Artificial IntelligenceDataTrends

Data is one of our most valuable possessions and people should treat protecting it much more seriously than they do right now. And companies who do not take it seriously must start honestly admitting what they do with the data they collect,” said the CEO of ADM Cloudtech, Klemens Arro.

What are the three biggest technological achievements or initiatives from last year that will have a long-lasting effect rather than just being known for the fact that they were announced?

I will not mention any one specific thing that was introduced last year and became ground-breaking overnight, because usually, revolutionary things tend to start out slow and only affect the masses afterwards. Big technological trends and changes tend to follow the same curve that the adoption of new technologies does. In that regard, I would like to mention three developments that have gained enough traction to affect people’s lives now:

Awareness of data privacy and cyber hygiene and the responsibility that comes with both. We could see this development coming for a long time now and there has been a lot of activity as well as various developments around it for a while now. But last year, we could definitely see that awareness on the subject has spread to more important places and people. Today, there is a much better understanding of the value of data for an individual, a company or a country, and of the fact that if data is misused, then the responsible parties must face the consequences. This is true both internationally and in Estonia.

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning became mature. Last year, machine-learning services finally reached a so-called maturity phase. Before, most machine-learning solutions were quite expensive, which made them quite inaccessible to most people. But now, machine-learning platforms and the cloud services created so they could be used have become simple enough that it is easy to implement them even in small projects without requiring huge investments. They are now being used in everything from our everyday online stores and newsletters to personalised smart product recommendations and complicated medicinal, financial and other use cases.
From Estonia’s perspective, this is a wonderful development. If previously it was difficult to justify investing into the implementation of machine-learning because of the need to make even bigger investments and the size of the Estonian market, then now we are seeing that circumstances have changed and machine-learning is being more boldly adopted in Estonia as well. This in turn opens the door to further innovations.

The development of quantum computers. It is a well-known fact that all big-time players like to invest huge sums in quantum computers, so that is not really news. The news of Google achieving quantum supremacy just brought more attention to the field once again. But more importantly, last year, Microsoft and Amazon joined IBM in making quantum computers available as a cloud service to nearly anyone interested in using them. On one hand, this will help speed up the development of quantum computers, and on the other, it will also help scientist and companies to prepare for the era of quantum computing.

What kind of technological advancements can we expect from this year?

For better or worse, the subjects of data, privacy and cybersecurity will not be going anywhere this year. Considering the storms brewing around various digital giants, the new discoveries of how data from international services is being misused, the increasing number of data leaks and attacks as well as how the masses are being influenced with data, then this year will be particularly intense. The US presidential elections in November will bring a huge amount of attention to these areas since it has already been proven that elections are accompanied by a lot of cyber activity and influences.

Democracy is increasingly being conducted with the help of technological tools, which may leave less experienced citizens in situations where they would not want to be if they understood where they were. Is there a simple way to get out of this new type of situation at all?

Although cyberattacks and data leaks cause a lot of damage, then they also direct more attention than ever before to the laws surrounding these issues, which means that as a result, the legal system is modernised and helps to protect more citizens. And although it takes time to implement these changes and sometimes it happens “by accident”, then overall, it indicates that things are moving in a positive direction. We are even seeing more and more good news about developments in the fields of prevention and protection against these issues.

What other new technologies can we expect?

In addition to developments in privacy, machine-learning and 5G, which will be getting quite a bit of attention this year again, we can also expect developments in IoT, edge computing, automation, multi-cloud and at the same time, cloud-native technologies.
All of these technologies show an emerging pattern: they all support the adoption of bigger, faster and more complicated technologies. To remain relevant and competitive, then new added values are constantly being created for the end-users. In turn, this means the constant development of new and increasingly more complicated technological solutions, which unfortunately also mean increasing data volumes and increasing amounts of resources required to process all that data. To ensure that all of this is managed as sustainably and cost-effectively as possible, people are looking towards the tried and true concept of automation, which we will be seeing in more and more use cases. For example, a large portion of the tills in Estonian shops, cinemas, fast food restaurants and gyms have already gone through the transformation, which confirms that our companies have already started implementing automation on a much wider spectrum than just in the virtual world. This in turn confirms the need to work on developing the technologies I mentioned before. And we will already be seeing the next achievements related to these technologies this year.

Technology has pervaded every area of life today so deeply that it is hard to imagine anything from agriculture (e.g. eAgronom) to politics (e.g. e-elections) without it. How will such technological saturation, which we could even call technocracy, affect us all even when we do not know to expect or fear it?

The development of technology affects us all to a bigger or smaller extent – on one side, it does so directly via the interactions or services we consume and use daily; on the other, the services we use utilise various technologies without our knowledge, which enables companies to offer such high-level services in the first place. Luckily, for the most part, that means good things – the delivery rate and quality of services usually improves as a result and technology allows us to offer a much wider range of services than ever before. Today, the end-user is being offered a lot more added value for the same price.
At the same time, technology has taken up such a central role in our lives that we, the end-users must educate ourselves on it more than before. We cannot expect others to do it for us or to protect us from our own actions. In addition to learning elementary cyber hygiene, we also have to learn where and how our data is being used. And how various types of data can be used to influence us when they are leaked or used in a malicious manner.
Companies and countries should focus more on how to properly protect their users’ data and on being more transparent about how they use that data. My suggestion is to always keep track of how, where and when users’ data is being stored. As an example, data and their personalised connections should be stored in separate systems and there should always be an overview of who, how, why and when has access to the data. Above all, users should always be treated with honesty and transparency and they should be clearly shown how their data is being used. This does not mean having a long privacy policy page on your website, which is full of legal jargon. Instead, every relevant interaction the user has should also explain what is being done to their data at that point.

Entrepreneurship is a topic that is already being covered in kindergarten. This fast development, from university to kindergarten, figuratively speaking, has happened in the span of just 20 years and especially during the last ten years. Would you say that this is a temporary and passing trend or rather, is it our new reality and one that we just have to account for?

I would say it is our new reality. But it will not remain exactly like this over time. I am not expecting to see this development slow down anytime soon, but at some point, we will see accelerated progress through a larger number of specialisations. Speaking from personal experience, based on what I have seen around me, in our companies, in co-operation with schools and in teaching our trainees, my first recommendation to young people is to always take a moment for yourself to think about what path in life you wish to take, regardless of what your field of interest is and how fast it is developing. Take a moment to understand what your chosen field really is and to think about what you truly want to do in life.
A golden rule applies here – those who make their decision based on their personal interest, nearly always make it very far. The logic behind this is quite simple – if your personality matches the field and you have a really strong interest in it, then it will not feel like studying or work to you. Instead, you will perceive it as you would a pleasant hobby. And what could be better than gaining skills and working in a field that you actually like.

You often meet university students who are doing their apprenticeships. What is your one universal recommendation for them all?

I always suggest keeping a very open mind to be able to recognise the direction a specific field is moving in at the right moment. There are so many examples throughout history where a new technology is initially written off as unrealistic. And before they even realise it, that same technology will have achieved a dominant position. However, those who were able to keep an open mind to it, were able to prepare for the technological and business aspects of it, and they became the leaders and specialists in their sectors. This was the case all the way from the first car to mobile phones and artificial intelligence – all these technologies were perceived as the mad ideas of some “crazy scientist”. Do not limit yourself to just what you learn in school. I would recommend participating in informative get-togethers and discussions related to your chosen field to expand your horizons and to notice new trends in time. And more importantly, please gain some real-world practical experience. Students who apply for apprenticeships where they actually have to work and they are not just doing it to cross something off their to-do list, are much more successful later on. Creating their own projects or actively participating in other people’s projects on the side helps them gain real experience and to create more value in the process. In addition to the valuable experience they gain, they can also use these projects as proof of their work experience when they enter the job market in the future.

Estonia has garnered a lot of attention for the creation and usage of its e-solutions, but not just positive, but also negative attention – data is leaked, and people fall victim to various scam schemes. Would you say that these negative developments are more like collateral damage that we can fix over time or is it just something we must accept is a part of our lives now?

No, we should not simply accept it. Rather, we have come to a point where we must familiarise ourselves with what cyber hygiene is, who does what with my data, and what are the possible consequences of that data leaking or being misused.
As entrepreneurs, we must pay even more attention to protecting the data we are entrusted with and to explaining very clearly and transparently how that data is used and protected from various dangers, such as encryption, the separation of personalised and other data, internal processes for data management etc.
Here in Estonia, we can learn from both the good and bad cases that other countries have experienced. For example, situations such as where a country tries to improve its cybersecurity by implementing new regulations while at the same time, it restricts the use of a fundamental building block of cybersecurity – encryption – with other regulations. In Estonia, we could thus be smarter by avoiding illogical situations such as this example from ever happening in the first place.
Our e-country will have a much more fundamental role to play in educating people as well as in becoming more transparent and increasing people’s trust in it in today’s data and privacy-centric world.

We have been living with technology for such a short amount of time that we do not actually know how to properly use it yet. This is especially apparent in how data is managed – most people have no idea how valuable their data is, how to store it and how to ensure that their data really is kept safe. Do you have any good suggestions for doing so?

Unfortunately, we still hear people saying things like “what have I got to hide” or “I do not have any valuable data anyway, let them have it if they want it”. This clearly indicates that not enough work has been done to inform people on the subject and that much more needs to be done as quickly as possible.
To start with, you should become more aware of your data. Most of the data that is maliciously used, is usually collected without the user’s knowledge off of their smartphone and online. Every user should think about this logically: if an app asks permission to access your location or contacts, even though the app should not need it to function, then you should not give it that access. In the real world, no one would give a complete stranger, such as a taxi driver or a cashier, the contact details of their close friends. But in the virtual world, the same logic usually does not apply. Just recently, apps such as flashlight apps and others were really popular and a lot of them would ask users for permission to access their location, contacts and personal files, which users would grant without a second thought.
Of course, this is not just the user’s obligation and worry alone. Companies that offer their services to users must definitely pay attention to how they use their clients’ most valuable resources and they have to openly admit whose interests they are representing.
Since this area is getting more complicated and harder to navigate each day, then every company should have a strong team who can manage these questions, developments and updates. Since it is quite costly to learn new things and to keep all that knowledge up to date, then in most cases, it is very hard to create a team like that on your own. That is why it is useful to team up with partners who can help you navigate the different journeys and to keep your systems up to date. Gone is the time when you could use a single pre-packaged solution without updating it for years or even decades. Today, all IT systems and the support structures and processes around them are more like living organisms that need to regularly renew themselves.