The year 2020 has shown how far we have come as a civilization.
Over the years, we have managed to take for granted even the most profound technologies. But last year, the value of even the most simple technologies was hard to miss.
Of the global population, nearly 50% have received a COVID-19 vaccine. We may take one and be on our way without realizing how profound the whole thing is: we developed, tested, and began distribution within 12 months since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March.
Even 20 years ago, a large-scale disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic would have been fatal to work and education. But last year, for many of us, work and education continued regardless, thanks to the combination of powerful yet affordable computers/mobile devices, affordable and widely available wireless internet, and robust cloud infrastructure.
Most remarkable, however, are not the technology-driven disruptions, but the rate at which they have occurred over the years. Technology-driven disruptions have accelerated. However, as the technologies of today and tomorrow combine in new, inventive ways, disruptions will become even more accelerated.
The question is, which ones will stand out?
Many technology trends will certainly ‘shape the future.’ But here, we are concerned with more particular trends — technology trends that will shape the future of the market. These are trends, innovations in which will give companies a competitive advantage.
Here are 7 that top the chart.
1. Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Even though we are far from building a true AI, we have made quite the stride in developing applied AIs. That is, an AI built to collect, identify, and self-learn data in a very particular application.
But we need to do better.
Take voice assistants, for example. Voice assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant are miles ahead of what they were 10 years ago. But they are still nowhere near perfect. Not only are translations relatively error-prone for languages other than English, but even perfect comprehension for English is restricted to a very narrow set of English speakers (white Americans). The bias also persists in facial recognition, which is worrying, given that many courts now rely on data from facial recognition systems for evidence. Errors can cost innocent people years in prison.
There is hope for overcoming the challenge in the years to come as we make more and more powerful neural processors. The processors will be able to crunch much more massive datasets, yielding more nuanced insights more rapidly. What that means is, we will be able to deploy more advanced AI algorithms that will train machines to recognize more complex patterns. And we are not only talking about speech data, but images, videos, text, gestures — a wide range of data that will enable machines to make better sense of the real world.
What’s most interesting about the development is the fact that it has incredible benefits for both businesses and customers.
Modern technology is phenomenal, but it is still primarily text-driven, which can often be frustrating. For example, advancements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) will remove points of friction, making interactions with apps or websites more intuitive. Natural. Further, with better image processing, customers will find products by simply searching with images. And with greater capacity for processing data, businesses will be able to create hyper-personalized products, services, and online experiences.
As for businesses, they are peering over a new kind of workforce.
To be honest, the workforce is not entirely new. We already have a machine-assisted labor force, with automation solutions like RPA automating basic and repetitive tasks. What we will witness in 2022 is the introduction of applied AI, which will combine with RPA solutions in very particular applications to make them capable of performing more complex maneuvers.
One such complex, more cognitively demanding skill is programming. Indeed, McKinsey hails the coming years as the Future of Programming. That’s because applied AI will be able to write software. You read that right: software that itself writes software. At least, simple software.
Applied AI offers several technical and even cultural challenges to businesses. We are looking here at new kinds of talents, a new kind of working environment. But businesses understand the tremendous benefits the transformation will have on their bottom line. Deployment times will plummet. Scale will expand. Customer satisfaction will soar. Therefore, there is no surprise that global investment has increased — from $14 billion in 2015 to $55 billion last year.
2. The age of robotics has begun
That was software. Now let’s talk about hardware.
Hardware has shrunk significantly in the last 50 years and yet is more sophisticated and powerful than ever. Take home devices, for example. Home devices are not larger than your fist but can perform a complex string of automations with just voice commands. Such a device is labeled ‘smart’ since it is connected to other devices wirelessly, say, via the internet.
Smart devices connect to other smart devices, such as lights, TVs, watches, drones, and so forth, allowing us to control them remotely. Indeed, today, it is hard to find smart devices that are not connected to the internet. Such devices, also known as Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, have been steadily rising in number. In 2019, over 7 billion devices were estimated to be connected to the internet. In 2020, nearly 9 billion. By 2022, the number of IoT devices is expected to surpass 12 billion. By 2030, the number could very well surpass 25 billion, while 50 billion, by 2050.
Once again, the explosion of IoT devices is fantastic for both businesses and customers.
To customers, the devices offer remarkable convenience. Smartwatches, for instance, can now view and even respond to calls, texts, and emails. Smart headphones can communicate with digital assistants, allowing customers to update their to-do or grocery list with just a voice command.
To businesses, the devices offer rich, diverse customer data. The data from phones, tablets, watches, the TV, headphones, and the endless array of other IoT devices can be collated to produce more accurate and detailed insights into customer behavior.
But that is just IoT devices. For businesses, the benefits will multiply as they adopt industrial robots. In 2015, businesses worldwide employed over 450,000 industrial robots to automate physical and repetitive work, saving a combined sum of millions and perhaps billions in time and expenditure. In 2022, the figure is expected to exceed 600,000 and 800,000 by 2025, by when, according to McKinsey’s estimates, over 50% of today’s work could be automated.
Therefore, as is the case with applied AI, it is not a surprise that investment in advanced robotics has increased. Investments today add up to over $105 billion and will continue to climb as robots become more intelligent while scale goes up and production time goes down.
Although, as is the case with applied AI, the new age of robotics also presents us with a new set of challenges, such as the problems of labor displacement and educating the emerging workforce to better work alongside machines.
The question is, in a nutshell: what is the future of work?
3. Advanced analytics on demand
With over 10 billion devices connected to the internet, the world generates nearly 80 zettabytes of data every year. That’s 80 trillion gigabytes.
For scale, that is 80 billion magnetic hard drives that can store 1000 gigabytes each. If each hard drive is 10 cm in length, putting 80 billion of them in line would create a trail of hard drives that could wrap the Earth nearly 800 times.
Here’s another perspective offered by Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO. From the very beginning of humankind to the year 2003, a span of over 100,000 years, “an estimated 5 exabytes of information was created, which corresponds to 0.5% of a zettabyte.” Today, it takes us only 2 days to create that amount.
However, given the pace at which the internet is growing, it would soon take us mere hours to do so. In fact, we are not just looking here at more data, but faster data. As more and more devices talk to each other and feeds and files become more information-heavy, we expect the rate of communication to keep pace.
In the last few years, we saw the rise of 5G and innovations in broadband internet, making for record-high speeds and record-low latencies. It was this extraordinary growth in connectivity that made learning and working from home possible. Last year also saw gamers and streamers take full advantage of the low latencies, making the most of entertainment.
Read more: 3 Insights From a Year of Online Learning
In 2022 and beyond, more breakthroughs will follow, opening up a variety of new markets for businesses. We will be looking at more connected products and services like wirelessly controlled tools in manufacturing, patient monitoring in healthcare, augmented and virtual experiences in sports and entertainment, smart cars, and whatnot.
This super-connectivity will enable businesses to collate and produce the detailed and accurate insights into customer behavior that we alluded to earlier. Perhaps even in real-time. According to McKinsey, the trend could contribute over $1 trillion to the global GDP by 2030.
4. The scale of cloud infrastructure
Last month, Google made a big statement by ramping up its cloud collaboration services, betting on what it believed to be the future of work: hybrid, if not completely remote. Reflecting on the new offerings, Dave Citron, Google product management director, remarked that Google has seen “a radical transformation, and a lot of that transformation is here to stay.”
Indeed, in May this year, Sundar Pichai, Google’s and Alphabet’s CEO, announced Google’s new approach to flexible work, wherein Googlers can “spend approximately 3 days in the office and 2 days wherever they work best.” Google would also offer, according to the announcement, opportunities to “apply for completely remote work” based on the role and team needs.
A future where opportunities for learning and working are not limited to a location cannot be powered by high-speed connectivity alone. Rather, the connectivity ought to be distributed so that people, even at the edges, wherever they are, ideally, can access it.
In 2022, the scale of cloud infrastructure will significantly expand. The result would be the powerful combination of super-connectivity and greater accessibility: the opportunities to connect would be more widely available. That is fantastic news for businesses, especially small businesses, since they, too, will have equal opportunities to compete for customers online.
And to keep up with the trend, companies worldwide are already investing in cloud-related tools and skills. By 2022, according to data collected by McKinsey, over 70% of companies will rely on some form of cloud management tool to monitor and track processes. Dedicated SaaS platforms and similar software, too, will increase for very particular applications, such as hiring and collaboration. If the current trend of rapid adoption continues, the number of companies relying on them will increase from 22% today to 80% by 2030.
In 2019, over 8.5 billion data records were reportedly compromised. Yes, in 2019 alone.
As our data needs increase, so will the need for data privacy. As more of us conduct our lives online, more sensitive data is uploaded onto the internet: banking details, insurance data, investments, health data, employment data, messages we share with our friends and family. If connectivity and cloud infrastructure expand, so will cybersecurity.
Indeed, it has. The market’s worth was just shy of $17 billion in 2015. Today, it is worth over $60 billion.
The year 2022 will see a further rise in infrastructure and technologies that aim to determine the trustworthiness of devices and applications and prevent cybersecurity breaches. The goal would not only be to protect online privacy, but also to establish accountability. Investments in Digital Ledger Technology, for example, could increase, unless regulators disapprove of the technology due to its energy constraints.
The market for bioengineering has more than doubled in the last 5 years, from being worth $14 billion in 2015 to $30 billion in 2020. What explains the rapid rise is the forthcoming revolution in bioengineering.
In 2022, bioengineering will combine several key disciplines to welcome the new era of personal health and nutrition. It will combine cutting-edge bioscience with cutting-edge AI algorithms to interpret the endless stream of health and nutrition data generated by IoT sensors. The advanced analytics would yield highly personalized insights into medication, food, and everything personal health. In fact, the potential here is massive, with the production of genetic-based nutrition and vaccines down the line.
But there is more. Major advances in bioengineering will also see the development of next-gen materials. Scaled production of graphene and eventually nanoparticles will make for materials that uncover a whole new dimension of functionality. Materials would be tiny, light, high-performance, yet highly efficient. Innovation could also lead to greater aerodynamics and durability.
Read more: #10 AI Innovations Disrupting Healthcare
And therefore, it is not just businesses in healthcare and nutrition that will benefit from the revolution. Besides skincare, transportation, manufacturing, and semiconductor production, to name a few, will also flourish.
The biggest challenge to bioengineering has always been testing materials. But as the combination of next-gen computing and applied AI will make it easier to develop the most complex simulations, testing time would decline, and therefore, will the time for deployment. Hopefully, cost as well.
7. Clean-energy generation
Recently, Australia made history. It made a new renewable record when renewables generated over 60% of the energy on its main grid. The record was short-lived, but it hinted at the big things to come. Especially, since the record was shattered on a weekday!
Speaking of big things, the European Union recently announced a string of massive reforms to its current climate policy. The reforms are part of its ambitious plan to reduce its emissions by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990s levels.
Clean-energy generation is perhaps the most urgent technological trend. Companies worldwide are striving harder and harder to cut down on their emissions to comply with the reforms and secondly, comply with the new values of their stakeholders, not just shareholders.
Carlsberg, for example, recently announced its plan to deploy re-designed machinery and other measures in its breweries to reduce their emissions by 50%. Google and Amazon, too, are building servers that are as much as 35% more heat efficient.
In 2022, the nearly $100 billion worth market will see innovations in smart energy generation, smart energy distribution, carbon capture and storage solutions, waste management, and fusion. And their applications would be everywhere, from transportation and manufacturing to retail and construction.
The result would be more disruption, less destruction.
With offices in New York, Austin, Texas, Seattle, London, Zurich, Pune, and Hyderabad, SG Analytics is a leading research and analytics company that provides tailor-made services to enterprises worldwide. If you’re looking to make critical data-driven decisions, decisions that enable accelerated growth and breakthrough performance, contact us today.
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