UPM IT has a clear target: Supporting Biofore by Digiforce. In short we call it “BioDigi”. As Biofore is the company’s strategic direction, the digiforce refers to IT resources and capabilities supporting UPM and its businesses in their path to digitalisation. To generalise a bit, I dare to say that the future of human kind will also be BioDigi. It will be a fusion of carbon and silicon. Carbon based living things like humans, digitally (i.e. silicon based) boosted environment and life. So UPM is on the right track.
Life on earth takes energy from a photosynthesis by combining sun light, CO2 and water. This process gave not only energy but also oxygen for living things which then started to evolve. Almost endless natural selection based adaptations led finally to a change in a so called FOXP2 gene around 50 000 years ago enabling human speech. This ability exploded information sharing and new type of co-operation among humans. Later, roughly 5000 years ago we learned to write, which enable storing of information from generation to generation. It’s interesting to notice that encryption was invented soon after writing itself. Again later, but only 500 years Gutenberg invented a printing machine, which started an era of mass media based on paper as a platform. All these biological analogue communications are still in heavy use. But digi is about to emerge.
Less than 200 years ago we started to communicate over distances in forms of telegraph, radio and television, but still using analogue technologies. Amazingly - only 50 years ago - new digital age was born enabled by processors, mass storages and finally internet connecting us all. Soon optical fibre boosted data transfer to the speed of light. Today we witness development that is progressive and there is no end in the tunnel. The amount of data is doubled every second year. Newer and newer processor generations are being invented. Today, and especially tomorrow, everything that can be digitalized, will be digitalised.
Bio as a business
Many fundamental products are based on limited natural resources. At the same time world population is (still) progressively increasing leading to higher demand for mother nature based utilities. We all, sometimes painfully, realise that the only way to survive is sustainable way of living and doing business. This calls for increasing efficiency, resource utilisation and sustainability in everything we do.
Digi as a business
Digitalisation is naturally at a core for information technology companies. But not only for them. Digitalisation is a kind of turbocharger for ordinary, non-digital businesses as well. It increases utilisation of assets as in the case of Airbnb (homes) or Uber (cars). It gives easy access to products and services such as Amazon, Ebay or any other web shop. It eliminates time and location as is the case for many e-banking services. It may also enable remote service; take a case of virtual medical doctor, for example. It can also improve factual decision making based on big data analytics or better optimised processes as in many IoT examples (IoT = Internet of Things). But it’s not stopping here.
Artificial intelligence and robotics are already emerging creating more value for us all. According to a technology report from World Economic Forum and INSEAD (2013), 10% increase in information technology utilisation contributes to 0.75% increase in Gross Domestic Product. So, guidance for businesses is clear! Get digital. Of course it works only if the business cases are carefully chosen and successfully implemented.
Our future: Convergence of Bio and Digi
We can already today repair DNA and even create simple artificial life forms by utilising information technology. This is an example of BIO and DIGI meeting each other. We can produce better harvests by digitally managed irrigation systems. We can have more sophisticated surgery and computer based MRI (Medical imaging) diagnostics. The list is endless and accelerating.
Soon we will likely boost our capabilities as human beings after, or even before, we are born. Where will this stop? Difficult to say. I think that we have seen only the very beginning. Based on latest forecasts, in 40 years machines will outperform humans. In the future we will live in a balance optimising resources on earth (or solar system) and digitising everything we can. All information will be available all the time for all. DNA and Silicon will live together. Hopefully in balance and hopefully forever. I don’t think we truly have any other option!