The Future of Technology
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. American futurist Ray Kurzweil describes this as the Law of Accelerating Returns, which runs on the premise that new technological advances lay the groundwork to build even more advances, which in turn allows technology to evolve faster and faster over time.
This wave is being felt across both the consumer and enterprise worlds. According to Accenture’s 2019 Technology Vision survey of 66,672 businesses and IT executives, 45% of them report experiencing a significant acceleration in the pace of innovation within their businesses. Emerging technologies such as deep machine learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, distributed ledger systems such as the Blockchain, and quantum computing are helping to drive this steep innovation curve.
Let’s dive into the impact these tech trends are having across the consumer and enterprise arenas, and what development we can expect to see in the years to come.
Wider adoption of immersive technologies in the workplace
As of 2012, there has been a 250% increase in the number of active Virtual Reality (VR) companies. Facebook’s acquisition of VR-pioneer Oculus back in 2014 and the development of the Samsung Gear VR has illustrated the enormous potential of VR technology. Since then, VR products have made a significant impact across the consumer world, mainly in video games. However, the breadth of VR is expected to increase across industries and have a significant effect on the workplace.
An example of this is how VR is increasingly being used in employee training by offering infinite use cases and being able to simulate real-life situations. In the medical industry, Ambulance Victoria is using VR to train paramedics in emergency response situations. Businesses are also using this technology to simulate evacuations as part of employee training.
According to Senior VP at Infosys, Nitesh Bansal, he predicts that there “…will be an increasing adoption of technologies for realising immersive experiences and higher efficiencies at troubleshooting in the workplace.”
Similarly, Augmented Reality (AR) which uses digital content as an overlay of the real world, is greatly enhancing the effectiveness of field workforces. AR is already being used to help construction workers see maps of electrical or telecom cables underground in order for them to know precisely where to excavate. AR has also enabled surgeons to receive remote assistance by experts on the other side of the world while performing complex operations.
Data at the heart of decision making
When asked about the success of Netflix’s break-through hit House of Cards, their CCO (Chief Content Officer) Ted Sarandos said, “It was generated by an algorithm. I didn’t use data to make the show, but I used data to determine the potential audience to a level of accuracy very few people can do.”
By tapping into the massive database on the consumption habits of its audience, Netflix learnt that people were highly engaged by the political-series The West Wing, and loved the works of producer David Fincher, and actor Kevin Spacey at the time. These insights led to a US$100m investment into the House of Card series, which has since propelled Netflix to become the world’s leading streaming services.
Netflix’s House of Cards is just one example of how companies are making data-driven decisions from insights obtained about their audience and the market.
Smaller companies are also capitalising on the benefits of data-driven decisions. Analytics help smaller players to rapidly generate consumer insights, which helps improve efficiency and better predicts customer needs.
According to the Aberdeen Group, approximately 53% of all service provider startups are now embedding analytics to drive competitive advantage. In light of these benefits, it comes as no surprise that there has been a spike in demand for data scientists across the world.
Kevin Smith, Vice President of Product at GoodData, believes the nature of data scientist jobs will become quite different from the one we know today. He believes that as analytics become more accessible to the end-user, and data prep tools are becoming more powerful, the data scientist will become more of a consultant, rather than a data sourcing and preparation expert.
As such, we can expect data roles transforming into one where they help businesses make sense of the data, by better understanding how to interpret results and helping companies decide the course of action that is most warranted.
Emergence of nanotechnology
The emerging field of nanotechnology is making it possible to manipulate materials and devices on the scale of atoms. It is currently being used to drive innovations across engineering, medical devices, computing, imaging, and many industries. Nanomedicine is one field that is experiencing rapid growth. Given that many illnesses occur at the cellular level and spread due to the formation of their genetic makeup, nanotech has enabled the ability to treat the root of the condition, as opposed to waiting until it’s fully spread throughout the body. This is a massive step forward for preventative and curative treatments and has shown enormous potential for both gene therapy and neurosurgery.
Nano-engineered materials have also begun to appear in certain consumer products. For example, billions of microscopic ‘nanowhiskers’ have been attached to synthetic fibres to develop stain-resistant clothing and other fabrics. Similar nanotech techniques have been used in the creation of invisible sunscreens, which effectively block UV light without causing damage to the skin’s surface.
The state of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
What not long ago seemed to be futuristic, and for some a dystopian notion, AI is now firmly integrated into our everyday lives. Every time you Google something, ask Siri a question or see facial-recognition tags come up on Facebook, you are interacting with some form of a machine learning algorithm.
More capable forms of AI are also popping up in targeted ads across e-commerce and social media platforms, as well as in assistive car systems and home appliances. The automotive industry itself is being majorly disrupted by AI technologies, as global powerhouses General Motors, Google, Uber, and Tesla pour billions of dollars into self-driving car ventures.
Many expect the commercialisation of driverless cars to commence within the next decade, although there are several challenges that still need to be overcome, such as the dealing with difficult weather conditions, and unforeseen events such as accidents, or other road blockages.
More generally, it’s expected that a significant portion of jobs will be under existential threat in the next decade, particularly in professions which are easily automatable. This means, as a society, we must be open to the idea of developing new skills beyond traditional university degrees and become more comfortable with the prospect of career diversity.
Enter the quantum world
Quantum computers apply the properties of quantum physics to develop massive leaps forward in processing power. While conventional computers work with bits as information (which carry either a 0 or 1 state), quantum computers work with qubits, which can be 0s and 1s simultaneously.
This allows quantum computers to smash through the barriers that limit the speed of our existing computers. While the potential of quantum technology is hard to comprehend for most of us, world-leading scientists and engineers believe it will solve some of the most complex problems facing the world today.
William Hurley, chair of the Quantum Computing Standards Workgroup, believes that the financial, pharmaceutical, and security industries, in particular, will see significant disruption in the not too distant future.
China is also carrying out extensive research in the hope of developing networks that would pave the way for a quantum internet, which allows for a far more secure system than what we currently have. As for consumers, it’s predicted that the quickest path to accessing quantum computers will be via cloud services, such as those created by IBM and Google, but again, the precise time-frame on this is anyone’s guess.
The advancement of technology in the 21st century is making exponential leaps and bounds compared to what it has historically been throughout human history. The emergence of VR and AR technology, data, and a rise in nanotechnology and quantum computing is drastically changing the way we live, work, and interact. Many industries, such as the medical one, are using these technologies to significantly shift the way traditional problems are being solved, and exploring new, innovative ways to address these issues.