Humans and machines working together for a better society

I recently spoke at TEDx Modena Salon about the strong commingling of computation - including machine intelligence - with communications technologies to realize a world where humans and machines can live and cooperate. Here is a summary of my ideas and you can also watch the video (in Italian).

Humans and machines working together for a better society

Head of the Ericsson Research branch in Italy

Head of the Ericsson Research branch in Italy

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Have you seen the famous science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey?  In that movie two astronauts, David Bowman and Frank Poole, and an artificial intelligence (AI) named HAL 9000 work together during a challenging space mission. When the movie came out in 1968, I was just a five-year-old child, and very impressed by the movie - an intelligent computer had control of a space ship and the space mission. This scared me and from the start I was afraid something might go wrong.

How could the machine have that power? How could it know everything about the space ship, the mission and the behavior of the astronauts?

In the movie there is eventually a deadly conflict between Bowman and HAL 9000 and you probably know how the story ends. As a child it terrified me!

Today I am over 50 years old, and have experienced as many years of technological progress and development. What used to science fiction is becoming reality - humans and AI are now part of the same world.

AI alone isn’t enough

However, AI and the huge computing/processing capability of today’s technology are not enough. Another cornerstone technology is needed to enable the true potential of AI -  communications between objects and between people and machines. AI entities need to learn a representation of physical reality through a sort of digitization of that reality.

This is also the base concept of Industry 4.0. This means that many objects and sensors must communicate somehow with AI entities, humans and clouds. 5G networks will enable the scale of this kind of global communication infrastructure between humans and machines.

As an industry, telecommunication has had an unprecedented global impact. It took 100 years to connect one billion places. When mobile telephony was introduced, it took only 25 years to connect five billion people. In 2022, we foresee that there will be 29 billion connected devices. 5G is not just another mobile technology; it is a network infrastructure to support all possible connected services and incorporate all possible wireless (and non) access technologies.

Robots and humans need to communicate

The aim is to fully connect entire industries and societies. This is already happening, and we can see the trend growing stronger in the future, with great examples in automotive, new and enhanced mobile broadband experience, health care and manufacturing. Looking towards the future, collaborative working will be the true enabler, with humans and robots - in the broad sense - cooperating together to maximize productivity and agility while reducing risks for humans.

When talking about communication between objects and humans it is common to talk about three main categories:

  1. Massive machine type communications (MTC), meaning communications involving huge volumes of objects exchanging modest amounts of data and in non-critical conditions.
  2. Critical MTC, meaning communications where there are criticalities in terms of latency, real time operations and truly reliable infrastructure.
  3. Enhanced mobile broadband, to further enhance the quality of user experience even in extreme conditions.

But robot-human cooperation will not be limited to traditionally blue-collar jobs but to white collar ones as well. AI can help humans to:

  1. Evaluate complex realities, providing them with a synthetized and understandable representation of a complex reality, and make the right decisions
  2. Understand risks in advance and reduce probability of fault or casualties and, perhaps later in the future …
  3. Make some level of decisions! As an example, there could be the need to make decisions that need a very short time to action to be effective.

Now a fascinating dilemma emerges - to what extent can humans leave machines to make decisions?

Is 2001: A Space Odyssey realistic?

Ericsson TEDx sabella blog 5G machines


This brings us back to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Is that kind of conflict possible, could humans lose control with respect to machine intelligence?

Fifty years after the movie was released, we know what is possible with current technologies. We can prevent conflicts between human and machine and limit the actions and decisions of AI, making it possible to give the machine a kind of supervised autonomy. So the vision has become reality - humans and machines cooperating, combining human wisdom and intuition with AI’s strong elaboration capabilities and artificial learning and thinking.

By the way, this was somehow guessed by the author of the original story. HAL, the name of the AI computer, was an acronym of heuristics and algorithmics, which are the two opposite approaches to thinking.

But again there is a key technology that allows both humans and machines to make the right decisions: communications. A miscommunication, an incorrect message or a signal that arrives too late, can lead to mistakes and in critical cases to disasters. To ensure a world where humans and machines live and work together, we must have a strong commingling of computing/AI and communications.

Watch me at TEDx Modena Salon


Please explore our 5G work in Tuscany as well as new reports and insights on AI and society:

5G Innovation in Tuscany, Italy 

5 ways that AI will change your life:

The future of AI in Consumer Experience 

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