14 January

Silvio Meira: the phygital and other notes on the present and future

Although your calendar might show that it’s 2021, it’s actually […]

Although your calendar might show that it’s 2021, it’s actually 2025. This warning is issued by one of Brazil’s leading thinkers about the digital world: Silvio Meira, who is also a speaker at UIA2021RIO. In an article published in his blog, he explains that the pandemic is speeding up behavioural changes by at least half a decade. According to him, the suppression of physical space is the main driving force behind these transformations.

In a clear reference to Yuval Noah Harari’s best-selling 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Silvio Meira wrote an article entitled 21 anotações sobre 2021, in which he introduces a new word: phygital (figital in Portuguese). This designates the irreversible trend towards convergence of the physical and digital worlds. “The stuff that existed before must shift to an app on a digital platform. Phygital will be one of the keywords of 2021. A trend made obvious and speeded up by 2020: markets, companies, teams, people, cities, countries and governments are in transition from the physical (or analogue), not to the digital as expected by many, but rather to an articulation in which the physical becomes qualified, increasing and extending through the digital, both orchestrated in social space, in almost real time.”

According to Meira, what greatly hampers the digital transformation process is that it depends on leaders. But “most of today’s business leaders were trained – either hands-on or through an analogue MBA – for a competition that is now in the past. In this context, the company is a laboratory”. Only 9% of managers say that they really believe that leaders are able to run an organisation during a massive phygital transformation, notes the article.

Health and Education are two areas highlighted by Meira: “specialists say that we will have education on digital platforms, with universal digital literacy programs and a much stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and maths”, writes the author, who is the Head Scientist of TDS Company, and also chairs the board of portodigital.org. 

In the Health field, he mentions more than two million digital doctors´ appointments during 2020 in Brazil: “in a country with over 200 million inhabitants, two million appointments seem very little. But this is not so, because this practice was authorised by Congress only in April”. Physicians will not be replaced by artificial intelligence, but physicians who fail to use artificial intelligence will be replaced by those who do”, he warns. 

Regarding the arrival of 5G, Meira explains that the cost is very high for personal use. However, it will undoubtedly revolutionise the ways in which we live, with “far better personal and physical interactions, and a million things connected up by square kilometres. All traffic signs, ambulances, cabs, buses, freezers, cameras and doors will be on-line, once and for all, forever. He forecast that 5G will have market impacts of USD 13.2 billion a year by 2035, with much of this focused on the Internet of things.” 

As a result, many goods will be converted into services. Making goods and sending them to a distributor or directly to a retailer is for the factory of the past. According to Meira,  the future of the factory lies in physical space extended through digital aspects, orchestrated by social factors and in almost real-time. “In addition to things, people will start to be connected up into networks, inside the factory and elsewhere, orchestrating the factory dynamic. Phygital factory digital platforms connect everything together, with the potential to make the factory into an operating system not only for its products, but also the context within which they are used.

Everything is software. And, based on this premise, Silvio Meira admits that “Everything is wholesale”, recalling the importance of protection systems, and that “everything fails”: “things will fail, but that’s no reason for us not to build them and use what is possible, because technology is the domain of possibilities, not certainties.” 

In order to deal with increasingly more complex challenges, informaticity professionals will be needed. Companies will battle ever more eagerly for human capital, within a context of shifting careers and rapidly evolving knowledge. “As phygital energy, informaticity will become increasingly more relevant. Energy and water flowing into homes, from production to distribution and consumption are already measured by informaticity at many stages along the value chain. But what we will all realise to an increasing extent is that informaticity is cloud-based and will fail from time to time. This implies redesigning systems and applications, because simply cloud-loading vital applications – such as medical equipment control – might ratchet up usage risks sharply. All this will require new theories, theses, prototypes, applications, systems and new ways of making systems. And the education to do so.” 

There is obviously no lack of assessments of these new ways of work: “suddenly, one of the longest-blasting constructions of the Industrial Revolution has been challenged at its objective foundation: the place as a means of production. And the subjective base of the office vanished, as a networking space, a meeting point for forming alliances and gaining hands-on experience. (…) We suddenly lost the workplace, a social accomplishment, returning to a solitude that isolates us from this coffee-break culture and its link-strengthening chats. The home office is a solution that brings its own problems. We have no idea of the long-term consequences. It is still too soon to draw definitive conclusions, as many people are eager to do.” 

Finally, Meira presents a connotative reflection, stating that: “humankind needs an antivirus.” “It is necessary to rethink everything associated with biological risks from and for humankind, starting out by finding an even balance between human beings and the environment. We need to install an antivirus in the humanity operating system. This antivirus is not ready, and massive efforts are needed to develop it. Just like a computer antivirus, it will never be fully complete, but will rather have to evolve steadily, not as merely a technological artefact, but rather as an environmental, social, economic and technological system that develops and interacts with everything on the planet. Including power. It will not be easy. But this is why we humans are here, always challenged by the apparently insurmountable impossibilities and difficulties of life, evolving. As soon as we have the collective intelligence needed to discover that it is far easier to fix this planet than make another habitable, like Mars, and once we act on this discovery, everything will be easier, and we will sort things out.”

To read the full article by Silvio Meira (in Portuguese), access: 


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