Tech that passes all understanding

Tech that passes all understanding

What’s the impact of the enormous increase in data?

Technological developments happen in increasingly rapid succession. We share and collect more data than ever before. With what consequences for the network and the service provision of VodafoneZiggo? Wilco Dekker from the Technology department shares his vision.

We can hardly keep up with the speed of technology. The amounts of data around us are growing at such speeds that no-one can really imagine what it’s like. Which is perfectly logical, since our brain is not designed to understand exponential growth. That would be aiming rather high. Still, I’d like to try to explain the inexplicable, taking our brain as the starting point. Via the industrial revolution we end up in the computer era and I will finish with the huge impact of the humongous growth.

Exponential evolution
The human brain is not designed for thinking exponentially. And this is exactly the reason why so many people are not worried yet about the rapidly changing technological developments. We simply cannot see the impact. This can be easily tested with the 30 steps model: compare 30 steps of 1 metre linearly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…) to 30 steps exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64…). 

Thirty linear metres we can see before us. We even see where we will finish and what we will encounter on the way from where we are standing now. I often ask people where they think they will be after 30 exponential steps. A thousand metres further? Maastricht? Paris? No-one really knows. The answer is that with 30 exponential steps you will travel the circumference of the earth 25 times. An unconceivable distance, so much more than the 30 metres linearly we can visualize. If the world is changing exponentially, are we as human beings still capable of understanding what is happening? To understand the pace of technological development, human beings need to think exponentially. 

Moore’s law
The American entrepreneur Gordon Moore, co-founder of computer company Intel, already predicted in 1965 that computer capacity would double every two years. To this day that has proven correct, which means computer speeds and storage capacity have grown exponentially. Who could have imagined that in the early Seventies and Eighties of the previous century?

Because of these developments computers have become smaller, faster and cheaper, enabling us to process and store more and more data. Exponentially more. Until now the amounts have been manageable and understandable for a human being, but we are now at a point where technology is proceeding faster than we can grasp as human beings. With nanotechnology, photonics, quantum mechanics and synthetic biology (DNA) this exponential growth will continue.

Big Data
The industrial revolution in the 18th century was the first step in the development of our economy and the world’s population. After the steam machines, electricity and the conveyer belt, the development of computers took off in the Fifties. In the early Eighties the pc was introduced, a home computer. In 1968, the American Ministry of Defence launched the development of the ARPANET, the precursor of the internet. It was now possible to connect computers with each other. The world wide web (www) saw the light in 1989 and made it easier to share and view information through the internet. That was the start of the platform that enabled the exchange of information and the sending of data on a large scale. 

While we started with sending kilobytes and megabytes, we are now moving via the Giga and Petabytes towards the Exa and Zettabytes. A gigantic amount of data still growing exponentially. In that mass we can learn to identify patterns, make correlations and discover structures. Based on billions of examples we can make forecasts that have already proven their worth in the past. In the knowledge that the world’s population will continue to grow and technology will grow exponentially, even more data will be generated in the future.

New trends
Countless new developments will swamp us in the coming years. Some are already here on a small scale, others are developing. Each and every one will be accompanied by data growth. Internet of Things, combined with nanotechnology will become a regular part of our environment. We can now connect absolutely everything with the internet, making it traceable and identifiable. That will contribute explosively to the exponential growth in data.

Block chain and Peer Data Sharing techniques will also contribute to that growth, as will the increase in Virtual and Augmented Reality services. The self-driving cars use and need a huge amount of data to drive autonomously. Cloud services will further expand, with the accessing and filing of data also contributing to the growth in data. The increase in streaming services in the video realm is another contributing factor.

Phew. Look at us, with our limited brain capacity. The increasing pace of technology and the amount of data released as a result, make our heads swim. We cannot see the wood for the trees anymore. Who on earth can help us? Of course, the robots. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is what we really need to grasp and interpret these unconceivable amounts of data.

By teaching machines what the data means, computers can take decisions of their own accord. By making computers even faster and neuromorphic (self-learning based on human thinking patterns) machines can take over complex human tasks with exponential speed. AI has already proven to be smarter than a human being in specific areas: in 2017 a Google computer beat the defending world champion at GO, the mind game. Based on the expected turn-over the next few years involving AI, this technology will assume large proportions.

Serious about the future
How does all this effect VodafoneZiggo? First of all, it’s constantly in the back of our mind that the mountain of data is growing faster than we can imagine. That awareness is crucial for every step we take towards the future. We closely monitor all the technical and social trends, try to estimate the consequences and prepare ourselves for what’s ahead of us.  

The network will be impacted most. One way or the other capacity must be expanded (probably exponentially), of the fixed network as well as the mobile network. That is why we will continue to make huge investments in bandwidth and in improvements of equipment. Creativity is a must to tackle this technical challenge and finance the costs that come with it. 

Organization, business models, job profiles and the network architecture must be redeveloped. Before we can initiate these changes, all our colleagues need to be aware of this transition of our traditional world. Should we continue in the old-fashioned way, then it will only be a matter of time before we are overtaken at exponential speed. 

Being ready for the future, also means putting our past behind us. Which is why we are replacing old systems. We are switching our customers over from analogue to digital TV, creating more space in our network for faster internet. But we also work on artificial intelligence, like the smart systems we just recently introduced, that check themselves without any human interference. Exponential thinking is still beyond us, but smartly thinking ahead is what VodafoneZiggo is doing to full capacity.

Wilco Dekker
Technology Strategy Manager VodafoneZiggo