Keeping abreast of technological change isn’t easy. From machine learning to self-driving cars, there’s so much noise about every new innovation that it can be hard to separate the pie-in-the-sky thinking from the genuine game changers.
But worry not because PwC claims to have sorted the wheat from the chaff, sifting through 150 recent innovations to name the eight it thinks will have the biggest impact in the coming years. From augmented reality to the internet of things, it’s all pretty predictable but it’s interesting to see what the world’s largest professional services firm regards as more than just a fad.
We’re still some way from seeing the sky filled with quadcopters dropping off parcels but clever people have found myriad uses for drones – from filming TV shows to inspecting hard-to-reach bits of oil rigs. And just this morning the UK government announced a partnership with Amazon to figure out how (if?) it can make drone delivery a reality.
Scientists have been trying to create and harness artificial intelligence for decades, but recent developments have made machines much smarter in a short space of time. Soon your production line, your car and your Spotify playlist could all be controlled by an intelligent machine.
The digital currency Bitcoin remains a minority interest but there’s much interest in the technology that underpins it, the blockchain. It’s what’s known as a ‘distributed database’, an electronic ledger whose contents is shared between many parties at once – making it harder to tamper with. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 40 major financial institutions are experimenting with the technology.
4. Internet of things
From ‘smart’ wine bottles to electric doorbells, there’s seldom a consumer product that hasn’t been hooked up to the burgeoning internet of things. While some of the applications might seem frivolous the shift could have big implications for business, not least with the so-called ‘industrial internet of things’ – think connected sensors monitoring everything from pollution levels to water leaks.
Not a new concept but one that’s picking up steam again thanks to improvements in AI and mechanical engineering. If futurists are right it won’t be long before robots are making your coffee, removing your appendix and hoovering your living room (Dyson launched its £800 360 Eye in the UK last month). The question is whether we can coexist peacefully or not.
6. 3D Printing
So-called ‘additive manufacturing’ has come on in leaps and bounds in the past few years – with the right machines and code one can now knock up everything from musical instruments to 3D ultrasound scans of your unborn child. This threatens to transform not just the manufacturing sector but logistics, retail and design too.
7. Virtual reality
Facebook, Samsung and a bunch of over companies have ploughed heaps of cash into this field in recent years in the hope of creating extremely realistic immersive experiences. As well as making videogames a million times more fun VR could also help you attend meetings from the comfort of your bed.
8. Augmented reality
VR’s younger brother, augmented reality is similar but distinct. It’s all about overlaying the real world with artificial graphics, like directions to a nearby restaurant or instructions for mending a sink. Google Glass may have failed to ignite any fires but recently the game Pokemon Go has enjoyed immense popularity. Expect practical industry applications to follow.
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