In the next ten years, we’ll be seeing more change in technology than we’ve seen in the last hundred. Never before have we experienced such rapid technological developments. Autonomous drones are already widely used and we are even able to 3D print organs. We have friendly care robots that look more and more like humans and our refrigerators will soon order milk from the store.
In the future, data driven ‘things’ and smart algorithms will start making independent decisions. In 2020, factories will be more efficient than ever before and human employees will gradually disappear. In fact, the entire manufacturing industry is at risk of disappearing due to the rise of the 3D printers. They’ll be printing more and more products at increasingly cheaper prices. We’ll see revolutionary developments in healthcare as well. A plethora of new medical devices and wearables will be introduced to help us monitor our health. Examples are the FitBit health tracker and the intelligent pill. Connected to your smart mirror, these wearables and ingestibles will tell you exactly how you’re doing. The GP will have to consider a career change as he’ll soon be replaced by smart devices and IBM’s super computer Watson. Let’s take a look into the future.
In this article:
- Big data can help us predict criminal activity
- While robots still have the IQ of a dog, in 2020 they’ll be fetching our kids from school
- With 3D printers in the healthcare sector, waiting lists for donor organs will become a thing of the past
- Autonomous drones can already build bridges – without any human assistance whatsoever
- That triple espresso you had at 5pm? FitBit knows about it
- Which world is real? With virtual reality it will be hard to tell
- The Internet of Things will enable your fridge to order your groceries
1. Big data can help us predict criminal activity
In 2020 we’ll have five times more data than we have now – our digital universe will have expanded by 4.4 zettabytes to about 44 zettabytes – the equivalent of 44 trillion gigabytes. In 2007, the number of stored bits of information in the digital universe was already greater than the number of stars in our physical universe. Big data is becoming an increasingly important link in every possible aspect of our lives. It helps us start, prevent, reduce and predict anything and everything. It gives us a better understanding of how to use our time and resources more effectively, how to monitor our health and how to avoid what’s detrimental to our wellbeing. It helps us trace and identify terrorists and predict and prevent criminal activity. Police stations in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz are a great example of this. In collaboration with the company PredPol, they developed customised software that can predict where criminal activity is likely to occur with a location accuracy of approximately 46m2. In the areas where the software is being used, there’s already been a 33% reduction in burglaries and a 21% reduction in violent crimes.
2. While robots still have the IQ of a dog, in 2020 they’ll be fetching our kids from school
The emergence of robotics has started a new scientific era with endless possibilities. We’ll be seeing robots everywhere: on land, in the oceans and in the skies. They’ll work in our factories, assist us in the army and provide care in hospitals and nursing homes. Robots are becoming smarter and smarter and will soon be able to solve complex problems. This is possible because they are in contact with an endless number of sources.
Many repetitive tasks are already being done by robots. The smart industrial robot Baxter is a familiar sight in factories around the world. He does product inspection, welds, paints and performs pick & place tasks as well as transport work. Baxter robots are cheaper, more accurate, faster and more durable than their human counterparts.
We’ll also start seeing robots in our homes. Think robot vacuum cleaners and robot maids. In 2025, robots will cook for us and fetch our children from school. Some restaurants have already replaced traditional waitresses with iPads – which in time will make way for helpful robots. Pilots and experiments with robots regularly take place in stores where they support the existing employees. Care robots such as Nexi and Zora are already being used in hospitals and nursing homes. They hand out medication, assist where required and provide social interaction.
The 90-centimeter tall robot ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) was the first humanoid robot introduced to the public. He looks like a cross between an iPod and a spacesuit and with one single charge, ASIMO works for several hours. He has cameras in his head and with the sensors in the lower part of his torso, he scans the ground surface. ASIMO can pick up objects, climb stairs and even ‘run’ – or rather, waddle – at a moderate pace of six kilometres per hour.
In the years ahead, we’ll see a continuation in the development of artificial intelligence; kick starting major breakthroughs and bringing extreme change to our societies and economies. In ten years, we will no longer be able to tell the difference between certain types of robots and humans. Robots do however still lack certain key elements, preventing full relationships with humans. The biggest challenges are human emotions and even though artificial intelligence will help us improve these skills in robots; until then we’ll have to make do with our friendly Nexi and other social robots. In 2020, the developments in artificial intelligence are expected to be so advanced that robots will be able to make independent decisions, aided by data, algorithms and sensors. By that time, they’ll be able to feel, taste and smell. Presently, however, robots still have the IQ of a dog.
One thing is certain: because robots are many times more efficient and much cheaper, their deployment will result in many job losses. We’ll work less and slowly but surely move towards unconditional basic incomes, resulting in a better quality of life and more room for creativity and innovation.
3. With 3D printers in the healthcare sector, waiting lists for donor organs will become a thing of the past
3D printers are here and they are here to stay. They come in all shapes and sizes and are already used in many different industries. They can print kneecaps, joints and hearts. Then there are bio-printers which can print living cells. In the near future we’ll be able to print complete organs – a godsend for the many patients waiting for donor organs. In 2020, inexpensive home printers will print out any household object you can think of. The applications of 3D printing are endless. Imagine a 3D printer that can print the latest summer fashions from Milan or a bike in your favourite colour? In the future, the more complex industrial printers won’t cost more than 800 euro and we’ll be seeing them in any possible industry; construction, education and health and the distribution landscape will expand dramatically. Motorcycles, bicycles, furniture, organs, cars or the latest fashion – we’ll be printing it all, we’ll be printing it everywhere and it will cost us next to nothing.
4. Autonomous drones can already build bridges – without any human assistance whatsoever
Drones are everywhere. They offer solutions to many challenges. These ingenious pieces of technology are equipped with sensors and cameras and are connected to other systems. They can assist the police force and deliver parcels. We find them in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, journalism and the film industry. The uses for drone technology are endless. A great example is the rope bridge which was made by a group of drones without any human assistance; an experiment by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Business owners deploying drone technology can look forward to significant time and resource savings.
5. That triple espresso you had at 5pm? FitBit knows about it
In the past year, wearable technology has undergone exponential developments. We’re talking about smart watches, fitness and health trackers and any other connected devices imaginable. Wearables are the biggest innovation since the Smartphone and the possibilities are literally endless. Wearables belong to a new wave of development in which everyone and everything is linked. An example of wearable tech is the FitBit, a fitness tracker that monitors your physical activity. It helps you eat better, exercise more and it measures the quality of your sleep. The FitBit knows how often you wake up and how long it takes before you fall asleep. Is that strong espresso you had at 5pm still keeping you awake? Even that doesn’t go unnoticed. In the years ahead, we’ll be seeing a lot more FitBit-like technology. Which will very quickly be replaced by smart wearables such as band-aid type patches, implants and ingestibles. Imagine what it could mean for our health if we are able to monitor and analyse our bodies?
6. Which world is real? With virtual reality it will be hard to tell
2016 is the year we’ll see many more virtual and augmented reality applications, besides those in computer gaming. This technology will enable us to help emergency services train and prepare their personnel for disaster scenarios. There are many possible applications in the social field and in education. Virtual reality enables children to learn and experience all kinds of things in ‘multi-sensory’ environments. From a purely social perspective, virtual reality will allow us to share many interesting experiences with others and the obstacle of physical distance or physical impairments will, in a way, be overcome.
One of the most innovative gadgets developed in recent years is Google Glass. This wearable looks like a pair of futuristic spectacles. You can control it with your voice and it actually works as a kind of extension of your Smartphone. It plays your favourite music, accesses the Internet and takes photos and videos. It detects objects and enhances them with additional information. Last year, Virgin Atlantic Airlines conducted a six-week trial in which they provided their passengers with detailed flight information via Google Glass units. The Sacramento Kings used Glass to give their basketball fans a ‘first person’ experience by showing them the match through Slamson’s eyes. Research is being conducted into applications for the public transport sector – think augmented reality for the visually and hearing impaired and for people with other disabilities.
The Microsoft virtual reality HoLoLens looks a little like ski goggles; it’s like putting an untethered pc on your face which enables you to see high definition holograms inserted into your physical world. The VR wearable already has a number of test applications in Skype and in games such as Minecraft. The prototype works fast, provides good image quality and is controlled with hand gestures, head movements and speech. The device has huge application potential for businesses as well as consumers. Although there are no ‘official’ applications yet, as a developer you can build all sorts of interesting functionality for it. It is certainly interesting to keep an eye on the future developments of these and other virtual reality headsets. The only limit is our imagination!
7. The Internet of Things will enable your fridge to order your groceries
With the explosion of the Internet of Things, the number of devices connected to the Internet will increase from around 13 billion today to 50 billion in 2020. The IoT is a rapidly evolving wave of technology. More and more technologies are integrated with it and it’s fast developing into a network where absolutely everything is connected; from wind turbines to home appliances and factory machinery to entire urban energy networks. The smart factory is a good example. Machines know when other machines need to be serviced, and maintenance is carried out by robots. Maintenance data is then analysed by smart control systems which predict future service focus areas. The only thing human technicians still need to check is whether the maintenance is carried out correctly and safely. Smart factories are completely vertically integrated; data is measured at machine level and sent to the cloud where it is integrated with the service processes in backend systems.
Another interesting example is the smart fridge that keeps track of what you buy and eat, when you buy and eat it and when it’s time to order new groceries. As soon as you run out of food, it will order a fresh supply from the supermarket – after having checked with your electronic pill of course, so that the fridge knows which products promote optimal health. Your self driving car will then collect your groceries from the nearest pickup point – with automated payments running in the background.
Soon, every single thing will have a digital layer that enables it to communicate with the cloud. Things will no longer be able to function independently. This means that they will be useless unless connected to each other and to the IoT. The abovementioned smart refrigerator will verify the expiration dates on your food products but it does need to be connected to the products, the supermarket and to you – because he’ll need your permission first. Or will we eventually skip that step too?