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Beyond ICT: Embracing The Next Digital Revolution

SHENZHEN, China, Dec. 31, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The history of human social development is, to some extent, the history of human scientific and technological progress. Humanity achieves scientific and technological progress by pushing its physical and mental limits and breaking away from the restrictions of time and space. This has been true in times both ancient and modern. Our ancestors built beacon towers and invented the wheel, while we have ubiquitous Internet connection and vehicles capable of reaching outer space. In the course of our scientific and technological development, two epoch-making inventions have been the steam engine and the computer. The steam engine ushered in the industrial age by providing far more power than what manual labor and beasts of burden could generate. The computer brought us into the information age through data processing capabilities that far outperform the human brain.

The past century has witnessed several waves of progress made possible by information technologies, including those used for communications (telegraphy, telephony, and broadcasting), home entertainment (radio, TV), computing, and the Internet. Information technologies drive economic growth worldwide and reshape the way people live and work. At present, we are evolving from a "society on wheels" to a "society on the network." However, information systems are still regarded as aid tools and support systems, keeping the digital and physical worlds somewhat parallel and compartmentalized. Now, as the digital and physical worlds begin to merge, the development of the Internet of Things has proven to be an effective catalyst of information-based developments and is sure to bring groundbreaking changes to all of humanity.

1.        Beyond information and communications, the increasing integration of the digital and physical worlds will lead to a new digital revolution.

British philosopher Karl R. Popper divides human society into three parts: the physical world, the mental/psychological world, and the world of products of the human mind (also known as the world of objective knowledge). In the future, the physical world will be married with the digital world to form a new world. This integration will bring tremendous changes to the way we live and work, the way businesses operate, and the way society functions — a new age of digital citizens, digital enterprises, and digital society.

  • Heavy reliance on networks will usher in an age of digital citizenry. Nowadays, the ways in which people communicate, acquire information, study, have fun, shop, make friends, and pair-bond are quite different from what we saw just two decades ago. People not only have more means to stay connected and obtain information, but have exceeded the constraints of their physical location or time zone. With the developments in this short time span, rather than waiting days or even months for letters to arrive, people now contact others in real time via email, instant messaging, and social networking. Likewise, people can read the news online anytime, anywhere, rather than clinging to their TVs or radios. Wikipedia and other interactive platforms allow people to easily find answers to their questions, without having to wade through voluminous encyclopedias or wait for office hour-working librarians. Internet users exceeded 2.4 billion in 2012, over 34% of the world's population, with this figure growing roughly 8% each year. There are also as many as 1.1 billion smartphone subscribers right now, an increase of 42% over 2011. However, this is just the beginning. As digital lifestyles are adopted, digital citizenry will shape the behaviors of next-gen consumers, changing the way people live, and shaking up numerous industries. For example, traditional video sales and rental stores are disappearing, and the 244-year old Encyclopedia Britannica is no longer printed. It is very likely that in the next few decades, children will ask why the word newspaper contains the word paper in much the same way as our children today ask why the media is still referred to as the press.
  • The age of digital business is drawing near, as seen by our commercial dependence on networks for production and operations. Network developments have significant influence on business activities. Which business today can even continue to operate if its network fails? E-commerce is booming and extending its reach into every consumer buying decision, whether involving digital content (e-books and digital music), cars, or home appliances, or even small items like snacks and slippers. In 2012 alone, electronic retail sales worldwide totaled US$1.1 trillion. Information technologies will be further applied to enterprise production and operations. Rather than being tools or support components, ICT will become integral to production, decision-making, customer relationship management, service provisioning, marketing, and logistics. ICT will be employed in the building of end-to-end systems that work in real time, playing a role in each and every link, from idea generation to product conceptualization to precision marketing to efficient operations to on-time delivery. In other words, digitization will become a key characteristic of the future enterprise.
  • A borderless Internet gives rise to a digital society. Thanks to the boundary-free nature of the Internet, a large number of borderless virtual communities and societies have come into being. A plethora of these communities will combine to form a digital society that transcends borders, cultures, and races. Facebook is home to over one billion users (or netizens), making it the third largest "citizenry" in the world. This type of digital society, which mirrors while extending beyond the physical world, will undoubtedly impact many aspects of social administration and transformation, including politics, economy, law, culture, news & media, security, and ethics, among others.

As a communications tool and support system, information technologies have significantly changed the way in which people live and work over the past few decades. They also spawn new economies and industries while reshuffling traditional ones. No doubt, the increasing integration of the physical and digital worlds will have a more tremendous impact on society. Such integration will direct ICT development in a way that can better serve society.

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