Future shock: combining technologies will disrupt legacy business models
There is so much technology emerging, from the metaverse to AI to gene editing, that it can be overwhelming. Yet the CTO who fails to keep an eye on what’s around the corner could find their business disrupted – or even kaput
When the then head of IT at US VHS rental chain Blockbuster first read about an experimental video-on-demand technology being trialled in London at the beginning of the 1990s, did it cross their mind that this would eventually destroy their business?
Or if the CEO of monolithic US bookstore chain Borders first read about an upstart online bookseller called Amazon getting going in 1994, could they have foreseen themselves going bankrupt 17 years later?
The problem is that with so much emerging technology, how can you focus on the technologies which will affect your business the most?
This Information Age guide to emerging technology cannot make that decision for you. All we can do is sketch out the technologies we believe will have the most profound effect on business for you.
t may be that there’s not one emerging technology that changes everything but several combined at once that trigger a lightbulb moment for you or a competitor who spots an opportunity to eat your lunch. The convergence of different technologies is where the real disruptive potential lies.
Putting your head in the sand is not a strategy. Companies that ossify will be overtaken by newer, nimbler rivals which embrace any of these emerging technologies in ways we can’t even imagine.
Remember, the revolution will be digitised.
How immersive reality will transform your business
Immersive technology, whether virtual reality (the metaverse) or augmented reality (a digital overlay onto our physical world), will completely change how we communicate internally with home working or externally in how we communicate to customers. A growing number of brands have already bought space in the metaverse including Adidas, Burberry, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Samsung, Louis Vuitton, and even banks HSBC and JP Morgan.
Immersive reality combined with hyper-fast 5G and 6G mobile phone networks will also enable machinery to be operated remotely, crops harvested robotically, and expert surgeons literally to operate at arm’s length in an operating theatre on the other side of the planet.
Immersive reality is a disruptive technology; its impact will be modest over the next two or three years, continue to be modest mid-decade, but will change the world later in the 2020s.
>See also: Biggest benefits of immersive technology for businesses
Nine types of emerging technology to watch out for
AI isn’t a new technology, but recent advances make it even more important. AI is not an emerging technology per se but an increasingly dominant one. We already use AI on our smartphones and smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa. Experts believe AI personal assistants will become even more pervasive and helpful, like carrying around a PA in your pocket, using predictive AI actioning your to-do list to do jobs you hadn’t even thought of yet.
As an emerging technology, brain-computer interfaces seem like the stuff of science-fiction and will probably not have a significant impact until 2035 onwards.
However, the most immediate benefit of brain-computer interfaces may be to support people with severe disabilities. Elon Musk says he is “cautiously optimistic” that his own Neuralink company will be able to get a tetraplegic or a paraplegic with a spinal cord injury to move naturally again.
Some people think CRISPR-Cas9, gene editing tools that enable scientists to edit DNA, could be the biggest technological revolution of our lives. It could grow bountiful disease-resistant crops, eradicate genetic conditions and even allow humans to upgrade themselves, improving their eyesight or cognitive abilities. The implications are enormous.
Last year, British company Oxitech released genetically manipulated mosquitoes into the swampy air of the Florida Keys in the USA to mate and pass on a gene temporarily lethal to female offspring, thus killing off about half of all new mosquitoes and decimating the mosquito population –
. truly mind-boggling.
Once hailed as the wonder material 200x stronger than steel, a replacement for silicon in computers, and a fantastic conductor of heat and electricity, the heat (sorry) appears to have gone of graphene in the press.
In fact, the media hype was justified – it just came too early. The price of monolayer CVD graphene has plummeted by nearly 100 per cent since 2010, meaning it’s now within reach as an everyday material. For example, mixed with concrete, graphene strengthens the building material by 30 per cent.
Perovskite solar cells can be printed onto plastic sheets, making solar panels remarkably cheaper and also wrappable. They are also 50 per cent more efficient than today’s solar panels at converting sunlight into electricity. However, they are still delicate compared to standard solar panels and work continues to develop them improving their sun-capture efficiency. But imagine buildings wrapped with solar photovoltaics producing their own energy or articulated lorries that power themselves.
Computers that work at the speed of light: that’s the promise of photonic computers, which use light (photons) rather than electronics (electrons) to transmit data. Photonic or optical computers could theoretically process information 20x faster than traditional silicon-based integrated circuit machines. And, going back to these technologies being combined for a true breakthrough, according to Ryan Hammerly, a visiting professor at MIT, photonics has the potential to accelerate the development of AI by several orders of magnitude.
5G and 6G
5G, the next-generation cellular network, promises so much: increased mobile bandwidth and speed, which will accelerate driverless cars, create smart-weapons to protect us while helping build the metaverse, the VR playground which will revolutionise how we work and play.
5G with its ultra-connectivity enabled by high data bandwidth, low latency, and high density of devices, will exponentially increase data storage and processing directly using edge computing – distributing data closer to the point where it’s used — and in the cloud.
Business sectors that 5G could disrupt include:
- Cloud investments for financial services
- AI data intelligence for the insurance industry
- Cloud and edge computing
- Medical equipment and telehealth solutions
- Supply chain management
Disruption doesn’t happen immediately, of course. As with 4G, at first glance, the use cases for 5G will seem remote and not particularly relevant. But once that 5G passes a tipping point, use cases we cannot even imagine will present themselves, disrupting most business sectors.
The current worldwide labour shortage post-Covid, as older workers do not return to the workforce, creates opportunities for robotics. Britain has been hit particularly hard with the usual flow of casual fruit pickers from Eastern Europe not coming this year. UK robotic firm Fieldwork Robotics has created a robotic fruit picker that is so sensitive it can pick 2kg of soft fruit per hour. And the raspberry-picking robots are already being used commercially in two locations in Portugal.
Again, even though the initial hype over 3D printing has died down, as an emerging technology, it hasn’t really gotten going yet. Imagine 3D-printed houses, 3D-printed food and even 3D-printed body parts. Hubs.com predicts that the 3D printing market will grow by 24 per cent to be worth $44.5bn by 2026.
>See also: New emerging technologies to watch out for
Emerging technology x healthcare
AI played a key role in accelerating the development of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, cutting development time to 10 months compared to the standard decade for a new vaccine. Beyond drug discovery, AI’s advanced pattern-recognition capabilities are increasingly being used to diagnose cancer and, when combined with wearables, in predictive healthcare – determining when someone might get ill. In time, your Apple Watch might even be able to alert you to an oncoming stroke.
>See also: Emerging medical technologies in healthcare
Accepted wisdom is that technological advances in healthcare have stalled. But look at some of the technologies above and multiply them with healthcare. Gene editing could obviously get rid of some lethal inherited diseases, while a surgeon could operate robotically on a patient thousands of miles away, combining VR, robotics and 6G superfast connectivity eradicating any lags between thought and action.
Medicine will truly be transformed by all these technologies working together.
Further reading on emerging technology
The impact of AR and VR will be as big as the internet – Kelly Goetsch, chief product officer at commercetools, is convinced that when AR and VR come of age, the impact of the technologies will be comparable to the internet boom of 1995
SMEs will be run by avatars in time for 2050 – study – A futurology report predicts that SMEs will be run by lookalike avatars of their business owners by 2050 – here’s what they’ll be able to do
Deep tech in 2022: the future is looking artificially intelligent – Daan de Cloe, co-founder and CTO of AutoFill Technologies, provides his predictions for the deep tech space in 2022 and beyond