The World in 2020

The coming innovation explosion

The key to the future is open collaboration, says Ren Zhengfei, CEO and founder, Huawei

We at Huawei firmly believe that humanity will enter an intelligent world within the next 20 to 30 years. Society is on the verge of another explosion of new theories and technologies. There is a lot of potential, but also much uncertainty. Many questions remain—and open innovation would be the best way to address them.

In electronics, chips will continue to scale down to three nanometres and maybe even one nanometre. This evolution will continue, in ways we cannot yet predict, even as Moore’s law becomes obsolete. In the past we thought graphene would be the driver of this evolution, but today we don’t know for sure if this will still be true.

We will surely see significant breakthroughs in genetic technologies over the next two to three decades, which will trigger incredible progress in life sciences, biotechnology and nanomedicine. But how these breakthroughs will change the way people live and work also remains unclear. Molecular science and technology can be used to synthesise materials that never existed before. There is no way of telling what new materials and technologies will emerge. We do know that artificial intelligence (AI) will see ample application, but we cannot predict how it will drive society forward or create more wealth.

Breakthroughs in quantum computing and its widespread application will trigger an explosion of data traffic. Although we know for sure that the impact will be significant, it may not look the way we think. Optical technologies will also be widely applied in various domains.

Advances in individual disciplines are creating new opportunities at dizzying rates, but the impact of interdisciplinary breakthroughs will be even more astonishing. All these future innovations will be accompanied by explosive growth in data traffic. We cannot yet foresee what demands there will be when it comes to storage, transmission and processing of these ultra-large quantities of data. What we know for sure is more and more data will be stored and processed in the cloud. But how will we channel this surge in data?

In short, we just don’t know what the structure of our society will look like, how we will adapt to it or how we can keep it under control. All sorts of new ideas and technologies are unfolding right before our eyes. A novel characteristic of this new wave of technological innovation is “chain reactions” that span multiple disciplines. For example, information technologies have become the foundation for scientific research and innovation in all disciplines. Similarly, they have become the foundation for development in every industry.

One thing is clear, though. We must reinforce the infrastructure of the information society. There are two sides to infrastructure: one is hard (the actual technology) and the other is soft (the rules, skills and other things we apply to it).

On the hard side, we have optical networks and 5G in particular, as well as 6G in the future. AI depends on a range of information technologies, and it will struggle to advance without continuous breakthroughs in infrastructure capabilities. That would be like trying to drive cars at high speed without a highway.

On the soft side, we have talent, regulations and so on. The key lies in talent. To embrace this new era, the world as a whole must fully support education, and develop talent of all kinds by creating an environment that allows academic freedom and nurtures freedom of thought.

Follow the data

Standing at the threshold of the intelligent world, we at Huawei must decide what part we will play in this new social structure in the next 20 or 30 years. We know that the volume of data traffic will be overwhelming in the future, so our strategic direction will be focused on channelling, distributing, storing and processing this massive data traffic. This will be where we will dedicate ourselves over the long term. We must not deviate from this direction, but we can adapt during the different stages of our journey.

A single flower does not make spring. In this vibrant information society, it will be impossible to prevent flowers of all kinds from blooming. At Huawei we will continue to work with companies from around the world to build a strong ecosystem and share its benefits. With a firm commitment to globalisation, we will remain open and collaborate for shared success.