We stand on the brink of an age of unparalleled opportunities. Today, we’re seeing first-hand what happens when businesses adopt breakthrough technologies like cloud and artificial intelligence (AI). But we also know that this is just the beginning – as we come to comprehend the truly transformative impact it will have in the near future.
According to predictions by analysts at McKinsey, over £1 trillion of economic value will be created in the cloud by Fortune 500 companies by 2030. AI, on the other hand, could generate up to $15.7 trillion – more than the combined economic output of China and India combined.
To discuss how this is going to happen – and how businesses and organizations can make sure they don’t miss out – I was recently invited to take part in a panel discussion hosted by Microsoft. Alongside business leaders and technology specialists, we delved into some of the most disruptive changes of the road ahead.
Three in particular, it’s believed, will shape the future of cloud over the next three to five years, and the aim is to understand how we can prepare today for the impact they will make tomorrow.
As the host of this series and director of product management for Microsoft’s Strategic Missions and Technology division, Nick McQuire puts it, it’s a discussion that rolls together the future of connectivity, the future of AI and the future of computing into one. By way of offering a teaser, here’s an overview of some of the ideas that came up:
Modern, Connected Apps
Huge leaps forward in connectivity, such as the arrival of 5G, will expand the reach and benefit of the cloud even further, enabling it to touch on even more aspects of our lives.
Talking about this subject with McQuire, as well as Sarah Nagy, Director of Customer Engagement at Microsoft, gave me a chance to bring up one of my favorite examples of tech-driven disruption. A Norwegian Salmon-farming business has implemented what is effectively facial recognition for fish to automate the feeding and healthcare of its stocks. By deploying 5G, computer vision and Internet of Things (IoT) tools in its ocean pens, it has built systems capable of dispensing one feed per day to each individual fish, as well as recognizing signs of disease so ill fish can be separated from the healthy stock. This increases productivity and reduces waste by ensuring fish grow at a uniform rate while also mitigating the risk of disease.
Connectivity infrastructure like this makes it possible for organizations to create all manner of smart tools and applications that can be used to do business more efficiently, reduce waste, and develop new products and services. As Nagy points out in our discussion, this is driven by the fact that 5G is intrinsically designed to be cloud-native, providing enhanced functionality such as network slicing that simplifies the job of creating private networks and connected device ecosystems.
The conversation also covers the fascinating field of space technology, touching on ways that satellite networks will drive forward ground-level connectivity. This will enable cloud tools to extend their reach to rural and remote areas that are not only often underserved but also face some of the toughest challenges, from access to healthcare and education to dealing with the impact of climate change.
At the start of the industrial age, we learned to co-work alongside machinery, massively redefining the way we work and leading to widespread restructuring of society. The transition into an age of human-created machine intelligence has the potential to bring even greater disruption as we learn not just to co-work with machines on manual tasks but also on tasks that involve reasoning and decision-making.
This shifts the focus of the AI game from simply developing technology that's as smart as possible to developing solutions that can work alongside humans. We can expect the way we interact with machines to evolve dramatically – a shift that’s well underway since the arrival of ChatGPT, generative AI and large-language models (LLMs). We can also expect to see advances in machines that are capable of understanding what we want from our AI co-workers and autonomously improving their capabilities in order to enhance our own.
As AI becomes capable of tackling more sophisticated problems, its algorithms inevitably become more complex and demanding of compute power. Unlocking the potential of quantum computing could potentially result in computers that are up to a trillion times faster than conventional classical computers. While they aren’t suitable for every computing task, when it comes to modeling and simulating the natural world – which, of course, is itself defined by quantum mechanics – it will be a game-changer. It also has huge potential for complex mathematical tasks involved in drug discovery, modeling financial markets and developing more efficient batteries and power cells.
Although many still see quantum computing as a futuristic technology, it’s here today, and in our discussion, Nagy covers the hybrid approach taken by Microsoft. Through this paradigm, it already offers services called Azure Quantum Elements that combine quantum computing, AI and classical high-performance computing to customers that require the highest level of supercomputer performance.
As part of the discussion, we take a look at work being done by Microsoft partner Johnson Matthey , a UK based global chemicals and sustainable technology company which is searching for alloys that can be used as an alternative to very expensive platinum as catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells. By leveraging Azure quantum technology, they have been able to reduce the work involved in modeling molecules from around six months to under a week.
As Nagy puts it, “Quantum computing … speaks the language of nature … if we want to solve some of humanity’s most challenging problems like climate change or food insecurity, we need to shorten and accelerate the next 250 years of discovery into the next 25 years.”
Weaving The Threads
None of these technologies have emerged in isolation, and most organizations will find that when combined, their impact is far greater than their individual potential. As demonstrated by the computer vision elements of the salmon farm I mentioned, the convergence of AI and connected apps gives us smart connected apps. Similarly, quantum computing will speed up AI algorithms, making them smarter and capable of crunching more data in less time, ultimately resulting in better decisions.
This is the foundation of the intelligent, hyper-powerful and interconnected ecosystem that businesses and organizations will use to build the world of tomorrow. You can click here to watch the first episode of the webinar series. Each forthcoming episode will focus on a specific aspect of this “big picture” view. The upcoming episodes will take a deeper look at space technology and Earth observation, 5G, generative AI, and quantum computing, highlighting the opportunities and identifying risks and challenges.