September 3rd, 2014
There are new technologies that are cool, some that are scary, and others that are just duds. But a fourth type of technology is known as “disruptive” for its capacity to dislodge the status quo, send us thinking in new directions and change the world. The problem, though, with disruptive technologies is our ability to predict what they’ll be, and when they’ll occur.
The consulting firm McKinsey and Co. has come out with its top list of what it considers the most disruptive technologies; which ones will change our future world?
Mobile internet—a US$400 iPhone today has as much computing capacity as the fastest supercomputer in 1975 (which cost $5 million back then). This could connect another 4.3 billion people who currently aren’t on the Internet, and mobile devices will make this connection easier. Or, just be prepared for a lot of cat videos.
Automated “Knowledge Work”—Yes, we’ve been hearing about artificial intelligence almost since humans developed real intelligence. But it’s possible that advances in machine learning, voice recognition and the ability of machines to understand “unstructured” (uncoded) commands could make more tasks done by machines.
Internet of Things—Here, information is spread by something other than your old “friends” from high school on Facebook. Sensors and other remote monitors could bring information from the real world through a machine, to be shared and analyzed on the Internet. These sensors are a lot cheaper now, too. This could affect everything from drug development to crop moisture monitoring to checking on chronic health conditions.
Cloud Technology—Some people old enough to recall “dummy terminals” may find this familiar; a remote computer system where data is stored, and retrieved and shared by local computer terminals. Only now, it’s a lot faster, can be accessed by nearly any device with a wireless connection, and there’s a whole lot more data out there (just ask the National Security Administration).
Driverless Vehicles—The Google “robot” cars (the one that takes those Street View pictures) have driven more than 300,000 miles so far with only one accident—and that was caused by a human. Thanks to better intelligence software, sensors and actuators, everything from cars to military drones to trucks could be operated without a driver inside. This could translate into more efficient transportation, reductions in fuel use, and fewer injuries and deaths from motor vehicle mishaps.
Genomics—We know that sequencing the genome is faster and cheaper than ever. But it could go down to about US$100 and about an hour, which is about the cost and time of a routine dental visit. This will no doubt translate into more personalized diagnostics and possibly tailored treatments. Still pending: what to do with the 99% of the genome that’s “epigenetic”. This is the stuff that doesn’t code for genes, and was once known as “junk DNA.” It’s not junk.
New Energy Sources—renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or hydroelectric are back again, thanks to more expensive fossil fuels, concerns about climate change and ever-present turmoil in the Middle East. Now, however, solar energy is much less expensive (about 90% so in 20 years). Meanwhile, like it or not, techniques like hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are providing higher yields of natural gas as well as oil, and promise to reduce our dependencies on Middle Eastern oil. One hopes that fracking also does not promise a catastrophic blowout.
Source: McKinsey and Co.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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