A digitalised smart nation will be able to provide its citizens with a higher quality of life through relevant and accessible services. But at the same time, it’s a challenge to make such a society secure.
Imagine that all our water pipes had sensors that would discover weak points in the pipes and would request a reparation even before there was a leak. Or if traffic lights in cities could control the flow of traffic and give precedence to delayed buses to let them catch up with the time-table.
These are typical examples of possible functions in a future smart nation. Several pilot projects are going on in many countries to make sure that the systems of critical authorities will work.
“A smart nation will provide all its citizens with digital services in a simple manner, including services in healthcare and contacts with government authorities.”
Stephan Andersson, director for Hybrid IT in Sweden for HPE, believes that there is a need for Belgium to become a smart nation.
“Today,” he says, “Belgium has a good infrastructure. Households and companies are well connected, which is a precondition for digitalisation. But it is necessary to improve access to data and the coordination between regional and local authorities. Currently, it’s a fragmented country with every local and regional authority for itself.”
HPE has created the AI engine Infosight, which can collect vast amounts of data which are then uploaded to the cloud. The engine, which now ships with most HPE products, could, for example, make sure that the IT system of the health insurance agency won’t crash. Or it could make agriculture more efficient, making it possible to produce food for a growing population while using fewer resources, as is done at the American research university Purdue.
”We are laying the foundation for making it possible to develop services. We do not develop these services, but we make sure that digital services are running all the time and are cost-efficient,” says Stephan Andersson.
“The engine is running 24 hours a day, never goes on vacation and will not make the same mistake twice. But the best thing is its multi-tasking capacity: it can work with lots of similar virtual administrators all over the world and discover problems before they arise. This is when the infrastructure becomes self-driving, self-healing and self-optimising. Eighty-seven per cent of all occurring problems are solved without any human intervention, either from the customer or from us at HPE,” says Stephen Andersson.
But it’s not only technology that must be in place for a smart nation to work. Citizens also need to keep up. Stephan Andersson makes the distinction between “digitisation” and “digitalisation”: the former is the process where technology is put in place, the latter is when the people are, too.
”Currently, we’ve come pretty far with ’digitisation’, but not that far with ’digitalisation’. That means that everybody who develops services and tools must keep in mind to create intuitive services with instant rewards. Unfortunately, testing with actual users is usually the last thing to be done. And no service is excellent if no one uses it,” says Stephan Andersson.
Future healthcare, where you’ll see the doctor online and where they are AI physicians like Watson, will be a significant change for everyone, but especially for older members of the population.
”As a nation, we need to take care of everyone, and during the process, when society is digitalised, it is necessary to provide traditional services as well as digital ones. What is vital is making services as simple as possible. When you create a service, you need to consider all citizens from the very start. If it will work for a 15-year old, will it work for an 80-year old?” says Stephan Andersson.
But how secure will society be if resting on a digital basis? And whose responsibility is it to provide an infrastructure with stability and security?
A digital society must also grapple with such issues as democracy, security and defence; digital attacks from abroad are already happening. In parallel, and this also needs to be taken into account, there is a development towards smart computing.
“Until now, human beings have programmed computers. With future computers, we will only need to tell it what to accomplish, and then it will have to figure out how by itself,” says Stephan Andersson.
All this places several ethical demands on the companies that provide the technology.
”If one of our customers wants to buy our technology, we will sell it. At the same time, it’s our job to take social responsibility. All the time, we have to consider whether what we’re doing is ethical and take into account whether it can be used for malicious purposes, and it’s our job to inform about the risks. I spoke about this last summer at the Almedalen conferences, about both benefits and risks.”
”Because you should stress not only the potentials but also the risks. That’s why security, ethical considerations and built-in intelligence must permeate national infrastructure. It should not be only superficial. This also creates the preconditions for discovering the synergy effects of the differences between human intelligence and machine knowledge. That way, it’s possible to get the most out of the collaboration between man and technology. And to optimise the transition of the ever-growing amount of data that a smart nation will generate to be sustainable both economically and ecologically.