Business

20 billion agents: Tech is evolving the digital human

Above: Edward Wilson-Smythe, a Gartner VP

Image Credit: John Koetsier

It’s a fairly uncontroversial thing to say technology is changing business. Or the economy.

It’s a little more controversial, however, to say that technology is changing humans — not just their behavior, but their fundamental human nature.

Essentially, we’re undergoing evolution via technology.

Gartner VP Edward Wilson-Smythe has been thinking, consulting and speaking about the digital economy, the digital enterprise, and yes, the digital human for years. He spoke this morning at the Cloud Factory conference in Banff, Alberta, this morning, and I spoke to him privately immediately following.

VentureBeat: You’ve talked about the evolution of the digital economy, the digital enterprise, even the digital person. Can you elaborate?

Wilson-Smythe: The core of it is disruptive technologies, which will come in many varieties. There will be cloud, analytics, social, mobile, smart sensors which enable the autonomous agents of the Internet.

We believe that the pace of disruptive technologies will just keep increasing. Technology not only feeds the highest ideals of human nature; it also ends up becoming a snowball effect. So we can almost take disruptive technology for a given. Somebody somewhere in a garage or somebody somewhere in an R&D shop will come up with the next cheaper, better, smarter, faster thing.

But for us, it’s only part of the puzzle. Because all that needs to be leveraged … and that’s where the concept of the digital value chain comes in. If you take processes, interactions, and transactions … that we all do every day in the real world: How do these become more digitalized?

What makes it compelling now is that many of these value chains will become autonomous and independent of human intervention based on these smart network agents.

If you look at the ratio today of 90 percent human and 10 percent agents, to down the road in 2020 when we have 20 billion agents and 7 billion humans, you can see the possibility of not only existing value chains becoming more enabled but new value chains we didn’t even know existed, because agents talk to each other.

VentureBeat: So one example today is maybe the stock markets, where you have these super-fast agents trading with each other. Where are we going to see it in the future?

Wilson-Smythe: You’ll see that in every example of our lives. If you look at the example of a car crash today, assuming you have OnStar, someone notices that an airbag has been deployed, calls 911, checks the GPS, and can dispatch an ambulance.

In the future, car crashes will be rarer because there will be smart sensors in the cars that help prevent accidents. And second, if a car crash happens, those smart sensors can not only protect the driver but, based on signals triage the driver, send the right message over to the EMS services, dispatch the right type of care to the driver, inform police and fire, and simultaneously start assessing the car for damages so that claims can be processed.

And all of this is happening at one point when the human agent is incapacitated.

Now, this has impacts on city governments, auto makers, mobile technology makers, insurance companies; and all of these technologies exist today. But for this ecosystem to happen in the future, all these enterprises need to work together to create this digital value chain.

VentureBeat: What other examples do we have?

Wilson-Smythe: If I’m sitting by the pool at a casino drinking a mai tai, I am making no one any money.

Casinos make their money on gambling and alcohol, so the casino needs to get me off my butt from the lounger and either headed in the direction of the slots or in the direction of the bar.

Through GPS using my mobile, through information available on my profile when I checked in, through previous transaction behavior, they can make targeted offers to me; they can direct human agents on how to interact with me to get me to the bar or the slot machines.

VentureBeat: I look at a lot of marketing tech, which is massively growing. It’s almost like as our technology gets more human, we get more automated.

Wilson-Smythe: Yes, we get more automated (laughing) … Or, I would say, our transactions, our processes, our interactions get more automated, more informed, more targeted.

If I’m an insurance provider and I know the health of my subscriber and I know what life activities are going on, I can anticipate their needs better. What you can actually do is understand when that person has applied for a home loan, when that person is going to give birth, when that person’s child may be going to university — or juvenile correction!

Based on all these data points, you can target. That to me is the digital enterprise.

More information:

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world's leading information technology research and advisory company. Gartner delivers the technology-related insight necessary for its clients to make the right decisions, every day. From CIOs and senio... read more »

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