LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS SHANGHAI 2017: China Mobile EVP Li Huidi (pictured) quoted Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to sum up the opportunities and challenges of rapid acceleration in the pace of technological innovation.

In a keynote presentation at the Global Devices Summit on day two of Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Li said society faces the best of times and the worst of times in terms of digitisation. On the one hand – the best – we live in an era of innovation and transformation; on the other – the worst – we face security, privacy and ethical challenges.

Li said the two sides of technology evolution mean breakthroughs including unified standards and tight controls are required “if we want to succeed in the digital era”.

“We are in an era when everything is connected,” Li noted, citing the connection of things (IoT), and people. This era, he added, “is defined by software.”

Overcoming security and privacy challenges will enable valuable new services for industry and society. Li said areas such as massive data and personalised services hold great promise, while noting people are only beginning to scratch the surface of the potential of emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI).

“In the near future, production lines may no longer need any [human] operators,” he said, explaining AI could enable “highly efficient”, and even personalised manufacturing.

Li predicted the number of connections will grow to more than 50 billion in 2020 compared with 7.3 billion in 2016. Such exponential growth will be fuelled by the “development of AR, VR and other smart devices”.

IoT will connect our “families, homes, offices, and automobiles”, Li said. China Mobile is already contributing, for example by committing thousands of developers to create applications designed to deliver core capabilities to societies.

“The new era has come. We need to be inline with the trend and seize the opportunity,” Li concluded.