Academy Xi Blog

Top Emerging Technologies and Applications in 2020

By Academy Xi

Many technologies that are commonplace today were first conceived of by Science fiction writers: Ipads, automatic doors, the Internet, submarines, space travel, 3D printers, credit cards and video calls. Here are six examples of newly emerging tech applications that are making sci-fi dreams a reality.

These six technologies have some exciting applications.

1. Holographic displays

The 1977 Star Wars release enthralled audiences – you may remember: ‘Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’. There have been a number of attempts to create holograms, but we are only just now seeing high-quality holograms like those in Star Wars inching closer to reality. Researchers at Swinburne University discovered how to create a wide-angle, full-colour holographic display; playing around with Graphene to create light-bending pixels. Graphene is versatile 2D material with some exciting properties – it is biocompatible, by weight it is stronger than steel, it’s almost transparent, thin and light-weight and an amazing conductor of heat and light. We’re excited to see Graphene’s other applications develop.

2. Earbuds that translate language

Remember the small, yellow Babel fish that Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) places in his ear to understand any incoming language? Waverly Labs has recently released a Pilot set of earbuds that do just that. Even more exciting than these little earbuds though, are recent reports that Google Translate’s AI has taught itself a new ‘language’ that enables it to translate between language pairs it wasn’t taught to. This interlingua is quite remarkable – another example of Google’s AI advancing at a quickening pace. These capabilities, combined with Google Translate approaching human-level accuracy, means a lot for the future of how we communicate.

3. Grow-your-own materials

Something materialising from nothing, like Star Trek’s replicator, is indeed a scary and exciting technology. Though 3D printing has become accessible and has potential (3D printed food!), we wanted to talk about biotech and synbio. The need for sustainable materials is increasing and growing sustainable materials from bacteria seems like a pretty good solution. This year’s Biofabricate Conference brought together a number of speakers in the area of bacteria-grown materials – exploring ethical concerns as well as emerging applications.

4. Fast-learning robots

We can’t really isolate human-like, fast-learning robots into a single sci-fi example – they’ve featured in Her, The Terminator, The Jetsons, WestWorld and Ex Machina to name a few. AI has been developing for a while now, but we’re now seeing it reach consumers faster than expected – the technology moving in leaps and bounds. We have AI Art Curators, AI that brew craft beer, AI lawyers that repeal parking fines, Google Translate’s AI mentioned above and chatbots that give due dates the cold shoulder (read an extensive list of consumer-facing AI here). Deep learning is largely responsible for this rapid development; equipping AI with big data and organic learning processes modelled off human-learning,

5. Flying Cars

We have autonomous cars well under way, and a lot of hype surrounding Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, but flying cars are the typical sci-fi archetype that hasn’t garnered as much attention.  Earlier this year Toyota was granted patents for flying car technology. Featured in Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Futurama and The Jetsons, flying cars are a fun, but perhaps not entirely practical mode of future transport. According to Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Andreesen Horowitz, the one thing holding us back from readily available flying cars are sufficient battery solutions.  Which brings us back to Graphene – a material that scientists are currently working with as a way to create better, more efficient batteries.

6. Biometrics

Fingerprint technology and Iris scanners have been around for a long time now. Biometric recognition seen in most spy movies, Back to the Future and Gattaca. Mainstream use of fingerprint recognition in our Smartphones, and now in payment systems like Apple Pay (think Biff from Back to the Future paying for his cab via fingerprint). Newer forms of biometric security is in demand Iris Biometrics are expected to become massively popular by 2021, with Visa aiming to replace passwords with fingerprint biometrics.

The main takeaway:

It’s exciting to see these sci-fi ideas become reality! It’s a good reminder that technology is progressing at an unrelenting pace. With each area of technological development comes a need for thoughtful discussion surrounding its implicationsensuring that new tech is sustainable, useful, and keeps its users (us) at the fore.

Learn design courses that let you influence the way we use these new technologies. Explore our short courses in design: User Experience Design, and Service Design.