When human insight meets technology we call it humanology.

 Jan Kelley
INSIGHTS

Josiah Shelley

VP, Digital Strategy

Transformative Technology: Trends That Could Change Everything

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.”
– Robert C. Gallagher

Whether you’re excited to become The Jetsons or worried that robots will take your job, the fact is technology is changing how we live and work. And quickly. As business professionals, if we aren’t keeping up with the advancements changing the way we work and play, we can easily get left in the dust.

Here is a short list of the most transformative technologies of the day.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is the concept of connecting any device with an on/off switch to the Internet – and/or connecting devices to each other.

Examples: Nest, Google Home

The Internet of Things (IoT) actually isn’t that new, but the way it’s developing can’t be ignored. Our phones, thermostats, headphones, door locks and coffee machines can connect to the Internet, which means data around how we use those things can be accumulated, measured and used to predict our needs or optimize interactions.

From a business point of view, there are very real benefits from this kind of data collection.

  1. Make better decisions. The very least data can do is give you objective information to help you make more informed decisions.
  2. Better understand customers. If you can monitor customer behaviour, you can better anticipate and meet their needs.
  3. Deliver new customer value propositions. Data can help you identify and fill customer gaps.
  4. Improve and optimize operations. IoT can fuel automation, or deliver live data feeds that report on key metrics in real time.
  5. Buy or sell data that can help your operations. If your business has data it doesn’t need, chances are someone could use it. For example, Google’s Nest thermostat sells data to utility companies. The same works in reverse.

3D and 4D Printing

3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is the process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file by placing successive layers of material.

This technology makes the process of manufacturing much easier and much more efficient. In one step, 3D printing eliminates mold building, cutting, welding, drilling, sanding and coating.

Other benefits:

  1. Speed. Complex designs can be uploaded from a CAD drawing and made in a few hours. No more waiting months or weeks for a prototype.
  2. Cost savings. With fewer manufacturing steps, companies stand to save a lot of money in labour, materials and prototyping.
  3. Customization and design freedom. The restrictions imposed by traditional manufacturing on what can be made are generally not relevant for additive manufacturing.

Not limited to plastic widgets, 3D printing technology can be used to print food, clothes and houses! The medical field is experimenting with printing custom prosthetics, implants and dental aids, as well.

4D Printing (Why settle for only 3 dimensions?!)

4D printing is the process through which a 3D-printed object transforms itself into another structure over time (the fourth dimension). The transformation occurs with the influence of external energy such as heat, light or water.

Benefits:

  • Big results, small print job. One advantage of 4D printing is that large objects can be printed in one, compressed piece. This makes transportation and assembly easier. The object simply unfolds when placed in the right position.
  • No human interaction required. 4D printed objects don’t need wires, motors or labour for assembly—just the right environmental conditions. Through computational folding, their ability to transform is printed into the design file.
  • Adaptive characteristics. When paired with the right material, 4D printed items can adapt in certain conditions and then return to their original state. For example, we could build underground pipes that change shape to accommodate higher flow levels in a storm surge.

Self-assembled furniture is another interesting idea. The size of a 3D printed chair would be limited by the size of the printer; with 4D printing, you could print a flat board that curls up into a chair when you expose it to light.

For more information on 4D printing and the MIT Maker lab click here.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) involves machines designed to replicate human intelligence: planning, learning, reasoning, problem solving and knowledge representation.

If you’re picturing (read: dreading) Ex Machina, you might be pleased to know we’ve got some time yet before humanity is overthrown by robots. Actually, one current problem with AI is that it’s not smart enough, particularly with anything nuanced.

Where AI thrives, however, is in analytics, automation and driving efficiency. It relies exclusively on data to do these jobs, but once AI systems have it, they work wonders in processing data.

Machine learning is one way to achieve AI. Instead of programming computer systems to do a task, we feed them large amounts of data and allow them to learn how.

Machine learning has been used to improve a computer’s ability to recognize faces. Let’s use dog faces as an example. Learning to recognize dogs would involve uploading thousands or millions of pictures and having humans tag the pictures with dogs in them versus those without. By scanning these tags, the algorithm builds a model that can accurately identify a picture with a dog in it. Once the accuracy level is high enough, the machine has now “learned” what a dog looks like.

Benefits: So many!

  • Reviewing applications to reduce hiring time
  • Detecting spam
  • Accuracy in medical diagnoses
  • Eliminating risk of fraud through financial analysis
  • Increasing customer satisfaction through personalization

Wearables

Wearables comprise smart electronic devices that can be incorporated into clothing or the body as an implant(!!). When connected, they can exchange data with other objects, without human intervention.

Examples: Fitbit, Apple Watch

Wearables count as IoT technology; we’re highlighting them separately because this area is where the bulk of the disruptive innovation is happening.Imagine approaching your front door and the heartbeat signature on your wearable signals the door’s smart lock. Or imagine your smart watch notices your core body temperature is high and automatically tells your Nest thermostat to adjust the temperature.

This is the future of wearables, and even these examples only scratch the surface. You’ll remember the implant reference in the definition. Scientists have been working on microchips embedded in or underneath the skin that connect to various devices—door locks, heart monitors and payment terminals.

Vastly more impressive is the work being done on Brain-Computer Interface, which connects the mind to an external computer system. This technology is more than just a key fob that happens to go in your hand; it uses brain waves (your thoughts!) to make things happen. Consider the implications for people with physical disabilities.

There are obviously ethical issues associated with these inventions, but that’s another topic – we’re just here to bring the facts, people.

Embrace the Change

That concludes our list of life-transforming technology. And if we’re honest, we barely skimmed the surface. We didn’t even talk about neural networks (which attempt to simulate our brains’ network of neurons so computers can learn and make decisions in a humanlike manner).

What gets us excited is this is just the beginning and we can’t wait to see how technology continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible. But don’t take our word for it. We’ve made a list so you can do your own deeper dive.

 

Live long and prosper.