The next generation of wireless networks—5G—is one of the fundamental enablers of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, and as society shifts toward a “new normal” of decentralized life, its advantages become critical.
Experts on the nascent technology gathered online for the Collision from Home conference on June 23 to discuss 5G’s revolutionary nature and how humans will likely need to adapt to utilize its benefits. The annual Collision technology conference—one of the world’s premier tech summits—went virtual this year due to the pandemic.
It’s a silver lining of COVID-19 that this societal transformation is as convincing as it is nowadays to more people, said Marcus Weldon, chief technology officer and president at Nokia Bell Labs, when interviewed on the first day of the three-day online summit hosted in Toronto.
“COVID-19 has taught us that all businesses need the ability to remotely optimize themselves,” he said.
Companies are already re-evaluating their real estate footprints, said Alex Rogers, executive vice president at Qualcomm, a company focused on the research and development of communication systems.
“5G is going to be extraordinarily instrumental in enabling that work from anywhere. It’s going to be a new normal, not just work from home,” he said.
Remote education is another application that has taken off during the pandemic, and it raises the question of equal access for everyone, regardless of their geographic location.
Rose Stuckey Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer at Verizon, says that service providers have an obligation to bring forth new technology that can provide that access more seamlessly.
But as with prior industrial revolutions, job loss or workplace transformation is another seismic shift for all of society.
“I think our obligation is to make sure that in a world where 5G comes into play, with all of its benefits, we have to make sure that we are focused on how do we ‘re-skill’ and ‘up-skill’ individuals to be able to compete for jobs and opportunities in what will be a massive digital economy,” Kirk said.
Weldon says that, with potentially less physical interaction, “We have to add back in the bits that will be missing from the physical experience.”
This could manifest as augmented or virtual reality experiences, like in the case of an expert on demand.
“The way that machines and the AI [artificial intelligence] systems come to our help is the AI system will allow us to absorb the data and interpret it … so we ultimately as humans make the decision, and then we instruct a machine to perform the task on our behalf,” Weldon said.
Cutting-edge applications like autonomous driving and tele-health need the speed and reliability with which 5G can manage data. And it’s not just about making cellphones even faster—5G will also enable all kinds of devices to “talk” to each other.
The amount of data created by every little process is mind-boggling, and “being perfectly augmented”—meaning having access to perfect knowledge and in effect retraining oneself—is something humans can look forward to doing.
“We’re very adaptive creatures,” Weldon said.
Collision took place last year in Toronto and the partnership continued this year with opening remarks from Mayor John Tory. The conference welcomed 634 speakers and more than 32,000 attendees all online.