The rise of Human Centric Innovation
Image: Yasu Nakaoka
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The rise of Human Centric Innovation

Kenny MacIver — May 2014
Fujitsu president Masami Yamamoto on how rapid advances in ICT are supporting creative efforts to address the big challenges of both business and society.

‘Paradigm shift’ might be an overused phrase in the technology world, but for Fujitsu president Masami Yamamoto its use feels wholly justified at this unique point in the evolution of ICT.

Addressing customers, partners and opinion-leaders at Fujitsu Forum 2014 in Tokyo, he highlighted the beginnings of what will be a new industrial revolution, one that is being driven by rapid advances in ICT. “We are standing at the start of the hyperconnected era,” he outlined. “Countless opportunities for innovation will emerge across both business and society as challenges that were previously regarded as impossible or unimaginable are realized. Daily life is going to change dramatically.”

The shift foreseen by Yamamoto — and other thought-leaders across the industry — is being triggered by the confluence of several ICT megatrends. Most notable among these are the takeoff of the Internet of Things (IoT), the growing ubiquity of smartphones and cloud applications, and the rise of intelligent machines capable of undertaking tasks previously reserved for humans.

However, there is one fundamental difference about this wave of digital change that requires a new approach to innovation, he observed: ICT has become “a critically important part of the social infrastructure.” That means the challenge Fujitsu is setting itself is not only to support its business customers’ transformation during this period of huge opportunity but also to focus on innovation that addresses major societal challenges.
Empowering people

In both cases the emphasis is on people, and enabling their creativity, rather than on raw technology, or as outlined in Fujitsu’s Technology and Service Vision, the support of Human Centric Innovation.’ “We are challenging ourselves to use the power of ICT to help our business customers realize business innovation and also to create innovation that changes people’s lives and enriches society: in medical care, agriculture, disaster counter-measures, education, the environment, transportation and energy,” he said.

“The sustainable development of society is closely intertwined with the growth of businesses,” said Yamamoto. “Many problems are coming to the surface today – world population growth, energy issues, air pollution, food and water shortages, aging populations. We have to challenge ourselves [to contribute solutions to such issues]. And while there are not going to be simple answers to these complex issues, I strongly believe that technologies will enable us to address many of these.”

“There will be countless new solutions that will emerge from IoT — applications that will change our world.”

One factor underpinning that evolution is the “new normal” of universal connectivity, he said. “The power of ever-evolving computing means individuals are carrying around the equivalent processing power of a supercomputer from earlier eras of ICT. People can connect at all times — whether for shopping, dining, studying, sports or games. Those devices, in turn, are connecting to large-scale computers providing cloud-based services.”

But that is just the start of the connectivity revolution, he emphasized. The number of connected end-points is about to soar dramatically. He cited analyst estimates suggesting that over the next few years the number of deployed sensors could grow to 50 billion or even 1 trillion, as these IP-enabled units are embedded in all manner of previously unconnected objects — from sport shoes and electronic appliances to light bulbs.

“I can’t [overstate] the opportunities for IoT — it is expanding so rapidly around the world,” said Yamamoto. There will be countless new solutions that will emerge from IoT, applications that will change our world.”

Moreover, as billions of those sensors become connected to the network they will create vast amounts of data for analysis, creating even greater value for business and society, he said. At the same time, that will give rise to new challenges in protecting personal, corporate and public sector data from cyber threats.
A second machine age

Another aspect driving the revolution is the rise of intelligent machines. Yamamoto cited authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (see Big Thinkers) who highlight in their influential books The Race Against the Machine and The Second Machine Age the inevitability that artificial intelligence will take over many jobs currently done by people. “That raises some concerns,” said Yamamoto. “At Fujitsu, with our focus on Human Centric Innovation, we actively choose to pursue ICT that partners with human beings, and technologies that empower people to help to bring about better lives.”

Such developments, however, are not going to be viable without the underpinnings of a solid infrastructure, Yamamoto highlighted, one that spans communications, data centers, high-reliability servers, storage, cloud platforms servers and devices. And he argued that Fujitsu stands apart as the only global ICT player that provides such “end-to-end capabilities,” with a portfolio that stretches from mobile devices to supercomputers, from application services to cloud platforms.
First published May 2014
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