Can Analytic Applications Change the World?
Professor Diego Klabjan invited me to deliver the inaugural seminar at his Center for Deep Learning at Northwestern University. You can listen to the entire talk. What follows is based on the seminar, which was broken into three TED-sized talks. Part One focuses on a new class on enterprise applications: analytic applications. One of the key characteristics of analytics applications is they will be created from large data sets. While much has been mined from the Internet of People, there is much more data in the Internet of Things. Part Two of the talk is based on work McKinsey presented at their annual Sundance conference and highlights five key challenges. Part Three, this part, focuses on how analytic applications might change the world.
I’ve taught at Stanford University for more than twenty-five years and it’s been a privilege to “warp young minds.” You may not realize it, but not everyone wants to build a better smart phone app, a new way to talk to his or her friends, or another way to buy something. Many students want to do something meaningful — something that might change the real world. But, what might that be?
Let’s start by realizing developing economies drive the global economy. Furthermore, developing economies are driven by population growth, which is why Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are interesting. Africa is expected to account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. Nigeria is projected to become the third most populous country in the world before 2050. Vietnam will soon have a population of 100 million with an average age being just 30 years old.
So what do developing economies need? They need infrastructure: power, water, agriculture, transportation, construction, healthcare and telecommunications. But will these be delivered the #firstworld way? Would you put up landlines for telecommunications in Rwanda? Of course not; instead you’d skip the old technologies and go straight to implementing a 4G cellular network.
What about electricity? Would you build giant, centralized, coal-fired plants and hierarchical power distribution networks? No, you’d build a distributed grid of solar, wind, battery storage, and hydroelectric generators all managed by software. You might even never go to AC and build a DC network on day one.
A few years ago I went to Vietnam to launch the Vietnamese version of the Precision: Principles, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things. As a result of the hard work of my publisher I had the opportunity to talk to 2000 students and over 200 business and government leaders from telecommunications, construction, shipbuilding, textiles and healthcare. By the time I left I had become a citizen of Vietnam for five years. So how did that happen?
The day after I arrived I was invited to a lunch with the Mayor of Hanoi. While I was hoping for Vietnamese food we had first class French cuisine. There was a lot of discussion of how Vietnam could become a low cost outsourcer and provide cheaper programmers than India. Towards the end of the meeting I said to the Mayor, “Why build someone else’s future, if you can build your own?”
I gave him three specific examples. It turns out the city had purchased and was deploying several hundred street sweepers. I said, why not connect the street sweepers and collect all the machine and nomic data? And what if you could learn from that information to better maintain or optimize the performance and availability of those machines? Furthermore, couldn’t you sell this analytic application to the manufacturer of these sweeping machines? So rather than just being a low cost outsourcing company testing someone else’s software, you would be building their own future.
But there might be more. Shrimp is a major export item for Vietnam, but today it’s a true commodity, and lacks any brand value. Many factors go into building a brand, including the ability to control production to reach quality standards. The only way to control quality is to grow the product precisely. Could using sensor technology, next generation shrimp farming machines and software be the difference? And if Vietnam developed the art and science of precision aquaculture, couldn’t it be exported to the rest of the world?
Finally, I noted one of the other large industries in Vietnam is textiles. I said I bet if I walk into your textile manufacturing sites all of the machines are not built in Vietnam. Since you know more about textiles than most people in the world, why wouldn’t you build the next generation software-defined, connected textile machines, which would improve your productivity but again could be exported to the rest of the world.
As we were leaving, my hosts said the Mayor would like to do something nice for you, but we need stop by the passport photo office. I got my photo taken and then they asked me to give me the passport. I was a little concerned, but since I trusted my hosts I gave them my passport. The next morning I met the Chief of Staff of the Mayor in the hotel lobby. He returned my passport and with it a card signifying my Vietnamese citizenship for the next five years. I’d like to go back and see if I can stand in the citizen line at immigration.
I closed the three talks with a brief description of our Pediatric Cloud Project. In the world of healthcare, data exist in silos. MRI scans are still shared on a CD-ROM and patients often have to carry in X-ray films. While AI, in particular deep learning, holds promise in diagnosing many conditions, there is little data to fuel these algorithms. Silos of data were also a challenge in the world of computing until 1994, when the Internet connected 1,000,000 computing machines. As we know after 1994 our consumer lives have been forever changed. The objective of the Pediatric Cloud Project is to connect all 1,000,000 healthcare machines in all the children’s hospitals in the world, and use software and data to change children’s lives.
Software has the potential to change the world — the real world. And unless we’re all moving to Mars — and I know some people are working on this — we’ll have to operate much more precisely. Next generation software can transform the planet in everything from power to healthcare, shrimp farming to textiles, and water to transportation. So if you’re a student at Stanford or any other university in the world, you can really change the world.