Forget about video calling. The new technologies emerging in 2021-25 will be about fundamentally changing the way people, business and objects interact with one another
In 2020, we all got a reminder of how fundamental a role technology plays in our lives. We also got a reminder that in some areas, it’s not as advanced as we’d like to think. On an individual level, think about how many times your connection dropped or your video calling service of choice failed to work properly as your friends screamed at you, “I can’t see you! Are you on mute?” But on a wider scale, we discovered greater shortcomings. Countless industries – from fruit picking to commercial logistics to packaging – were disrupted during the pandemic. If we had the right technology and data, we could come up with ways around the disruption: automate jobs more easily, predict where demand is going to come next, build redundancies into the system so if there’s an unexpected event, it can keep going.
Over the next few years, the big developments in tech are going to be about addressing that shortfall: creating a society that is connected, transparent and shock-resistant.
Searching for connectivity is a familiar experience for many of us, as we try to boost our Wi-Fi signal ahead of another succession of video chats. At industrial or societal level, it’s actually a similar concept, just on a larger scale. The roll-out of the 5G network gives connectivity to significantly more people and businesses, even in remote areas. In fact, it’s not just telecom providers getting involved: major companies are now investing in their own 5G networks, on which manufacturing or research campuses can run. They offer seamless connectivity across a larger area than Wi-Fi, which in turn offers more opportunities for automation, as businesses can unleash drones or self-driven vehicles across their factories or warehouses, without fear of losing them.
When we move further out into the supply chain, that’s where transparency comes in. Blockchain technology has come to be associated with online currencies such as Bitcoin, but the tech itself is more versatile – essentially, it’s an algorithm that distributes security data throughout a network, rather than keeping it at a centralised hub, meaning it’s easier to verify transactions. The next few years could see blockchains become mainstream – even Google is getting involved. For businesses, this could make for a more trackable supply chain. For individuals, it means the likelihood of your online delivery disappearing off the face of the earth is greatly reduced.
Computing power is always increasing, but what’s really notable is a shift in where that computing takes place. Cloud computing – where technological functions are supplied on demand by a third-party provider – and edge computing – an intermediary stage between users and the cloud – will be huge growth areas, as more and more people and business embrace them. It’s all in aid of flexibility and shock-resistance: it means everything is backed up and accessible from everywhere, minimising the risk of a data deletion disaster, or going into the office to discover you left all your important files at home.
The overall outcome of these changes? Building a society that’s healthy. And health tech itself will accelerate in the coming years. We saw it begin in 2020 with the rise of virtual appointments with doctors – that started a trend for healthcare functions moving away from traditional locations, like hospitals. Medical data centres are analysing health imaging in real time, and AI is helping accelerate vaccine creation. ‘Roaming doctors’ equipped with handheld scanning equipment will become more common. Finally, there’s a rise in technology enabling people to take care of themselves, from wearable tech to wellness apps.