The rhyme and reason …
The world of technology is moving faster than we can even imagine. Emerging technologies are now converging with disruptive technologies that belong to a slightly earlier generation of the 90s. However, other than radical novelty and immense potential, this convergence also bring in uncertainty and ambiguity in its wake. The role of influencers, innovators, institutions, patterns of knowledge, models of production and the resulting Quality of those systems to serve humanity and thus the methods for testing and assessing these systems may still be unsure. With technological convergence and integration across different domains (“Tech Fusion”) of previously separate systems like IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology, psycho-technology cognitive science, robotics and AI merging and emerging every day, it is high time we start thinking the practical aspects of testing such tech-fusion. The goal remains the same – helping test and qualify new synergies to interconnect and grow into newer efficiencies of competitive advantage and economic viability.
Testing the limits of ‘testing’
In the future, (if not already) a majority of us will live in a smart city, make purchases with Blockchain, our cars will be interactively linked to our mobile, our Fitbit, and sport “wearable” technologies in our clothes, our AR glasses. And the reliance on those system to be integrated in a safe, secure and Quality crafted manner will be essential. This brings the bigger question: Who’s going to test all that?
The opportunities in bringing new testing methods and tools and skills to the new fusions and multiple permutations of these “to be integrated” technologies are immense. The holistic view of the expanding tech scenario is still absent for the average person who is not immersed in IT or other technologies and for now only pieces of what will be a larger emerging “technology puzzle and integrated framework” is known to even the savviest technologists of today. This was the realm of futurists and science fiction writers who had already predicted in the fifties and sixties such a future and calling it the “modern information age”. The impact is going to be exponential when larger integrations between technologically advanced systems that impact virtually every aspect of our lives (education, medicine, politics, justice, commerce and even religion) occur in future at faster timescales.
The question remains – who is going to look at the value and use the correct processes and tools to provide the insights into the quality and related risks of these systems?
Many technology companies are already thinking about this “orchestrated” technology with large scale integration. While there are others coming at it from an analysis/marketing/angle, My focus in this blog on the Quality advisory and testing angle. The combinations for this convergence are infinite, so how do we meet the opportunity? Our testing skills/tools/data/environment need to be predictive and no longer reactionary of this tech fusion. Sogeti’s book “Testing in the digital age: AI makes a difference”1 has already highlighted the need for a different approach to testing in a world where the physical and virtual have converged, where automated machines are mimicking human intelligence and robots are becoming a standard term of everyday parlance.
We see an increasing need for joint research and development investment with research associations across the world to be ready to test this tech-fusion. Larger integration of IT (i.e. software related aspects) and electrical/mechanical engineering (i.e. hardware related aspects) resources, tools, infrastructure are making agile, cross-functional multidisciplinary teams to get new ways of working together and to make this new way of working “the norm”.
System integration testing will need skills. Without joint R&D, these fused technologies will never make sense. But it is imminent that they will fuse. We will also need the infrastructure to test. The scary part is I do not know what kind of infrastructure to put in place. Like I don’t know how to test my dishwasher; maybe I know the software, but not the mechanical system behind it. Similarly, cars built with AI, will need new algorithms for ambulance and police. All kind of tools – mechanical, engineering, software – will be needed.
Everyone’s a part of the demand
Tech fusion is something our clients will be demanding soon because there is no alternative to evolution. And humans tend to minimize work, they want to make better use of their valued “leisure” time. When humans discovered fire, they went further and made even more amazing discoveries using fire. Similarly, humans will not rest at AI or Robotics or Supercomputers.
Everyone is talking of AI and Robotics now. Not too many years ago, the idea sounded more like science “fiction” than “fact”. But it’s a manifestation to stay and advanced IT and AI and other more previously “futurist” technologies are becoming more and more accepted in driving businesses like insurance, government and banking now. We need to keep up with this growth and not have a technological “gap” in the ability to stay on top of these systems from a Quality perspective and for testing these systems. This trend of applying futuristic technologies in multiple manners integrating the “tech fusion” for multiple manufacturing systems will become more and more apparent. We will start seeing more complex integrations of the AI/ Cognitive and IT systems meeting the world of Hardware and Automation permeating the “physical world”. Some things will not change but will become more “Tech Fusional” in the future. Products and services for humanity that are needed no matter advanced we get to maintain our physical structure and our bodies will also undergo changes. Places such as waffle factories, shoe factories, matchbox factories will see these advanced “tech fusion” solutions arise, and Automation will be replacing people – IT systems are already running the show in many sectors. In the future robot machines will make even match sticks. The Challenge will be to test for quality.
The new age management will also acknowledge that fusion-based Testing is essential for long-term success. The management practice will need to be more tech-savvy to be able to appreciate this evolution and gather intelligence to keep tabs of technology development within/without industry by attending conference, speaking to peers, and most importantly, thinking and forecasting the future to come.
We have been building up to this for years. One sure shot manifestation is self-driven cars. You have not seen it in your driveways or even the highways but I have seen one in the Google parking lot. So it would be foolish to say that market is not ready. There is a demand for this fusion already – so there is demand for understanding how to test it too. Our testing approach needs to broaden. The hard part will be combine the hard skills in mechanical, electrical, computer engineering and coding and the soft skills of communication.
Tackling the ethical dilemma
There is a dilemma in deciding what technologies to focus on and where to look. Also to be sure we know which of the technologies will fuse first. The smartphone represents tech fusion like no other – acting as a camera, link to internet, recorder, pedometer, calendar, an alarm clock, so on and so forth. To be the market leader of the mobile market you need to know how to test apps in the phone. If a company cannot adapt to these game and new market players can – the most adaptive companies will get ahead in the game.
About quality: It is important to become the quality advisor to your client for the whole range of phases from ideation to implementation. Especially for sectors like the military and the medical where testing or quality control is serious business. The ethical aspect of the dilemma is also there. An airplane symbolizes a technology that can drop a bomb, launch drones and parachutes and then even fly passengers. It remains to be seen how we can keep the technologies in check without trampling the innovation and to see how we can be on top of the technologies to help ensure the public that there is minimal chance of creating a Frankenstein in technological systems and to maximize the benefits.
We are entering a new age when information is a two edged sword to be carefully handled – and I think quality awareness and testing can provide that balance and help drive the technological “fusions” so they don’t go into technological “melt down”. With technology and “thinking machines” catching up and superseding humans the changes are paramount and when technologies “fuse” and the very essence of “what is human” is called into play, this challenges the previous universally accepted truths every day. For what is a fact today, changes tomorrow. Thinking systems will exceed the thinking capacities of humans and be a lot quicker and those machines will in turn be integrated into physical systems that automate almost every aspect of our lives both in the mental and physical sense. The question remains, will they test themselves? Will they still need us to guide their quality? Or will we see a time when they will by nature be “self-sufficient” and then these systems will not need the professional testers at all?
- https://www.ict-books.com/topics/digitaltesting-en-info : Authors: Tom van de Ven, Rik Marselis, Humayun Shaukat (Sogetibooks ISBN: 9789075414875)