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The world we live in: Real but away from the real – Prof. Sakeerthi S

26 May,2022.

A lot of things have changed in the past many decades. When I say that, it’s a real to unreal change. The perception of reality itself has changed. From the times we used to invest in physical commodities, to physical land, to physical cash, we are moving into a space where we are talking and investing in virtual commodities, virtual lands (metaverse) and even virtual currencies like the kinds of cryptocurrencies. So, this question of whether it’s a real or an unreal world which we are living in started getting into my mind.

I started off as a child who used to like reading, drawing, painting on physical spaces, using pen, paper and colors. Then, were the days of sketching and doing painting on the computer screen, playing “Mario” (our favorite part of the computer classes) and learning COBOL (the most boring language class). Time flew by and now we are in 2021, where computers are no more a fancy name. Instead, we have an advanced version of it in the forms of robots and artificial intelligence techniques. From the time kids used to play in mud and grass, we are in a technologically advanced era where a newborn comes with an iPad in his hand (might look like a bit of exaggeration, but looking at my 3-year-old kid using iPhones and tablets as if he has been using it for years, can’t stop myself from this comparison of newborns coming out with iPads). Also, from a time where we used to go and visit the construction sites now and then to watch the progress of an apartment for which we have paid an advance, we have reached a point where we can see how our future home is gonna look like, even before its constructed… thanks to VR technologies. This blog is a Lehman’s view of how a few popular AI techniques have changed the way we were used to looking at the world a decade back.

Artificial intelligence is a mechanism that makes it possible for machines to think like humans. When we hear robots have replaced waiters in a Japanese hotel or the possibilities of “Childcare Robots”, we wonder how and would it be possible in the reality. Well, this is where AI comes into the picture. AI in its true sense makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, assimilate new inputs, and perform like humans. It heavily relies on the process of deep learning and natural language processing. When the global robotic industry forecasts growth worth USD 80 billion by 2024, a large chunk of it is expected to get contributed by AI. The modern version of AI can be seen all around us in the form of iPhone “Siri”, “Alexa” by amazon, “Cortana” etc.. but this is not just the whole story. The term “Artificial Intelligence” was coined in 1956 and long before the modern version of AI came into existence, the US Department of Defense used this technology for mimicking human reasoning by training computers in the 1960s.

While all these definitions and explanations might still look confusing, for an Indian, more precisely for any “Rajnikanth Fan” to understand, I will quote this particular example. There was this blockbuster movie called “Enthiran”, dubbed in Hindi as “Robot” which had narrated the application of AI beautifully. Although we all enjoyed the movie well and it was a box-office blockbuster due to the same, I am not sure how many of us gave a thought on how the script emerged. It shows the character Chitti which turns into a humanoid from a normal robot- which is how neural thinking has paved the way to a modern version of AI, where we see “Human-like Machines”. Many of us might have read the news in October 2017 about “Sophia being the first Humanoid to get a country’s citizenship”. Sophia, the humanoid who was granted citizenship by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is another example of AI.Although many might argue about the ethicality and legality of machines and robots replacing humans, it still is growing and will continue to. AI is seen everywhere and in the form of emerging trends like AI-enabled chatbots, Predictive Analytics, Real-Time AI-enabled marketing devices, AI-enabled customer support, etc.

There are a lot of companies that feel that data is power. And this is where the application of big data comes in. Big data, as the name itself suggests, is about collecting all the data that streams into the business and deriving significant values from it by applying some analytics tools. Although, many speak of it as a recent trend, what I found after going through the Gartner’s Hype Cycle is that it’s already a long-told story that is soon going to vanish. One of my entrepreneur friends, who is now settled in the US was a normal engineering graduate with a lot of dreams when I first met him in 2015. In a year, after 23 failed products, he along with his four engineering friends developed a product called “Vibe” under the banner of his start-up, which was then named “Profoundis”. It was the first big data product I heard of as the concept was not very familiar to me then. It was a product that assimilated search data of its corporate clients and using some analytics tools, provided meaningful marketing information and competitor tracking to them. It was a product that changed their lives and their company became the first-ever start-up in Kerala to get acquired by a US Tech Giant. Almost, 5 years down the line, it is no longer an emerging trend.Many of us, especially those who have owned an apartment recently or are looking for one, might be able to relate to the above picture. Nowadays, even before the construction is over the builders, give the owner a view of how the interiors of the apartment are going to look like. All you need to do is t wear a spectacle like a device and watch through it and you get to see your dream home even before it is constructed.

Some of us might be using or might have heard of the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and other similar headsets, which are opaque, but will fill our vision with a virtual world when turned on. These two are the real-life application of the concept called “Virtual Reality (VR)”. VR is a complete immersion process, where you shut your vision into the physical world and watch a virtual world.

Whereas Augmented Reality (AR) apps only show up on your tablet or phone screen and they project images in a limited area in front of your eyes, unlike VR. The Pokemon Go game, which is very popular these days and where one gets to see the “Pokemon” surfing on the phone surface is an application of AR.

Both AR & VR are emerging as trends in recent times and are widely used in many fields due to their ability to influence the human brain by providing an artificial vision of the surroundings. AR & VR are getting increasingly enhanced with AI, in training and teaching, consumer entertainment, in-vehicle designing, mobile apps, shopping channels, etc.IoT is all about connecting digital machines and computing devices through a network where they can transmit data and signals without human interference. When we see television ads that say that you can switch on your AC or TV or other such household appliances using your mobile, you might think for a while how is it possible. This is what the application of IoT is. If you have gone out without switching off the oven, you need not rush back to turn it off, because there is this concept called IoT which will help you do it while driving a car. Now the companies no more run on product concept, but it is service, service all around. IoT has driven companies to a service-oriented market to unlock customer values. IoT has shifted the paradigm from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance, which has considerably reduced the costs, not just for the end customers, but also for the companies that are building a happy customer base. Blockchain, SaaS, IoT security, data analytics are all emerging trends in IoT. And the most popular example for this, which almost all of us might relate to, is “Alexa”.

The question is not about what is real or what is unreal. The question is about what is the perception of “real”. How this so called unreal or virtual concepts are perceived or valued. As an investor or a common citizen when I get scared on the thoughts of even investing in these virtual avenues, how are others who believe and invest in such virtual investments perceiving the benefits.

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