Knowledge & Insight

The future of communications technology

Wed 13 November 2019

The pace of technological change continues to accelerate, and with new innovations disrupting both traditional and emerging industries, it has become increasingly difficult to predict the next high-growth areas. But there are four niche sectors where rapid expansion seems inevitable.

AI

The term Artificial Intelligence refers to computer systems that are capable of performing highly complex functions that have traditionally required human-level intelligence, such as visual and speech recognition, language translation and information-based decision making. Using machine learning and deep-learning neural networks, computers with AI capability can ‘learn’ from experience, adjust to new inputs, and perform tasks in a way that mirrors human response. AI is already playing a major role in the development of virtual assistants and autonomous vehicles, but high costs and scarcity of AI expertise has limited its application. However, in the near future, as expertise becomes more widespread, we’re likely to see AI applied in a variety of applications, from the design of new business processes, to the management of driverless cars.

Quantum computing

A quantum computer is powered by processors which function according to the principles of quantum mechanics. And just as quantum theory in physics took our understanding of the universe to a new level, quantum computing promises to provide a new generation of processors able to operate at speeds far beyond machines which rely in traditional processing technologies. The concept of quantum computing has been around for decades, yet the technical capability to deliver a functioning machine has so far remained just out of reach. Rumours exist about prototypes capable of astonishing processing speeds, so it’s quite feasible that a functioning quantum computer could be launched within the next decade.

3D printing

The concept of 3D printing looked set to change the product development cycle beyond recognition, and new 3D printing technology quickly advanced from early prototypes to affordable off-the-shelf packages. The subsequent rapid growth of the sector was accompanied by much excitement and media attention, yet interest cooled as many of the anticipated benefits failed to materialise. However, the technology is now entering a more mature phase of development, and the next phase of growth will be driven by 3D printers working not just with plastic, but with a wider range of materials, including metals – which will undoubtedly fuel a new wave of product innovation and growth.

Smart speakers

The evolution of the smart speaker can be traced back to 1961 when IBM launched the Shoebox – the world’s first digital speech recognition tool. And over the next 60 years, this innovative technology was driven forward by firms such as Dragon, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon. Annual sales of smart speakers have now reached the tens of millions, and in the US, 20% of all homes have one. Yet as competing firms continue to improve the accuracy and response capability of speech recognition, they are becoming suitable for application in a wide range of settings. The next high-growth areas is likely to be in hospitals and manufacturing environments, as the value and complexity of tasks they are able to perform continues to increase.

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