ethically and sustainably develop this technology, we are staring at the end of humanity as we know it. Yuval Hariri2 talks about how easy it would be for AI to hack humans, and it does all make sense once we start to accept the fact that we are only algorithms who work when our neurons fire based on stimuli we receive. AI would just be an infinitely more superior algorithm able to know us better than we know ourselves.
And once AI is armed with 5G and 6G communication technology it really has the potential of game over for James Bond.
Never before has the world been so small and yet so divided. The more we move into this unfamiliar and scary landscape, the speeches from the pulpits of right-wing groups may seem more attractive, for they promise an erroneously romanticised and seemingly simpler and purist world of the past when our countries/cultures/people were the greatest. Unfortunately, no such time actually existed3, and if it did, clocks just cannot be turned back.
So, it becomes incumbent upon all of us to carry on bringing the people of the world closer and unite them. The more we understand the rest of the world the more it unites us.
What do we need to do? Here are some very basic steps every telecom professional should endeavour to do:
- Make it easy for our customers to connect to far ends of the world. When we propound the virtues of quality and affordability; it’s not only beneficial for our business but also our world and humanity at large.
- Use the fullest potential of the communication technology to bring people closer and make the world smaller.
- Get a better understanding of 5G technology and the impacts it can have.
- Get a better understanding of AI technology, how it works and the impacts it can have.
- So, when you do start working on 5G roaming or network slices or edge computing you are not just a cog in the wheel but someone who has a full understanding of what is being built and can ensure that correct checks and balances are built within.
- Keep an eye out for developments in 6G.
One of my favourite anecdotes is about a new CEO walking into an aircraft assembly factory and noticing a worker really struggling trying to fit two pieces of equipment together, so the CEO goes up to him and asks what he’s doing and why is he struggling. The poor fellow responds “I’m trying to fit A6J7O onto the shaft drive of section 36AP and it’s tricky”. On continuing his walk, the CEO notices another mechanic doing pretty much the same thing but really enjoying the task, so he stops again and ask’s “And what are you doing, my good man?”, to which the mechanic with a broad smile and enthusiasm answers, “I’m building a plane”.
Don’t let them fool you that all you do is launch roaming, or create a new retail plan or deploy a new messaging route.
You my dear telecom colleagues are building THE WORLD!
I appreciate that a few complex concepts and issues have been touched upon here, and a short blog cannot do justice to these. So, here’s a recommended reading list if you’re interested in knowing more:
- Free Will – Sam Harris
- Homo Deus- Yuval Noah Harari & Life 3.o – Max Tegmark
- The better angels of our nature- Steven Pinker
Whether you are interested in 5G Roaming, AI and disruptive technologies training, visit our ROCCO U website here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information about the training courses that we have on these topics.
If you work for an MNO and feel passionate about the issues discussed above or would like more information on how we can make a difference, please do write into us at: