Modern society is perhaps in the midst of its most tumultuous era of change since the industrial revolution, brought about by accelerating technological advancement and disruptive technologies.
And the ride is only going to get more interesting! Technological change promises to continue its exponential climb. Here are ten still-nascent technologies that are set to transform the way we live our lives and do business in coming years.
Ten Disruptive Technologies
1. Augmented Reality (AR)
Over the past month, Pokemon Go has captured our attention (well, at least my 7 year old daughter’s attention) and has provided mainstream society with a powerful introduction to the world of Augmented Reality.
AR is about providing a ‘real view’ of the physical environment that is ‘augmented’ with supplementary virtual content.
The phenomenal overnight success of Pokemon Go is set to spawn many new AR applications and bring AR further into the mainstream.
2. Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality is AR’s big cousin. Whilst AR virtualises only a part of the user experience, VR creates 100% virtual, three-dimensional environment for the user to play in, as if it were real.
VR is going to be a massive game changer and the big tech companies, Facebook and Google, are ramping up their efforts in this space. Facebook bought VR company Oculus Rift back in 2014, and Google has sought to promote VR at the entry-level with its Google Cardboard offering.
VR is still embryonic, but headsets will become more commonplace in society and the number of immersive VR applications is set to boom.
Wearables haven’t taken off quite as the big tech companies might have hoped – whilst many of us routinely wear fitness bands from Garmin and Fitbit, the Apple Watch has its detractors and the much-touted Google Glass glasses project has largely been consigned to history.
But slowly functionality is improving and these wearable technologies are becoming more accepted, particularly around near field communication (NFC) capabilities, such as ‘tap and go’ payment processing.
We’re likely to see much more innovation in wearables as they become more feature-rich and integrated with our daily lives.
4. Messaging and Contextual Alerts
In recent years we have seen a massive increase in messaging apps – the likes of Snapchat, WeChat, Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and Skype. These apps now boast more active users than the big social media websites.
As people have become more conditioned to receiving real-time messages, there has also been an increase in contextually-specific alerts delivered to mobile devices (eg location-based offers based on previous purchasing history, reviews for restaurants that you visit from Google Now), powered by GPS, NFC and beacons.
Messaging and alerts are set to increase as contextual targeting and data-driven personalisation gets more sophisticated.
5. Virtual Assistants
Many of us have experimented with nascent virtual assistant tools – Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s ‘OK Google’ – but their limitations have prevented us from adopting them more wholeheartedly in our daily lives.
As voice recognition gets better and voice controls become more integrated across the full spectrum of apps and operating systems, we’re going to be using them much more in coming years.
6. Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Ever been buzzed by a drone in your backyard? I have, and it was quite unsettling. But it’s going to become more commonplace once all the attendant privacy and jurisdictional issues have been resolved.
Online retailer Amazon has already undertaken extensive trials in the US with unmanned aerial vehicles as a delivery platform for consumer products. The Amazon Prime Air system is designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using a drone like the one pictured at the top of this post. On its website, Amazon indicates that it will take some time before Prime Air has the necessary regulatory approvals, but it intends to launch the service once support has been received. Watch this space.
7. The Internet of Things (IoT)
It used to be the case that an average household had a single Personal Computer (PC) with an internet connection (remember dial-up?). Now, households typically have a multitude of internet-connected devices. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, fitness trackers, digital cameras, eBook readers, smart TVs, personal video recorders, wireless speakers and alarm systems are all internet-enabled ‘things’.
The sale of non-traditional internet ‘things’, such as cars, refrigerators, security cameras, bathroom scales and climate control systems, is set to boom in coming years. Indeed, human beings themselves may soon become connected ‘things’ through microchips under the skin – and you thought a jab from the doctor was bad.
Gartner forecasts that 6.4 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new devices will get connected to the web every single day.
8. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI has been around for a long time (albeit mostly in nerdy sci-fi movies), but it’s set to get a whole lot more useful as machine learning technology gets better. AI is the development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making, to progressively learn from previous interactions with the system, and to adapt accordingly.
9. Robotics and Automation
Closely related to AI, robotics is the application of robots and automated algorithms to tasks that have traditionally been performed by humans.
A good example is the self-checkout machine in your local supermarket which has, in effect, taken the place of a human being over the past couple of years.
Whilst robots promise improved efficiency and effectiveness, they also pose a threat to traditional human employment, particularly process-driven work that consists of a set of repetitive actions (think baristas). The Foundation for Young Australians’ New Work Order Report suggests that 40% of Australian jobs are at risk of automation in the next 10-15 years.
The robots are coming…
10. Autonomous Vehicles
One emerging automated technology is autonomous, self-driving vehicles (automated automobiles??). These are being tested extensively in the United States and are set to revolutionise the transport and logistics industries.
Using radar, lidar, GPS, odometry and computer vision, autonomous vehicles are capable of sensing their environment and navigating without human input. Consider how this technology might impact upon the long-haul freight industry that employs so many truck drivers.
The times, they are a-changin…