Who’s in the driver’s seat?

If you want to leave social media and get away from all the algorithms that seem to be running our lives now, you are not alone. You, too, may be suffering from ‘techlash’ in the advent of many technological marvels. According to consultant agency Gartner, there could be as many as 21 billion connected sensors and endpoints by 2020. We ask if is there a way to fit us, humans, into this brave new world.

Katri Saarikivi, an accomplished cognitive neuroscientist, believes we have reached a point in history where we are afraid of the tools and technology we have developed. 

“Fear is a pretty natural response considering that our digital tools are evolving so fast and the ways of working are changing drastically,” she says, adding that the world has become a very unpredictable place and that predictability is something people crave, almost desperately, to plan their lives.

Saarikivi heads the HUMEX Project at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki which examines neural mechanisms involved in empathy and fruitful interaction.

“In particular, we are studying how these mechanisms could be better harnessed in digital interaction environments,” she explains. The research is driven by the question of how artificial and human intelligence could best complement each other, how computers could better understand human emotions and how people could best interact via computers.

She points out that while the AIs of the future may be unbeatable in many regards, there are still areas out there where the ‘organic intelligence’ of the flesh-and-blood variety may prevail.

“We know for certain that humans are better in empathy and interaction than artificial intelligence. This is where we should focus our best efforts,” she says adding that via improved interaction our collective intelligence – and our problem-solving abilities in general – are heightened.    

“In the 2020’s, we will certainly have hybrid solutions that provide a new level of convenience to our lives, as technology saves us both time and energy,” she believes.

Perfect digital storm

Pankaj Saharan, Director, Software Engineering, at Wärtsilä, points out that technology has been always evolving – but we are now more dependent on digital solutions than ever.

“The trend will only go upwards as the mass adoption of some of these innovations increases,” Saharan says. He sees technology quickly spearheading a range of things from autonomous self-driving cars to fully-connected digital home appliances, and from reinvented business models and ecosystems to blockchain solutions in, say, government or healthcare.

According to Saharan, the adoption of new technology is likely to occur when ease of use, economic savings, and trust all come together to provide customer value. 

“With reliance on technology come the trust issues mainly in areas related to data privacy, safety and security,” he says. For example, robot cars already have less accidents than those manned by humans, but the mental barrier is still there: we don’t know if we can trust the robo-driver.

Rooted in values

To address these issues, companies should draw up more than just a technological roadmap.

“I think the companies need to take ownership of the moral values, privacy, and safety concerns in addition to providing tangible value through technology solutions to the end users,” Saharan says.

Smart tech is a big part of also Wärtsilä’s strategy. Part of the challenge is keeping all those innovations at “human scale” and approachable.

“For example, the demand for clean and flexible energy and the need for efficient and safe transportation is increasingly affecting the way customers operate. This forms the basis for Wärtsilä’s offering of smart solutions to the marine and energy markets.”

As Wärtsilä’s strategy calls for enabling sustainable societies with smart technology, the company is dedicated to solving real-world customer problems through smart technological solutions, he explains.

Written by

Sami Anteroinen