As a large number of world leaders, corporate and otherwise, gather in Davos to discuss global issues, high on the agenda is the question of automation and artificial intelligence – namely, how they will affect jobs, the economy and humanity in general.
As a lifelong student of these technologies, and more recently the leader of a large and pioneering services company that is centred on human services in the area of computing technologies, I want to argue for a human future.
The digital revolution has positioned us at the epicentre of change and opportunity. We are surrounded by technology that enables us to do more, with less, for more. I believe this exponentially increases our individual and collective ability to achieve our true potential, and enhances our freedom to evolve.
The next revolution
This aspiration to grow and advance is innate to humanity. It is the reason why the digital revolution is so exciting; it gives us the power and freedom to change our circumstances and the world around us. In fact, it has the capacity to catalyse a great human revolution. In the convergence of a host of powerful new technologies and concepts – from artificial intelligence to design thinking, deep analytics to ubiquitous authoring – we will now see ordinary people tapping into their inborn creativity and becoming creators of extraordinary solutions.
This freedom to be innovative, to find our own insights and accomplish our goals, has served us well before. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi understood its power. Among his many other initiatives, Gandhi encouraged Indians to spin and weave, and wear clothing made from this homespun fabric. He would often be seen in public sitting at the traditional spinning wheel, or charkha. This act took the power of the freedom movement from the rarefied circles of the social elite, the freedom fighters and the educated few, and gave it to the masses. It became both the tool and the symbol of a national revolution built on the tenets of human creativity, self-reliance and entrepreneurship. It was one of the earliest instances of the maker movement, of the “Make in India” strategy aimed at turning India into a manufacturing hub to trigger its economic transformation.
Today, computing technology can serve as humanity’s charkha. Alan Kay, and later Steve Jobs, likened the computer to a bicycle for the human mind. Just as a bicycle amplifies our abilities while using our abilities, so can a computer, and software authored by people. Today, computing literacy and software authoring are the domain of a chosen few, but through advances in tooling and better abstractions, software authoring stands to (and indeed is destined to) be widely achievable; and just as the charkha did many decades ago, computer literacy will help make makers out of us, help us weave our dreams into reality. It’s one reason why I am so excited that the Infosys Foundation USA has taken on computing literacy for the masses as one of its key initiatives.
Lessons from India
In fact, we have seen technology prove its ability to amplify people and societies time and again. In the years after India’s independence, and throughout the 1950s and 60s, the nation was hit by an acute food shortage. Grains were imported and food rations were the order of the day. Then the Green Revolution changed it all. Professor Norman Borlaug co-developed high-yield disease-resistant wheat varieties, which India was quick to adopt. Indian farmers became more productive and their potential was enhanced by new techniques and know-how. Steadily, India improved its food situation and is today one of the biggest exporters of food. And this incredible transformation, enabled by technology, has taken less than one generation to bear fruit.
The world is indeed poised at the cusp of incredible opportunity, but it will take a revolution to make the most of it. This human revolution will find its vitality from a foundation based on education, ethos and entrepreneurship. Technology will help relieve us of the repetitive tasks that can be modelled and precisely formulated to be automated, freeing us to deal with the exceptions, the management and forecasting, looking ahead and around the corners, as well as focusing our energy, imagination and intelligence on the next frontiers: on creativity, innovation and inventing great futures for ourselves and others.
Technology, especially computing technology, will provide a halo, a great context around our humanity, which will empower us. The context in which we find ourselves is crucial to the value we are able to deliver. Change the context, and the same person with the same inherent capabilities will often deliver a different result.
In summary, the human revolution will be about technology (especially computing technology) and provide a great context for each of us to amplify our potential, enrich our lives, widen our knowledge, expand our freedom, become more human and access the power to create a better future for ourselves.
Author: Vishal Sikka is CEO of Infosys
Image: A view of computer screens during the opening of the new C4I4 Emergency Operations Centre in Mexico City October 25, 2011. REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya