These technology trends are going to change your world, according to Silicon Valley experts
Our lives will be vastly different once these four technology trends come into play.
In the past year, autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, have been one of the industry’s hottest topics, with American companies including Uber and Waymo testing driverless vehicles. (Waymo is the self-driving car start-up spun off from Google.) Uber has started restricted passenger trials last September in Pittsburg and San Francisco three months after, while Waymo recently unveiled a fleet of self-driving minivans set for public road tests.
In Singapore, start-up software company Nutonomy has been conducting trials of its self-driving taxis since last August, beating Uber’s timeline. When full autonomy does take off, this technology has the potential to dramatically change the transport landscape as we know it.
“Autonomous vehicles running in fleets will completely change our experience in commuting. Some say the analogy is the shift from the horse-drawn carriage to the modern car,” says Karen Tay, the Smart Nation programme director in the Prime Minister’s Office. She’s based in Silicon Valley.
“New design possibilities open up, when a steering wheel and front-facing seats are no longer necessary. Designers are having a field day working with autonomous vehicle start-ups and traditional manufacturers, reimagining the ‘car’. It can be a place to meditate, focus on work or even have wine with your friends on the way to a party.”
Tay says fleets of autonomous vehicles in the sharing economy could shake up long held perceptions of car ownership. “When many different designs of vehicles are deployed in a fleet, you will be able to summon precisely the vehicle you want. In the morning, you could use a minivan to ferry your family to school and work; in the evening, you could summon a sleek, designer vehicle to take you to the company’s dinner function. On weekends, a jeep could take your family around the island for some R&R.
“Today, owning a private car is the standard for luxury transportation. With fleets of autonomous vehicles providing the ultimate customisation in travel experience more efficiently and without the pains of parking, this paradigm will shift.”
She adds: “We can also look forward to a future where these fleets are so tightly integrated with our public transportation that you can take multiple modes of transport in one journey – without having to wait while you transition between them.”
Blockchain technology is a public online accountability system where transactions are direct and transparent, without having to go through any third-party institution. Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency which came into being in 2009, exists only online and is not regulated by any country or bank. It has become popular because every transaction is verifiable every step of the way, with no need for a trusted entity to ensure that. Other cryptocurrencies have emerged, such as Zcash, Litecoin and Ethereum.
“Innovators are interested in dropping transaction costs, speeding up regulatory compliance, and implementing anti-corruption measures,” explains Noah Thorp, chief executive of Comakery, a start-up focused on blockchain revenue sharing for collaboratively created products. Perhaps the best example of such collaboration is Wikipedia, where anyone can contribute content.
“Businesses most disrupted by blockchains are brokerages that connect buyer to seller and those managing complex transactions with multi-day settlement times. Proponents of blockchain technology say this helps automate legal processes, reduce transaction costs and provide more reliable auditing of financial transactions,” says Thorp. Middlemen will no longer be necessary when money can be transferred directly, efficiently and with full disclosure.
The world is beginning to recognise the myriad applications of blockchain technology. Its most immediate and significant disruption is to the financial industry, with many banks around the world investing in blockchain innovation.
Interestingly, blockchains can also be used to aid socio-political stability, particularly in countries with unstable financial institutions or volatile currencies. Cryptocurrencies may offer citizens greater financial stability than their native currency and protection against corruption, hence allowing for local and global trade, Thorp observes.
INTERNET OF THINGS AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)
From smart vehicles and industrial machines to everyday appliances like smoke detectors and even cooking appliances, more and more devices are getting equipped with sensors that can gather and transmit data to the cloud. The computer-powered analysis of this data, known as machine learning, is resulting in ever more efficient machines and devices.
The rising importance of the Internet of Things has been nothing short of meteoric, with international research firm Gartner estimating that there are at least 3.8 billion connected devices in existence, and up to 25 billion by 2020. This means more data is generated, captured and analysed than ever, and has led experts to predict we are on the verge of the fourth Industrial Revolution.
Dr Timothy Chou, a lecturer in cloud computing at Stanford University, says every major industry will be affected by this sea change in time. “Whether it is a combine harvester, gene sequencer, blood analyser or forklift, the data (gathered) can be used to make the device smarter and even to make predictions. For instance, data can predict when a wind turbine is about to fail and replace it before it does.”
We are already seeing how machines can “assist” the user, he says. For example, the Mercedes Benz Intelligent Drive assist system comes with lane change alerts and auto brakes. Self-driving technology will also improve, as more data is collected.
In time, more data and the use of complex algorithms will lead to ever more effective machine learning – and the rise of AI. He says: “Machines will be able to optimise themselves and, in essence, help us design the next version of itself.” Optimisation will help to reduce the cost of consumables, increase efficiencies and result in better quality products.
However, there will be effects too, when AI systems become commonplace, especially as entire industries start to adopt this new technology. “The people who make machines – from agricultural equipment to wind turbines and MRI scanners – will have to adopt these new technologies to make their products superior to the competition. Those who don’t could get left behind.”
The Pokemon Go app may be most people’s closest brush with augmented reality (AR) thus far, but the game merely scratches the surface of the potential of this technology.
“The AR revolution will jumpstart the next wave of how we will interact with information and data,” says Mohammad Musa, the founder and CEO of Stealth Startup, which focuses on non-entertainment applications of AR and virtual reality. Instead of using a mobile device to access information, AR allows relevant and useful information to be overlaid with what you see in the real world, which will transform human behaviour, much like how smartphones have dramatically changed our relationships with mobile devices.
Some industries that Musa envisions will be disrupted by AR include education, health care and enterprise. “With an advanced AR headset, assistants can help a surgeon during surgery or bring up information about a patient during a diagnosis or an operation; or students could be immersed in an AR history lesson in Rome, and they would get a better experience in one minute than in a traditional class,” he says.
There are also practical applications for those in aerospace, and oil and gas industries, where on-the-field workers could collaborate with other specialists at their headquarters, with AR headsets. However, he acknowledges that AR is a field of emerging technology that has been so overhyped that people have unrealistic expectations of what it can currently deliver.
“In reality, it takes longer for new technology to affect aspects of our life,” he says, estimating that it might take another five years for AR to become a part of daily life.
For one thing, hardware technology has to improve significantly. He says: “AI will play a major factor in evolving input mechanisms. In the AR/VR world, you can use voice recognition, motion and eye tracking, and electromagnetic measurements from the brain to control the device with your thoughts. This is still early in the research stage so I don’t think we will see this too soon.”