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The Future of ICT: Blended Life

Willem Jonkerby Willem Jonker, CEO EIT ICT Labs

Today we live a blended life. This blended life is a direct consequence of the deep penetration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into almost every area of our society. ICT brings ubiquitous connectivity and information access that enables disruptive innovative solutions to address societal megatrends such as demographic changes, urbanization, increased mobility and scarcity of natural resources. This leads to a blended life in the sense that the physical and virtual worlds are merging into one where physical encounters with friends and family are seamlessly integrated with virtual encounters on social networks. A blended life in the sense that work and private life can be combined in a way that offers the flexibility to work at any time from any location. A blended life combining work and life-long education facilitated by distance learning platforms that offer us a personalized path to achieving our life and career goals. Industries experience a blended life owing to the deep embedding of ICT into their production methods, products and services. Customers experience a blended life where ICT allows industries to include consumers in production, blending them into ‘prosumers’.

Blended life is becoming a reality and as such it brings both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, it allows us to maintain better contact with people we care about, yet at the same time it is accompanied by a level of transparency that raises privacy concerns. The blending of private life and work has the clear advantage of combining private and professional obligations, but at the same time introduces the challenge of maintaining a work-life balance. The blending of products and services leads to personalization of offerings but, at the same time, the huge range of choice can be confusing for consumers. Blended production leads to shorter supply chains and cost-effective production, yet disrupts existing business models, resulting in considerable social impact.

Key drivers in the development of ICT itself, include future network technology (such as 5G, Internet of Things, Sensor Networks) at the communication layer and Cloud Computing at the information-processing layer (such as Software as a Service and Big Data Processing and Analytics). The main challenge here is to deal with the huge amounts of heterogeneous data both from a communication as well as an information processing perspective.

When it comes to the application of ICT in various domains, we see huge disruptions occurring both now and in the future in domains such as social networks, healthcare, energy, production, urban life, and mobility. Here the main challenge is to find a blending that simultaneously drives economic growth and quality of life. There are many domain-specific technical challenges, such as sensor technology for continuous health monitoring, cyber-physical systems for the industrial Internet, 3D-printing, smart-grids for energy supply, tracking and tracing solutions for mobility. Social, economic, and legal challenges are key to successful innovation in this area.

The issue of privacy is a prime example. The domains mentioned above are highly sensitive in regard to privacy. ICT that allows instant proliferation of information and continuous monitoring of behaviour can be perceived as a personal infringement; as a result several innovations have been slowed down, blocked or even reversed.

Innovations addressing societal challenges should involve social, economic, technical and legal specialists right from the inception, to map out the potential issues in a multidisciplinary way in order to ensure a proper embedding into society thus preventing these issues to become innovation blockers.

This approach is at the heart of EIT ICT Labs (www.eitictlabs.eu), a leading European player in ICT Innovation and Education supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Its mission is to foster entrepreneurial talent and innovative technology for economic growth and quality of life. EIT ICT Labs is active in many of the core ICT developments as well as the embedding of ICT in the above-mentioned domains. Education is an integral part of the EIT ICT Labs approach, since human capital is considered essential in bringing ICT Innovations to life.

Today we live a blended life. At the same time this blended life is only just beginning. Rapid developments in ICT will further drive the penetration of ICT into almost all areas of society leading to many disruptions. The key challenge ahead is to make sure that this blended life combines economic growth with high quality of life, which can only be achieved via a multidisciplinary innovation approach.