In a recent report from the World Economic Forum, the highly respected group identified the top 10 technological trends that will come to the fore this year.
According to WEF’s Noubar Afeyean, “While never without risk, positive technological breakthroughs promise innovative solutions to the most pressing global challenges of our time, from resource scarcity to global environmental change.”
So here are our Top 5 Technologies that we see making big strides in 2014:
When was the last time you typed out a proposal on your smartphone? Never? Exactly! Even with screen displays getting larger, the viability of typing out anything more than a 3 or 4 sentence email is less than ideal. While we all love the portability of our phones, the actual usability quotient is low when it comes to doing any kind of large-scale projects. Hence our continuing reliance on laptops and even desktops for the “big jobs”.
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But with the recent introduction of full-sized keyboards that are projected on a flat surface, the ability to tackle that writing project while hanging out at your local coffee klatch has been greatly increased. Screenless display technology promises some amazing ways to view your documents. In fact, holographic images can now be generated in 3 dimensions with MIT’s Media Lab reporting they created an inexpensive prototype of a holographic video display with the resolution of a standard TV!
With the concerns of privacy and content security, startups are ramping up the screenless displays to include projecting images directly onto a person’s retina which will allow for increased security. Earlier this year, a startup called Glyph raised a pretty big sum on KickStarter for its personal gaming and cinema device that uses retinal display.
The whole field of screenless displays is poised for a big year matching the progress made in 2013 with breakthroughs in bionic contact lenses, virtual reality headsets, and hologram videos that don’t require any moving parts of special glasses.
Increased Battery Life For All of Our Gizmos
How many times have you scrambled to find an outlet to charge your smartphone that is flashing its angry red battery light at you? Battery life has been an often overlooked aspect of smartphone manufacturers. They opt instead for lightweight phones while forgetting that we no longer use smartphones once or twice a day. We are becoming power users and we need a powerful power supply. So there have been many startups that have stepped into the void and while the Holy Grail has not been discovered, there have been and will continue to be vast improvements on battery strength and life.
One startup, Amprius, has already started shipping their latest Li-ion batteries which store 20% more energy than current lithium-ion batteries. And they recently secured $30 million in funding to develop next-generation batteries that will store 50% or more energy than current Li-Ion batteries.
Not only that, but there are still some battery technologies that are not ready for prime time yet including the silicon nanotube anode, the transparent lithium-ion battery and the everlasting water-based battery. So this tech landscape is really starting to make some strides in an area that affects nearly every one.
Body-Adapted Wearable Electronics
We all have probably heard or perhaps even own some type of wearable technology-Fitbit wristbands and their siblings or even Google Glass. While they have been uber helpful in helping people better understand their health and fitness choices, this sector is shifting beyond the clip on devices. The next plateau is in “body-adapted” electronics.
This next step in the evolution of wearables is designed to adapt to your body’s shape where it is worn. These devices are usually tiny but packed with a wide range of sensors and a complex feedback system. All of this while still being designed not to be seen such as earbuds that monitor your heart rate, a temporary tattoo that tracks your vital statistics, small sensors worn under your clothing to track your posture and even soles of shoes that communicate directions via GPS through vibrations that are felt by your feet- an amazing step for those that are visually impaired.
As with many of the emerging technologies, the question of privacy is again an issue. The non-invasiveness of this technology gives way to concerns about social acceptability. There are also issues where facial recognition technology is used (for example, with cameras imbedded in Google Glass and other devices) and memory assistance aspects that push up against the potential for misuse in the educational arena.
What are predictive analytics? Well, think about what you do with your smartphone on an average day: call friends (call logs, contact lists), send SMS messages (text logs), work out (accelerometer data), run to the store (GPS, Wi-Fi), take a picture of your cat (geotagged images) and, of course, use apps. This is a lot of data about you, your habits, your likes, you choices, each day, every day!
Using this data to build some specialised algorithms and fancy predictive models, researchers, scientists, and companies can use this information as part of their big data spectrum of you and millions of others. What would they do with that information? Well, there are some very beneficial things including personalizing your medical diagnosis and lifestyle options to more global activities such as urban planning.
An example of analytics in action is the Livehoods project with gathered large quantities of geotagged data that was created by people’s smartphones through apps like Foursquare and Instagram that allowed the researchers to understand how people move through urban spaces (cities and streets).
Another use involves the heaps of data that your car gathers about you and your driving habits. Not only can you see this data on a smartphone app but this big data is being used by municipalities for traffic management plans.
Does this seem like Big Brother? These trends are not going to be ending any time soon so the challenge remains how to use all of this information optimally while respecting the individual’s privacy.
Wish you could think of your favourite website and have your screen automatically pull it up? While this seems like a simplistic example, the technology for brain-computer interfaces has already made huge strides in the clinical setting of the medical field. These interfaces allow computers to read and interpret signals directly from the brain, In the case of quadriplegics and stroke sufferers; this technology has given them amazing freedoms and mobility. They are able to control the actions of their robotic arm, leg or finger with their brain waves. Not only have those with limb injuries been helped with these interfaces but with direct brain implants, partial vision has been restored to countless people who have lost their sight.
In what seems to be the next logical step, scientists and researchers have focused on the potential of using the brain-computer interfaces to connect different brains together directly. IN 2013, Duke University researchers announced that they successfully connected the brains of two mice right over the internet. The mice, located in different countries, were able to cooperate together in simple tasks that resulted in in a reward. Not only that, but also in 2013, Harvard University scientists were able to create a functional link between the brain of human and that of a rat by using a computer-to-brain interface that was non-invasive.
While these are just a few of the technologies currently being developed, it is important to remember that each step taken in the pursuit of efficiency and advancement should not overshadow the basic human rights and responsibilities we all share.