Whether it’s advanced medical sensors influencing home healthcare wearables or improvements in voice-recognition software laying the groundwork for intelligent virtual assistants in our homes, innovation is a journey more than a destination. For every development in an area of technology, there is an entirely new — and often seemingly unrelated — invention waiting to be realised.
For example, global positioning system (GPS) technology was first developed for military use in the 1970s. Despite these military origins, GPS was one of the necessary innovations in delivering commercial self-driving cars almost four decades later. It’s the unexpected convergence of these innovative areas that will ultimately dictate the shape and vision of society and technology.
So, what advances will be the most unexpected and yet potentially impactful on inventions in the next five years? Some of the most interesting general areas with inventive potential over the next five years include the following.
According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, there were more than 18 million unemployed people in EU member states in October 2017. However, what if artificial intelligence (AI) could help resolve this and assist people in progressing their careers? AI has been one of the hottest areas of technological advancement in recent years, but seeing it applied to recruitment could change the employment market. It’s very possible that people may soon register with artificial agents that manage their careers and automatically suggest jobs that will advance it — at the right time and in a way that matches the individual’s aspirations. Beyond this, AI could play a role in salary negotiations by revising wages based on current market conditions. This could potentially contribute to the elimination of the pay disparity between genders, with AI indiscriminately adjusting pay in line with the market.
The US Population Reference Bureau (PRB) reported in 2016 that there were 46 million people aged 65 and above in the US, accounting for 15 per cent of the total population. And while it might be seen as a stereotype, many people in the ageing population often struggle to get to grips with technology such as smart phones. New ways of interacting with technology in the home, such as voice assistants, are even easier to use than mobile devices, breaking down barriers and making the benefits of technology available to new demographic groups. This is especially important as technology is constantly changing so people must adapt at an ever-increasing pace, which becomes more difficult as people age. As such, this invisible and accessible approach to interacting with technology is one that will likely be applied to many more products and services in the coming years.
The field of imaging technology has undergone something of an innovation explosion in recent years, with developments such as Eulerian video and hyperspectral imaging allowing for greater insight into captured images and environments. These systems are already used in the industry and defence sectors, but their appearance on the consumer market will enable many new applications, from automatically checking whether food remains edible — and hence potentially playing a critical role in food waste — through to determining the best place to grow vegetables in your garden. Consumer adoption of things such as Eulerian video will allow for better interpretation of captured camera data, with even minor variations in an image being magnified for analysis. This could lead to consumer devices identifying things that are traditionally difficult to observe, such as the pulsing flow of blood through a person’s face in response to a heartbeat.
The new wave of Internet of Things technology is enabling an ever-greater ability for companies to deliver services, rather than just products, to consumers. This allows businesses to sense how their products are used in areas ranging from healthcare and nutrition to entertainment. For example, healthcare may be measured on the benefits of treatment against a genetically probable outcome. This will put the user of a new product or service at the heart of the innovation process, creating a new type of market competition.
From AI chatbots being taught racism to crime-monitoring machines being attacked, there have been many reported cases of humans mistreating and bullying robots and AI in recent years. As these technologies become more commonplace, developers will need to conceive better ways of protecting the software or machines from abuse. This will be a particularly interesting area to watch. Some developers have introduced alarm systems into robots to alert people of any abuse, but software will be far more difficult to protect. One possible, albeit controversial, solution would be to introduce an element of anti-bullying behaviour into the programming to defend itself peacefully from abuse. Yet this is difficult to implement, especially as AI becomes integrated into critical applications. This also creates the possibility of an algorithm bullying other algorithms as a means to achieve its core objective; something that would give new meaning to market competition.
Each of these areas harbours great potential for R&D departments to draw from in developing their next invention. With so much cross-over between disciplines, it is becoming increasingly apparent that true innovation will only come from data-driven insight that spans disciplines.