An assemblage of technological breakthroughs are rapidly morphing to create massive changes in how businesses operate.
Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) are just three of eight crucial “megatrends” that strategy consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) says is going to significantly distort business.
Those new forces should clearly be planned for. And although the consulting firm's advice is aimed at generalized CEOs, it's IT and technical teams that will have to lay the groundwork.
Robots, augmented reality (AR), 3D printing, drones and virtual reality (VR) are also among PwC’s pick of “essential eight technologies” that the firm says in its report (PDF) (released during the summer) need to be considered by company chiefs to move their operations forward.
Machines “thinking for themselves creatively, independently and sometimes with better judgment than a human” is how CBS' 60 Minutes described AI in a piece last week. It’s “on the verge of changing everything,” and companies are investing “billions” in it, the broadcaster said
Algorithms are behind the machine learning software that discovers through experience in similar ways to how humans function.
“Visual perception, speech recognition, decision making and language translation” are among the tasks that can now be performed, PwC explains in the report. “Programs that can teach themselves to learn, understand, reason, plan and act when exposed to new data in the right quantities” are elements.
AR and VR
“AR augmentation means that sensory input like sound, video and graphics, and GPS data modifies the direct view of the physical, real-world environment,” I wrote late last year, explaining the difference between AR and VR.
Augmentation “enhances the view of reality with the extra data” and is not the same as computer-generated VR that “merely simulates a world,” I said.
AR can be used by mechanics, for example. An instructional graphic can be superimposed on the actual part that’s being worked on. Pokémon GO is AR.
However, absorbing, complete-environment VR could become mass market in the near term, some say.
The Bitcoin-derived, distributed electronic ledger shares copies of all of its transactions across the network, and it is hard to con. Hash validation functions provide security.
Blockchain could be used for IoT security and monetization, some say. Blockchain-based banking could simplify banking. And it could be used in elections. The World Economic Forum recently nodded on the tech.
Drones and IoT
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, could be thought of as being part of the IoT, some say.
“Drones can operate autonomously, via onboard computers, on a predefined flight plan or be controlled remotely,” PwC explains.
The IoT is the new “Industrial Revolution,” some say. Sensors mixed with data digitize industry.
“Robots will become smarter and faster than humans,” an Oxford University professor said last year.
They’re “electro-mechanical machines or virtual agents that automate, augment or assist human activities, autonomously or according to set instructions,” PwC explains.
Some say robots being faster than humans could end up a problem: a robot acts detrimentally, on its own via artificial intelligence, before its human operator has the chance to press the stop button. Result: end of humanity.
Strides are being made to humanize them, though, including introducing elements of trust. Once robots become cheaper and faster than human labor, questions have arisen as to what happens to the labor force. More leisure or thought, perhaps.
Direct digital manufacturing (DDM) using low-cost plastic, wood, metal and glass 3D printers could speed-up and democratize product development cycles, some say.
That means products can be brought to market faster, in line with consumer tastes and expectations. Intellectual property theft, however, might be an issue.
Objects are created by “layering or 'printing' successive layers of materials,” PwC explains.
What is driving the change?
More economical paths for acquiring technology, a sense of ease that many people now have with tech, and competitive advantages are among the “catalysts of change” the report explains.
Those stimulants, along with globalization and a multiplier effect, make up a combination of factors that are going to drive business in the future, PwC says.
By multiplier, it means technologies influencing other tech: AI's effect on robots, for example.
CEOs must create a roadmap of emerging technologies, PwC says. The “essential eight” megatrends could be a “starting list.”
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