Do We Need People in the Digital Age?

Chief editor - Vladimir Krylov, PhD
Deputy chief editor - Michael Nikulichev, PhD


How many technological revolutions occurred during the human history? Naturally, we may start at the beginning, at the time when fire was stolen from Gods. But it is better to concentrate on something more industrial in nature, like invention of machine tools and the Luddite uprising. Each time the transition from one technological lifestyle to another was accompanied by crisis and destruction of the old economic structure.

Understandably the need for the outdated technology and related products falls with time but the need for resources is ever increasing. Each time the innovative technologies start evolving within the old technological order, the competition between products of different generations grows. Ultimately we may blame the English for all this mess. It is they who at the end of the 18th century invented textile mills and then compounded the problem with the invention of steam engines at the beginning of the 19th century. Electricity and electrical machines are frequently considered the reason for the third technological revolution on the eve of the 20th century.

Once the internal combustion engines were perfected and the search for new power sources (like nuclear power) proved successful in mid 20th century it became possible to talk of the fourth technological revolution that tremendously intensified labor productivity. From then on the inventions that dramatically affected our lifestyle, increased gross domestic product of all developed countries, prolonged life expectancy etc. are being presented to the eager public with a surprising regularity.

Most probably we have already crossed the line into the next – fifth technological era. Some analysts believe that the invention of bipolar transistor in 1950s by American physicists William Bradford Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain.

The difference from the previous epochs is that for the first time we step out of the mechanical period into the informational one. At this stage work is no longer measured by physical capacity of men and substituted machine force. We enter the territory of so far unchartered intellectual labor and mass automation, automated product design and control of business processes.

The fast growth of the Internet-of-Things leads to the new way of transforming resources into intellectual force: “cloud computing”. Computers, processing and search engine networks, robotic systems take over more and more functions: not only industrial in nature – like industrial and design modeling – but common everyday functions and entertainment. As a result, people are forced out to the margins of physical activity and into the virtual reality. Analysts start talking about transfer of all paper processes, including design and development, into the virtual space.

Machines offer us a multitude of “smart” functions and useful services, they started beating us at games, and even champions lose to computers in chess and Go. Innumerable screens and sensors make inanimate things around us into clever devices that are capable of communicating with us, helping or even taking decisions. The field of “M2M” (machine-to-machine) is growing exponentially. Machines no longer need us; they have their own kind to communicate with.

The new concept appeared recently – industrial internet. It is a wide (though not global) Wi-Fi network that operates at low frequencies and sending small data packs at relatively short distances within LPWAN nets – Low-Power Wide-Area Networks.

Even Russian communal services started carefully and gradually experimenting with “smart meters” – water meters, gas meters, electricity meters. The readings are scanned at regular intervals and are forwarded to service provider. Thousands of people who used to knock on our doors asking to check the meter readings are no longer needed. The whole profession is dying out.

But this tendency has another extremely important aspect – security of cyberspace. Each door needs a lock; each “smart” device needs smart protection. Happy with all the numerous consumer electronics that entertains us today, we are ready to completely forget about negative effects of digitalization.

Large Corporation (take bank for example) are trying to protect themselves and their clients. But what should smaller companies, like service companies working with our smart houses, do? This side of our digital life remains so far extremely vulnerable. No, it seems people are still needed. At least to evaluate risks and try to minimize them during all these intrusive technological revolutions!