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Technologies That Will Most Impact Our Future

Updated: May 9, 2018

AI (Artificial Intelligence)


Artificial Intelligence is one of the most dominant technologies of recent times. Many large companies have invested in AI start-up businesses such as Apple buying Siri originally developed by the SRI International Intelligence Center and Google investing into DeepMind, a British AI development company that demonstrated their capabilities beating the best people in strategic gaming. Although many companies have been investing large amounts of cash into research and development of AI, there have been counter arguments from technology industry experts such as Elon Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking just to name a few that AI has the potential to be disastrous and even detrimental to humanity. The main reason for these counter arguments is that currently there are limited regulatory bodies looking at AI.


So what really is AI and why does it have the power to be so influential and disastrous to humanity?

Possible applications of Artificial Intelligence. Source: Frost & Sullivan


AI has the power to replicate human thoughts, senses and actions in the manner of deep learning, interfacing with other systems and robotics respectively. However, deep AI means that these machines can be programmed to continually improve and take in the data from previous actions and ‘learn’ from it. It isn’t a technology that is limited to the human mind but is capable to excluding the irrelevant information and taking on the important information to a point where it can never forget it and continually improve unlike human interaction. This technology is vital for humanity to continue its technological progression. Technology does not necessarily naturally improve, it only improves when very intelligent individuals work very hard to accomplish their goals with that particular technology. AI has the capability to assist with this and help sieved out the information that is not important or create computational analysis of many different possibilities to output the most efficient and important information.

Examples of AI that has improved our civilisation include:

  • Analysis of transport and congestion to create algorithms for the most efficient way to complete a journey.

  • Commercial flight autopilot and interaction with other aircraft and air traffic control systems.

  • Design analysis and advanced CAE computing many models to output the most optimised design.

  • Smart email and phone recognition to prevent spam or fraud contact.

  • Stock market analysis based on past and current data to accurately predict the future market changes.

And many more …


However, with all that AI can offer humanity, there are many issues that need to be addressed before deep AI systems are implemented. As stated, AI can learn from itself and with that comes the issue of whether it has the capability to have a mind of its own and perform functions that have not been inputted by a user. Additionally, AI systems can be programmed to create disastrous weapons and to avoid the enemy, these systems can be programmed to be extremely difficult to turn off which could then lead to a loss of control.


Although such situations demonstrate that AI can be disastrous to humanity it does not necessarily mean that AI is bad in itself. With regulation and control AI can progress technology and help benefit humanity. Governments and control groups should be implementing rules and regulations to prevent deep AI being placed into the wrong hands and utilised in bad situations.


Virtual and Augmented Reality


Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are 2 methods of enhancing a user’s experience utilising digital technologies however each of these are very different and will serve very different purposes in the future.


Like many of the technologies on this list, these are not necessarily new technologies but we are now at the point in which the ‘general user’ has this technology available to them.


To understand their importance, we first need to understand the differences between augmented and virtual reality. Virtual reality has the power to put you into another scenario and take you ‘somewhere else’ whilst augmented reality can not only put you into a different world but also involve additional sensory modules to make you have an external experience.


Previous examples of the uses of these technologies include training to become a pilot using an augmented experience that replicates the real application before a pilot puts themselves into a danger and immersing customers into the experience prior to them buying a product. This may include a visual demonstration virtually of what the customer, such as an automobile, prior to them purchasing the product. However, prior to recent times these have required extensive computational power which has had high costs to it. Modern computational improvements have allowed for VR to become more accessible to the everyday customer with examples such as Google Glass, Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift.


Augmented Reality may not have necessarily made its way to the general public just yet as it requires a little more infrastructure to help change peoples lives on an everyday basis. It also may not be required to make its way to the general public to have vast improvements on humanity in the future. The most likely examples of general use could be in the automotive industry where information can be projected into an intelligent manner and enhance the users experience of driving. This would also limit the amount of information displayed on the interface panel.


An example of an Augmented Reality application in the Automotive Industry. Source: CNET


From an engineering standpoint, there are many ways AR can improve the processes from design all the way to manufacturing. Certain automotive and aerospace companies have invested in intelligent AR experiences to demonstrate their designs and the end product in its application. A prime example of this is Jaguar Land Rover’s Virtual Cave as can be seen in the video below:



Other ways it could improve engineering is from a safety perspective. Rather than placing workers into an unsafe environment to train them or only go through the training in a classroom environment, individuals can be immersed into the unsafe environment and undertake the training as if the user was in that environment. This is just an extension of the pilot training analogy but due to computational improvements in recent years, its not only the large and high resources companies and industries that can invest in these technologies.


I look forward to the future of VR and AR and what direction it takes as well as how it links with other technologies such as AI and the primary engineering industries such as the automotive, aerospace and heavy industries fields. From demonstrations and recent developments, this technology is very exciting and there is much more progression that can be made to see these demonstrations become a reality and applicable for the general public.

Biological Warfare


Bio-warfare is most definitely not a new technology or one that is positive for our future however recent developments in biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence and autonomy mean that it has the capability to be far more dangerous than what we have ever seen. These types of weapons are deemed as war crime acts. They are designed to use toxins and infectious agents to kill or harm humans, plants and animals.


The breakthroughs in this technology come in the area that many would could still consider as science fiction but if the latest technological developments are anything to go by then these technologies may already have been developed and are incumbent until a major war that could likely occur at some point in the future. Without being at the forefront of this technology it is very difficult to state what a bio-warfare attack would consist of and how detrimental that would be to humanity. Artificial Intelligence may have the capabilities to prevent or minimise the risks that such an attack could bring.


Autonomy


Although autonomy could have been included as part of AI, I have decided to talk about it on its own as I see many varying uses and technologies that could be affected through the advances that we make in each subject.


The main advances in autonomy will almost certainly be in jobs where robotics and AI can take over human capabilities in a cost effective manner. The clearest example of this to date is the use of drones within the military, however, we may now start to see autonomy be integrated into modern society. For many years now autonomy has been used in manufacturing and production particularly within the automotive industry however how much can a robot really do within a production line. There are many electronics and trim and final components that make it very difficult to have a fully autonomous production line.


A fully robotic autonomous production line. Source: Actemium


One of the hottest topics within autonomy at the moment is the incorporation of autonomous vehicles. For many years now, autopilot has been used for civilian aircraft but this technology is far more complex when you add more vehicles and pedestrians into the equation. The number of sensors required is astronomical and does not only require visual sensors but also RADAR and LIDAR. Many companies such as UBER and Tesla have been testing and making great developments in autonomous vehicles but in recent times we have seen accidents. However, this is always going to happen, accidents do happen in everyday life and particularly when testing new technologies but this doesn’t mean that people should lose their lives because of this testing, as was the case with UBER. I strongly believe that vehicle will be nearly fully autonomous in the near future and within 20 - 30 years we may not have a conventional steering wheel. The benefits out way the dangers and with backup systems it would be very difficult to argue that a human could match an autonomous vehicles capabilities however only time will tell.

There are many other examples of autonomy in modern day society and in the future we may look to write a more comprehensive blog on this topic so stay tuned for that!


Satellites


The first satellites were placed into orbit in the late 1950’s and were used for radio signal distribution. Following this the satellite industry quickly grew as their technology was realised and how powerful they could be for a variety of applications. Today there are nearly 1500 satellites into space and this is on the rise. We are now at a point where companies are considering options for collecting ‘space junk’ of which a large percentage are from satellites. I personally don’t think this is necessary at the moment but maybe in future we may need to look at it.


Typically, the most common applications of satellites have been to monitor weather or for military purposes however there is much great role that satellites can play to assist with the future of our civilisation. Recently we have seen SpaceX launching the next generation of Iridium satellites which will provide internet to many more people around the world. This is vital to continue our progression because as we can see by this website and so so many more, a large amount of education comes through the internet in the modern age. Additionally, other satellites can be used to monitor many different types of information. This includes road traffic which could interface with AI systems providing information such as Google Maps, comprehensive detailed information on climatic and weather to better understand the impacts of moving to a renewable energy power sourced world which hopefully will be improvements and potentially larger satellites which could assist with future space exploration missions or analysis of the larger universe in the form of advanced telescopes which we will hopefully gain valuable information from the James Webb Telescope.


A rendered image of the James Webb Telescope. Source: Spaceflight Now


Another consideration is that we are only thinking about Earth based satellites. If we are going to become a multi-planetary civilization as is SpaceX’s goals we will need satellites to perform similar functions for Mars. This will include climate satellites, telecommunications satellites both on Mars and between Earth and Mars and also if the next generation of Iridium satellites is successful in providing internet to more people around the world then maybe this should be the method of having internet if we were to colonise Mars.


As I said, satellite technology is certainly not new but it is developing and our capabilities as a civilisation rely on advanced satellites performing new functions. This will also be helped by the advancement in rocket technology as private companies try to provide cheaper launch options with the examples being SpaceX, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab's Electron Launching Into Orbit. Source: Spaceflight Now

Transport


We have discussed transport previously both in terms of AI and autonomy and of course it is by no means a new technology. However, the key factors with technological advancements in transport is going greener and cleaner and making it more efficient in terms of infrastructure, ease of access and time to complete a journey. This subject stems right across many industries including aerospace, rail, automotive, space exploration and even the infrastructure for cycle and walking networks. I will focus on the technologies at a high level for each of these industries and what direction I see them heading in. If you would like more detailed engineering and technological information in the aerospace industry you can check out our previous blog on future of commercial flight.


The automotive market seems very clear in its direction moving forward with electric vehicles initially demonstrated by Tesla Motors but now many other companies, that they can perform as well as and even better than conventional Petrol and Diesel equivalent vehicles. In the near future I foresee developments in the Hybrid-Electric market with efficient petrol engines combined with battery technology, As battery technology improves I believe we will see a complete shift in the automotive market with shorter program timings and increased product development strategies due to the battery technology improving at a much faster rate than what customers are willing to wait for. A current example of this is the Renault Zoe which after a very short initial program now has a completely new architecture after 4 short years in production. I also foresee developments in the infrastructure of the automotive market allowing for more electric vehicle charging stations and new methods of developing roadways as can be seen in the conceptual idea from The Boring Company.


If you would like more comprehensive information on the future of the aerospace industry then check out the link above but to summarise, there are many developments I can foresee in this industry that will have great impacts to the future of humanity. The most likely short term advancement is the use of lightweight, efficient conventional commercial aircraft similarly to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the AIrbus A350 XWB. Future opportunities in the aerospace industry include the re energisation of supersonic aircraft more efficient and offering up a better business case the great Concorde and the possibility of the electrification of aircraft however this will take many years and a lot of investment to meet FAA and EASA regulations. Another option for the future of commercial flight is interplanetary rocket flight as demonstrated by SpaceX in the following video. Although this may seem a long way away, SpaceX demonstrations and proof of concept have been nothing but exceptional and with a visionary like Elon Musk leading such a company, I wouldn’t rule out any possible concepts that they come up with. It is important, however, to understand that SpaceX is a space frontier company and not a traditional aerospace company so if this is the future then SpaceX would need to invest heavily in certification engineers from other aerospace companies.



The final area that I want to talk about that may impact the future of transportation is the rail industry. Again, it is Elon Musk has come up with a concept for the future of rail in the form of Hyperloop. As this was only an example paper of the future of rail, this has since been bought by Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider this a major move but with both California and the UK investing in slightly higher speed rail with limited technological advancements, I think that Hyperloop could certainly be a viable option. Additionally, there is magnetic levitation technology which has been around for many years and been implemented in China in the form of the Shanghai Transrapid which is the fastest commercial train in the world. This technology is very expensive but has huge capabilities in terms of efficiency without having to invest in the development costs as will be the case with Hyperloop technologies. All of these options are very high cost but have the capability to be as fast as current air travel with the ease of use much more capable. It is far safer to go underground with rail transport instead of going above ground with other air travel concepts. Again, as stated previously when discussing the automotive market, I believe that this is why Elon Musk is investing in tunnel boring technology with his latest venture, The Boring Company.


Source: Virgin Group

Source: China Express

3D Printing


Although this isn’t a new technology with its history tracing back to the 1980’s, developments in recent years in digital technology as well as manufacturing productivity has made 3D printing more viable for real life application use.


To better understand the process of 3D printing see our previous blog. 3D printing technology has now gotten to a point where companies can invest in specific departments or components to be manufactured. From an early design and conceptual standpoint companies can now obtain a more realistic example of the end product and even implement it into a larger system before the tooling for the final product has been created. Further into the manufacturing process, 3D printing can now provide accurate and effectively produced products with similar if not better properties than if the product was made using a different manufacturing process. As well As this, if there are any issues throughout the manufacturing process with the product, 3D printing can replace the part at a much faster rate than what it would be in sending it back through the supply chain. This is particularly well used in motorsport, particularly Formula 1 where they can actually take the 3D printing machines with them to the races and utilise this to accelerate parts that need to be replaced.


As the 3D process improves and the industry (engineering as a whole) invests in these technologies we will see new uses and its future capabilities in the engineering and technology industry. It is very interesting seeing applied uses outside of the rapid prototype business which has dominated the 3D printing business so far. If you want to see some case studies of advanced uses of 3D printing check out our blog linked above.


I think it it quite clear that throughout this blog we have no necessarily discussed new technologies but advancements in current technologies. I think this is the key to success as a human civilisation. Of course, with time there will be many other technological innovations but I believe we are at a point where we have access to some of the greatest and most powerful physical and software technology and we can just focus in on improving what we already have in terms of efficiency, ease of use, accessibility and cost.


We are not at a time in history where we are creating new laws in physics and the other sciences, often a key factor in driving the development of new technology but manipulating these and using a first principles approach to current technological improvement. That is partly why we set up this business. Our business goal is to demonstrate that by using this method of problem solving, we can improve our capabilities and understanding of technology in order to make the advancements required for humanity to realise the great visions we have in place.

A good analogy of this is looking at Apple and Microsoft. Neither of these companies created the personal computer but they knew where the future would be and continually pushed to achieve their visions of products which we now take for granted such as tablets, smart phones and highly advanced computers. I hope this insight into technologies that will most impact the future has helped you think about what industry you would like to focus on and what technologies you would like to help improve. As always please leave your comments below or get in contact with us if you would like to have some input into future blogs!



Luke T Seal Engineering