Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds I’m a tremendous fan of science fiction movies. Star Trek is one of my favourites. In Star Trek, people are teletransported across vast distances. But that’s not the only way to be in one nation and work in another. Think about what I’m doing right now. You’re almost surely in a different nation than I am right now. That means that you are working at learning, and I’m working at teaching, but we’re in different nations. In some sense, I’m telecommuting to your nation. Maybe there’s nothing shocking about this, but consider another example, how this course was designed. This course was filmed in Geneva with the help of a team in London. During the planning phase, we coordinated by Skype.
Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds Now, the key session happened while I was in Mexico City. The video producer, Emmanuel, was in France. And the Graduate Institute organiser, Jasmine, was here in Geneva. We were all telecommuting, international migration over a wire. Again, you may not be shocked by this. But think hard about what that could mean for the future of globalisation. Let me give you another very real world example. If you look at this slide, you see British trauma surgeon saves lives in Syria by assisting local doctors. Now, this is a story from the London Times. And what you can see is a trauma doctor, sitting in Britain, looking at the Skype images of an ongoing operation in Syria.
Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds And this trauma surgeon, who is extremely experienced, is helping the local doctors figure out what the little bits are, so they know what to sew back together again. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s a heartwarming experience. But it could also foretell massive disruption. It’s a doctor providing medical services in one country while sitting in another. Why should this be limited to medicine? It could be almost anything.
Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds There are two technologies that could trigger the next wave of globalisation– telepresence and telerobotics. Telerobots are controlled remotely by humans. Now, there’s been in the media a lot about robots that are controlled by artificial intelligence. But robots can also be controlled by remote intelligence. The second is telepresence. Telepresence in a nutshell is basically really, really good Skype. Now, we’re going to talk about telerobots in the next video. This video, we’re going to focus on telepresence. Telepresence will make it easier for people in one nation to provide brain services in another. In a way, telepresence could do to services what offshoring has already done to manufacturing.
Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds Firms making a whole range of services could break them up into production stages and offshore and outsource those services to nations where the production would be cheaper or better. Think about university teaching. Due to the high cost of moving people and the importance of continuous face-to-face interaction with university services, these services are usually clustered in one nation, usually in one city, and very often in a single building. It was just like manufacturing before the new globalisation. The whole process was clustered in one factory to save on face-to-face interactions. But why shouldn’t my teaching assistants, for example, be sitting in India when I’m teaching the course in India? Why don’t we do that?
Skip to 4 minutes and 8 seconds Well, the answer is that regular Skype is just not really very good. Really good telepresence does exist, but it’s too expensive for universities. The best technology on telepresence is bulky and difficult to set up. And the best versions of it can cost up to a half million dollars. Here, let me show you a picture of what one of them looks like. This is a Cisco telepresence room, where it creates a boardroom looking effect. So the people in the foreground there, they’re sitting in, say, New York. And the people on the screens– those are life-size screens– may be sitting one in Paris, one in Mumbai, the other in Tokyo.
Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds Now, because of the high quality of the video, the multiple cameras, the high quality of the audio, which is in different sides of the room, the people in that meeting have a very strong impression that they’re actually all in the same meeting. And what large banks and large consulting firms have found is that creating that impression of being there is really important in getting the teams to cooperate to get things done quickly and efficiently. So the technology exists. It’s just a little bulky and quite expensive. Given the vast international differences in wages, it seems inevitable that production unbundling that has happened in manufacturing will come to the service sector.
Skip to 5 minutes and 35 seconds All that we need is cheaper and more mobile telepresence facilities that will seem inevitable, given the speed of technological advance and the rate at which transmission speeds are picking up. But there’s more in store. One of the strange things about telepresence, like Skype, is the lack of physicality on the screen. Being there and being on the screen are very different, according to a researcher on human-robot interactions name Kate Darling of the MIT Media Lab. She points out that the human mind is hardwired to think differently about things that are actually physically present. You have a more intense reaction mentally if the thing is actually there.
Skip to 6 minutes and 26 seconds Now, I highly recommend that you go on Google, look for Kate Darling, and watch a few of her videos about human-robot interaction. It’s kind of a psychology thing. But it will have great deal of resonance for you personally, I’m quite sure.
Skip to 6 minutes and 43 seconds Now, the fact though is we don’t have to wait for telepresence robots. They actually exist. One way to think about them is that there’s Skype on wheels. It’s not great, but look at these examples. The one on the left, we have a telepresence being used in a hospital. And this is routinely done in hospitals where doctors have patients in many different small hospitals. And instead of getting in a car to go visit the patient, they drive a telerobot from their home hospital when the telepresence robot is in the other hospital.
Skip to 7 minutes and 20 seconds And here, you can see the telepresence robot has an assistant, a nurse, who will do all the physical things that the doctor can’t do with the telepresence robot, such as taking temperatures or opening doors and things like that. On the right, we have a particularly low-cost version of this called Beam that’s frequently used by managers to visit remote offices. So here we have a manager on the screen talking to a worker. And the manager can steer that robot, move it around the workspace, join meetings, move away. And as it turns out, people feel much more connected to that manager when the manager is driving a robot than when if it’s just in a fixed screen.
Skip to 8 minutes and 7 seconds So it’s something that’s coming, and it’s not particularly expensive even now. I’ve left the best to last. Finally is the most radical. It’s called holopresence. Now, this really does seem like Star Trek. But it’s real. There is a new thing that uses holograms to make it seem as if people are here when they’re actually there. Now, trial versions of this have been around for quite a while. And again, you can see it on Google. If you just type “holopresence” into Google, you’ll see a bunch of beta-types. But recently, it got into the political mainstream.
Skip to 8 minutes and 48 seconds In 2017, it was used by one of the French presidential candidates to be at a campaign rally in Lyon and in Paris at the same time. And I won’t show you pictures of it, because it’s somewhat difficult with fixed images. But go on the internet and look up a video where you can see this candidate appearing on stage, and everybody starts interacting with him as if he was actually there. But it’s even older than that. In 2014, India’s current Prime Minister Modi used this technology, holopresence, to attend campaign rallies, dozens at the same time in different places. It helped him win, because India is such a vast place.
Skip to 9 minutes and 35 seconds Again, it’s worthwhile looking at Modi appearing in campaign rallies all over the place. The holopresence that he was using isn’t great. But all you have to imagine is it gets better with time and cheaper. Just imagine. In many businesses, holopresence could be used to interact with other workers in real time. So for example, I need help with my IT frequently. And there is an IT guy in the building, but it’s hard to get him to come up. Imagine if I had a holopresent assistant, the same one. I developed a relationship, where he was sitting in, say, India or the Philippines or someplace. And any time I had a trouble, I could call him up.
Skip to 10 minutes and 20 seconds And a hologram would appear right next to me. And it would be like we were working together, and I could explain to him my problems. And since I have an ongoing relationship with him, he would really understand my problems even before I had to explain the whole thing. I have the same thing with my expenses or with my grades or uploading slides to the internet. I could have several different specialised assistants with whom I had real relationships, but they were sitting in developing countries, providing the services here in Switzerland. Managers could do a lot of managing without travelling. The possibilities are endless. Many professions in the rich nations could be changed by this. But it’s not necessarily eliminated.
Skip to 11 minutes and 5 seconds When we think hard about what this is doing, it’s possible that individual occupations would be fragmented and offshored, just like factories were in manufacturing. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute argues that automation and things like remote intelligence will unbundle today’s occupations, with some tasks being automated or outsourced, not the whole thing. A journalist needs all of his judgement and wisdom and ability to talk to people for some parts of his job. But other parts of his job really could be done by somebody else.
Skip to 11 minutes and 44 seconds So the idea here is that telepresence wouldn’t so much replace jobs as change the nature of the jobs, allowing us each to focus on what we’re really good at and offshoring the task our jobs now incur with somebody else who’s better at it and cheaper at it from another country. So that’s what I’ve got for you in this video on telepresence. The next one, we’re going to look at telerobotics.
Introduction to telepresence
Are you a fan of science-fiction movie?
In this video, you will explore the potential of telepresence and its potential impact on globalisation.
© The Graduate Institute, Geneva