Top 5 Technological Breakthroughs of 2019by Anna Khrupa on December 12, 2019
The technologies scientists could only theorize about a decade ago are finally coming to fruition, bringing new possibilities for today and setting new ambitions for tomorrow. Looking back at the passing year, we wanted to highlight some of the emerging innovations we think will lead to an exponential increase in the velocity of change and bring humanity the most value in the near future. From previously unimaginable wireless connection speeds to metamaterial miracles in the world of optics, this is our list of the top five technological breakthroughs of 2019.
5G: a step forward in wireless connection
In the digital world of today, the colossal demand for high-speed internet connection with quicker response times, better accessibility, and cheaper data plans are driving the technology forward. The industry’s response to the ever-increasing needs of businesses and consumers was the introduction of 5G internet. 5G stands for “the fifth generation of cellular network technology.” The speed of such networks mostly depends on the spectrum you can use for it. The United States and the European Union have already freed up vast amounts of bandwidth in the underused high-band spectrum for 5G. It is expected that the new technology will be able to provide a wireless connection at the speed of up to 2 Gbit/s.
Be that as it may, telecommunication companies have a lot of upgrading to do as there isn’t much coverage yet. The early 5G rollouts are rather a public beta test than a final product. Even in its early stages, however, the technology is exciting and very promising. The high bandwidth, low latency, and low-power-low-cost aspects of 5G open the way for numerous up-and-coming startups and game-changing technologies which may appear as soon as in a couple of years, bringing connectivity to a whole new level—telemedicine, driverless vehicles, game streaming services, augmented and virtual reality solutions, smart cities and homes, high-resolution wireless surveillance cameras, automated robots, and practically anything that requires quality, lightning-fast internet connection.
Improvements in natural language processing
AI assistants, such as the renowned Alexa from Amazon and Apple’s Siri, have made our everyday lives a little bit easier over the last couple of years. However, even though they are capable of recognizing and executing simple commands like setting alarms and playing music in our living room, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t bring even more simplicity to our daily routines. To improve the capabilities of these easily confused AI-powered helpers and broaden the range of directives they can recognize, computer scientists around the world are working on improving natural language processing.
The new advancements in capturing semantic relationships between words are making AI assistants better at understanding humans. OpenAI developed a technique that enables artificial intelligence to learn using unlabeled data, saving scientists time, money, and effort they would otherwise spend on categorizing and tagging it manually. Google Assistant was upgraded with Google Duplex, a system that got disturbingly close to simulating human voice and behavior. The system can literally call and schedule salon appointments or make restaurant reservations for you, in addition to being able to protect you from spammers and telemarketers. Another breakthrough in this direction was Google BERT, which stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.” The system learned to predict missing words no worse than humans do by studying millions of sentences and search queries. According to Google, BERT enabled the company to “understand searches better than ever before.”
There is still a long way to go from AI assistants executing simple commands to humans being able to discuss their favorite topics with them. Nevertheless, better speech synthesis and improvements in natural language processing could truly lift some of that everyday weight off of our shoulders in mere 1-2 years.
Robots get even more dexterous
While the improvements to artificial intelligence software—speech patterns, as well as recognition of voices and emotions—bring more understanding between machines and humans, the latest developments in robotics and automation tools are on top of providing robots with robust, agile, and dexterous bodies. From assembly machines on automotive factories to medical or social robots, today these machines handle rather poorly in the physical world. Even the amazing precision of assembly-line robots is challenged when they are faced with the slightest deviations from their logic and routines.
The latest developments in robotics, however, enabled machines to finally get a grasp of how to manipulate objects and interact with environments on their own through virtual trial and error, a machine learning paradigm known as reinforcement learning. One of the most famous and successful projects in dexterity robotics is Boston Dynamics. Each time those guys release new footage of their machines—like the recent one, where Atlas shows some next-level robot gymnastics—seriously makes us wonder what kind of cinematic dystopian robot-controlled future we will end up in. Another project that shows a lot of promise is OpenAI’s Dactyl, a humanoid robot hand that literally taught itself to solve a Rubik’s cube, in addition to being able to flip a toy building block in its fingers with intricate and refined delicacy, and one-handedly, of course. In the course of 3-5 years, further developments in the field will potentially lead our virtual assistants to becoming pretty physical.
ECG-enabled wearables improve quality of life
The latest developments in the Internet of Things are making it significantly easier for people to take better care of their health. Today there are numerous smartwatches, fitness trackers, and various other wearable devices that enable people to continuously monitor their vitals and gather statistics. While these wearables may not provide the utmost precision of professional medical devices, they can definitely help you minimize potential health risks and give you the incentive to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Today the sensor technology that got to medical precision the closest is ECG-enabled wearables. These contemporary smartwatches and fitness trackers gather and analyze electrocardiogram sensor data in real-time to diagnose any abnormalities that could cause lethal outcomes. Over the passing year, these innovations, as well as new regulations on their use, have given a significant boost to preventative care, real-time alerting, and overall people engagement in taking care of their health.
One of the pioneers in the field of ECG-enabled wearables and software is AliveCor. The company was the first to receive FDA clearance for a medical-device accessory. Their wearable can detect atrial fibrillation, which is the most common cause of blood clots and stroke.
Metalenses enable new optical techniques
Metalens is one of the most amazing recent scientific and fabrication breakthroughs in the world of microdevices. Before this technology, lenses were made separately and then assembled into optical components. However, the recent advances in physics enabled the development of lighter, less complex alternatives that can be used to make the production of microchips and such devices as smartphone cameras a lot less complicated and way cheaper.
Metalenses will have a huge impact on the technological world in the coming years as they open the way to new designs and optical techniques that offer new capabilities and a wide range of uses. Chip manufacturing can really benefit from using metalenses to carve specific patterns onto the surface of a silicon slab, which decreases the risk of defects and makes production more efficient. VR, AR, and other cross-reality systems, which today feature unwieldy, exhausting headsets and other awkward devices, can use the metalens technology to produce significantly less hefty, high-performing hardware. Last but not least, the optical superiority of metalenses can play a life-saving role in the healthcare industry. The technology can drastically increase the precision of medical devices like microscopes, endoscopes, and other kinds of scopes used for high-resolution diagnostic imaging. The technology will enable doctors to find previously unnoticed details way easier.
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The aforementioned technologies are showing huge potential for business and society, redefining the fundamental ways we interact with machines, environments, and each other. In today’s fast-evolving digital environment, their disruptive potential cannot be underestimated. Altogether, emerging technologies have gone too far from being just “trendy” to providing innumerable competitive advantages and strategic opportunities to companies that embrace them first. Companies can no longer afford to take a reactive approach to things, instead, they should put technological innovation at the foundation of their corporate strategies. They have to pursuit continuous digital transformation—planning ahead of technology trends and predicting customer expectations—to have a chance in this highly competitive race. At some point, every company in the world will have to become a technology company if they wish to stay at the top of their game.
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