When you talk about the future of technology, you have two different approaches. The first one is to look into the distance the way Sci-Fi writers do, working with the imagination to push the boundaries of what the human mind can create.
The second approach is to aim at a closer target, looking at what is already going on. This is exactly what the MIT does with its annual prediction of the 10 breakthrough technologies that will lead the evolution of business and society, starting from today.
The list has been published in the recent March/April release of the MIT Technology Review magazine, the reference point for everyone interested in knowing what’s coming next. This top 10 includes the technologies believed to make the most impact over the next 12 months.
"This is our attempt to alert our readers: These are the technologies that you really need to or should pay attention to next year, and also going into the next few years," MIT Tech Review's editor David Rotman told Business Insider.
What does it mean ‘breakthrough’? Scrolling through the previous 17 editions of the list, you can find a few key benchmarks for defining this term: mass commercial use, foreseeable mass commercial adoption and, most of all, the profound impact on our lives.
With the words of Gideon Lichfield, editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, “our annual list of 10 world-changing technologies invariably defies attempts to find an overarching theme. But a look back at the past few years shows a trend: we’re including more and more advances in artificial intelligence”.
There is no doubt that the AI will play - and is already playing - a huge role in the development of many aspects of our lives: the way we communicate and build relationships; how we work and find jobs; the strategy of businesses and organizations; how we take care of our health; the way Brands personalize the customer experience to appeal people's uniqueness.
3D METAL PRINTING
While 3D printing has been around for a while now, printing objects in other materials than plastic has been quite a dream (an expensive one). Now we are moving towards the ability to create large, intricate metal structures on demand; something that could revolutionize manufacturing, a new era for the 4.0 Enterprise.
With the embryos, we face a topic hotly debated for its ethical and philosophical problems. And yet the research is moving faster than legislation and political debate. For the first time, researchers have made embryo-like structures from stem cells alone, without using egg or sperm cells, thus providing a new understanding of how life comes into existence.
For years we have heard about the smart city, but it is now time for an even smarter smart city. In Toronto, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs are already implementing sensors and analytics in order to rethink how we build and live cities. Sensing cities could make urban areas more affordable and citizen’s friendly.
AI FOR EVERYBODY
Artificial Intelligence is the next big thing in technology; there is no doubt about that. The only brake to its full application has always been the high costs of development. But now cloud-based AI is making the technology cheaper and easier to use, opening the market to many more companies.
DUELLING NEURAL NETWORKS
Right now the Artificial Intelligence can learn and identify things based on the processed data, but what if it could also have an ‘imagination’? Companies such as Google Brain, DeepMind and Nvidia are now matching two AI systems that can help each other to create original images, and generate something akin to a sense of imagination.
BABEL FISH EARBUDS
Google's omnipresence in this list shows that the company is not ‘just’ a search engine anymore. The Pixel Buds show the promise of near-real-time translation. The technology is still young and clunky, but it could help overcome the barrier of communication in an increasingly global world (in the wake of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
ZERO-CARBON NATURAL GAS
The brand new smart city requires a different approach to energy supply and distribution. The answer could be in a new approach to natural-gas plants, made to efficiently and cheaply capture carbon released by burning natural gas, thus avoiding greenhouse emissions.
PERFECT ONLINE PRIVACY
The most urgent issue of the digital era is the use (and abuse) of personal information. As shown by the Cambridge Analytica affair and the GDPR legislation, the road to the perfect online privacy is still long, but blockchain could help to make it faster. Computer scientists, in fact, are perfecting a cryptographic tool to carry out transactions without revealing any more information than necessary.
Our destiny is written in our genes. This is science, not science fiction. The study of the genome can help scientists understand and predict diseases and human traits. DNA-based predictions could be the next significant public health advance, but will also pose an ethical problem. Will the next evolution of discrimination be based on genetics?
MATERIALS’ QUANTUM LEAP
What is the next step in the evolution of computing? Quantum computing seems to be the correct answer, as recently shown by the use of a quantum computer to model the electronic structure of a simple molecule. Understanding molecules will allow chemists to design more effective drugs and better materials, but the prospect of a new wave powerful computers comes with a question: What should (and could) we do with so much power?
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