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Where Now for the Future of Technology?

Welcome to the 2020s, the decade that inadvertently became the “catch all” for all kinds of future technology aspiration. By now, we were supposed to have been working a three-day week, with copious leisure time at our disposal, interacting socially with robots and zipping around the city in personalised flying transportation pods. But, having arrived in the new decade and discovered that technological innovation has developed completely disparately from how the marketing hype may have foretold, how might things be different by the close of the 2020s? Fortunately, the first CES of the new decade provided a useful indicator of where technology presently is and, more importantly, how it is most likely to develop.

Voice Becomes Pervasive

As anticipated, voice-based interaction was widespread across the exhibition floor, with virtual assistants rapidly becoming a standard feature across both the consumer electronics and automotive sectors. On demonstration were a diverse range of products now adding voice capability, from garage door openers and bicycle safety equipment through to digital showers and cooking appliances. From the automotive standpoint, Cerence announced partnership with LG on a webOS-based voice assistant; and Amazon’s aftermarket solution, Echo Auto, will launch internationally this year.

Looking ahead, development of voice control is steady but resolute, with all major virtual assistant vendors now fully engaged with increasing the utility of their assistants. Truly conversational ability remains stubbornly elusive at present, with “command and control“ interaction remaining the dominant method of interaction, although this is destined to change as the introduction of high performance, multi core neural network accelerators into silicon chips spearheads the migration of virtual assistants from cloud to edge. Meanwhile, the recently announced Voice Interoperability Initiative will help propel the virtual assistant ecosystem still further, ultimately enabling multiple assistants to be used concurrently across products and services. This could lead to several more task-oriented virtual assistants with particular specialisms. Indeed, the subject of voice control and the development of this market is something Futuresource covers in depth as part of our Virtual Assistant Tracking Service.

True Artificial Intelligence Will Need Quantum Computing

The 2020’s are widely expected to be the decade where quantum computing begins to deliver advantages over classic computing. Whereas a classical computer encodes data into fundamental units called bits, where each bit represents either a one or a zero, a quantum computer encodes data into “qubits” that can represent a one, a zero, or some combination. Classical algorithms scale exponentially, whereas quantum algorithms scale polynomially, therefore saving time and delivering massive performance advantages on computationally intensive problems.

Quantum computing technology is still embryonic. However, companies including Google, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft are now making headway in increasing the capability. System performance is quantified by a metric known as Quantum Volume – a measure of the overall compute capacity. During CES, IBM announced they had doubled system performance in their latest 28-qubit quantum computer, named Raleigh, reaching a Quantum Volume of 32. IBM has doubled the Quantum Volume every year since 2017 and expects this pace of innovation must be maintained to deliver quantum advantage, where quantum computers outpace the capabilities of classical machines.

The past few months have seen Google refining its quantum capabilities, with claims that its 53-qubit computer had taken three minutes and 20 seconds to carry out a calculation that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years to complete. In November 2019, Microsoft announced that it would start providing access to quantum computers in its Azure cloud. A month later, Amazon Web Services announced a similar service.

Quantum computing is being employed across several industries, notably in chemistry and material science. It is anticipated that quantum computers will perform digital chemistry, computing the process of complex chemical reactions and representing the outcomes mathematically. This could lead to new electrolytes for lithium-air batteries; enhanced semiconductors; high-performance polymers to replace steel-based components in the aerospace industry; new catalysts to make CO2 conversion intro hydrocarbons more efficient; or new classes of antibiotics to counter the emergence of resistant bacterial infections.

In parallel, machines demonstrating emotional intelligence will likely require quantum computing, given it will be applied to neuroscience, helping to provide elegant solutions to today’s difficult-to-solve artificial intelligence problems.

Towards an Ambient Intelligent World

Products at CES 2020 demonstrated a subtle but conscious move towards ambient intelligence. In an ambient intelligent world, technology blends into the environment and becomes unobtrusive. Futuresource recently posted research on this trend as part of our Tech Perspectives programme.

The major consumer electronics manufacturers again demonstrated large format televisions that effectively become electronic artwork when not in use. In addition, Samsung’s “The Wall” concept showcased how displays of the future may become supersized and non-rectangular, hinting at a world where television simply becomes an audio-visual element placed anywhere on the display surface. In the kitchen and bathroom, companies including Kohler showcased voice-activated taps and digital showers with Alexa, again illustrating how technology will be applied to otherwise ordinary household appliances without affecting their form-factor.

Distributed AI will be commonplace in early implementations, with advances in semiconductors delivering increasingly efficient machine learning capabilities in edge devices. Meantime, voice interfaces are becoming pervasive, whilst AI inferencing is being applied to smart camera applications, enhancing machine vision and video analytics.

Low-latency communication will become essential, more important even than high bandwidth, to connect intelligence to the cloud. 5G cellular and new Wi-Fi 6 standards are advancing the bandwidth capacity and reliability of networks.

Ultimately, the architecture of smart homes must change to accommodate advanced intelligence and deliver upon the promise of ambient experiences. This will significantly alter product design and inform new strategies for technology integration.

Whilst there’s no doubt that the transition is still several years away, the baseline technologies necessary to create ambient intelligence actually exist today. These promise to draw together new strands of innovation to create entirely new experiences and ways of interacting with technology by the turn of the next decade.

Futuresource recently published our CES 2020 Show Report, providing a comprehensive guide to major product and technology announcements at the event. Contact us at info@futuresource-hq.com for further information.

About the author

Simon Forrest

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.