Post #83: Tech for good, Swedish style

Say ‘future trends’ to most people and the Swedish Chamber of Commerce – a venerable trade body founded in 1906 – might not be the first name to spring to mind. However, in recent times the Chamber has convened an annual tech forum. Your author has attended the event for the last two years. Whereas the 2019 forum was hosted at Google’s London HQ, unsurprisingly, the 2020 version occurred entirely online. Nonetheless over 300 participants joined yesterday to listen to speakers from the likes of Microsoft, Ericsson, Volvo and a handful of start-ups provide their take on the future.

The key angle behind the conference was to highlight how technology can be enabler for good. While it might be easy to pay lip service to such a concept, the presenters all gave tangible examples of where technology was serving a positive purpose. Put another way, tech does not need to be seen as futuristic. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the benefits of technology much more tangible to many; think of everything from track and trace healthcare schemes to everyone’s greater online existence. Trends that were in train pre-pandemic are now only accelerating. We concur with such a view.

Ericsson’s UK and Ireland Chief Executive perhaps articulated the point most accurately, highlighting how (5G mobile) technology could help lower barriers to access, both in terms of healthcare and education. Remote monitoring (telemedicine) can save lives, while reliable broadband can connect and people. EdTech is a theme of increasing importance to us – watch this space for a pending theme piece which discusses the topic in more detail. Overlaying 5G with augmented and/or virtual reality will, in the view of Ericsson, only enhance the experience for users, yielding more benefits.

Another consistent message we heard from multiple speakers was how technology can benefit the environment. Anecdotally, almost all tech start-ups are now aligning themselves with the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. Ericsson highlighted how its port automation solution can not only lower operating costs by 50%, but carbon dioxide emissions by 80%, on average. Meanwhile, Volvo went through a case study of its ‘brand M’ mobility business, which already has over 100,000 users. This is an on-demand car service (currently only available in Sweden and the US), which not only benefits users (as it ‘learns’ their behavioural patterns) but also reduces emissions and overall car usage. Heartening messages for uncertain times.

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