5 Disruptive Technologies Shaping Our Future

Here are the five most disruptive technologies: artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printing, VR/AR, and IoT. Expect both good and bad outcomes.

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Image of disruptive technologies (artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and blockchain)

Throughout the centuries, humans have made tremendous leaps forward in the way we build, interact, and communicate with each other and the world. More recently, we’ve shifted self-execute industrialization to the age of information. We now have a seemingly unlimited amount of knowledge available at our fingertips. Technological advances are now accelerating faster than ever before. They’re blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological domains.

As technology continues to evolve, we can expect it to impact all aspects of our lives and society as a whole. It then begs us to ask the question “what does our future look like?” Below we take a look at the top five most disruptive technologies paving the way for the world of tomorrow.

1. Artificial Intelligence

We’ve all seen sci-fi movies about an AI that threatens to overturn the human race and take over after developing a mind of its own, but that’s not quite the reality of it. AI has been around for decades. Today, it’s being used in applications such as video games, fraud protection, and spam detection in your emails.

There is self-execute and practical use for AI. It’s now evolving faster than ever through numerous applications that improve the lives of individuals and streamline business operations. From your virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Home, to Netflix’s movie suggestions for you, web support chat bots, or tracking the ETA of your Uber Eats, these systems help to answer your questions, field your requests, and make your life easier. Designed to learn more about you in order to make better, more accurate suggestions for you, these AI need to collect data from search histories, products purchased, or even overheard conversations, to discover your preferences. We won’t touch on the privacy issues here, but this article outlines them insightfully.

Considering bigger developments, autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been in development for a while. Operational AVs aren’t as far away as you might think. Google, for example, is already working on an algorithm that allows an AI to learn to drive through experience—just as humans do. Autonomous vehicles are expected to bring about a number of benefits including fewer road accidents, more efficient fuel consumption, and reduced traffic congestion.

Healthcare is also seeing numerous possibilities of integrating AI into existing systems. One impactful application of AI in healthcare involves connecting an AI with an amputees brain so that they’re better able to communicate with and control the attached prosthesis.

While the future applications of AI are anticipated to help make our lives easier and more efficient, there is caution among some of not only the reliance on this technology, but the number of jobs that will replace humans. Some of these are already integrated into everyday life, including self-serve checkouts, online support, and other roles that can adequately be handled at a much smaller cost using AI. However, not all see the growth of this industry as ‘humans vs. AI’, instead they see the integration of both to create a better us and a better world.

2. Blockchain

Blockchain is an application of distributed ledger technology that’s taken the world by storm over the last few years. It’s set to disrupt most industries worldwide. Blockchain was developed through its first application, Bitcoin, as a way to disrupt the banking industry, in which ledgers are by definition highly centralized in a given bank or consortium of banks.

Blockchain served the purpose of establishing a trustless economy through its cryptographic and decentralized components, rendering the need for third parties of traditional financial transactions useless. Blockchain’s three key features:

  • Decentralisation
  • Transparency
  • Security

These three features aimed to make financial transactions more secure while reducing fees charged by greedy banks. The goal was to facilitate faster transactions that are free from control and the risks of a single point of authority.

A diagram showing how blockchain works, which is important to understand how blockchain applications in IoT would function
Image credit: itworld.com

However, Blockchain technology has become much more than just a solution for financial services. The same features that are improving the deficits of the financial services industry have the potential to resolve the inefficiencies of many other industries. Not only has blockchain allowed us to digitize money, which isn’t a new concept; we can now also place both physical and intangible assets such as copyrights, commodities, or land ownership rights on to the blockchain for secure proof of ownership and easier transferability.

We’re also seeing the redesign of supply chain management of food, retail, logistics, and construction industries, through transparent and immutable record keeping. Soon, a purchaser may be able to validate the quality and origin of the product they are buying. The implications for the healthcare industry are immense. Blockchain applications could help create a universal information system with easier, more compatible, and more secure access to records, research, and available therapies along with patients’ data while minimizing administration time.

Smart contracts, an application of blockchain technology, are able to self-execute functions when certain conditions are met. This may remove the need for a lawyer or other intermediary who traditionally would facilitate ‘trust’ between parties. By eliminating the middleman, smart contracts could drive down costs in transactions.

Blockchain is also enabling us to move from an ownership economy to a shared economy, in which we no longer need to own our own items but are able to share resources including cars, data storage, internet, solar energy and more. Although Blockchain is still in its infancy and requires further regulation, there’s little doubt that this technology will continue to evolve, playing a significant role in transforming inefficient and outdated business practices and redistributing wealth and rights back to the people.

3. 3D Printing

From printing novelty objects to hearing aids to prosthetic limbs and all the way to spacecraft engines, 3D printing technology is quickly securing its place in the future of manufacturing. 3D printing has been around since the 1980’s. In recent years, however, it has become more readily accessible. It’s now changing the way we manufacture at scale. The many benefits of this technology include faster builds that are cheaper and less wasteful while also being highly customizable. What’s more, 3D printing enables conceptual designs to be printed to give an architect, client, or shareholder a complete picture of the end product, minimizing miscommunications about product requirements and designs.

Prosthetics represent one application of 3D printing that has already achieved notable success. The ability to print prosthetics not only substantially reduces the cost by thousands; in addition, its customizability allows the prosthesis to fit the individual user with extreme precision.

Elon Musk’s space company Space X used 3D printing to create the engine chambers of their spacecraft Dragon. By using 3D printing, it took only 3 months to go from concept to completion, drastically reducing lead-time.

The airline industry is also looking into the future benefits of manufacturing using 3D printers, most notably Singapore Airlines Engineering Company, which has partnered with Stratasys. Singapore Airlines is considering opening a facility to look into the benefits of manufacturing aircraft parts.

3D printing is now starting to turn heads within the construction industry because it is allowing basic housing and buildings to be built for as little as $2000 USD for a basic house. The construction industry is realizing the benefits of more efficient use of resources, less wastage, less pollution and impact on the environment, as well as better health and safety. While it’s not yet practical for detailed and complex building projects, we’re seeing the benefits of 3D printing houses in fields such relief aid for victims of natural disasters. 

4. Virtual/Augmented Reality

An image of a smart office application of virtual reality (VR).
Image Credit: VR Scout

The combined VR/AR market is expected to grow to 215 billion by 2021. These technologies are becoming increasingly popular within the entertainment industry. They’re helping to blur the lines between physical and digital worlds. For the video game industry, significantly more interactivity has become possible through AR/VR. The huge success of Pokemon Go, which is perhaps one of the most widely-known AR applications, allows users to catch Pokemon on their mobile anywhere. Pokemon Go has demonstrated that everyday people are willing and ready to use AR.

Gaming companies are renting warehouses for interactive gaming, allowing players to fight against, for example, a Zombie apocalypse—all encapsulated within a VR headset. Tech giants are also developing VR/AR technologies to integrate into their own product offerings. For examples, confiser Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore or VR Project Cardboard, Oculus’ Rift, and PlayStationVR, just to name a few.

While VR and AR are most noticed for their ability to elevate the entertainment industry to new heights, there are a number of potential applications in other verticals, including healthcare, travel, education, architectural design, sports, and more. A shift in the construction industry is also expected with the development of VR, AR, and MR (mixed reality), combining with existing software to help architects and 3D designers better understand and design their projects, showcasing them to their clients and shareholders in real time. Combining VR with software like BIM and big data practices will also enable construction to become more efficient through more accurate evaluations of the build by modeling behaviors.

5. Internet of Things

The internet of things (IoT) is an expansive network of “things” or devices that are connected to the internet, which facilitates their intercommunication. IoT is another technology that will help to bridge the gap between the physical and digital spheres. There were 17 billion connected devices in 2016 and the projection for 2020 spans anywhere from 28 to 100+ billion. The ability to connect devices to the internet is nothing new, but we’re now connecting more “things” to the internet than ever before. Imagine your alarm going off in the morning and prompting your coffee maker to start brewing your morning cup before your self-driving car drives you to a smart office environment in which your personal space is perfectly adapted to your needs.

IoT will see new relationships develop between things and other things, things and people, and people and other people—all to make our lives easier, more efficient, and more effective. We already see this happening. For example, we can control smart thermostats from our phones so that the temperature is ideally suited to you when you enter your home. Future developments could see our cars connect with our calendars to navigate automatically to our destination along the optimal route, or our fridge ordering groceries when it detects a given food item is close to depletion.

On a more global scale, IoT will significantly transition us into “smart cities.” With the help of sensors, IoT will make our cities more efficient, cost-effective, and safer places in which to live.

  • Smart buildings will turn utilities off when closed down and turn everything back on as needed.
  • Smart street lights will turn off when no one is passing through.
  • Smart infrastructure will allow us to detect faults or deterioration in city infrastructure or contamination in water supplies.
  • Smart grids can use and distribute energy more efficiently throughout the city.
  • Driverless cars will be able to connect to smart traffic sensors to determine the most efficient route possible. They may also be able to connect with sensors built into sidewalks to determine where potential parks could be located. 

Of course, much of this is a long way off. It would require some of our existing infrastructure to be replaced. With a projected global worth of 6.2 trillion USD by 2025, we can expect most industries to be impacted by IoT, most notably the healthcare sector, which will see improvements in diagnoses, treatments, and predictive health monitoring.

Our Digital Future

While we can only predict what our future will look like, we can start to see that the possibilities are seemingly endless. And we are only beginning to see a small fraction of what may be to come. One thing of which we can be sure, however, is that these five technologies are going to change society as we know it.

With so much of our lives expected to rely on emerging technologies, we must be aware of the vulnerabilities opened by so much of our data being stored in opaque, private enterprise databases on which non-transparent AI algorithms train. A digital, interconnected society poses a greater risk for a single hack to have drastic implications. There are many differing opinions on the future of technology and how it will impact our lives. Some say it’ll help drive us into the future, drive productivity, help us live longer, and increase efficiencies. Others see the emergence of these technologies as a destructive catalyst that’ll fracture society as we know it. Although it’s not a satisfying conclusion, reality rarely ends up on either side of a binary like good/bad. It’s more likely that the these five most disruptive technologies will engender both positive and negative effects. It’s up to us to shape the final outcome.