David Wood, futurist and part of the team that developed the Symbian operating system for mobile phones (discontinued in 2014), believes India has a great role to play in future technologies. In an interview, he explained the reason and also shared his thoughts on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) among other things. Edited excerpts:

Where do you see India in the tech landscape in the next few years?

India has great potential. First of all because it has got so many people and many are educated. India can lead the world in healthcare initiatives. Indians are not afraid to innovate and have some of the world-class healthcare facilities. Looking at the vast number of clever people who can take advantage of each other’s ideas, I think some of the great initiatives of the future will be born and developed here.

What role do mobile operating systems play in ambient computing?

In terms of ambient computing (described as a mesh of AI-enabled Internet of Things devices built into the environment and objects around us, which can be controlled with voice), mobile operating systems that are more secure, reliable and can understand users’ needs will stand out. Artificial Emotional Intelligence will be the key as that is what will allow software to pick up when the user is getting frustrated or distracted, so it can tailor its responses accordingly.

What are mobile operating systems still missing today?

The winning operating systems of the next generation will be the ones with the best AI. Already today more and more people speak to their phones and if phones can understand them better, they will be more comfortable using them. They also need to be more secure.

How important are wearables and smartphones from the point of view of health?

Tim Cook said Apple will make more money out of healthcare than it does from smartphones, which is astonishing, since Apple became a $1 trillion company based on smartphones. It is not a crazy idea though because as a society we spend a lot of money on healthcare, especially when we are ill. And if monitors (wearables) can detect things earlier and bring them to our attention, we can avoid serious illnesses.

How will AI and robotics affect the jobs market?

I think AI is going to change every job and will take away jobs too. But that need not be a bad thing. If AI is creating goods at a lower cost by automating things, we should rejoice. Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author, wrote in 2001 that the goal of technology should be full unemployment and not full employment, so we all have time to be more creative. Humans historically believe that we have to work to be valuable.

That no longer has to be the case. Society can distribute the abundance that AI and robotics can make, allowing us to transition from a society-based on work, to a society based on creativity and exploration.

Will Open Source remain relevant in the AI era?

There are many people and companies that are trying to create open source AI. On the whole if we can share the ideas, it would allow more people to innovate instead of coming inside closed communities to take advantage of them. The strength of these algorithms is not just in the software but in the huge amounts of data that they review. Companies like Facebook and Google have huge amounts of data and they are not sharing it. We need to find ways to make sure that data is used for the sake of the whole community and not just for the benefit of these companies. That comes to the very important point of the democratic oversight of these powerful companies. Though they are well intentioned and I have a great deal of admiration for their founders, they are not necessarily going to do things that are in the interest of the community. They may do things that will boost their share prices, which is why governments are talking about exercising control over the hi-tech companies. This is going to be the big battles of the next few years.

Many believe that social media is fracturing relationships and family. Do you agree?

When I look at my son’s generation playing video games, I find them chatting with each other while doing it. So it is not necessarily all bad. With any new technology we need to learn how to keep control of it. If people are getting depressed, sometimes spending time online can be more comforting than in the real world.

When I was in school (around 1976-77) I was one of the first to use a calculator and my classmates said my brain would deteriorate. But it allowed me to concentrate on other things. I think social media should augment our intelligence rather than make us dumber. But there is still some risk with social media, which needs to be discussed.

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