Tech is evolving at a rapid pace. It’s becoming increasingly hard to keep up with all the developments. Although you might feel uncertain about these emerging technologies, most will change the world for the better. You’re probably already utilizing them even without knowing it. While some are still in the research or testing phase, we can expect all of them to be heavily deployed by 2030.
9 emerging technologies to look out for
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
For a long time, AI was only prevalent in Hollywood productions. Today it has a central role in a lot of emerging technologies. AI enables computer systems to perform tasks that previously required human intelligence. They include speech recognition, language translation, visual perception, and decision making. Common subsets of AI include:
- Machine Learning (ML): It focuses on the development of computer algorithms that enable systems to automatically learn and adapt to new situations without explicit human programming. The system collects data then analyzes it, which results in improved performance. Cloud computing has made data collection easier, which has in turn improved ML.
- Natural language processing (NLP): What do Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant have in common? They’re all NLP applications. This branch of AI aims to teach machines to understand and accurately interpret natural human language.
- Machine vision (MV): It enables computers to analyze images, identify differences, and make logical decisions. MV powers several emerging technologies including facial recognition, self-driving vehicles, optical imaging in healthcare, and hi-tech manufacturing.
The Internet of Things (IoT) already plays an important role in our everyday lives. Unlike the past where only computers had an internet connection, nowadays most appliances have that capability. They include fridges, thermostats, wireless baby monitors, traffic monitoring systems, and security devices. IoT refers to all these devices that can interact with humans or with each other through the internet.
A good application is in smart homes. When you arrive, your car will signal the garage door to open. Once inside, the thermostat will already be set to your preferred temperature. Other automatic preferences include your favorite show playing on TV, suitable lighting, and notifications about suspicious activity around the house.
5G technology has recently been in the news for its false connection to the coronavirus outbreak. As one of the world’s most anticipated emerging technologies, it promises to deliver blazingly fast internet speeds. At their peak, these wireless networks will be up to 100 times faster than current 4G/LTE networks.
5G will have a range of other benefits, including:
- Low latency: Latency refers to how long it takes a signal to transmit from the sender to the receiver, and back to the source. The lower it is, the more stable a network becomes. The result is reduced lag, which will benefit users ranging from gamers to VR enthusiasts to FPV drone operators.
- Higher bandwidth: 5G will handle significantly larger amounts of data transmission than current networks. This will meet the demand for bandwidth occasioned by data-heavy activities such as video streaming, teleconferencing, and online gaming.
- Improved capacity: IT experts estimate that 5G will have up to 1000 times higher capacity than 4G. This situation will allow businesses to scale operations faster. It will also accommodate countless new devices without causing a strain on network resources.
This technology exploded into the mainstream with the success of Bitcoin. Blockchain enables the distribution of digital technology without duplication. It operates under three key principles:
- Decentralization: Blockchain transactions are not stored in a central server. No single entity can claim ownership of such data, which increases trust in the system. Decentralized data is less likely to be hacked, corrupted, or suffer from a system shutdown.
- Transparency: Unlike fiat-based accounts, blockchain doesn’t identify the entities in a transaction. It has a set of private and public keys assigned to each sender or recipient of data. You can share the public keys, which makes the process transparent but also private because your private key is secure.
- Immutability: Once a transaction is logged in the blockchain, it can’t be tampered with. This feature has several potential applications in the real world, especially financial systems. It will significantly reduce acts of fraud and attempted coverups through creative accounting.
Other applications of blockchain include company supply chains, asset management, insurance, healthcare, music, and ID issuance.
Robotics is one of the emerging technologies whose concept goes back decades if not centuries. In the past, they were used mainly in car assemblies and other large scale manufacturing operations. With increased investments in R&D, modern robots are smaller, more flexible, and increasingly human-like. Although humans are fascinated by these machines, there’s always been a real fear that they could one day overpower us! Although somewhat farfetched, these fears aren’t entirely unfounded.
Robotics today incorporates other technologies such as AI and ML, which make them more agile, accurate, and intelligent. Robots have a variety of applications other than manufacturing. They include logistics, disaster management, home care, and healthcare. There are various types of robots, such as:
- Humanoids: These robots are designed to be as human-like as possible, in their mannerisms and physical features. Boston Dynamics’ Atlas is a good example. Others are Honda’s ASIMO, SoftBank’s Pepper, and UBTECH’S Walker.
- Pre-programmed robots: These bots are programmed to perform single, repetitive tasks such as welding car parts in a motor vehicle assembly.
- Autonomous robots: If you have a Roomba vacuum cleaner or a similar alternative, then you already interact with autonomous robots. They’re designed to perform their tasks with minimal or zero human supervision.
- Tele-operated robots: They’re operated by humans and used mostly in extreme circumstances. These include land-mine detection, rescue operations during natural disasters, and exploration of underwater environments.
- Augmenting robots: These robots either replace a part of your body or enhance your performance. They include exoskeletons that give one superhuman strength and prosthetic limbs.
6. 3D Printing
Although 3D printing has been around for a while, it’s yet to achieve everyday use. The technology is utilized mainly by large manufacturers and individual enthusiasts. It received a major boost during the COVID-19 pandemic when various 3D manufacturers offered their help. Their plans included designs for ventilator parts, PPEs, and door handles that can be operated with elbows to avoid unnecessary touching.
3D printing still has a long way to go before it can compete with traditional manufacturing. It’s still expensive and slow, which has made it hard for more people to embrace it. Its users are also exposed to IP lawsuits that discourage uptake.
7. Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
Although prominently featured in the gaming industry, virtual reality has many other applications. They include real estate, tourism, digital marketing, education and training, engineering, and military research. Although initially expensive, VR equipment is becoming more affordable as more players invest in the technology. The most famous examples of VR solutions are Oculus, HTC Vive, and Sony Playstation VR headsets.
Unlike VR whose interactions are completely based on virtual data, augmented reality has additional information that amplifies your perception of reality. AR adds virtual infrastructure such as graphics, audio, and video to the real world environment. It utilizes various components, including cameras, sensors, processors, projectors, and mirrors for reflection.
Drones have come a long way from being exclusively used by militaries to creating a large commercial and civilian market. Innovative manufacturers such as China’s DJI make UAVs that are smaller, more affordable, and of high-quality materials. Depending on their use, modern drones are equipped with advanced cameras, sensors, and next-level technology such as LIDAR.
UAVs have a variety of applications. They’re used in real estate photography, law enforcement, precision agriculture, mapping, drone racing, disaster response, wildlife conservation, and package delivery. Although already well-received, this is one of the emerging technologies that have an unlimited growth potential.
This field also gained widespread attention in pop culture. It involves studying engineering, science, and technology in the nanoscale. Such elements are only 1 to 100 nanometers in size. For comparison, a newspaper page is 100,000 nanometers thick while a human hair has a diameter of 80,000 nanometers! Manipulating such tiny molecules requires specialized tools and equipment.
Other than military applications, nanotechnology is useful in medicine, biotech, electronics, and energy industries. Although it has huge potential benefits, it also presents some challenges. Nano weapons are a real possibility, as are nano toxins that could threaten the environment.
This list of emerging technologies is hardly exhaustive. Others include stem cell research, cultured meat, vertical farming, graphene, holography, biometrics, and cryonics. While they provide exciting opportunities, critics also express concern at the fast pace of research and development, which makes it hard for governments to regulate these technologies. Although there’s potential for misuse by bad actors, their benefits far outweigh potential disadvantages.