Technology and our shifting society
We can’t discuss technology’s impact on our society without reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so profoundly affected our lives. People across the globe found themselves in a completely new environment and had to rapidly adjust to them in completely new ways.
Digitalization at home and in the workplace were fast-forwarded like never before. And with global lockdowns, we also saw first-hand the importance of connectivity for all.
Networks reported huge shifts in traffic. According to Peter Laurin who was a guest on our podcast episode Can we use AI to build the post-pandemic society?, there was an increase in rural traffic, roaming was nearly wiped out in favor of Wi-Fi, and voice messaging – which had been decreasing for years – became popular again as friends and families tried to keep in touch digitally rather than physically. It proved how vital it is to have a stable internet connection – not just to connect with others, but to carry out simple tasks that keep daily life moving: paying bills, keeping up to date with news, accessing healthcare, and the list goes on . Mobile networks have become mission critical, which means there is no room for failure. But in an industry where connections are only increasing, how can we simplify networks so that they’re able to handle increasing amounts of data while also enabling a digital first society?
AI and healthcare
At Ericsson, our recent work in healthcare has involved research in social distancing measures using mobile phone data – anonymized network performance data related to local lockdown measures, for example. What patterns emerge from society? Do these measures have the intended impact? These are the kinds of questions we’ve tried to answer for government agencies since the outbreak of the pandemic.
We’ve also used AI to track the number of beds needed in intensive care at Sweden’s largest hospital on the West coast where we had a special pilot in place. But there are other examples in healthcare where we expect AI will prove itself in the coming years.
The ability for AI to expand the senses is where AI comes into its own. We’ve already seen the emergence and growth of telemedicine during the pandemic. But what the expansion of AI can do in healthcare involves spotting irregularities or concerns with a patient on a minute level, in a way that doctors might miss, or simply be unable to detect. It could be an irregularity on the skin, maybe because of a possible skin disease, or it could help detect irregularities in breathing patterns because of a lung problem. Using AI in these contexts means we can democratize access to healthcare. This includes removing bulky B2B equipment and using technology to shift towards a B2C space.
Using technology for good
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitalization. According to McKinsey, within the first few months of the pandemic, companies had sped up their adoption of digital technologies by three years. But when it comes to advanced technology like AI, there has been an element of fear in the past, particularly its implementation in the workplace. Will certain jobs become extinct? Will AI ‘take over’?
Ultimately, we believe that the role of AI will be to automate jobs and humanize work. AI is good at taking care of the mundane tasks and will therefore liberate us from these mundane jobs so we can spend more time being creative, which is what we humans do best.
Of course, there are legitimate fears around the abuse of AI by those who are technically skilled. As with any new technology, AI can be used for social good, but it could be used to do harm, through scamming and personalization for example. AI singularity is also another concern. This term refers to the point where AI becomes self-aware and starts to perform without the need for human intervention. Regulation and ethical AI are quickly becoming key focus points with frameworks already being drawn up by the European Commission and the Australian Government, for example. With efficient regulation, however, there are many opportunities to truly enhance user experiences and expand horizons across industries and institutions.
Paving way for the internet of skills
Here at Ericsson, we are pioneering a new internet where we can democratize how we learn new skills – we call it the internet of skills. We already know that work can now be executed from anywhere in the world. But what’s missing is learning skills through touch, for example. The internet of skills will allow us to transmit muscle movement and touch over an internet connection. This means I could teach someone piano using exoskeleton equipment placed next to my student, which I can connect to remotely. It means that doctors can perform remote surgery through haptic, low-latency equipment that connects the doctor to the patient. It also means students can learn on a whole new level that’s much more immersive than the zoom calls they’ve experienced during the pandemic.
As AI develops, expectations will also rise in how it can connect the unconnected and help close the digital divide. Post-pandemic, it’s clear that connectivity has become an even bigger part of critical infrastructure that should be accessible for everyone, connecting individuals and enriching lives. This is just the beginning!
Listen to the full podcast episode, Can we use AI to build the post-pandemic society?
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