Amazing products based on science breakthroughs only a few years away
Troy Media – by Rohit Talwar
In this latest set of predictions we focus on developments in science and technology that we’ll be experiencing or hearing a lot more about in the year ahead.
1) The Age of Big Data
Growing attention will be paid to developing and applying tools that help us draw real insight from the massive data sets being accumulated by the likes of government, business and the social media. Predictive analytics will become a topic of hot interest as firms try to anticipate future customer intentions from past behaviours.
For example, Google can predict new disease outbreaks far earlier thank the health authorities because they can spot and interpret patterns and trends in health related search enquiries.
2) Super Smart Materials
Developments in the material and biological sciences will continue to test our imaginations and blur the boundaries between reality and magic. A range of naturally occurring and man-made materials will come to prominence because of their superior strength, flexibility and environmental performance.
3) The Advent of Smart Cities
There is growing focus on developing ‘smart cities’ which use sensors dotted around the metropolis – managed by an urban operating system to monitor the environment and keep buildings, traffic and services running smoothly, which will enable, for example, emergency traffic flows to be managed centrally to provide quick access to first responders in crisis situations.
4) The Eco-friendly Military
As modern Western armed forces try to project an image of sustainability, we expect to hear a lot more about ‘green military’ initiatives and potential commercial sector spin-off technologies. The US military has already had notable success flying a biofueled UAV, and aims to use a biofuels mixture for half its aviation needs by 2016.
5) Beyond the touch screen?
The next generation of interface for our portable electronic gadgets will begin to emerge that can react to our gestures as well as the physical environment around them, taking interactivity beyond the confines of the screen and into the real world.
6) Cloud Gaming
The nature of computer gaming will evolve rapidly with rising popularity of multi-player cloud computing-based games that can be accessed from multiple devices. New platforms such as OnLive will use servers over the internet to run these games. The games will cross multiple interactive platforms, enabling individuals to play the same game and track progress across PCs, Macs, TVs with a ‘micro-console’, iPads, Android and Windows tablets.
7) Self-Powered Devices
Personal electronic gadgets are becoming ever more widespread and consuming greater amounts of electrical energy. In response, there will be an increasing focus on development of electronic devices that can generate power from the sun, heat, touch and even ambient electromagnetic energy.
8) Human-Powered Implants
As the numbers in developing economies living into their 90’s and 100’s rises dramatically, greater attention will be paid to the maintenance, repair and replacement of body parts that don’t last the journey. In response, revolutionary new implants are being developed that are designed to be long-lasting, sustainable and increasingly ‘organically powered’ by such means as the patient’s own motion, blood sugar or breathing.
9) The New Space Race
2011 marked the end of the NASA space shuttle programme. In 2012 we expect to see increased discussion about the next frontiers in space travel, with growing levels of activity from state players such as China and India. The private sector will also become more prominent in its funding of the next generation of space faring craft as a platform for the commercialisation of space – with suborbital tourism as the most prominent and imminent example through Virgin Galactic and others.
10) Sick? There’s an app for that!
Smartphones could become a major platform for healthcare delivery. Apps will cover a range of applications from condition monitoring, managing drug delivery and providing patient advice. For example, apps linked to medical monitors could help sufferers monitor and manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
11) 3D Printing of Body Parts
Some of the most exciting applications for the emerging field of 3D printing are in the medical arena. 3D techniques are already being applied in the ‘printing’ of artificial human blood vessels. The applications over time are almost limitless – raising the spectre of 3D printing entire limbs – designed to order with specific properties such as the ability to withstand high weight loads – but not by 2012.
12) The Internet of Things
Society will become increasingly aware of the proliferation of sensors and web connected devices – a phenomena being described as ‘the internet of things’. The number of connected electronic devices is predicted to rise from around nine billion to 24 billion devices by 2020. This heralds the prospect of everything from televisions and photo frames to our clothing, cars and pacemakers could be connected in some way to the internet.
13) See-through Gadgets
The media will be profiling how developments in plastic electronics, coupled with flexible transparent lithium-ion batteries and other see-through electronic components, could offer the possibility of translucent electronic gadgets. These transparent smartphones, tablet computers and embedded systems could blend technology seamlessly into our every day environment and offer the potential for a major new market segment to develop.
14) Scaling up of Chinese Science
A key next step in China’s rise as a global superpower is to establish itself as a centre for breakthrough scientific innovation across a range of disciplines. Greater attention will be paid to China’s investments in a range of sectors such as biotechnology and clean energy technology. Furthermore its efforts to attract innovators and woo green start-ups away from the U.S. will all come under the spotlight.
15) The First Deaths Traced Back to a Cyber-Attack.
High-profile data thefts from major corporations, state on state cyber-attacks and viruses such has Stuxnet has raised the issue of cybersecurity to prominence in 2011. As attacks grow in sophistication and even threaten critical national infrastructure such as water utilities, the ongoing concern will be the risk of fatalities, escalating the struggles currently conducted in cyberspace. The debate will move into public domain of how states could or should respond.
16) Eyes on the Prize
A range of developments are underway to use web cameras to monitor and interpret our facial expressions and eye movements. The applications are widespread – from adverts that grow or shrink based on your visual response to e-learning, gaming, security, health care and dating sites.
17) Green Aviation
We expect the airline industry to step up the range and intensity of experimentation with alternative fuels such as those derived from biofuels. Several complete test flights will run on a pure or hybrid combination of these fuels – although it is some way off before we see wholesale implementation to power entire fleets.
18) Visualising our Thoughts
One of the developments we expect to capture the imagination in the year ahead is the emergence of technology that can create a visual recreation of our brain activity. The technique is its infancy, but has widespread potential ranging from the diagnosis and treatment of brain damaged patients, to applications from entertainment to tourism.
19) Digital Highs
As neuroscience delivers deeper insights into the functioning of the brain, our understanding grows of the patterns of electrical and chemical stimulation caused by various form of narcotic. This opens up the possibility of delivering a similar stimulus via sound, light or electromagnetic impulse. The range of players who could then get involved is immense – ranging from games developers through to the manufacturers of stimulus delivery headsets. Such developments would transform the drugs landscape and create a moral, legal and policing nightmare.
20) Genome Scanning for All
The advancement of technology will make genome sequencing cheaper and more widespread. Within a decade, insurers and employers may insist on us providing genetic CV’s in order to help them analyse workforce medical risk and manage healthcare costs. The website www.23andme.com already offers a $99 DNA analysis service that enables you to “Gain insight into your traits, from baldness to muscle performance. Discover risk factors for 97 diseases. Know your predicted response to drugs, from blood thinners to coffee. And uncover your ancestral origins.” The next major debate will be how to use this information in our daily lives and how to keep this most personal of data secure from unwarranted access.
Final: Signs of Hope and Wild Cards
Rohit Talwar is the CEO of Fast Future Research – a global research and consulting company that specialises in identifying future growth industries and helps governments and global companies to explore and respond to the sectors, ideas, trends and forces shaping the next five to 20 years. firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author (Author Profile)
Markham began his journalism career writing columns in the mid-1980s for Western People Magazine, then reported for a small Saskatchewan daily. He has spent most of his career in media and communications, likes to dabble in politics, was actively involved in economic development for many years, thinks that what goes on in the community is just as important as what happens provincially and nationally, and has a soft spot for small business (big business, not so much). Markham is a bit of a contrarian and usually has a unique take on the events of the day.