Predicting the future has never been more difficult. The internet has given innovation and entrepreneurship unprecedented speed and variety, and it’s hard to tell where the Next Big Thing is going to come from.
Still, while it’s tempting to give up on all the crystal ball-gazing, it’s always worthwhile to stay abreast of things. You never know which disruption-ripe market or innovation gap will be the one in which you make your bones.
Here are four technologies to keep an inventive eye on.
#1 Blockchain-based privacy
If you’re not across blockchain, it’s basically a digital ledger system that can be used to track data, whether in the form of currency (like Bitcoin) or anything else that needs robust tracking and verification.
One of the big strengths of blockchain is that in order to tamper with one piece of information, you’d have to somehow get every other “block” in the “chain” to reflect said tampering as genuine information – very difficult to do when the blockchain is distributed across hundreds or thousands of computers. Plus, the cryptography used to create blockchains makes it relatively easy to control privacy permissions.
So, you can see why people are excited about using the technology to solve one of the internet’s thorniest problems: how do you verify someone’s identity while protecting their privacy? The answer has ramifications for everything from social media to online shopping and fintech.
#2 Robotic Process Automation
“Are robots coming for your job?” Expect to see a lot more headlines like this over the next 18 months, as adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) ramps up.
Essentially the software version of a robotic assembly line, RPA allows different computer programs to talk to each other, and this means that a properly configured RPA application can perform complex tasks up to 15 times faster than it would take a human to perform them manually. Taking data from an invoice and adding it to a spreadsheet before sending it off to accounts would take seconds, not minutes.
You can see why people are concerned – less work could indeed mean fewer jobs. But others are excited about how much time and money RPA could save them. Whichever side you land on, it’s clear that RPA is shaping up to be a disruptive force.
#3 3D printing with metal
Additive manufacturing (3D printing) with metal has been a thing for a while, but it achieved new levels of accuracy in 2018. In fact, an Australian research centre recently developed a method of feeding powdered metal into a laser-beam and fusing it onto a surface. The result is basically a high-tech welding process that’s so accurate, it’s being used to print parts for military aircraft.
As the world of additive manufacturing continues to advance, the prospect of consumers being able to print complex electronics in their own homes grows ever closer. There could be a serious disruption on the horizon.
Shorthand for “light fidelity”, Li-Fi is pretty much what it sounds like – digital data encoded in light. This is achieved through rapid changes in the output of specially designed LED lightbulbs. The result is data transfer speeds of up to 224 gigabits per second – over one hundred times faster than Wi-Fi.
While actual internet speed will lag behind that in most areas (most certainly here in Australia), device-to-device communication could take advantage right away. From home streaming systems to aircraft cabins and industrial networks, Li-Fi could add some serious bandwidth to a data-choked world – and its applications are just beginning to be explored.
Light fidelity is due to receive a global standard in 2019, so it’s definitely a space to watch.