“The Internet of Things” in 2027

Robots, machine learning, and sensors are three of the big changes that are driving the new Internet of Things (IoT).

That’s according to Microsoft Chief Economist Preston McAfee, who spoke at the Caltech Entrepreneurs Forum “Startups in 2027 and Beyond” on April 22, 2017 in Pasadena, CA.

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t all about robots taking over all of our jobs, says McAfee. But we had better adjust to some new ways of thinking about today’s workforce.

For startups in 2027 and beyond, this economist sees an emphasis on human productivity, nimble teams, and new metrics to measure worker productivity.

“We are already at the stage where water usage is being cut in half by using sensors in the field to better understand when crops need to be watered,” McAfee told the audience of CalTech computer science students and entrepreneurs.

“A machine can examine an X-Ray better than a human Doctor,” according to the latest deep learning studies says McAfee. And when you use online support, often a chat bot is being deployed to answer your questions.

The digital transformation is about mobility, IoT, cloud and 3D printing, which are just some of the 23 technologies McAfee sees on the horizon.

Bhaskar Krishnamachari, Ph.D at USC Viterbi School of Engineering says he also sees cheap sensors, cheap data storage, wireless, and machine automation as the technologies behind the new digital economy.

Krishnamachari sees the day when warehouses will be operated by robots that can do more than track inventory in their line of sight. Soon robots will be able to talk to each other to coordinate inventory (that isn’t even tagged) across the entire factory floor.

“The robot of the future might be able to see inventory through a wall.”

What does this mean for today’s middle class worker? McAfee says just-in-time education and getting the right skills to the right people will be important to work success.

“It’s not just about a ‘Rise of the Robot [Overlords]’ future,” he told the audience. “Our traditional view of go to college for four years and then your done in education is out of date.”

It will take a different view of getting new skills such as using cloud computing or mobile apps, or artificial intelligence to the right people at the right time.

For example, sales teams are starting to use AI to get actionable data from large customer databases. If AI is used to predict customer needs, the hope is this data could help make a salesperson better at his or her job.

McAfee sees the questions not so much as will robots take jobs? But more about how will robots and AI, and workers be complements?

One thing is clear. To successfully embrace all of this new AI and IoT businesses will need to focus on communication, creativity, and invention.

“There are the things that only humans bring ,” explains McAfee, “like care and empathy.”