Why You Should Be Excited About Future Tech - InformationWeek

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Charles Brooks
Charles Brooks
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Why You Should Be Excited About Future Tech

Sure, robotics, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and other disruptive trends are intimidating, but they will improve our lives.

What will the next decades bring?

It's no exaggeration to say we're on the cusp of scientific and technological advancements that will change how we live.

Renowned futurist Dr. Michio Kaku characterizes this technological shift as moving from the "age of discovery" to the "age of mastery," a new period in our history where we'll be able to harness our technologies and control our destinies.

Last May, The McKinsey Global Institute published an informative analysis that examined the economic impact of global technology trends. The study, called "Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy," identified the technologies that matter most to the global economy, sustainability, and improving the human condition.

[If we don't control the technology we depend on, someone else will -- and we might not like the consequences. Read Technology Automation: Who's The Boss?]

The McKinsey study, along with Google's recent acquisitions of artificial intelligence and robotic companies, and my own company Xerox's special history of innovation (at PARC), inspired me to compile a list of three areas where technological transformation will shape our lives.

The digital age and The Internet of Things
We've come a long way from the cumbersome, slow PCs of the 70s to Google Glass and paper-thin mobile devices. We are now at the footstep of quantum computing in the cloud with flexible and wearable electronics. Cisco, which termed the "The Internet of Everything," predicts that 50 billion devices, including our smartphones, appliances, and office equipment, will be wirelessly connected via a network of sensors to the Internet by 2020.

Along with computing comes artificial intelligence. Human/computer interface will extend our human brain capacities, memories, and capabilities. At a conference last year on how the world will look in 2045, Google futurist Ray Kurzweil said that mankind will "expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold" and that the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years.

Google self-driving car.
Google self-driving car.

McKinsey predicts a $5 to 7 trillion potential economic impact by 2025 from automation of knowledge work by intelligent software systems. We may also have artificially intelligent personal assistants, perhaps even in holographic forms in some sort of augmented reality.       

There is already an explosion in data analytics from the mounds of information we produce. New advanced technologies for data mining and predictive analytics will be used in all informatics aspects of our lives as consumers, patients, and employees.

Big data analytics has the potential to improve healthcare by identifying the best pathways in treatments and administration of patient medicines, as well as predicting the spread of the flu. In retail, data analytics can predict when and what consumers are buying. The mathematical applications used in analyzing large data sets can be used to predict societal change at almost every level of human interaction.

Health & medicine
Perhaps health and medicine is the most profound area of technological innovation. Numerous breakthroughs in genomics anti-aging therapies will extend our longevity and quality of life. Recently, Harvard Medical School Researcher of Genetics David Sinclair published findings about a single anti-aging enzyme in the body, known scientifically as SIRT1, that can prevent ailments such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and type 2 diabetes. Biologists recently extended the life spans of mice by as much as 70% through rejuvenation experiments.

The medical community will be able to implant devices such as bionic eyes and bionic kidneys or artificially grown and regenerated human organs. The world's first bionic eye, a retinal implant that helps restore vision to patients blinded by a degenerative eye disease, was recently approved by the FDA and will soon be on the market.

The global artificial vital organs and medical bionics market is expected to reach $32.3 billion in 2018. There are some early stage prototypes of artificial vital organs such as artificial hearts, kidneys, lungs, liver, and pancreas.

In the next few years, computerized exoskeletons and personal robots will be 

Charles (Chuck) Brooks serves as Vice President and Client Executive for DHS at Xerox. Previously, heserved in government at the Department of Homeland Security as the first Director of Legislative Affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/3/2014 | 8:00:51 AM
If only everything were not hackable
Everything in this article is exciting, not only because of its potential benefits but because it is actually within reach in my lifetime.  The scary thing with all of this is how hackable everything continues to be.  If everything has an IP address, it is all reachable by those who should and should not access them.  That would scare me if a group decided to turn all of our automated cars into bumper cars, in particular.


Brian Cohn

User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2014 | 11:21:37 AM
A new era of convergence
Up until recently, much of technology-driven innovation was generated from the convergence of at least somewhat related technologies or applications: for example, silcon-based wireless electronics and processors,  robotics and lasers for high-tech manufacturing, surgical robots, PET scanners, miniaturization of optical sensors and avionic control systems enabling increasing use of aerial drones.  

Today we are seeing convergence occurring across widely disparate technologies: molecular biologics, genomics, implants, nanotech, advanced electronics, optics, new polymers and other exotic materials, even the early stages of quantum computing.  

We are alresady seeing the initial glimmerings of artificial "consciousness" -- at least in the form of autonomic situational awareness.  We are on the verge of being able to "print" replacement tissues and organs, cure previously untreatable diseases with radical new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. And many scientists believe that we are on the brink of taking control over the evolution of our own species.  

Brave new world indeed ...
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 8:57:49 PM
Future Shock
Thanks for giving us some interesting things to consider, Chuck. Back when books like Future Shock and MegaTrends were big, imagining the future seemed so much more linear in nature. Today, change happens so dynamically, and so quickly, it's hard to fathom how different things will be in just 10 or 20 years.  Just consider our lives before mobile phones at the turn of the century, and how different they are now, after the iPhone hit the world just a few years later.  One things for sure, we can't stop the changes.

User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2014 | 5:06:49 PM
Good and Bad
Like Uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility."  There is a lot of potential power in the Internet of Things.  We will see marvelous new things, things we can barely imagine right now.  It won't be a perfect.  We will have issues and some will be doozies.  We'll work through the issues, but I think it will be a very bumpy ride. 
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 4:42:23 PM
People first
A thought-provoking summary here of future tech. Certainly there's the potential to save and extend lives and  improve manufacturing and the retail experience. That's the exciting part to read about. But I'm glad the writer touched on the potential for misuse, which is always lurking in the shadows.

"As always, human health and welfare will need to be overriding priorities."

Amen to that. But I hope that sentiment doesn't get lost in the rush to build more driverless cars and bionic men.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/27/2014 | 3:53:47 PM
Medical tech
Medical technology has the most potential to drive further change. We've already made global point-to-point communication possible in large potions of the world. For our next act, maybe we can make lives better.
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