Key tech trends

Which technological developments will be leading the way?

We are some way through the Fourth Industrial Revolution – we discuss the new pieces of technology that are changing the way we live, work, shop and move.

Technology, and what we do with it, has changed in ways we could not have imagined ten years ago. But the next decade promises to see even greater change and disruption that some are already calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A wave of technologies – machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics are the real headline grabbers, while virtual reality (VR), the internet of things, genome editing and 3D printing are also reaching a tipping point, moving from marginal to mainstream.

Virtual assistants

While Siri can usually do the job (eventually), and Google Home is naturally an excellent fact finder, it’s Amazon’s Alexa that seems most compliant, and certainly the most ambitious virtual assistant. Of course, Alexa will play the Rolling Stones, or order an Uber – it has 12,000 skills available – but beyond that, it will help you navigate and shop your way through Amazon’s expanding empire. Alexa and her ilk promise more fundamental change, a new post-app and ultimately post-screen landscape where virtual assistants become our voice-activated access point for services and information.

Autonomous driving / Self-driving vehicles

Tesla may grab most of the headlines surrounding driverless cars, but behind the scenes, the DRIVEN consortium has been busy cementing the UK’s reputation as a world-leader in the development of autonomous vehicles – and out of Oxford, no less. Earlier this year, DRIVEN unveiled three self-driving vehicles with level-four autonomy (capable of driving themselves most of the time) but expects to introduce level-five (fully automated) vehicles – at least in predefined sections of motorway – in the next few years. And while the rate of automation may be debatable, a driverless future (beyond nostalgic enthusiasts) is now on the horizon.

DNA technology

Cloning is out of the ethical spotlight and in its place is gene-editing – correcting defects, or even enhancing human embryos. And while the focus is now increasingly on preventing inherited diseases and less on creating designer babies, the potential for edited offspring is certainly there. Earlier this year, scientists in the US edited a gene inside the body for the first time, in an attempt to tackle Hunter syndrome by permanently changing the patient’s DNA.

Augmented reality (AR) glasses

AR glasses are expected to become the Fourth Platform in computing (after personal computing, the internet, and mobile) and the lead in the area is hotly contested by tech’s Big Five. Ultimately AR glasses will overlay a constant stream of information onto the physical world. In the last year, Microsoft’s HoloLens has been generally accepted as the industry leader (despite being more headset than glasses), allowing wearers to interact with content, information and holograms using their gaze, gestures and voice.

Space travel

The space race, or at least the commercial one, is being contested by three of the world’s foremost tech entrepreneurs. Both Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) have promised to send tourists to space by the end of next year, while Elon Musk has vested his interests in colonising Mars. His SpaceX program is focused on ‘Making life multi-planetary’ – he plans to send a first cargo mission to Mars in 2022, before sending crew in 2024.

Cyber security

Cybersecurity Ventures, the world’s leading researcher of the global cyber economy, believes cyber crime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021. However, Glasswall, a new cyber security solutions provider is about to set a new industry standard that may signal a paradigm shift. Using unique, patented technology, Glasswall eliminates email-borne attachment threats by breaking down files to their component parts, fixing any deviations in real time, and regenerating them as new files that comply entirely with the manufacturer’s original standards.

Cryptocurrencies

By now, the conversation has moved on from how cryptocurrencies can disrupt the financial market, to who or what can compete with Bitcoin. But as Bitcoin’s sustainability gets called into question – its energy consumption now surpasses Ireland’s – Litecoin, Ethereum and a host of other currencies have come to the fore, including IOTA which works on a truly decentralised data market place – enabling fee-less transactions (it recently cost as much as $20 per Bitcoin transaction).

Virtual reality (VR)

It might seem like VR has had some teething problems, and we’re not quite out of the woods yet, but the fact that Mark Zuckerberg’s Oculus Rift headset now has some stiff competition is a promising sign. It could be posited that VR – certainly at this stage – caters for those of a slightly nerdier bent, but given that Facebook, Youtube and Vice have been developing 360-degree video, perhaps it won’t be long until virtual reality cracks the mainstream once and for all.

Quantum computers

The race is on to create quantum computers on an industrial and commercial scale. These are computers that can operate at up to 100,000 times faster than a normal computer, can be powered with a millionth of the energy, and will be pivotal in developing ‘lightspeed electronics’. Researchers from the University of New South Wales have just designed a microchip that can finally integrate quantum interactions. It’s hoped that with such processor speed, these computers could help cure diseases and offer solutions for climate change.

Biotechnology

At the end of last year, all eyes were on Unity Biotechnology as it raised $116m in series B funding, some of which came from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Unity Biotechnology designs therapeutics that prevent, halt or reverse diseases of aging by selectively eliminating senescent cells. Having already proven that its senolytic medicine works on animal models, the company will initiate clinical trials this year. If successful, Unity will be another step closer to its aim of ‘a future in which it doesn’t hurt to be old.’

Remember: investing in technology carries a high risk, and values may be volatile. No one knows how these products will perform in the future, and if they will be profitable.

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