Gitex 2021: Four tech trends which will define our future

Humans need to get used to machine intelligence, redefined reality and friendly robots

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The Gulf Information Technology Exhibition in Dubai is a sprawling trading space with thousands of exhibitors from all corners of the globe.

As a visitor it can be hard to get the measure of the wider tech trends, partly because every two minutes you trip over a robot or meet a hologram.

Subjects such as cybersecurity, coding, artificial intelligence and the data economy dominate the popular narrative but is humanity actually making progress?

Are we moving into a brighter future populated by cobots – collaborative robots – and autonomous vehicles? And how soon will humanity be able to collectively put its feet up and let the machines do the hard work?

The National spoke to several experts at Gitex to find out.

Redefining intelligence

Inside Hewlett Packard's stand at Gitex 2021. Leslie Pableo / The National

In the near future, intelligence will be redefined through artificial intelligence and robotics.

Many of the exhibitors and speakers at Gitex are focused on how close we are as a species to singularity – the hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilisation.

"This is a landmark moment in the history of humanity because never before have we tried to replicate or duplicate our intelligence," said Tannya Jajal, a futurist and artificial intelligence expert based in Dubai.

So when will it happen? No one knows, but there are plenty of companies at Gitex trying to figure out what this technological era means for humans on an individual level.

Ready for robots?

The reality is that the technology to power AI robots who clean your house exists and is starting to become cheaper.

Now it comes down to the question of whether the public are ready to live with robots in their homes and workplace, said David Reger, chief executive of Neura Robotics, a German company preparing to bring a robot maid to the market.

"I think we are still working to make the public ready," he said.

"In Asia and China we sell a lot of robots and they use them for many more reasons than in other regions. They have less boundaries there and a different ethical approach."

Arash Masomzadeh, who is in charge of the 152 robots at Expo 2020 Dubai, hopes the world's fair will help humans become accustomed to having them around.

"Where robotics goes from here is really up to the general public. Where will they allow robots to go? Will they accept it? Will they nurture it, or will they take a hands-off approach?" he said.

"It's really up to demand where robotics goes from here."

Films such as Terminator and RoboCop featuring rogue robot characters have entered the public consciousness and inadvertently put people off robots and made them scared of artificial intelligence, Mr Masomzadeh suggested.

"I think there's a lot of bad publicity regarding AI and its capabilities," he said.

"We cannot be a computer but humans have logic and common sense. We have to teach the robot that common sense and it's going to be like that for a very long time.

"The robot needs to be taught and it's still us – for the time being – doing all the teaching."

Embracing a new reality

A man using an augmented reality headset at the Du stand at Gitex in the Dubai World Trade Centre. Leslie Pableo / The National

Over the next few years, we will redefine our perception through tools such as virtual reality and augmented reality, Ms Jajal said.

Dozens of companies are showcasing their systems at Gitex, with exhibitors encouraging visitors to put on VR goggles to become immediately subsumed into a new world.

"You'll see a lot of start-ups here and a lot of larger organisations as well investing in technology like that," Ms Jajal said.

"Over time I think we will absolutely see the proliferation and democratisation of these technologies and it's going to completely alter the way that we interact with one another."

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg certainly agrees. He has previously spoken of creating a "metaverse" or online world where people interact, work and play games in a virtual environment, often using VR headsets.

The Facebook chief executive described it as “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content – you are in it”.

So in the future, meetings will not take place in 2D with each person appearing in their own rectangle, but in 3D, where you feel like you are physically in the meeting room via an avatar or hologram.

Democratisation of progress

Tanya Dipak Jajal, expert technology contributor at Gitex. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Progress is starting to accelerate thanks to the democratisation of digital technology.

Faster internet, better processing power and technological advances are allowing for more people to be innovators and creators.

"We no longer have to follow a linear path to human progress, we can all kind of come together and do amazing things," said Ms Jajal.

"We're actually on a really good track as humanity – and governments and companies and private organisations – are really coming together to make sure that we move forward and Gitex is evidence of that."

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Updated: October 19, 2021, 8:10 AM