The Rise of the Machines

Yesterday, I blogged about the Microsoft Band – the new wearable device from Microsoft that is aimed at people who do sports. Reading the press, I get the impression that relatively few commentators have understood what’s really going on here. Most of them are focusing on the device itself, and missing the real story. The device is a first generation attempt. It is limited, clunky, and will only used by early adopters. Better devices will inevitably follow, but that’s almost not the point.

The real point, and the real innovation, is Microsoft Health – the service in the Cloud where all the data collected by the Band can, and usually will, be held. Microsoft themselves talk about Microsoft Health being “the beginning of a journey”. It’s clear that the plan is that the data collected will be mined to provide value, and not just to you, but to Microsoft and its partners. I notice that Microsoft already has a connection not just between the Microsoft Health service and multiple (non-Microsoft) devices, but between Microsoft Health and Microsoft’s HealthVault:

MS Health 01

And just what is HealthVault? Well, it’s where you can store your health information and make it available to others: such as your health providers, and no doubt in the future, your insurers.

This is the inevitable rise of big data in the Healthcare industry. I think where Microsoft, and others, certainly Google, but maybe even Nintendo, are going is to aim for the point where their intelligent agents (Cortana, in Microsoft’s case) take on the role of your personal physician. It may seem farfetched today, but it is an inevitable endpoint of the changes that are happening all around us. There’s a McKinsey report that says that Big Data is the next frontier for innovation and competition, which may well be the case, but I can’t help feel that McKinsey hasn’t seen the writing on the wall when they state that:

There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

Um, sorry, but coming rapidly up on the inside are intelligent bots that have those deep analytical skills. Already, we have the fact that arguably the best oncologist in the world is not a human but an intelligent bot: Watson. We are rapidly approaching the position where for many jobs – not just assembly line workers, but white-collar workers and even the professional classes such as lawyers, doctors, and analysts – humans need not apply:

Last week, I attended a presentation in Silvolde, a small town nearby, which was given by Peter van der Wel – a Futurologist and Economist. He covered much the same ground as in the video above. While van der Wel was a self-confessed optimist about the technological changes that are heading our way, I’m not so sure. I agree that they will happen, but the resulting upheavals in society as we move from the pre-robot age to a post-robot one will not be easily managed. Today, most of us work to earn money in order to live. When it becomes difficult to find a job – any job – what will the impact be on society? I have no answer, but I think we “live in interesting times”, as the old Chinese curse would have it.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
This entry was posted in Computers and Internet, Consumer Electronics, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Rise of the Machines

  1. Matt Healy says:

    First this happened to agriculture: rich countries produce far more food than ever before, but need far fewer people to do it. Then it happened to manufacturing. Nobody knows what will happen next, but I think that depends at least as much on social factors as it does on the technology.

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