Top 10 Emerging Technologies
Self-powered devices, personal robots, self-driving cars and voice-operated computer systems were once merely science fiction. Now all these technologies could have a radical impact on our lives within the next few years.
Here we review some of the ground-breaking technologies that are set to change the world as we know it.
A blockchain is a shared, open-source transaction database. It was first implemented in 2009 for tracking transactions in the digital currency called bitcoin – but it has possible applications far beyond this.
A blockchain is like a ledger that can be shared among vast numbers of nodes on the internet, and it can enable every one of those nodes to track and make transactions. This could eliminate the need for third parties, like banks, to orchestrate financial transactions.
No cheating, or “double spending”, can occur because all records are accessible to everyone, and timestamps and encryption ensure that the data in a block can’t be altered retrospectively.
Power from radio waves
Because generating radio signals is very power-intensive, all internet-enabled devices currently on the commercial market need a battery or power cord.
However, researchers have developed a technique called backscattering, which allows devices to operate using only energy harvested from nearby radio, television, Wi-Fi and cellphone signals.
Instead of producing new radio waves, backscattering works by selectively reflecting incoming radio waves to construct a new signal. A device that uses this technology absorbs some energy from the signal, which it then uses to power itself.
Backscattering has the potential to power security cameras, motion sensors and communication devices.
Recently developed batteries based on sodium, aluminium or zinc are sufficiently powerful to power a factory or even an entire rural community.
These new batteries are safer, more economical and more scalable than lithium batteries, and are better suited to support transmission systems that rely predominantly on solar or wind power.
They could transform the lives of those who currently live off the grid, and significantly lower carbon emissions due to electricity generation.
A new generation of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence and machine learning were once again popular topics in 2016, with Google and Microsoft adding AI services to their clouds, and numerous start-ups incorporating AI into their apps.
As AI advances, it’s likely we’ll be using more and more systems capable of interpreting, learning, predicting, adapting and even operating autonomously. It’s predicted that robots capable of teaching each other will soon be produced.
Research firm Markets and Markets has estimated that the AI market will grow from an estimated value of $420 million in 2014 to $5.05 billion by 2020.
An autonomous, or self-driving, car uses sensors and a computerised system to navigate without human input.
Potentially, autonomous vehicles could significantly reduce traffic accidents, relieve traffic congestion, enhance mobility for the elderly and disabled, and relieve travellers of the tasks of driving and navigation. They may also reduce fuel consumption and air pollution.
The first truly autonomous vehicles were created in the 1980s by Carnegie Mellon University and Mercedes-Benz. Since then, many of the top vehicle manufacturers and research institutions have built working prototypes.
It’s predicted that the first self-driving cars will be available on the consumer market by 2019.
Scientists have developed a new class of materials – each consisting of a single layer of atoms – called 2-dimensional or single-layer materials.
These new materials include grapheme, borophene, silicene, germanene, phosphorene and stanene. They can also be combined to create other materials.
The global market for 2D materials is expected to reach a value of $390 million within the next decade, with graphene – the most studied of these crystalline materials – likely to become commonplace in semiconductors, electronics and batteries.
Voice interfaces have seen some impressive advances in recent years, making voice control a lot more practical.
Although these systems – such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa – are not without glitches, this technology has made it easy to cue songs, build lists with your voice and access information, among many other applications.
In November 2015, China’s most popular search engine, Baidu, developed a new speech recognition system called Deep Speech 2, which can recognise spoken words with remarkable accuracy.
We can expect to see the use of voice-operated systems in everything from home appliances to robots in the near future.
Gene editing in plants
A new gene editing method, called CRISPR, allows scientists to edit plant genes to increase plants’ resistance to drought and disease, and to combat the ever-evolving microbes that attack and destroy crops.
This could have a massive impact on food supply and food prices worldwide. So far, this technology has allowed scientists in China to create a fungus-resistant wheat, and a lab in the UK to produce drought-resistant varieties of barley.
In 2011, Cellectis, a bio-pharmaceutical company, started genetically engineering immune cells to treat cancer after doctors in New York and Philadelphia reported that they had found a way to control T cells.
This technique has now been used in over 300 patients, with treatment offering spectacular results – including complete remission in some cases.
A dozen pharmaceutical firms and biotechnology companies are now working to bring this treatment to market.
Nano-sensors are microscopic chemical, biological or surgical sensors that are used to convey information about nano-particles to the macroscopic world.
Nano-sensors work just like other sensors – for example, the motion sensors that trigger automatic doors or those that prevent your washing machine from overflowing – except that they work on a microscopic level.
Nano-sensors are small enough to circulate in the human body or, for example, to be embedded in construction materials. They have potential applications across numerous sectors, including electricity and medicine.
PM&A Consulting: our approach to technology
At PM&A Consulting, we can’t predict the future, but we’re excited by technology.
We stay abreast of the latest IT developments and trends, ignoring “hype” but picking up on practical, affordable ways to make computing easier, more powerful and more secure for our clients.
We specialise in providing Cape Town businesses with expert IT advice, security and network maintenance services and leading hardware and software products.