Life at the speed of 5G

“Innovation is what happens at the intersection of imagination and reality.”

– Ron Johnson
(and Saurabh Dubey – I wrote it and then had to look up if someone has already said something similar)

Yesterday’s imagination is today’s reality, and today’s imagination will be tomorrow’s. If you don’t beleive me, just watch the science fiction movies from 1950s to 1990s, and look for small things in the movies. If you’re note sure what I am talking about – google “predictions from old sci-fi movies that actually came true”. In the age of innovation (today is you didn’t catch my drift), this means that we will be imagining things that will make tomorrow real. But the impact of these innovations is more than just having fun with hoverboards. Innovations today have a much more real impact on the society. I’m just taking one perspective on it.

If you have read up or heard about 5G technology, you know of the advantages that come with it. This is not a technical piece, instead I am looking to understand (and discuss) the impact of what happens when 5G becomes real (and I mean real – not the version we have on our phones today). So, if you need the technical background, here’s the linked learning that I beleive is one of the best introductions to the topic:

While there is a range of innovations that can be fostered by any upgrade or new generation of technology, the most significant impact of 5G (in my opinion) – is the Internet of Skills.

For the uninitiated, Internet of Skills is simplest of its definitions is a technological age where skills, knowledge, expertise, can be transferred real-time without the restriction of geographic boundaries. And NO – I am not talking about how Neo learnt martial arts by getting plugged into a machine in the Matrix. That is a different future. But there is another movie that you will start thinking about soon.

Combine internet of skills, with the situation and havoc created by a global pandemic, and you have the perfect recipe that to take the gig economy to a whole new level.

Imagine a society where you have a skill, and you are a master of that skill; but you never have to leave your home or the comfort of your personal office space to go apply that skill. You merely connect yourself to a series of systems and with the help off the super powered 5th generation of internetworking, you are able to virtually present yourself at wherever your job is.

Has it started sounding like “Ready Player One” to you yet. If not, pay close attention.

Let’s get specific. You are a doctor. You wake up in your house, do your morning routine, and are ready for work. You go into a room in your house, where you have a specific set of equipment that you need to use – a haptic suit that you wear, connected to a network that you securely log in to. Once logged in, you walk into the hospital without really walking into the hospital; you look at your charts and find out which patients are you expected to go and see. You get to the first patient and you examine them without actually ever touching the patient. But when you touch their arm, you feel the warmth in your fingers. When you tell them to open their mouth and say “AAA”, you smell the medicine on their breath. And when you walk into surgery later in the day, you can feel the slightest of push-back from the muscles that your working on. All of this without ever leaving the comfort and safety of your home.

That paints the picture of what is possible with the correct application of 5G and Internet of Skills. (Note that I am not abbreviating this, should someone start thinking that Apple invented this as well).

Now that we have described the future, let’s talk about the social and economic aspects of this future. Since you are not there in person, noone really needs to know what you look like or how you talk or what your gender is. Your competence is identified purely based on your capability and not the colour of your skin, your genitalia or your ethnicity. Does that mean that your capability will finally differentiate between you and another person? Having said this, I can immediately imagine people saying that it shouldn’t matter anyways – and I agree it shouldn’t. But that’s not the reality we live in, that’s the imagination of the future we want to live in – hence the little help from innovation. So – is this the answer in the long run to the gender bias, wage gaps, and racism in workplace? Maybe it’s too soon to call it.

Let’s talk about another aspect of this – just like this technology supports the provider (the person with the skills), theoretically, it can also be used to support the reciever. So, can we say that if price was not an issue in education (especially thanks to Khan Academy, and many similar organizations), can we prevent bullying in schools by removing what have percieved to be the causes?

Right now – some of you are thinking – Saurabh – you’re taking it too far. You are talking about a society where we remove our differences instead of accepting them. My own brain is telling me (as I write this) that I have gone from facts to fiction, painting a distopian society, where we pretend to be someone else so people like us. And I am sure that some of you would love to post this on your social media. (I will leave that statement out there for you to ponder.)

But let’s pull back – this is not a blog on the state of our society, it is about the impact of internet of skills on our lives. So let’s look at ot from other angles. What all is truly possible with this technology?

Can a band perform together without being in the same place?

Can I get my car fixed without taking the car to the mechanic?

Can I get a chef to cook my food without leaving his home?

Can I get a painter to draw a mural on my wall – with their very human touch to every brush stroke?

The answer to all of the above questions is yes.

Let’s give a more personal touch to this conversation – some of you are thinking “Saurabh – life is more than just a set of tasks”.

We have seen in movies (more bollywood for me), that when you need the best doctor for a job, they usually come at a very high price – mostly because of the expense of flying them in for an urgent procedure, and most poor protagonists in movies are unable to afford that level of medical care. If the cost of flying someone, and then the cost of hosting (food/lodging/etc.) in a foreign land is removed from the equation – will that bring the cost of this surgery down? Again, in theory – yes.

I am from India, and I live miles away from my parents. I remember seeing the tears in the eyes of my father’s friend when I helped him (from Delhi) chat on IRS with his son who was in US in 1995. I also remember seeing tears in my late grandmother’s eyes when she saw my daughter on a whatsapp video call when she got her smartphone back in 2012. Is this technology the next generation after facetime, skype, and whatsapp video calls? If this technology becomes available soon enough (wishful thinking), can I give my mom a hug when she is feeling lonely? In theory – yes; and she will be able to feel the hug.

To wrap up, we must also think about what it means for other industries and other technologies. Every example I took above points to a surge of hardware required to perform these activities – both to provide and to recieve. And to my friends who live and breathe technology platforms – the holy grail – the marketplace for internet of skills.

As you can imagine, this is an exciting space – from a technology perspective, from a human behavioural psychology perspective, from a socio-economic persepective, and from a very personal perspective. Keep watching this space – I promise you will be able to imagine the new reality yourself.

2 thoughts on “Life at the speed of 5G

  1. Jim Broshar says:

    well said, and enlightening. happy to find your writing, Saurabh. I agree that much hinges on what we are willing to transact online and what if anything we prefer to do F2F. Your example of a painter in my house is a great example. i think the difference is whether we consider the transaction a commodity (replenishing hand soap) vs. highly personal (haircut), at least now. all may go virtual over time but i suspect we will hit a threshold where it slows/ stops.


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