There is a saying often used by people of more advanced ages that the days go slow and the years go fast. Although I am not of retirement age yet, I must say that I feel this year has gone by really fast. Normally, this is because little of significance happened, but at least in my own life this was not the case at all. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January, hiked the GR20 on Corsica in July and helped my youngest son get settled at university in the Netherlands in August, leaving me as an empty-nester.
Software Center (www.software-center.se), for which I have the honor of acting as director, also had several developments that were amazing. The primary one, in many ways, was that we got funding for a competence center approved by the Swedish funding agency, Vinnova. This was the third time we tried and this time we succeeded. This offers a significant boost to our budget and allows us to grow the community around us, initiate new activities and complement our research activities with additional projects.
When reflecting on the companies in the center, there are three main developments that moved the needle in 2023, i.e. generative AI, data and innovation. First, you would have to live under a pretty big rock if you hadn’t noticed the emergence of generative AI and especially the large language models. Virtually all companies in Software Center are exploring the use of GitHub Copilot, GPT4 and other approaches as a means to increase the productivity of software engineers.
Second, in my experience, 2023 was the year where many of the companies in the center became serious about the use of data. Whether it is historical analysis, high-frequency data collection during R&D, A/B testing or data pipelines, I notice a remarkable shift from a focus on software to a focus on data. The notion of data as a product, for now predominantly for internal use, is increasingly strong in the companies we work with. Of course, this is not just for traditional data analytics, but also used for training the increasing number of machine learning models that companies deploy in their offerings.
Third, as we finally fully came out of the throws of the pandemic, companies realized that innovation had suffered and required a boost to ensure future competitiveness. Interestingly, over the last year, I have been involved in several scopes and contexts. On the one hand, I facilitated innovation workshops where teams were looking to drive innovation in their area of responsibility. On the other hand, I ran workshops where companies were looking to fundamentally reposition in their business ecosystem, typically seeking to forward-integrate in order to gain continuous contact with the end customer.
As those who work with me know, I view technology as a force for good for humankind. When reflecting on the last centuries of human development, virtually all of the progress that we have made in the metrics intended to quantify the human condition, ranging from life expectancy to child mortality, we can see that new technologies are at the heart of the progress that we made as a species. Of course, many technologies have negative applications or have negative consequences besides the benefits that these bring, but in my view, and history supports me, that we have managed to address the negative externalia while capturing the benefits.
These last decades, it has been the digital technologies, software, data and AI, that have offered the most significant opportunities and everyone who has spent some time interacting with ChatGPT can certainly attest to that. For all the concerns about AI and the, justified, calls for regulation, we should not forget that AI, and digital technologies in general, offer a fundamental transformation of society, similar to the industrial revolution, that will leave humankind in a much better place.
Consequently, the role of Software Center, and my general professional mission, is to accelerate the adoption of these digital technologies in the member companies. Because humanity does not benefit from some research publications, but rather requires the incarnation of these technologies in products, services and offerings before the benefits can be reaped. The hardest part in the technology innovation chain is not the initial idea or concept, but rather the broad adoption and deployment of it. The limiting factor is the innovation absorptive capacity of companies, industry and society as a whole.
Concluding, looking forward to 2024, I am filled with hope and excitement about what is next. As an industry and as society as a whole, there are so many amazing opportunities waiting for us simply to capture, develop and exploit. Before we do so, though, it is time for a bit of a break for Christmas and New Year. I would like to wish all of you reading this a wonderful, relaxing and rejuvenating holiday season and I look forward to working with all of you to make the world a better place in 2024. To end with words of the late Nelson Mandela: “A bright future beckons us. The onus is on us, through hard work, honesty and integrity, to reach for the stars.”