By Professor Vural özdemir, Amrita University, India


Anything in excess can be toxic. The famous adage "The dose makes the poison" credited to Paracelsus in the 16th century (1493 - 1541) illustrates this basic principle of toxicology.

But what about "extreme digital connectivity"? Could that be toxic to agri-food innovations and industry?

The worldwide availability of wireless Internet, Big Data, artificial intelligence and embedded sensors are demanding digital connectivity in all industries. The "Industry 4.0" refers to this pervasive and hyper-connected digital environment where not only humans but any object, animate or inanimate, are connected virtually and "talk" to each other through sensors and wireless connectivity, and tracked in real-time. Industry 4.0 enthusiasts hail extreme digital connectivity as the "next big thing" for flow of ideas, goods and business across geographical borders and time zones.

There is an unchecked dark side, however, to Industry 4.0 and its central idea to "connect the unconnected" for extreme automation of factories and retail services. This can best be understood as the "All Eggs in the Same Basket Problem" (Figure 1).

Yes, extreme connectivity by Industry 4.0 can boost productivity and synchronise processes in smart factories. But it also poses a real threat: complete network collapse, when a component in such highly integrated systems fails in a domino effect. Consider, for example, the cyber attack with the WannaCry malicious software in 2017 that nearly collapsed the digital health networks in the UK and the telecommunication sector in Spain.

This begs the following question: If digital connectivity is essential but toxic at large doses, do we need a "digital detox", perhaps by occasional safe exits from extreme connectivity?

I propose that the future success of the agri-food industry in the digital age rests on our ability to design "symmetrical innovations". The latter is also the basis for the next generation innovation paradigm, the Industry 5.0. Importantly, symmetrical innovation approaches such as Industry 5.0 require that we think through digital integration together with "safe exits" from extreme connectivity (Figure 2).

Consider, for example, a fire erupts on the "autobahn", Germany"s renowned high speed and high connectivity road system. A safe exit from the autobahn would permit fast transportation without compromising road safety.

Similarly, turning off your smart phone when you are out having dinner with your friends might boost your creativity and ability to think outside the box. Absent such safe exits from digital connectivity, extreme and constant connectivity can result in "group thinking", "entrenchment" in the status quo, and "echo chambers", not uncommon in social media groups, and thus threaten the possibilities for highly novel innovations.

On the other hand, an agri-food innovation ecosystem that builds on digital extreme connectivity and automation, together with safe exits from innovation ecosystems would be greatly more powerful, sustainable, and cultivate ingenious thinking and artisan creativity.

In all, industry 5.0 promises us the best of both worlds: industrial scale digital smart automation, and boutique, artisan creative spirit co-existing in the making of agri-food innovations.

Professor Vural Özdemir, MD, PhD, DABCP, is currently a writer, researcher and senior advisor for technology governance innovation in Toronto, Editor-in-Chief for OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology in New York and Adjunct Professor at Amrita University in Kerala, India.

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