Written by Dr. Wil Williams, Alacrity Foundation CEO.
A great deal has happened since 2013, the Alacrity Foundation’s year zero. It could be argued, however, that there are two constants since that year; the prevalence and the impact of digital technology. In 2015, the phrase Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was first introduced to us by Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Schwab was not describing something that was to come in the future, but he was labelling fundamental changes that had been in motion for some time. Since 2015, these changes have become even more apparent and ubiquitous. Each industrial revolution has brought fundamental changes to our economy and societies. It could be argued, however, that, compared of previous eras, the 4IR is bringing about more essential vicissitudes than we have seen previously. The 4IR is different to previous revolutions. The preceding three epochs were underpinned by energy commodities: coal, oil; nuclear (electricity). The 4IR is underpinned by human capital; our ability to use digital technologies to innovate.
The impact of the 4IR is all pervasive. Like any industry, technology sees trends. Some of these could be described as fads, underpinned by more hype than reality and meaningful technology. But some trends are supported by technology that offers solutions to our problems that are novel, more efficient, more effective. So, what do we at the Foundation believe will be the underpinning technologies that will allow our teams to innovate and compete in the foreseeable future? Machine learning, no, let’s increase valuations and call it AI (artificial intelligence) is driving much of the innovation that our teams work on. I do not want to get philosophical, but I do not believe that the decision-making undertaken by computers at this time resembles human intelligence, but, hey valuations are valuations, so, we will use the moniker AI. AI is only really useful if we have lots of data. Too few corporate leaders understand the value of the data they hold. They perhaps forget that data is the basis of information which is the foundation of knowledge. Innovation is derived from knowledge. For us, developing tools to collect and collate data, manipulate that data to produce information and ultimately knowledge that users can use presents huge opportunities.
Another transformational opportunity is the move to fully mobile digital platforms. The computing power of laptops have increased exponentially, but equally importantly, the ability to use data and software from the cloud at a time and place of an individual’s choosing is a game changer and, again, offers massive commercial potential. The impact of 5G will increase the viability of truly mobile digital networks. Whether, we will see as rapid and as complete a transformation from laptops to mobile phones as we have witnessed in the adoption of laptops and abandonment of desktops is not yet clear, less due to computing power, but more as a result of the size of the visuals.
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that we believe will gain traction as tools to produce AR become faster, cheaper and easier to use. AR has a wide range of applications, but offers the UX and UI experts significant opportunities to not just please users but delight them. Virtual reality (VR) is still too expensive and difficult to deploy. The clunky and basically impractical headsets that are currently available for VR applications are only really useful in games arcades and university innovation centres, along with 3D printers, to impress visitors.
The Foundation views AI, mobile and AR as technologies that can be applied across any number of verticals. Obviously, cyber security is critical and can utilise all three of these technologies. Without the confidence in our digital systems and data then we face existential risks not just our digital systems, but our economy and society as a whole. We see real opportunities in EdTech. Education has been slow to adopt new technologies. Entrenched cultures and lack of investment have been the main causes of the tardiness in the sector in their adoption of technology. Education, however, offers huge potential. It is a global market, that is being populated by digitally savvy Gen X, Z, etc. AI, mobile and AR will underpin the transformation that we expect to see in education. Systems that help individuals through their personalised learning journey will be enhanced by AI. People want to learn at a time and place of their choosing – they want mobile platforms for learning, not hot sweaty, inefficient classrooms and lecture theatres. AR offers a technology that will improve interest and engagement exponentially.
The Alacrity Foundation is in the middle of the seismic changes; trying to imagine and create the digital future using some of the best minds available.
I joined the Foundation as Chief Exec in 2017 and the world of possibilities offered to our founders has expanded tremendously and the technology space has changed significantly. We have seen the exponential increase in computing power, a corresponding decrease in the costs of computing and physical size of the hardware. Within the Foundation and sister organisations in Canada, Mexico, France, India, the UAE and Singapore, our understanding of how high functioning technology start-ups are formed and grow has developed. A clinical focus on user experience and interface is essential; innovation is not about the technology, it is about the user. Technology is the enabler.
The Foundation works on demand-led projects with partners from industry, the public and third sectors. Success requires commitment and understanding from both the founder (and their team) and the partner organisation. A technology solution will undergo any number of iterations. Continual experimentation is essential. This requires minds and an approach that are agile. I suspect my predecessors intuitively knew these ingredients for success but this is now embedded and codified into our approach to high growth technology start-ups.
The 4IR offers the Foundation the world of opportunity. We have to be nimble, listening and responsive. We have to recruit the best talent and offer them world-class support to ensure that they can take full advantage of the opportunities being offered to build global digital businesses … in Newport!
The Alacrity Foundation programme takes 18 exceptional minds with an entrepreneurial spirit for 15 months, puts them in teams of co-founders with varying skills andf builds new commercial businesses from the ground up.
To find out more or to apply, visit https://www.alacrityfoundation.co.uk/