IOs have got a lot to think about: not only do they have to figure out how to craft a digital transformation roadmap that embraces technologies like hybrid cloud, big data and analytics, and mobility everywhere, they have to think ahead to a world that includes technologies only now being hyped.
Dr Joseph Reger, chief technology officer: EMEIA at Fujitsu, unpacks how he sees the emerging technologies of quantum computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain – and how CIOs should start factoring them in.
Quantum inspired computing offers many of the benefits of quantum computing, but in a way that is much more palatable for companies.
Although it’s entirely possible to perform most necessary computing functions using current high-performance computing technology, but it could take a longer time and cost more than it would with technology like Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer.
Dr Reger explains that the Digital Annealer allows for quantum algorithms to run on classic hardware.
He points out that the device is built using silicon components – but the chip is not the same as the traditional machines.
“It is a totally different animal,” Reger says. “So it is classic in the way it is manufactured, but the architecture is very special, running quantum algorithms a lot faster than other machines would.
“It may not be true quantum, but it will run about 1 000 times faster than traditional machines,” he adds. “And that’s the first generation; the next generation will be about eight times faster.”
AI is the topic on everyone’s mind, quite often promoting fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) regarding how it will impact our lives and jobs.
“In just four weeks from now, Germany will publish an AI strategy paper as a country,” Reger says. “It is not the first country to do so: Finland has already published a well-thought-out AI strategy.
“The people of Finland have included something that I really admire and envy – and we will try to influence our government to do the same – which is making online courses on AI accessible to everyone. The target is that 1% pf the population will take the course and will thus be AI-savvy.
“I would like all other nations to adopt similar ideas.”
He says the reason for this goal – which Fujitsu is also driving inside the company – is because the AI discourse at large makes little sense and is quite frightening for people.
“Education for AI is really needed.” This will help to demystify the technology and allow people to recognise both its limitations and the opportunities it presents.
There is a lot happening in AI, and an incredible amount of research being done, Dr Reger adds. However, much investment is still going to either academic research or to big companies.
With China hugely out-investing Europe in both AI and quantum computing research, he is keen to see the European Union doing more to fund smaller and more innovative companies, and to match academic with industrial research efforts.
Dr Reger describes blockchain as an application platform with many uses.
While it is currently been widely employed in cryptocurrencies and, to a lesser extent, in other transactions and logistics, he believes that untapped opportunities abound.
“For instance, there is an interesting question of blockchain technology and its application to the internet.”
The Internet was started with the idea of democratizing and distributing information, he points out. “But it turns out that the entire internet traffic is in the hands of maybe four companies.
“Since there is no freedom and privacy on the internet, and your data is not yours, something needs to be done about it.”
Dr Reger believes Blockchain holds the possibility of re-architecting the internet in a way where the user has control of their own data, and can write distributed applications that are secure and transparent.
He points to the work being done by BlockStack, which champions these ideas.
“I am also extremely bullish about the application of blockchain for the public sector,” he says. “The public sector in all countries is really backwards, not modern and certainly not automated. It is a chore to deal with it.
“With the exception of Estonia we have an issue with the public service.”
Governments need to take some action, Dr Reger says. “It needs to treat data in a transparent way, which they can do on a blockchain.”
He explains that, by using blockchain, data could be so secure, trustworthy and immutable that, if it is paired and linked to a biometric system, it can connect people within their definition of a citizen.
“You can identify and secure it in a way that you can have direct democracy, so people can have their say more often than traditional elections.
“It could be a very democratic instrument.”
Fujitsu is involved in a lot of blockchain research, and research on trust, Dr Reger points out.
A big downside of blockchain, he adds, is that it doesn’t lend itself to integration, so blockchains would need to connect using other secure, immutable and trustworthy blockchains.
In addition, not all data is – or ever will be – on a blockchain.
“It’s not a good idea to use blockchain as a database, so organisations will still continue to use regular databases.”
When it comes to linking off-chain data with the blockchain, Fujitsu advocates its virtual private digital exchange. This keeps data that doesn’t belong on the blockchain off-chain, while the metadata and its provenance is on the blockchain.