After the smartphone and beyond

Chronicle · Rebecka Cedering Ångström, Principal Researcher, Ericsson · 2021-02-26

A few years ago, my colleagues at Ericsson and I studied whether people want to use technology such as AI to communicate with their surroundings. Imagine being able to talk naturally with your stuff at home! In the study (The 10 hot consumer trends 2016), we asked consumers interested in technology, among other things, when they thought the smartphone would be a thing of the past. 50 percent of the respondents thought that the smartphone would be history within five years, ie this year, 2021.

When the report was published, the media picked up on that very issue and it became a topic of conversation. Not so much because people wanted to discuss what would happen after 2021, but because they thought it was pure stupidity to even think that the smartphone would disappear. The time was perhaps not ripe to discuss new technological shifts. But it still struck me with surprise that it was so difficult for many to grasp the idea that smart phones will someday disappear. For the truth is that there was a time before the smartphone and there will be a time after it.

Today, however, we are facing much greater technological shifts, where we really need to think about what the change will mean for us. For example, AI is becoming an increasingly common feature of our society and our daily lives. A new study from Ericsson Consumer and Industry Lab, in which I have participated, explores organizations that have begun to implement AI in their operational work. We asked over 2,500 decision makers in the US, UK, Germany, India and China about their experiences, what challenges they faced and what strategies they have for overcoming the challenges, as well as what they think about the future of an AI-driven company.

The results show three clear groups with different degrees of maturity, from the organizations that have just started to implement AI to those that have AI in all parts of their business. These groups differed quite a bit, especially when it came to the vision of the future. Interestingly, the AI-advanced organizations saw a future where AI applications are continuously developed in the company, which leads to a continuous change of work processes and the organization's design. In other words, an organization that is in constant motion. But what does that mean? What leadership is required and how can companies secure the right skills and expertise? How are relationships with customers and subcontractors affected? These are questions we need to think about and discuss.

In addition to my work at Ericsson, I have been involved in founding the think tank addAI. The initiative consists of a non-profit group with representatives from both industry and academia who together reflect on AI and the future with a special focus on ethical aspects. We think it is important to have this conversation together with other stakeholders. That is why we arrange seminars and workshops where we invite both AI experts and representatives from other fields of knowledge. These are exciting meetings where different perspectives and voices meet - lawyers, teachers, researchers and technicians to name a few. Our common denominator is our curiosity about developments in AI and what it means to us humans.

These talks are important and it is therefore much appreciated that Automation Region, with its clear industrial foundation, is involved and contributes to addAI's work. Automation Region sees, just like us, that there is a need for a discussion about the new paradigm and how it affects businesses, society and our daily lives.

If I may wish for anything, it is that more of us take the opportunity and think about the future with AI. Take the opportunity to discuss with your colleagues and friends. Dare to ask questions about what happens next - after the smartphone and beyond.

Rebecka Cedering Ångström
Principal Researcher, Ericsson