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The many faces of Digital Transformation – We love “fakes”

This person does not exist. The image was created by StyleGAN, novel generative adversarial network introduced by Nvidia researchers in December 2018, and open sourced in February 2019. Image credit: NVIDIA

The White Paper being prepared by the Digital Reality Initiative is fundamentally about the fading boundary between reality and digital reality, actually it is about the emergence of Reality resulting from the co-presence of these two realities.

These two manifest themselves in the creation of digital worlds like images that are a mixture of images captured by sensors from the physical world and then processed, skewed in a way, to be pleasing to us. Our eyes have a preference towards “green” because our ancestors evolved in a world where distinguishing nuances of green provided a competitive advantage, and so our digital cameras sensors are biased towards “green”, and the software processing the sensor’s data takes into account our retina and brain preference for higher contrasted images. We are using those images as communication tools having them flowing seamlessly within our community and, in the process, we alter them, we create pleasing fakes. And we nourish ourselves on these fakes creating a new perceived reality.

Were it just a matter of photos, or sounds, or mixing bits and data, we might probably find an easily agreeable framework to separate, if needed, the artefacts from reality (we are using the example of photos because it is tricky with photos to determine what is the “real representation”).

However, the digital transformation is becoming increasingly pervasive—and in the coming decades we will see (in fact, already starting to see) a continuum leading to the digital transformation of humans, both at biological and at cultural level. We know that biological evolution happens over long periods of time (the length of which is related to the lifespan of that particular species, and while we can detect biological evolution in bacteria and even in fruit-flies, we cannot detect it in species with a longer life span), and cultural evolution may occur at a much faster pace. Human beings have mostly ceased to evolve in the last hundred thousand years but have evolved at an incredible pace culturally—and this evolution takes further steam with the digital transformation. The human biological evolution could resume in the coming decades with technologies that allow the manipulation of the DNA (and RNA), opening a completely new scenario.

Fear of unexpected, possibly uncontrollable, consequences (not just for humans but for life on the planet) are trying to limit research and experimentation, but we have already seen that the planet is too big and too fragmented to control.

Independently of this evolution it is sure that the cultural evolution is moving on at an accelerated pace, and it is doing so through niche experiments that can explode in the matter of days/months. The digital world has no barrier and travels at the speed of light.

The White Paper will be using these challenges as the framework for studying the Digital Transformation, looking at the technology enablers, economic forces fuelling it, societal adoption steering its evolution. The challenges outlined are not going to be solved anytime soon but must be considered now and be kept alive in the perception of single individuals as well as business, organisations and governments.

We talk a lot about keeping our planet fit to host humans, the climate change, the access and availability of resources (energy, raw materials, water, food…), on the sustainability of our “progress”. All of this is part of, and has to be considered under, the ongoing Digital Transformation.

The IEEE has made the progress of “technology to benefit humanity” its banner. It is just appropriate to use the tremendous capital of knowledge and skills of its volunteers to look at Digital Transformation from this point of view.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.