Can technology humanise our society?

28th July 2021
Dr. Mohamed Nazier
Managing Director - Transport & Infrastructure

Digital innovations are set to revolutionise the world’s industries, society, and make citizens’ lives more seamless, efficient, safer, and economical. Adding to this, real-world applications of emergent technologies such as artificial intelligence are beginning to illustrate just how effective the convergence of physical and digital worlds can be.

In this Anticipate Podcast episode, Dr. Mohamed Nazier, Managing Director – Transport & Infrastructure at WSP in the Middle East is joined by Gabi Zijderveld, Chief Marketing Officer at Affectiva, a Smart Eye company – to discuss how future technologies could improve safety and efficiency for user experiences in a world underpinned by digital.

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WSP Middle East · Can technology humanise our society?

Not able to listen? Here’s an overview of the discussion:

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will play a big role in how we shape the world for future generations. To envisage the applications of breakthroughs such as Affectiva’s Emotion AI, Dr. Mohamed Nazier and Gabi Zijderveld delve into what real world implementation might look like in the construction industry, the role of big data analytics, smart technology in public transport, and how digital can enhance and even humanise future experiences for society.

Digital transformation in the construction industry:

Although the construction industry is generally perceived as lagging in digital transformation, Gabi mentions there could be “tremendous opportunities with machine learning and deep learning approaches and AI”.

She adds: “There are some trends, I think, that are popping out. There’s amazing opportunities around AI process automation. This would touch many, many different areas, basically optimizing the way that projects are being planned, and much more efficient use of unsure massive amounts of data that are being generated in that industry. Basically, also allowing automation of very manual and tedious labour intensive tasks that people need to do and have machine learning approaches to automate and optimise those, allowing for the human to focus more on creative tasks, and the things that require more interpersonal interactions… freeing human skill to focus on areas where humans are uniquely equipped to add value.”

Gabi also suggests digital transformation could enhance areas such as Health & Safety. “For example, when you consider issues such as construction site safety, if you can use computer vision to proactively identify issues that could be a safety concern, for example, where we have workers that are doing work with electricity but there is water nearby that’s not being noticed, that could be a dangerous situation. It could also extend to violations of workplace requirements where maybe someone is smoking on the site where they absolutely should not be smoking. So there’s some really interesting applications there.”

The case for data:

“We can all imagine the old days where there were literally printed out manuals, and instruction guides and books that had to be tapped into our people that had to be called to get their expertise,” Gabi says. “All of that is now being automated, there’s massive amounts of data.”

She adds: “The main opportunity here [is that] there’s massive amounts of data being generated through these systems, through business processes, through all these operational projects. But I think the challenge today is that most of that is generated from all these disparate systems; you have all these different platforms and software that are generating all this data. And also, there is no common language that’s tying these all together.

“So, you have all this massive unstructured data and are trying to bring that together. Getting insight into that is extremely challenging when generated in different formats through different platforms. I think data consolidation, and data aggregation is even a huge challenge there, the data warehousing is not trivial, either… when those very foundational problems get solved, then you have the opportunity.”

Smart technology in public transport:

“There’s definitely applications there, and interestingly enough some of the cities in the Middle East are actively looking at this,” Gabi says. “I think the two main areas where technology would be applied it’s on the one hand still around safety, but also around the customer experience, which is key in public transport, and in many urban settings.”

“If you can understand what’s going on with people that are taking public transport, and based on their experience, their reaction, their engagement with the environment – if that gives you insight to optimise that to improve the experience, suddenly you’re talking about a whole different level of customer service that will increase ridership and increase customer satisfaction. I think this is one area that is quite interesting, and maybe not even that far off the promise of autonomous autonomy or autonomy.”

Humanising services:

Given the generational shift of demographics in the digital era, Dr. Mohamed discusses the merit of how humanising everyday touchpoints could impact the way services are delivered.

“I think the generational needs in communities as we grow into the digital era, more and more, will be completely different. But I think that their whole perception and the public’s whole expectation of what services provided should be; these will be different. I think maybe humanisation will help support this new agenda and the upcoming generations in a different way.”

Gabi adds: “The vision for humanising technology is to ultimately improve human-to-machine interaction and the human-to-human interaction. Those take place in a digital context, so it’s about making those interactions more effective, more empathetic, more relevant, more personalized, ultimately making them better. When those experiences are deployed in certain areas, such as, for example, automotive, there’s tremendous opportunities to also focus in on safety and ultimately saving lives.”

Designing smart city experiences:

Applying theories of humanisation to the mobility sphere, Gabi says:

“When we think about now – the smart city, the city of the future, about mobility experiences – those same notions are applying there, like consumer expectations of stellar service. Personalising in a way that serves us is ultimately where we’re going as a society and you can only deliver on that if you humanise the technology systems that are in service of that.

“When building human-centric AI, ethics has to be at the forefront of everything we do; ethics of how we develop the technology, and also ethics around how you deploy it so that you can truly humanise the experience and make sure that it works equitably and fairly for all people involved.”

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