Why you should care

From telecom to tech, this OZY original series tells you how 5G speeds and AI could change lives.

Some call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, others the Second Machine Age. No one’s quite sure what this coming era will look like — will we have killer robots chased by robot cops? — except that it will be defined by the intersection of multiple technological breakthroughs. Where there’s unanimity is on two specific streams of technology that will spearhead this transformation: artificial intelligence (AI) and fifth generation (5G) telecom data speeds.

Marry the two, and you get Fifth Generation Intelligence, an OZY original series on the ways these technologies promise to reinvent everything from critical medical care to cyber security, and airport immigration to species recognition. As with any major tech transformation, the easy-to-say acronyms – if you hear 4IR, that’s the Fourth Industrial Revolution, by the way – are often masks for complex, difficult-to-understand concepts. What are some of the lesser-known but potentially transformative changes AI and 5G will bring? How will 5G reach us? At a time when there’s great scepticism around questions of big tech and privacy, can AI actually protect us better? What are the unexpected sectors and places where 5G and AI could make the most difference? Which are the countries and cities that will lead the world in these technologies?

The good news? We’ll answer these questions, and more, to equip you for this future.

SATELLITES MIGHT BE YOUR BEST BET TO GET 5G

The towers that mobile connectivity has depended on all these years won’t work for 5G. That’ll need a new set of 5G towers that will cost billions of dollars – and take years – to build. Major telecom companies are reluctant about investing beyond major metropolitan areas that promise high profits. The answer? Satellites. From SpaceX to the European Space Agency and the E.U., firms, organizations and blocs of nations are trying to fill that gap by developing satellite solutions to beam 5G connectivity to the vast majority of people.

FACELESS BORDER SECURITY: IS AI THE FUTURE OF AIRPORT IMMIGRATION?

You land at a U.S. airport after a long international flight. Instead of immigration queues, a machine asks passengers a few questions and lets them go in seconds. Great, right? Except if you’re the one person it picks as suspicious. Did it choose you because of your race? Did it erroneously let someone actually dangerous go through? This isn’t science fiction. The U.S. is increasingly deploying AI-based systems to efficiently screen travellers. But some research suggests such systems carry racial biases and fail to pick up cues only trained humans can, about dodgy individuals.

HOUSE ON FIRE? 5G COULD SAVE YOU

Imagine your house has caught fire and you’ve suffered burns by the time first responders arrive. Their fancy augmented reality goggles connect them to burns experts hundreds of miles away, who guide them step by step till you’re safe. The catalyst that allows this? 5G speeds, which ensure that the connection with the experts doesn’t freeze up just when they’re about to share critical advice. From drones delivering defibrillators to ambulances beaming complex patient data to doctors in real time, the medical profession is gearing up to use 5G connectivity to revolutionize emergency care.

MAKING FOREST WALKS MORE FUN

Strolling through a beautiful forest, you come across an exotic insect on a leaf. Then, a bird you’ve never seen before flies by. You quickly grab your smartphone, and take photos of the insect and the bird. Within seconds, you know everything about them. You could call it zoo Shazam, the popular British app that identifies songs. Thanks to deep learning, a wave of fast-growing species-identifying AI apps is emerging, helping zoologists, botanists and amateur nature lovers alike.

THIS CITY COULD SETTLE THE WINNER OF THE 5G RACE

Yinchuan’s trash cans are smart. Very smart. The moment they’re full, they alert authorities, and municipal workers in orange suits promptly turn up in a truck to clear the waste. That’s just one example of how China is turning this city on the windswept outskirts of the Ordos Desert into its testing lab for global 5G domination. With 6,400 5G base stations planned, and 100 percent fiber-optic broadband connectivity targeted by 2020, Yinchuan is the template the world’s second-largest economy wants the world to follow.

AI MIGHT MAKE YOU SAFER ONLINE

Big tech companies may be in the crossfire for not doing enough to protect user privacy. But the best solution to this crisis, it appears, may also lie in technology. Or AI, to be precise. Globally, nearly 2 billion data records were compromised in cyber-attacks within the first six months of 2017. Now Microsoft, IBM and Cisco, among others, are employing machine learning to defend their customers’ indentities and data round-the-clock and in real time.

AND IT MAY SAVE HUMANITY

Scientists are ringing the alarm bell on climate change louder than ever before, as we appear set to pass the 2 degrees increase in temperatures that could spell doom for the planet. Can AI be the superhero the world needs to save it? From helping in the search for outer-space colonies where humankind could relocate if necessary, to assisting in mapping climate change, AI might be our best bet at survival. Is anyone listening, though, given concerns that it might also eat up jobs?

BUT THIS SUPERHERO MAY NOT PROVE HELPFUL IN STOPPING CRIMES

Here’s a thought experiment – what physics Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman called a “gedanken.” Examine patterns of words most used on Facebook for a few days. Take crime data for those days, and map the two. Chances are, you’ll find that days with spikes in crime were preceded by days when usage of some specific words on Facebook went up. Eureka! You think you’ve found a way to oredict crime. But you then check that pattern out over a few more days. Suddenly, the correlation you thought existed, collapses. Here’s the lesson. Random data correlations can suggest that social media and AI might help in major predictions, such as upcoming crime. The reality is far more complex.

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