Not a week goes by without a headline boldly claiming the invention or discovery of a new technology that will ‘change everything’. With so many new advancements being featured on “Top Ten Technologies You Must Know About” lists, it can be challenging to know what should be of interest and of use to your business.
Alongside this, some technologies have been up-and-coming for so long that it can be confusing to know if they’re ever going to arrive and deliver on all the promises made. Whilst other articles detail near-to-market and recently commercialised technologies like Artificial Intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things, this blog will talk through three emerging technologies you should expect to arrive over the next 15 years.
We’ll look at what they are, why you should care, and what they could potentially do for your business…
0-5 years: Robotic Process Automation
Undoubtedly, a good proportion of people have heard about robotics, but it is likely fewer people are aware of Robotic Process Automation or “RPA”.
It may sound like the rise of the machines, but RPA doesn’t actually involve physical robots at all. Instead, RPA is a type of business process automation, where software “robots” undertake tasks that would normally include some type of human-computer interaction. The difference is that through RPA, these tasks can be undertaken quicker, at much higher volumes and without that human interaction.
By combining basic learning by the software robots, a logical or structured approach, and repetitive tasks, RPA can remove the need for a human to undertake these actions. This in turn, can free up human resources to be better applied elsewhere, whilst the mundane tasks are completed more efficiently when required.
So, how and where can this be applied, we hear you ask?
Typically, tasks must be structured, have rules and must take a step-by-step approach. Clear outputs are also required i.e., moving a file or piece of information from one specific location to another. Currently, RPA is being applied to several sectors, including Finance and Retail, which typically have high volumes of information being processed at any time.
RPA is available now, and uptake is increasing across industries as organisations look to improve productivity and re-orient human capability to tasks that require greater intelligence.
5-10 years: Quantum Computing
Whilst it may sound like science fiction, quantum computing is real and it’s on its way.
For details on how quantum computers work ‘under the hood’, IBM have provided a guide to their approach, but essentially it allows for the processing of information in a way and at a rate that isn’t currently achievable with our most powerful computers, known as supercomputers.
This is because supercomputers today can only consider things in ones and zeros, or more simply: a state of ‘on’ or ‘off’. A quantum computer can consider problems in a state between ones and zeros, using qubits, allowing a computer of this type to explore challenges that include uncertainty. This means quantum computers can consider problems and explore solutions at a rate and in a way that will allow for the rapid advancement of many things, including autonomous vehicles, medical science, and artificial intelligence.
The battle for quantum advantage or supremacy (the creation of a quantum computer that can outperform a supercomputer) is on, with several organisations already claiming to have achieved this capability. In some cases, these organisations have demonstrated tasks which would take supercomputers several thousand or even millions of years to complete, completed in only tens of seconds.
But what does it mean for businesses, and what can quantum computing actually deliver?
Firstly, it could offer vast improvements in data analytics.
Whilst speed may be the first benefit that springs to mind, the ability to apply more intelligence to data analytics may be where the true impact lies. Currently, Artificial Intelligence improvements happen slowly, in part because of the limitations of our current computers.
The ability to improve Artificial Intelligence using quantum computing, could allow for more sophisticated analysis of vast quantities of data. This, in turn, could mean an improvement in predictive analytics and forecasting, leading to better planning of resources and operations for businesses.
Secondly, quantum computers could allow for greater use of simulations in the development of new products and services.
Currently, supercomputers are limited in how they can simulate complex situations, particularly those that go down to the molecular level. As a result, scientists today are limited in what they can accurately simulate and are instead forced to physically create and test solutions, which takes time and resources. In the pharmaceutical industry alone, advances in simulations could mean an improvement in outputs and at a much greater speed.
So, when will quantum computing arrive?
Well, it’s not currently clear. Whilst quantum advantage may have been achieved, it was an exercise in capability only, as the problems the quantum computers solved had no practical use at the time.
Alongside this, the reality of what quantum computing could offer is still unknown. Quantum computers are incredibly sensitive, and in an effort to reduce interference, they’re typically kept isolated and chilled to temperatures colder than those found in space. This means the likelihood of having a quantum computer in every business anytime soon, based on today’s methods of manufacturing and use, is quite low.
However, significant funding is being given to the development of quantum computing and a race between research groups and businesses is ongoing. Estimates for quantum computing becoming a multi-billion-pound industry start from around 2027.
10+ years: The Metaverse
Stay with us on this one…
Over the past 12 months, businesses, educators, entertainment providers and individuals have had to adapt a remote existence. Whilst significant attention has been paid to ways this has impacted how people have accessed and continued to work, the transition to a digital life as a whole has received a little less consideration. That could be about to change.
With the lifting of lockdowns and the return to the real-world starting for many locations, big tech is thinking about how to create a long-term way in which to attract users into a much larger, ongoing digital experience, known to many as the “Metaverse”.
First coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, the Metaverse is a joining of digital and physical worlds, that allows users to create identities and existences online which can have real-world impact. Through the Metaverse, individuals can have social interactions, educational experiences, enjoy entertainment and generate income.
Alongside this, businesses can host workplaces through the Metaverse, allowing more collaboration between employees and a wider range of cross-business collaborations and partnerships as well.
But why have we estimated this to be 10+ years away?
There are several reasons. As mentioned earlier, big tech are investing heavily in this concept, with several brands expressing interest the Metaverse, including (but not limited to) Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Epic and ByteDance.
Whilst large investment may bring about quicker development, the Metaverse (using its original framework) should work across platforms and systems, combining capability and IP without branding barriers.
Currently, companies work hard to create digital silos that make it difficult or time-consuming for individuals to move their digital identities from their system to another, even though the business knows this is what users frequently want.
As an example, you may have an email address with a provider, which is also used as a way to sign into online shopping. Your social media accounts may be linked to provide easier access. Your passwords may be stored through a specific online browser. Creating an open, cross-platform system will require agreements between brands that are investing in their own versions of the Metaverse. This may require standards and policies which don’t exist yet.
Alongside this, accessing the Metaverse will require hardware and connectivity, which have initial and ongoing costs, and both of which are a barrier to entry. This is particularly true in the case of Virtual Reality headsets, which require sufficient computing power alongside investment in the headset itself. Making it accessible for all will take time.
If businesses use the Metaverse to host workspaces, how will this impact employee rights and protections, along with corporate approaches to health and wellbeing?
Typically, Metaverse scenarios have been created in fictional worlds that are no longer pleasant places to exist in. For example, in Snow Crash, the Metaverse offers an escape from a corporate franchise controlled, surveillance dominated world. Is it possible for a Metaverse to exist whilst still enabling individuals and organisations to work towards creating dynamic, inviting places to physically live and enjoy experiences?
So, what does it all mean for your business?
As technologies develop at an increasingly rapid rate, our ability to turn scientific theories and works of fiction into reality is becoming increasingly plausible. Some of these may impact businesses, and some may not ever reach fruition. Maintaining agility, flexibility and an open mind when considering what emerging technologies can offer may enable better use of new innovations and could support business growth and development.
Speak to your Innovation Advisor today if you’d like to hear more about new opportunities for technology and innovation in your business.
- Call us on 0161 359 3050
- Email us at BGHinnovation@growthco.uk