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The future of business: learning from the past

(Image credit: Image Credit: Helloquence / Unsplash)

By its very definition, progress across humanity, society, and business is about evolution. Developments and inventions are rarely unique; they are more often than not an evolution of things that already exist. As French writer Simone de Beauvoir aptly put it, “to make something good of the future, you have to look the present in the face”. In a business context, the evolution of both historical tools and recent trends will shape the future of how we work.

Though the future of work will always be in the future, the future of your work has never been closer. The rise of robots, machine intelligence, distributed ledgers, quantum physics, “gig” labour, the unexaggerated death of privacy, a world eaten alive by software — all of these trends point to a new world that is shaping up quite differently from anything we have ever seen, or worked in, before.

A recent Cognizant report looked at milestone inventions over the past centuries to see how they can help to inform, and transform, future technological developments. Here we explore how the apps, systems, tools, and processes of the past and present will define the future of business.

From microscopes to datascopes

John Leonard Riddell invented the first practical binocular microscope in 1851, changing the course of medicine forever by allowing doctors to diagnose problems at a cellular level. The medicinal microscope simultaneously made the world a better place and created an entire industry that today employs millions of people around the world.

Just as microscopes changed the course of medicine more than a century ago, artificial intelligence (AI) will function as a ‘datascope’ for businesses to see more data, integrate it with other data, and ultimately, make faster decisions. New tools do not necessarily automate people out of the equation completely; they allow professionals to do things they were not previously capable of.

The future world of work will see people and technology work symbiotically, with AI allowing us to grapple with a world awash with information that is denser, more complex, and coming at us faster than ever before. In turn, AI will open new opportunities for commercial growth and levels of employment for billions, making the world an even better place.

From the cloud to the edge

Cloud computing is the lifeblood of both our personal and professional lives, with nearly every transaction and interaction taking place via some form of private, public, or hybrid cloud. The cloud has supercharged distributed computing – that is, a system where individual computers across different locations are networked together and information is shared by passing messages between the processors. Google search engine is an example of distributed computing, as are cellular networks and intranets. But with more internet-connected devices – VR headsets, health trackers, toothbrushes – coming online and 5G accelerating everything, we will need more computing power.

Edge computing is the answer to this problem. A framework where data is processed as close as possible to its originating source – the edge of the network – rather than in centralised systems, edge computing will enable a new era of business.

In the not-too-distant future, geodistributed machine learning (GDML), or AI on the edge, will allow organisations to meet governance challenges posed by data that is born in geographically distributed places or used in dispersed locations. With reduced latency and real time responsiveness, we will see technologies such as augmented reality truly shape the enterprise realm and play a significant role in how work is performed.

From the bit to the qubit

Z1 – the world’s first electromechanical binary programmable computer – was created by German scientist Konrad Zuse in his parents’ living room in 1938. This humble moment kicked off the greatest technological revolution in history. Virtually everything we do in life and business is influenced by binary computing power, from the systems that run our cars to those that power modern businesses. However, these computers still operate according to one of the simplest concepts – a series of ones and zeros.

Where a bit can only be either one or zero, a qubit can be both one and zero at exactly the same time. The future of business – AI, machine learning, and predictive modelling – will be powered by the qubit via quantum computing. And this future is in sight, with companies such as IBM, D-Wave, and Alphabet all working to develop useable quantum computers.

The future of work and business is an elusive concept that either excites or terrifies, largely due to the unknown nature of it. However, it is not so unknown, as the clues to the future actually lie in our past. In a world that will be awash with unfathomable amounts of data, we will need new tools – like those that transformed our world in the past – to realise the immense opportunity that is right in front of us.

Euan Davis, European Lead, Centre for the Future of Work, Cognizant (opens in new tab)

Euan Davis is the European Lead for Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, which provides original research and analysis of work trends and dynamics.