[Column] Fuad Siddiqui: Connecting innovation to socio-economic prosperity
Technology is more than just a tool designed to make things go faster. It’s a lever that can be used to improve the human condition through innovation, efficiency, and productivity. It’s evolving beyond just that PC in every home to a digital ecosystem that permeates every aspect of society and the world. According to Fuad Siddiqui from Nokia Bell Labs, technology can fundamentally improve the human condition.
“There is an immense possibility in what technology can achieve, in how it can change the human condition as well as the economic landscape,” he says. “This concept has already been extensively explored in transhumanism – a movement that looks to widely available technologies to eliminate ageing and enhance human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities.”
While, for many, the concept of the transhumanist landscape is still something of a science fiction novel, it does introduce a fresh dynamic to how organisations can use their offerings and investments to change society for the better. A recent study undertaken by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) found that impact investments have almost doubled over the past few years. These investments are defined as those made by companies or funds to generate a measurable social or environmental impact. They make a difference with their investment. An impact.
“There is immense potential for organisations to play a profitable role in reshaping the future of humanity and technology,” says Siddiqui. “Like impact investing, there is an awareness that to do good, there has to be returns. Technology that can allow for the revolution of the human condition opens up new opportunities and corridors into which organisations can shift their focus and their return on investment.”
There are multiple pathways that technology can follow if it wants to change socio-economic prosperity. There’s the augmented digital-human network that allows for improved literacy, reliability and capacity for services. The already obvious shifts in human-machine productivity – skills development and education providing a springboard from which people can leap into a more engaging future without losing their jobs to automation and AI. Global improvements in productivity, efficiency, labour and business diversification. Already, the rise of the small business disrupting the lumbering giant has shown how snatches of technology brilliance can transform an industry or a landscape.
“Today, we are standing at a crossroads,” says Siddiqui. “Our physical goods, networks and systems are ageing, time is taking its toll on traditional services and solutions, and the world is re-examining how things need to be done to ensure climate and planet security. There has never been a better time to revisit how the organisation approaches its own internal infrastructure and culture, reshaping these to fit within new market demands and structures.”
It’s connecting the dots. Creating networks that are capable of more efficient communication and collaboration, networks that are more than just people but include utilities, logistics, mining, industry, mobile, telecommunications and more. There is already technology in play that’s capable of creating automated, optimised and distributed networks that deliver mission-critical connectivity across the globe. These are almost the lifeblood of the connected society that’s capable of going beyond 5G and into networks that can communicate essential information in real-time across vast distances.
“The network of tomorrow needs more capacity and spectrum, more channel redundancy and robust modulation, and good latency in order to succeed,” explains Siddiqui. “Without this, cloud, 5G and connected cities and mobile solutions are never going to achieve their full potential. And they have to if we are to finally achieve the kind of world that allows for absolute and measurable change in the human condition.”
The idea of the smart city has always been to connect healthcare, mobility, education and the other essential services that ensure people live long healthy and successful lives. The goal from a government perspective is to connect citizen services to allow for improved access and equality. For business it is to leverage this connectivity to create solutions that fit within this intelligent landscape. This is, of course, a light brush across the top of the potential of the smart city but the message is clear – connectivity is one of the most critical keys to unlocking the future.
In fact, at the United Nations opening remarks in 2019, Liu Zhenmin Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs said: “The 2030 Agenda underscores the importance of infrastructure connectivity. This is not only critical to integrating countries and communities into the global value chain. It is also a means to enhance access to quality public services like health and education, and helps in reducing inequality, both within and across countries.”
Connectivity in the South African context can pull together the torn fabric of rural society, granting access to essential services to those who need it the most and allowing for equality in education and information to create change. Yes, the time for change is now but South Africa faces a complex landscape that needs careful planning and considered investment to ensure that it can achieve its potential and overcome the barriers that limit its growth today.
Fuad Siddiqui, is the Senior Partner and Head of Consulting at Nokia Bell Labs for MEA & APJ