This is part of a series being penned by an eminent educationist Arun Kapur.

The year is 2028. You have gone for an evening meal to an unexplored restaurant in your neighbourhood. Your AI assistant has already made reservations and you arrive at the restaurant to enjoy a good meal. Your AI, knowing your schedule, looks up the menu of the restaurant. Based on the biological data your smartwatch is transmitting, the AI will suggest what the ideal items in the menu are that work best for your body chemistry at that time. You don’t like the food suggestions made by the AI. After all, you have had a hard day at work and wanted to gorge on some delicious food irrespective of the calories or other content in it. You think of ignoring the AI’s suggestions but then you also remember your doctor’s advice that you should cut down on fatty foods. So you decide to make a compromise with the AI - can I have this delicious albeit unhealthy food if I skip dessert. The AI recalculates the nutritional intake and suggests that you could have that dish you wanted if you skip dessert but also walk back to the house rather than taking a cab. It says that this would mean that by the time you reach back home your body vitals would be in the normal, acceptable range. You agree to the AI’s suggestion. The AI calculates the calorie intake of your meal and uploads that information to the database.

As the evening progresses, you find the food that you ate was too spicy and you have a troubled stomach. You ask the AI to make a memory of the restaurant and the meal you had so as to not repeat this again. The AI asks for your permission for this information to be stored in memory in your database. It then checks the Scoville range of the dish you had and recalibrates your spice preferences so that it can warn you the next time you are tempted to order something in that range. It then communicates with your smart fridge to check if the food that you had when you were last feeling ill is in stock. Realising it is not, it places an order for the same to be delivered to your house by the local grocer. The notification that grocery delivery is scheduled to arrive in the next 45 minutes pops up on your smartphone. It will also ensure that the temperature in your room along with the lighting is adjusted to help you recover whilst also re-scheduling any appointments you may have.  In the year 2028, it may be a bit too early but by 2038 your robot butler will attend to the grocery delivery and stock your fridge before you are home.

In the near future, we will be living in a world where smart wearable technology is monitoring our biological activity, artificial intelligence will then process this data, stock items in our fridge that is best for our activity and so forth. The rise of the Network of Things (“The Internet of Things”) will introduce a whole new class of wireless devices that are autonomous, intelligent and capable of connecting with each other. This is commonly referred to as ubiquitous computing.

Propelled by 5G and higher technology infrastructure, it could be possible to create an interconnected network between devices, infrastructure, cities and eventually between everything that exists; humans, animals, cars, buildings, trees etc. The Internet of things (IoT) is the concept where electronic devices are equipped with technology enabling them to communicate with each other via the Internet. These devices are referred to as “Things” in the IoT.

Image source- Wearable devices on the human body

This world is not only in the realms of sci-fi, it is already here. From our homes and workplaces to our streets, from our cars to our cities and towns, these devices and systems are being introduced. We will have our very own personal assistant who knows what we like, where we want to go, how much time we want to spend at certain places and what we would like to do.

As with any new technology, privacy and security will be significant issues. Integrity and accountability are two of the big hurdles we need to face. The Internet of Things will only be able to deliver its promises if there are robust cyber security and privacy protections in place. Privacy and security will thus become very important in the era of the IoT. There is also the strong possibility that many of us would not like to have this level of data about us being entrusted to an unseen algorithm or to have our choices made for us, in the first place.

"It is hard to predict how this will lead to inequality. There are precedents though. For instance, when mobile phones became common in the early 90s, it was mostly used by the wealthy in society. But in a span of a few years, it was mass adopted and what's more interesting is that the mass adopted mobile phones were considerably cost-effective, capable and smart than their predecessors in the 90s.Will this then mean that society will now be divided along technological lines?"

The connected network of everything will enable significant advancements in the areas of healthcare, transportation, energy, food and agriculture, financial services and smart cities. The benefits will certainly be immense and so will the challenges we currently don’t think of. It is a sphere that once we venture into there is no turning back. We need persons of substance leading us through these technological advancements. We need those people who will make the best decisions in the interest of our collective humanity as opposed to harvesting all our data and then using the same to manipulate us.

We also need to revisit our education processes to ensure that our learners are prepared for this new world. Learners who can make interconnections across silos, have the vision to see the complex nature of problems facing us and have the necessary soft skills to collaborate with an array of professionals spread across the globe in various disciplines. We need builders of connections, managers of networks, social preceptors, creators of content and analyzers of data within our education systems, whilst being underpinned by compassion, integrity and creativity.

As we move forward with the implementation of 5G and the apps that will support it, we need to ensure that we design in consideration of our context, our physical world and our humanness rather than arbitrarily created virtual and metaverses. We must lead to ensure that future tech is designed in such a way that it helps us co-exist, coordinate and thrive with our environment, not in competition with our environment as evidenced during the industrial revolution. And that is the paradox of technology, isn’t it? The promise is there to make the world a better place but the implementation means that the destructive potential is also huge.

A lack of a long-term vision coupled with vested interests has ensnared us in a myriad of challenges from climate change to hacking to cyberbullying and so forth whilst also helping millions out of poverty. We should not be complacent or merely remain passive observers. We need to be actively shaping this new frontier now so that generations to come will thank us for being persons of substance.

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Arun Kapur is an educator with over four decades of experience in the private and public education spheres. Arun currently leads initiatives at the Royal Academy, Pangbisa, Bhutan as its Director.

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