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“Vital social functions must work even when the system crashes”

Jobs disappear and new ones emerge. Human-like machines and self-driving cars. Digitalisation is far-reaching, affecting us all and changing our society. But what will our digitalised world really look like? We meet Sverker Janson, director of research at RISE, who discusses and offers his views on digitalisation.

Why do you think we are seeing such an emphasis on digitalisation at the moment?

“Digitalisation is one of the main drivers of change affecting our everyday lives, as well as one of the most rapid, so naturally, it is high on the agenda. The word digitalization only entered the vernacular five or six years ago and yet computerisation itself has been ongoing since the computer was invented. Digitalisation really took off with the advent of the internet and smart mobile devices, although it is still in its early stages.”

What will our society look like in 50 years time?

“It is often said that humans have a tendency to overestimate short-term change but underestimate long-term change. And 50 years is a very long time when one is talking about digitalisation! By then I believe that AI will be far more developed; we will have machines that think like we do. Most jobs will also be automated.”

Healthcare is one sector in which digitalisation is on the rise. How do you see the digital hospital of the future? 

“If I were to speculate, I believe that healthcare will be completely transformed. Diagnostics, consultation and prescriptions will be completely automated and will take place in the home, replacing both primary healthcare and large areas of specialist care. Health checks will be a continuous process using sensors in your environment, on your body and even in the form of implants. Far more healthcare will be about wellness, helping us to live healthier lives. When you do visit the hospital of the future you will be largely be greeted by AI systems rather than people, and your surgeon will probably be a robot!”

But what happens if, one day, such a vital part of society suddenly ‘crashes’?

“This vulnerability does of course present a challenge and we must put a great deal of work into creating robust digital infrastructure. We can compare such a situation to a modern hospital experiencing a power cut; a backup generator must be available to maintain all vital functions. The digital society will require similar precautions. No matter which area of society ‘crashes’, functionality needs to be maintained. Much of the work I and my colleagues do is about ensuring that the technology is reliable, so that we are able to guarantee vital social functions.”

Many people wonder about how their jobs will change in the future; how do we manage this?   

“In the short term I don’t see automation affecting our jobs very much; however, there is a long-term challenge to create new jobs. having said that, many people don’t necessarily see this as a problem; for example, we may work shorter hours and experiment with a basic social wage. We need to bear in mind that digitalisation is basically positive. It makes us more productive, increasing our prosperity and quality of life. Thanks to digital technology, a sustainable society is within our grasp and we can develop everything from water-saving smart agriculture to low-emission, self-driving electric vehicles. The challenge is to share this prosperity and offer everyone purpose and meaning, even those without waged-work as we understand it today.”

Sverker Janson

Does: Director of RISE’s Computer Systems Laboratory

Advantages of digitalization: It will make it possible for people to enjoy a better life on our planet. 

Challenges of digitalization: Power will become more concentrated, for example with global corporations.

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