The introduction of 5G mobile technology – with Vodafone announcing its network will launch in Glasgow in July after EE revealed its system would go live at the end of this month in Edinburgh – has been overshadowed by the row over the involvement of Chinese firm Huawei.
This may appear to be an incremental improvement on 4G – streaming videos will be smoother, downloads will be faster, gamers will be able to blast zombies in real sunlight. However, according to industry figures, the greater connectivity will finally allow the much-heralded ‘Internet of Things’ to become mainstream. Combine this with artificial intelligence (AI) and ‘machine learning’ and the possibilities start to explode. And those possibilities are both good and bad.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been ripe for parody – why would the toaster want to ‘talk’ to the fridge and what would they have to say to each other?
But the creation of an array of data-sharing devices will produce an enormous new flow of information, while AI and machine learning provide the tools needed to process and analyse the myriad of facts.
As the saying goes, information is power. So it’s not a surprise there is concern that China’s dictatorial government will seek to exploit Huawei’s position as a world-leader in 5G technology to gather intelligence or that criminals and terrorists will find a new and sinister tool.
Writing in Forbes magazine, Einaras von Gravrock, of US cybersecurity firm Cujo AI, warned that “without proper supervision and transparency, this new connected world could easily turn into a dystopia”.
However, if we can find ways to ensure we are not being snooped upon by our own laptop – or, indeed, the toaster – and strike an acceptable balance between privacy and the flow of information, then it feels like a fundamental technological transformation awaits, one that will have profound effects on virtually everything we do.
Social media initially felt almost trivial – a way to reconnect with lost school friends, but not much more. However, the ability for virtually anyone to be a publisher has fundamentally changed the world in which we live, playing a part in everything from the Arab Spring to the rise of ‘fake news’. We are still getting to grips with the effects of this cacophony of human voices, but it now looks set to be joined by a vast new robotic chorus.