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January 15, 2018

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Hang on for the digital ride of our lives

Technology has wrought so many stunning achievements turning science fiction into reality that we can only wonder with anticipated awe what could possibly be next.

The World Economic Forum has drawn up a list of what we can expect to see by 2025. It includes unlimited and free online storage, robotic pharmacists and investment advisors, 3D-printed body organs and cars, and smart connections everywhere.

Though some of these sectors still lag far behind predictions now, they have the potential to reshape our lives. Artificial intelligence, smart connections, blockchain, 3D printing and 5G telecommunications will drive business, transform industries and reshape our homes, schools and workplaces. In a sense, it’s the best of times and the worst of times.

As we succumb to an addiction to all things digital, we face the prospect of forfeiting our privacy, face-to-face relationships and a sense of society around us.

Or as Charlie Brooker, writer of the TV drama “Black Mirror,” wrote in The Guardian last month:

“We routinely do things that just five years ago would scarcely have made sense to us. We tweet along to reality shows; we share videos of strangers dropping cats in bins; we dance in front of Xboxes that can see us, judge us and find us sorely lacking.

“It’s hard to think of a single human function that technology hasn’t somehow altered, apart perhaps from burping. That’s pretty much all we have left. Just yesterday, I read a news story about a new video game installed above urinals to stop patrons getting bored. Read that back to yourself and ask if you live in a sane society.”

So what can we expect looking ahead?

Artificial Intelligence

What’s now:

Artificial intelligence was without a doubt the hottest buzzword last year, infiltrating everything from voice and facial recognition to autonomous driving, investment analysis, security surveillance and even remarkable Go matches between humans and machines where we mortals came out on the losing end.

China is pushing full steam ahead in the development of artificial intelligence to develop a core market valued at more than 150 billion yuan (US$22.7 billion) by 2020, according to the State Council, China’s cabinet. Artificial intelligence, or AI as it is popularly known, has become a national strategy.

What’s next:

AI will soon breach the borders separating industries like information technology, finance, automotive and healthcare. It may be too early to worry about how that may threaten jobs, where robotic creatures replace humans, but we can expect smarter and more efficient hospitals, with faster X-ray diagnoses.

The global market for robots and drones will grow to US$3.9 billion this year, covering sectors such as logistics, materials selection and handling, navigation and delivery services, according to researcher IHS Markit.

Smart Connections

What’s now:

Voice controlled speakers connecting online shopping websites, game consoles that track eye movements, home appliances with real-time monitoring and automated food defrosting, wearable devices for fitness and even implantable smartphone chips are already in trial use.

Connections between devices and humans are becoming ever closer, thanks to the development of powerful chips and sensors, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence features both in cloud servers and in-processor devices.

A US-based company has actually offered free chip implantation to volunteer employees. The chips, implanted in hands, allow people to do all kinds of things just by waving their hands. About 50 out of the 80 employees at the company have opted for the implants.

What’s next:

The global installed base of Internet of Things devices will rise to 73 billion units in 2025, according to industry predictions. Voice commands will dominate half of all online searches in the next two years, and devices will link people to the era of 5G networks due to debut around 2020.

We can expect people to be more connected with technologies like 5G, Internet of Things and virtual reality, using various gadgets, glasses or clothing. Our bodies or other gadgets may someday replace smartphones to help us connect to the world.

Cryptocurrency & Blockchain

What’s now:

Bitcoin’s 1,400 percent surge in value last year far outstripped the returns of other investment products. Surprisingly perhaps, it wasn’t the most profitable of cryptocurrencies. Ripple and ethereum took that honor.

The frenzy over cryptocurrencies has triggered considerable debate about whether they are just a huge bubble about to burst. Many people are calling for stricter government controls, especially in China.

Blockchain, the key technology behind bitcoin, is now creeping into the operating technologies of industries like banking, logistics, retailing and law.

What’s next:

Blockchain-based services are expected to transform the financial services realm. They may also be used to assess the impact of advertising, fight fraud, pay for music and picture royalties, and streamline supply chains.

The technology itself portends a future of decentralized transactions that are efficient, trackable and intelligent.

Technology Cynicism

Brooker’s science fiction TV series “Black Mirror,” airing on Netflix, examines our society in terms of the unexpected consequences of new technologies. It’s been called “the Twilight Zone of the modern age.”

“If technology is a drug — and it does feel like a drug — then what, precisely, are the side effects?” Brooker asks. “The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”

A recent scandal involving e-commerce giant Alibaba looked as if life were imitating art.

Alibaba’s payment arm Alipay had to issue an official apology earlier this month after users accused the company of illegally collecting and sharing their personal data.

It came after users discovered, when acquiring their annual digital financial report via Alipay’s app, that a data-sharing agreement was imposed on them. According to the agreement, Alipay would be authorized to collect and store user data, including personal and financial information, and share it with third parties.

Baidu, China’s answer to Google, had to shutter some of its medical businesses last year after disclosures that it was promoting unauthorized medical advertising to patients, resulting in several deaths.

Small wonder that digital trust remains a hot issue in China. More than 51 percent of people are concerned about personal data privacy as they subscribe to intelligent services designed to understand and anticipate their needs, according to an Accenture report released last month.

Tipping points expected to occur by 2025

World Economic Forum asked over 800 experts of information, communication and technology about what we can expect about our lives by 2025.

% percentage of the respondents who think it is possible

10% of people wearing clothes connected to the Internet 91.2%

90% of people having unlimited and free (advertising-supported) storage 91.0%

1 trillion sensors connected to the Internet 89.2%

The first robotic pharmacist in the US 86.5%

10% of reading glasses connected to the Internet 85.5%

80% of people with a digital presence on the Internet 84.4%

The first 3D-printed car in production 84.1%

The first government to replace its census with big-data sources 82.9%

The first implantable mobile phone available commercially 81.7%

5% of consumer products printed in 3D 81.1%

90% of the population using smartphones 80.7%

90% of the population with regular access to the Internet 78.8%

Driverless cars equaling 10% of all cars on US roads 78.2%

The first transplant of a 3D-printed liver 76.4%

30% of corporate audits performed by AI 75.45%

Tax collected for the first time by a government via a blockchain 73.1%

Over 50% of Internet traffic to homes for appliances and devices 69.9%

Globally more trips/journeys via car sharing than in private cars 67.2%

The first city with more than 50,000 people and no traffic lights 63.7%

10% of global gross domestic product stored on blockchain technology 57.9%

The first AI machine on a corporate board of directors 45.2%


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