We have been hearing that “the future is now” in taglines and car advertisements for so long that it’s hard to remember when haven’t been looking forward to the next big thing. But now is certainly no time to stop. Industry and innovation have been around since before the wheel, but never before have the two evolved so rapidly. As industries arising from these technologies expand at the same rapid rate, it is easier than ever before to witness the growth and change of an idea, product or method’s next generation.
The industries listed below are already proving their importance today, and leaving hints at where they might go with their seemingly limitless potential. Some, like automation, were created at the beginning of the previous century, while others, such as Big Data, are much more recent. Some have obvious effects, and applications that users will undoubtedly go to on a daily basis. Others will operate behind the scenes, improving our quality of life in hidden, but no less important, ways.
One factor that all the industries making this list have in common is that they are already increasingly necessary to our day to day lives. It is already apparent that in the next few years, each of the below will become as much of a part of our daily lives as the internet, cell phones, or ATM machines. Unfortunately, none of the below include flying cars, but there is the possibility of talking robots in the not too distant future.
5 Augmented Reality
These days, the future of augmented reality (and its implications) is on the lips of anyone keeping up with the innovative tech that is on the horizon. Augmented reality, once integrated into everyday use, has the potential to change the way we do things as drastically as the internet did.
It is already being implemented in a variety of ways, although most products are in prototype or conceptual stages. The current uses of AR range from the enhancements Google Glasses will offer, to iOptik (the first “smart” contact lens, demoed at this year’s CES), to reinvigorating printed media. Augmented Reality’s possible uses are almost endless.
This writer had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift roller coaster simulator and "mind bending" would be an apt description. There is a sharp disconnect as the brain tries to handle the conflict of the “real world” and the reality the eyes are taking in. The image is so real, so immersive, that it can cause your stomach to drop as the coaster dips. It's too much for some, and the presence of outside noises can lead to confusion for those "inside" the Oculus illusion. Very impressive stuff, but not quite as good as reality.
4 Big Data
Big data might be the most revolutionary industry today that has no fixed definition. Go to four different sources and each will have its own interpretation of what Big Data is, although they all agree that the most basic definition involves processing and analyzing large amounts of information.
As more data is gathered, it has become necessary to find methods to process and analyze the massive gathering of information in the public and private sectors. While most people won’t see this industry at work, almost everyone will be in some way affected by it.
Currently, Big Data is mostly geared towards streamlining expenditures in such industries as healthcare, retail and manufacturing. Information gathered ranges from social media and transactional data to RFID chips and sensors. It’s a necessary tool for the NSA, not to mention Amazon’s new predictive shopping applications.
The benefit to manufacturing is time and cost reductions, which will (hopefully) be passed along to the consumer. Huge amounts of medical data can be analyzed at once, allowing faster, more reliable analysis of patterns, and easier oversight of governmental efficiencies.
There are critiques about the methods used in gathering much of the data – most notably that since smart phones are a major source of the statistical information used, the data results tend to skew toward the more affluent, in turn affecting the results, as it precludes differing socioeconomic statuses. It will be interesting how any data set biases are taken into account, and what other methods are used to gather statistics on those not as connected.
3 P2P Anything
Peer to Peer is nothing new. First widely popularized in 1999 by Napster, it was the original architect of the World Wide Web’s vision of the internet. After a rough start surrounding copyright issues, it has firmly taken root as an integral part of our virtual experiences. Aside from file sharing, P2P is instrumental in digital currencies and network architecture, as well as distributed storage, and has been at the center of the net neutrality debate.
Despite the pitfalls of utilizing P2P technology, which also includes unique security issues, users are becoming more reliant on the method and not just to trade movies. In Toronto, the first Bitcoin ATMs have been installed and there is talk of the same in New York City. P2P is being labeled the “Future of the Internet,” which shows how full circle everything can be, given the internet’s original vision.
2 Natural Language Processing
While talking, self-aware robot maids aren’t yet available, the beginnings of the robo-assistant revolution are here. Natural Language Processing, or NLP, is concerned with the interaction between computers and humans. This field started in the ‘50s and brought forth the Turing Test, a method by which artificial intelligence is tested.
As of this writing, no robot or other form of artificial intelligence has passed it. There is some controversy surrounding some rudimentary programs, but it has been argued that these programs passed the test by manipulating key words of which it didn’t really understand – somewhat like Ask Jeeves, the forerunner of Ask.com.
However, the future of NLP and consequently, AI, is bright. Self-driving cars, medical rescue in situations too dangerous for humans, stock trading, law enforcement; the list of NLP’s practical uses is as limitless as augmented reality’s possibilities. Within the next decade, it’s hard to imagine that NLP’s users won’t be widespread.
Automation is the oldest of the industries listed, going back to Henry Ford’s production line in the beginning of the last century, and whose future intersects along with NLP in the future of artificial intelligence. It’s used every day and functions to limit, to different degrees, the amount of human interaction required by everyday people.
Volumes have been written about the positive and negative effects of automation on the working population, however, there is no getting around that it is here and its future is growing rapidly – by some aggressive estimates, almost half of all U.S. jobs will be lost to automation in the next two decades.
Much news was made recently about Applebees’ decision to automate its wait staff, and quick serve restaurants have mentioned following suit. However, like uses of artificial intelligence, automation not only increases productivity but could soon be used to replace humans in situations that are too risky of life loss. Only time will tell how advances in this field will affect employment, productivity and growth.
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