The Cusp of Technological Transformation

If you read the MIT Technology Review, the DARPA website, and Google Futurist Ray Kurzweil on a regular basis, you will be provided daily insights into the trends of disruptive technological transformation. This notion translates to a new period in our history where we will be able to harness our technologies and control our destinies.

According to The McKinsey Global Institute, “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy.” The study identified the technologies that matter most to the global economy, sustainability, and improving the human condition. The McKinsey breakdown of technology categories and state of development is invaluable and serves as a good portal to the near future and a must read.

We are in an era of scientific breakthroughs that will change the way of life as we know it. We are on the cusp of accelerated technological advancement. We are experiencing a pace of innovation that is growing so quickly that it is becoming exponential. The list of technological achievements is perpetually expanding with each passing year.

Below are several areas of transformation to watch:

A) The Digital Age of Computing; The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the emerging connectivity of embedded devices to the Internet.. Cisco predicts that 50 billion devices (including our smartphones, appliances, and office equipment) will be wirelessly connected to the internet via a network of sensors by 2020.

The commercial and governmental IoT “landscape of sensors” are becoming more exponential and complex by the moment. We have come a long way from the cumbersome, slow PCs of the 70s to Google Glass and paper-thin next generation communication devices. We are now at the footstep of quantum computing in the cloud with flexible and wearable electronics.

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, Ray Kurzweil said that mankind will be able to “expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold” and that “the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years.” McKinsey predicts a $5 to $7 trillion potential economic impact by 2025 from automation of knowledge work by intelligent software systems that can perform knowledge work tasks from unstructured commands. We may also have artificially intelligent personal assistants, perhaps even in holographic forms in some sort of augmented reality.

Augmented reality intertwines the physical and digital world by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, and sometimes even smell. Google Glass and Oculus Rift, are already good examples of these emerging technologies. Several companies are already working on “neuromorphic” tech, that will incorporate nano-chips into wearables (i.e. watches, clothing, wristbands) modeled on the human brain.

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

B) Healthcare & Medicine

Perhaps the most profound area of technological innovation will be in the areas of health and medicine. Numerous breakthroughs in genomics anti-aging therapies will increase our longevity and extend our quality of life.. Recently, biologists succeeded in extending the life span of some mice by as much as 70 percent through rejuvenation experiments. The mapping of the human genome will help us treat and eradiate disease through gene therapy and tracking our genetic biomarkers.

The medical community will know how to deliver nano-scale drugs (including anti-biotic “smart bombs” to target specific strains of bacteria. They will be able to implant devices such as bionic eyes and bionic kidneys, or artificially grown and regenerated human organs. Computerized exoskeletons and personal robots will be employed to assist the disabled and elderly. In fact, there are some who think that eventually all of our biological functions will be replaced by bionic machines.

Wounds will be treated with robotic surgical systems and new procedures. Along those lines, RevMedx, a start-up which develops products for military medics and members of the emergency services, announced that they have created a device that can heal a gunshot wound in 15 seconds via an applicator filled with dozens of tiny sponges. Doctors will also have new abilities for remote sensing, monitoring and treatment of patients that will ultimately benefit those in remote areas and poorer countries.

C) 3-D Printing and Manufacturing

Smart 3-D printing is trailblazing future manufacturing. 3-D printing connotes a three-dimensional object that is created layer by layer via computer aided design) programs. To be able to print the object, the computer divides it into flat layers that are printed one by one. By printing with advanced pliable materials such as plastics, ceramics, metals, and graphene there have already been breakthroughs in prosthetics for medicine and wearable sensors.

The possibilities for 3-D printing are seemingly limitless. Recently, Rolls-Royce announced it would use 3-D printing to make parts for its jet engines, and BAE Systems announced that fighter jets containing 3-D-printed parts are now being flown.

3-D printing innovation are also making its way into printing electronics, sensors, and circuits. “Printed electronics” or electronic chips are fabricated by printing their features on top of thin surfaces. Using semiconducting and conductive inks and materials, 3-D printers can now print transistors, sensors, circuits, batteries, and displays.

The capability to design and manufacture infrastructures such as bridges, roads, buildings with stronger, adaptable, self-intelligent, and seemingly eternal materials will revolutionize the construction and transportation industries. We will live in ”Smart Cities” In the latter, industry autonomous self-driving vehicles will become more of the norm and will be fueled by solar power, waste to biofuels, and photovoltaic batteries. Physicists are now working on nano-engines that operates on a single atom. New scientific and manufacturing breakthroughs will also lead to enhanced agricultural production, water purification, and full energy independency.

There are mitigating factors when dealing with human beings (Albert Einstein once observed that “the problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.") We will always have our challenges no matter how promising the technological solutions. What is evident is that science and technology will pave our futures and how we steer it will be transforming itself.


Chuck Brooks

Charles (Chuck) Brooks serves as the Vice President for Government Relations & Marketing for Sutherland Global Services.  Chuck is also an Advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Technology Partner network, as Chairman of CompTIA’s New and Emerging Technology Committee, as a Fellow at The National Cybersecurity Institute, and serves on Boards to several prominent public and private companies and organizations. 

More about Chuck