Views from a Practical Technologist: The Convergence of 8 Essential Disruptive Technologies

AUSTIN, TX — The closing Keynote address at CAPRE’s Texas Data Center Summit was delivered by Scott Likens, New Services and Emerging Technology Leader at PwC. “Views from a Practical Technologist: Global and regional tech trends, and what can we expect in 2020” provided a high-level overview of eight essential emerging technologies – and how they’re set to rock the world once they converge.

“Right now, I think everyone’s biggest worry is how technology is taking their jobs. I guarantee that if it’s not your worry, it’s your employees,” showing a statistic that 72% Americans are concerned about the impact of technology on their lives.

“For five years, we’ve been studying emerging technologies. We see 8 essential emerging technologies that are having the biggest business impact – you don’t see Cloud up here, you don’t see Cyber up here,” he shared with a chuckle, then listing AI, 3D printing, augmented reality, drones, blockchain, robotics, virtual reality & IoT as those elite eight. “I call them essential, because if you’re not thinking about every single one of them, you’re going to miss the boat, because China is investing in them.” Likens then dove into all eight technologies, sharing a brief overview of each:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term for “smart” technologies that are aware of and can learn from their environments to assist or augment human decision making – it includes machine learning, chatbots, image recognition and recommendation engines. Likens shared a graphic which revealed that 26% of global investment in AI came from China in 2017, compared to 14.% from North America – but that gap has narrowed since.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) is a data or information “overlay” on the physical world that uses contextualized digital information to augment the user’s real-world view. AR is instrumental in data visualization, transportation safety, customer experience and manufacturing operations. Likens revealed that 34% of companies plan to make significant investments in AR over the next three years.
  • Blockchain technology is a distributed shared ledger where transactions are recorded and confirmed without the need for a central authority, and is likely to impact supply chain traceability, financial processes, identity verification, and digital currencies. Likens asserted that while the U.S. is still hesitant to embrace blockchain, the technology is on the rise.
  • Drones are devices that fly or move without the presence of a pilot and can be used to collect a wide range of data or execute tasks remotely. According to Likens, drones going to be instrumental to infrastructure maintenance, remote delivery, security, and video capture. Statswise, Likens showed that drone development is on the rise — while only 5% of businesses are making significant investments in drones, 14% plan to over the next three years.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) extends network connectivity and enables a diverse range of devices to collect, process, and send back data. IoT will enable a revolution in asset tracking, smart tracking, fleet management, and predictive maintenance. 75% of companies are already investing in IoT – 47% of whom say they are doing so to cut costs.
  • Robotics is the combination of engineering and computer science to create, design, and operate mechanical devices, i.e., robots. Robotics promises to impact industrial manufacturing, medical procedures, product fulfillment, and transportation operations. 13% of companies believe robotics is the most disruptive of all of these technologies, and 31% of business plan to significantly invest.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulation of a 3-D image or complete environment where a user can interact in a seemingly realistic way. VR is most closely linked to the realms of marketing, training, virtual tours and prototyping/design. While adoption isn’t quite as high as robotics or IoT, 7% of companies are making significant investment and over twice that number plan to do the same in the coming years.
  • 3-D Printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object by successively printing layers of materials on one another until an object is formed. This is going to be a boon to spare parts, rapid prototyping, architectural models, and complex manufacturing. Automotive, industrial processing, and healthcare companies are leading the way on the adoption front.

Likens then stressed that while all of these technologies are on the rise, the most important legacy will only occur once they converge – and that we shouldn’t fear this convergence. “Technology should be changing the human experience. It should be extending the experience, rather than taking away jobs,” he explained, before highlighting some examples of new innovation that encompasses multiple technologies from above:

  • Extended reality, which expands user interaction using virtual worlds and data overlay (the coming together of virtual & augmented reality with IoT & AI). As a user, you could increase empathy and confidence among your workforce through unexpected training
  • Automating trust, which ensures data authenticity and identity verification (thanks to AI, blockchain, and IoT). In action, it would increase transparency and certification throughout the supply chain.
  • Hyperconnected networks, which will optimize the speed at which information is processed. For example, enabling real-time services by managing and responding to actionable, distributed intelligence at the edge (accounting for AI, Blockchain, Drones, and IoT).
  • Working Autonomy, which will transition manual processes to digital process, using AI, Blockchain, IoT, Robitics, Thrones, and even 3D Printing. According to Likens, Working Autonomy will unlock the immense value of automation, robotics, and intelligent systems operating in unison.

Likens then brought the conversation home to a topic that was very integral to the work of people in the room — data. “We can have autonomy of processing and an autonomy of networks….we don’t always have to go over the internet,” he asserted. “IoT data could travel over a low-power radio network. A small amount of data could do something. We may use 5G to do something with bigger data. We may protect those things differently — with blockchain, for example.  When you start to mix these things together, we have a lot of flexibility. Especially around data and privacy and protection. Everything about the network is changing, and we can not optimize the speed at which we make decisions. Devices can talk to each other and make decisions in real-time, yet stat connected to the grand scheme of things — that collected, but distributed, model.”

Finally, Likens urged the audience to think big and broadly, and specifically, to invest across the board — rather than putting all their eggs in one basket such as blockchain or AI — and to do so now, not tomorrow. “You’re just missing an opportunity here,” he concluded, before taking questions from an audience eager to begin the highly anticipated cocktail hour.

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