At the 2020 ACFE Fraud Conference Canada last week, Alex Benay, the Former Chief Information Officer of Canada and a Digital Innovation Expert and Partner at Digital Solutions, KMPG, had attendees engage in a thought experiment to imagine the world 50 years from now. According to Benay’s hypothesis, this kind of thinking is necessary for countries and businesses to reimagine themselves in our rapidly changing digital age.
To understand the scale of change we could witness in the future, Benay began by analyzing the past. Benay noted the dramatic shift in the economic production model that we’ve witnessed within the past 50 years. To illustrate this claim, he offered a list of firsts:
50 years ago: the invention of the first 16-bit mini computer
40 years ago: the first cassette player, making portable music a reality
30 years ago: the first case of genetic engineering in humans
20 years ago: the first Blackberry
10 years ago: the first all-electric car
5 years ago: the first bionic eye
While the agricultural revolution took 1,000 years, and the industrial revolution took a couple of centuries, Benay said that the data revolution has occurred within a matter of decades. In large part, this rapid acceleration in the pace of change is a product of the digitization of the economy: ideas, data and information technology are now the primary drivers in an economy that has become more and more intangible.
So what does this intangible economy look like for the future? Benay presented some examples of forces and products that will begin molding the economy within the very near future of the next five years:
1 year from now: first test flight of NASA’s Quiet SuperSonic technology
2 years from now: the world’s first artificial kidney
3 years from now: the first hover taxis are set to launch in Dubai
4 years from now: driverless high-speed trains to launch in France
5 years from now: bio-electronics will treat arthritis
Going back to the thought experiment at the beginning of his presentation, Benay asked attendees to contemplate what society might look like in 50 years. He provided a few examples of products and services that are already beginning to appear on markets and within populations.
Cyborgs will become a wider group of people across the world as the technology behind bionic body parts improves and prompts more patients to choose bionic body parts over human transplants.
Biohacking will become a normalized means of connecting to one’s surrounding infrastructure. For example, Sweden is already experimenting with implanting microchips into the hands of commuters so that they scan their hands instead of carrying train fare cards.
Digital health care will evolve in multiple ways: nanotechnology to fight cancer, the practice of airdropping robots to perform remote surgeries and the capability to 3D print body parts for transplants. A hospital in Canada has already been making use of a robotic knee surgeon.
As more companies begin to offer digital refrigerators, predictive purchasing will become commonplace: companies will scan the contents of one’s refrigerator and deliver food they may be out of without the consumer needing to order it. Eventually, refrigerators will be able to 3D print food directly into the refrigerators. While this may seem far afield, Amazon already owns the patent for anticipatory shipping.
The advent of teleportation —which has already been successfully carried out by Canadian scientists who were able to teleport molecules a distance of three meters within a lab —will signal the decline in erecting physical borders and barriers as their function grows obsolete.
Facial recognition as a barrier to entry across any borders, or even within homes and buildings. Japan has already been testing facial recognition as a means of border control ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and, for Canada and the U.S., the potential of a border that is not strictly physical reflects a boom in percentage points of GDP.
Artificial intelligence is already much better than humans at a wide range of tasks, and the number of duties given to AI instead of humans will only increase. In South Korea, the government has already begun to use AI-powered analysts instead of hiring human employees.
For the vast majority of these technological advancements, the first country or company to bring this to market will gain massive investments, making this field a sort of arms race.
To relate all of these digital advancements back to the anti-fraud industry, Benay reminded attendees that with everything we design for good, there is always the potential for it to be exploited for nefarious means. Especially as economies become more and more digitized, there are tremendous risks involved. First, there is the high possibility of a values-based fragmentation of the internet, which would be affected by who has access to technology in general. For example, Russia has contemplated building a firewall around its country’s internet; this would allow for digital economies to become foreign policy elements in ways they never have before.
In addition, there is the risk of heightened citizen monitoring and the crumbling away of personal privacy. If technology is convenient, seamless, invisible and intuitive, users will flock to it regardless of the risks involved. This could eventually lead to a Big Brother situation in which the government can monitor someone’s entire life based solely on what that person engages with on their phone.
The digitization of personal identity also opens up the risk of identity hacking. This type of hacking differs from identity theft in that digital identity hacking would allow a hacker access to one’s cyborg-body. With personal data stored in microchips embedded into hands, or with an increase in the number of people with bionic appendages, this type of hacking could prove to completely overthrow one’s autonomy.
The consequences of trading in privacy for convenience extend beyond just the person risk: countries and companies will also face enormous hurdles in bolstering digital security. As machine-to-machine communication becomes more complex, back-end distribution will become automated by AI but will need to be monitored to ensure that the AI is working according to privacy and ethics standards. The future of financial system monitoring thus depends on teams that are equipped with AI experts.
On a global scale, frictionless economies will become the norm, disrupting traditional economic and trade activities and resulting in an unprecedented free flow of goods, both physical and intangible. The more porous these borders get, the faster they will be able to be compromised. While geopolitics has been consumed by natural resources for the past few hundred years, this new age will pivot toward a focus on digital goods.
Benay stressed that the future is closer than we may think. “Society has already gone digital, new technologies are already here and the bold thinking already exists. The only thing lacking is for industries that are anchored in the past to bridge this gap and pivot toward new technology,” he said.
Benay closed by asking attendees to question whether their professions are ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of this society. This will require that companies foster innovative thinking and that they interrogate their business models to question how it may need to change and what they may need to leave behind.
On an individual level, Benay suggested that professionals bring a degree of humility to the work they do by accepting that we are entering an age when everything is continuously changing, so we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We also need to accept that it’s impossible to be an expert in the rapidly changing field of new technology, and being able to ask for help and clarification is crucial to being flexible and adapting to meet the needs of future challenges.