By Chad Manian, Lecturer and Interdisciplinary Researcher at Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI) – and among the first to accurately predict the great market crash of 2008.
With some countries easing lockdowns and looking to restart their social and economic lives, it is becoming crucial for governments, businesses and organisations to prepare for the next steps.
Now more than ever, this preparation needs to have a solid basis and be based on what we have learned from the experience of these troubled days. New technologies and innovative applications of existing ones have helped tame the effect of reduced and limited activities.
The future of technology and society can be summed up in five predictable trends.
Automation of Work
The pace of digitisation will increase which means the nature of work will change as more business is done online. Both firms, customers and employers will increase the speed of automation which will render certain occupations redundant and unnecessary. The future is digital and the future of work will need to transform accordingly.
One hundred years ago in the USA, the largest objection to the use of a new invention called ‘automobiles’ came from the horse breeders and carriage operators who were certain that any carriage not drawn by horses was little more than a childish fad destined to be forgotten. The power held by the transport industry of horse carriers led to laws being passed that limited the speed of automated carriages. Today, the world without cars seems unimaginable and we take cars for granted.
This is the nature of automation. Work and industry will change and adapt to an automated scenario. In much the same way, the city of Paris, a common place of protest, had no choice during the lockdown but to embrace technology to take protests online.
If communities can adapt, so will business. Businesses that fail to change with the times will fade away. This also means new industries and opportunities will rise. The Internet of Things will play a larger role in the creation of work. Creative industries will grow and thrive along with the increased speed of automation.
Holographics and Augmented Reality Technology
The thing that is likely to make the biggest contribution to medicine, engineering and architecture is the ability to visually animate something in 3D, to see a finished product both from the inside and out. This creates a conceptual understanding that’s better than anything we have so far. It also helps designers, manufacturers and artists to see an end result.
This will make a big difference in medical research and in delicate surgical procedures. Also, in production, being able to see a visual proof for a new product will enhance the quality of innovation. Product designers can see a concept in its full visual detail before deciding on a physical prototype. From car manufacturing to the fashion industry, holographics will play a key role and change the nature of visual media and gaming.
AI and medical instrumentation will develop and include 3D printing to a point where we will be able to design replacement internal organs. There is already evidence of successful trials with 3D printing of tissue and experimental organs.
It is only a matter of time before humans have the ability to 3D print a fully functioning human heart. This would give rise to a range of debates surrounding ethics, cloning etc. which began right after the successful cloning of a sheep. If technology exists to 3D print a human organ, then it surely may one day be capable of 3D printing a living person.
Schools have had to move to online teaching during the lockdown, which adds to a trend of embedded learning. Universities already use Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) alongside conventional face-to-face teaching. This blended learning approach defined the competitive advantage of learning centres across the world. With the move to full online education there will be an increase in education technology that uses machine learning and advanced algorithms to improve student engagement.
Learning technologists are looking at using big data to customise the learning for each individual student. Technology creates the possibility of personalised education through online tools, live streaming video lectures, visual/graphic and augmented reality techniques and a new learning paradigm.
Breakthrough tools, pedagogy and methods are being developed more frequently during the global lockdown period. The biggest paradigm shift came during the realisation that people can still learn while stuck at home with nowhere to go. This is set to revolutionise education, where technology has already made a big difference. The integration of AI and human learning was always known to be the end result of Silicon Valley, which ironically was born from the interaction between Stanford University and enterprise.
During the 1950s there was a professor at Stanford University called Fred Terman who had two promising students. He encouraged these final year engineering students to set up a firm in nearby Palo Alto. They eventually started their business which was manufacturing printing machines. They would set up the new business according to the advice of Terman, who told them to name their business after both their surnames – Hewlett and Packard.
Education and technology started together in Silicon Valley and are now converging, making a full circle.
Growth in Wearable/Embedded Technology
The digital revolution began with large unwieldy machinery in the late 80s giving way to portable technology like laptops, CD players and cell phones to miniature smartphones and tablets. The next stage of this journey progressed to wireless nano-technology i.e. from portable to wearable and wiggle technology using RFID and sensor based devices e.g. Apple watch, circlet.
Eventually, in the foreseeable future wearable devices can be overtaken by embedded technology like implanted nano-chips. Companies in Sweden, along with several states in the USA and Mexico, have already begun to experiment with microchip implants embedded within the skin using a process similar to tattoos.
This has opened a whole new range of objections across the world on safety concerns and fears of intrusion. The main criticism against this form of implantable technology is biological safety. Undeniably any form of technology in the long run is harmful to a human body and mind with the radiation from signals to and from the device likely to cause damage. Not enough safety tests have been conducted to ascertain the benefits and problems of this type of technology.
Basic health concerns we know thus far include skin allergies and reactions from having an active device constantly transmitting and receiving signals. This also poses privacy and personal rights concerns. What if these devices under the skin get hacked and hijacked? What if they malfunction and explode?
While these questions are being raised many firms are racing forward to implement them without examining ways of making this technology hazardproof. It may take time before this technology becomes widespread, if it at all, but ultimately it is up to the users to decide which type of technology is accepted. It is always the taste and preference of the people which creates the trend.
One thing is certain – technology is becoming more intelligent since its creators are among the most intelligent people. Intelligence always evolves to find its refinement. As the technology improves, the users of technology become more sophisticated and the experience gets more personalised. Machines will also develop more human qualities – this is the beginning of self-evolving systems. Technology will be able to create and replicate itself.
In conclusion, evolution is a force that cannot be prevented, only steered. Instead of being concerned about the future of technology and fighting against the mechanisation of life we must instead take the lead and begin to humanise technology to make it acceptable to us.