We should be making better use of emerging technologies in infrastructure.
It is in the hands of consumers and in the labs of massive corporations. It is in the air and under the ground. It is not a single idea or innovation but, rather, a universal theme that impacts everyone, everywhere.
Clearly, technology can mean very different things to different people. For some, it elicits images of futuristic moonshots — entirely new modes of transportation, and disruptive business models — that often feel more like science fiction than achievable realities. For others, technology is all about the here and now — real and tangible innovations that, in unexpected ways, change the way we view the world around us. While it is certainly tempting to focus on the big disruptive ideas, we believe that significant value could be achieved by thinking more practically about the smaller ones that could be applied today to create real and sustainable value for people around the world.
How, for example, could we be leveraging the internet and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the way we deliver quality education to students around the world? Could we be using solar powered drones to bring water to remote villages in Africa and Asia? Could we be using mobility data to improve the way we plan and develop new transit assets? We believe that we can.
Yet, in many cases, we seem to be stuck in our old ways of thinking and old models of delivery. In part, this is because of the economic models we have created to support and sustain our current infrastructure. Investors, be they public or private, expect a certain rate of return from the assets they have already developed. However, it is also due to a failure of imagination and innovation. Why else would we continue to develop infrastructure that assumes the technology set will remain static for the next 50 years when we already know that it won’t?
We also believe firmly that decision-makers need to start putting much more focus on seeking ways to use existing technologies to solve current challenges. Rather than focusing on the ‘next big thing’, we should be spending more time expanding our use of what exists today. We should be finding ways to improve efficiency, expand access and remove waste. We should be using the technological advances we have already made to prepare for the future rather than trying to anticipate what technology will bring us tomorrow.
That is not to say that decision-makers should be ignoring the fundamental changes now underway. Quite the opposite; they should be learning from what has already happened over the past decade to build more flexibility and adaptability into their current plans and models. However, we should also not be staring up into the sky waiting for the next big disruptor. We should be doing more with the technology we already have.