We may not be living on Mars or traveling to work using jet packs, but there’s no doubt the coming decade will bring many exciting technological advances. In this article, I want to outline the 25 key technology trends that I believe will shape the 2020s.
1. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The increasing ability of machines to learn and act intelligently will absolutely transform our world. It is also the driving force behind many of the other trends on this list.
2. The Internet of Things (IoT). This refers to the ever-growing number of “smart” devices and objects that are connected to the internet. Such devices are constantly gathering and transmitting data, further fueling the growth in Big Data and AI.
3. Wearables and augmented humans. What started with fitness trackers has now exploded into a whole industry of wearable technology designed to improve human performance and help us live healthier, safer, more efficient lives. In the future, we may even see humans merge with technology to create “augmented humans” or “transhumans.”
4. Big Data and augmented analytics. Big Data refers to the exponential growth in the amount of data being created in our world. Thanks to augmented analytics (highly advanced data analytics, often fueled by AI techniques), we can now make sense of and work with enormously complex and varied streams of data.
5. Intelligent spaces and smart places. Closely linked to the IoT, this trend is seeing physical spaces – like homes, offices, and even whole cities – becoming increasingly connected and smart.
6. Blockchains and distributed ledgers. This super-secure method of storing, authenticating, and protecting data could revolutionize many aspects of business – particularly when it comes to facilitating trusted transactions.
7. Cloud and edge computing. Cloud computing – where data is stored on other computers and accessed via the internet – has helped to open up data and analytics to the masses. Edge computing – where data is processed on smart devices (like phones) – will take this to the next level.
8. Digitally extended realities. Encompassing virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, this trend highlights the move towards creating more immersive digital experiences.
9. Digital twins. A digital twin is a digital copy of an actual physical object, product, process, or ecosystem. This innovative technology allows us to try out alterations and adjustments that would be too expensive or risky to try out on the real physical object.
10. Natural language processing. This technology, which allows machines to understand human language, has dramatically changed how humans interact with machines, in particular giving rise to…
11. Voice interfaces and chatbots. Alexa, Siri, chatbots – many of us are now quite used to communicate with machines by simply speaking or typing our request. In the future, more and more businesses will choose to interact with their customers via voice interfaces and chatbots.
12. Computer vision and facial recognition. Machines can talk, so why shouldn’t they “see” as well? This technology allows machines to visually interpret the world around them, with facial recognition being a prime example. Although we will no doubt see greater regulatory control over the use of facial recognition, this technology isn’t going anywhere.
13. Robots and cobots. Today’s robots are more intelligent than ever, learning to respond to their environment and perform tasks without human intervention. In certain industries, the future of work is likely to involve humans working seamlessly with robot colleagues – hence the term “cobot,” or “collaborative robot.”
14. Autonomous vehicles. The 2020s will be the decade in which autonomous vehicles of all kinds – cars, taxis, trucks, and even ships – become truly autonomous and commercially viable.
15. 5G. The fifth generation of cellular network technology will give us faster, smarter, more stable wireless networking, thereby driving advances in many other trends (e.g., more connected devices and richer streams of data).
16. Genomics and gene editing. Advances in computing and analytics have driven incredible leaps in our understanding of the human genome. Now, we’re progressing to altering the genetic structure of living organisms (for example, “correcting” DNA mutations that can lead to cancer).
17. Machine co-creativity and augmented design. Thanks to AI, machines can do many things – including creating artwork and designs. As a result, we can expect creative and design processes to shift towards greater collaboration with machines.
18. Digital platforms. Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb are all household-name examples of digital platforms – networks that facilitate connections and exchanges between people. This trend is turning established business models on their head, leading many traditional businesses to transition to or incorporate a platform-based model.
19. Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles. These aircraft, which are piloted either remotely or autonomously, have changed the face of military operations. But the impact doesn’t stop there – search and rescue missions, firefighting, law enforcement, and transportation will all be transformed by drone technology. Get ready for passenger drones (drone taxis), too!
20. Cybersecurity and resilience. As businesses face unprecedented new threats, the ability to avoid and mitigate cybersecurity threats will be critical to success over the next decade.
21. Quantum computing. Quantum computers – unimaginably fast computers capable of solving seemingly unsolvable problems – will make our current state-of-the-art technology look like something out of the Stone Age. As yet, work in quantum computing is largely restricted to labs, but we could see the first commercially available quantum computer this decade.
22. Robotic process automation. This technology is used to automate structured and repetitive business processes, freeing up human workers to concentrate on more complex, value-adding work. This is part of a wider shift towards automation that will impact every industry.
23. Mass personalization and micro-moments. Mass-personalization is, as you might expect, the ability to offer highly personalized products or services on a mass scale. Meanwhile, the term “micro-moments” essentially means responding to customer needs at the exact right moment. Both are made possible by technologies like AI, Big Data, and analytics.
24. 3D and 4D printing and additive manufacturing. Although this may seem low-tech compared to some of the other trends, 3D and 4D printing will have very wide applications – and will be particularly transformative when combined with trends like mass-personalization.
25. Nanotechnology and materials science. Our increasing ability to understand materials and control matter on a tiny scale is giving rise to exciting new materials and products, such as bendable displays.
Read more about these 25 key technology trends in more detail – including practical examples from a wide range of industries – in my new book, Tech Trends in Practice: The 25 Technologies That Are Driving The 4th Industrial Revolution.