Mark Davison is at Lenovo Accelerate in Orlando – New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are often viewed with suspicion by people in emerging economies who believe that they will replace jobs and further impact already high unemployment levels.
But the hard fact of the matter is that while the current global trend towards digital transformation might make some more mundane tasks obsolete, the various technologies that are emerging offer massive benefits. And they will, as they mature, create many new forms of more skilled and efficient employment, as well as new job categories that have not yet been invented. Not to mention the benefits to society as a whole.
Jon Pershke, vice-president: strategy and emerging business development at Lenovo, says that while he can understand the predicament faced by emerging countries, they should embrace the transformation that is underway rather than shun it.
“I think the whole idea of this transformation that is taking place is pervasive,” Pershke says. “Lenovo as a company has had to transform, our customers have transformed and our channel partners need to transform too.
“Ultimately, whenever technology evolves, people adapt,” he continues. “And when new technologies emerge there is always job creation – usually more value-add jobs such as programmers and developers. There will be adjustments, for sure, but think of the overall benefits of these new technologies such as AR. Kids being educated in school using AR … experiencing things they never dreamed of … city kids walking with elephants, for example. Surgeons utilising AR for remote diagnosis and treatment … even simpler applications like overlaying veins so a nurse knows exactly where to inject.
“There are an immense number of use cases that can be of benefit to society,” he says.
Pershke has been at the forefront of Lenovo’s innovation in AR which yesterday saw the launch of the AR6, a much lighter headset than traditional models which fits the user like a baseball cap, with the battery now remotely attached to the user’s belt or a lanyard around their neck. It is arguably one of the first steps that will boost widespread adoption of the technology. Removing the weight of the battery from the actual headset to make it less cumbersome and more appealing to wear? Who would have thought?
So how does he see the future of AR developing?
“If I could predict that, I could retire,” he smiles. “But I’m very bullish about the future of AR. One of the reasons that I spearheaded the technology at Lenovo was that it became very apparent to me the impact it could have. We’ve been working on AR for some time and we’re now starting to see the power of putting visual information into the digital world, and the many potential use cases.
“When we were developing the technology, instead of looking at industries that it could affect, we started off by saying: What industries won’t be affected? It was a very short list. One of the reasons we firmly believe that this technology is going to be pervasive.
“Just look at the example of Airbus we highlighted in the keynotes,” he says. “Airbus is literally saving millions of dollars using AR to speed up its maintenance programmes. Every minute that an aircraft sits on the tarmac costs money and this time period is vastly reduced by using AR.”
Pershke predicts that it won’t be long before AR becomes a mainstream technology available and affordable to all – not just big corporates.
“As the technology matures, the prices will come down, it will get a lot thinner and a lot better,” he says. “It’s going to start getting pretty pervasive and make people more productive. It’s going to change peoples’ lives.”
Pershke is convinced that AR could become the “next big thing” in technology.
“Think about it,” he says. “Over the past 20 years or so, what are the innovations that have changed the way we do things? The answer is: Touch and some voice. I think AR is in the same category and is going to be the next big innovation.”
He gives an example: “Think of how millennials learn about things. They go to YouTube to see someone doing what it is they want to do and learn that way rather than by reading or having someone tell them how to do something.”
And that is what AR is all about, he adds: visual interaction.
And as for the fear-mongers in emerging economies who see it as creating additional unemployment? We threw the example of miners at him.
“Mining involves some very complex equipment,” Pershke replies. “So how do the operators of the future learn about it? They are not going to sit down with manuals, they are going to get an AR headset and learn from that. It will change the type of jobs that are done. Guys that do maintenance on mining equipment … it will change how they do their jobs.
“Again, I draw the parallel with Airbus,” he says. “Society will continue to find ways to use AR that empower employees, that help them compete better. Every industry is competitive and businesses are looking for that edge. AR is simply a new set of tools that will enable them.
“The idea of vision powered by AI – so many use cases,” he adds. “Obtaining information through in-store cameras – and using this constructively. A lot of brick and mortar retailers tell us it allows their workers to be more engaged with their customers which, in turn, helps them compete with their online competitors. It comes down to the kind of customer service that online retailers can’t provide.”
Pershke reiterates that emerging markets should be embracing transformation and look to advance with it.
“Look at the many advances that have evolved through history,” he says. “Transportation, for example. You didn’t get to this conference in a horse and carriage; you flew in on an aircraft.
“And technology will continue to advance in a similar fashion,” he smiles again. “I’m not too sure many of us would move back.”