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Checking in on a Decade of Disruption
Revisiting 5 predictions of tech disruptions in the next decade.
December 14, 2022
7 Min Read
Image courtesy of Ruslan Ahmetov / Alamy Stock Photo
In October 2019, I wrote that the coming decade “will be amazingly disruptive in terms of technology.” If you haven’t read my article from 2019, you can find it here.
Three years later, I stand by that opening statement, and not just because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the tech-driven societal changes that have taken place seemingly due to the pandemic were already on the way and have only been accelerated, proven viable, or made more visible by the pandemic. Let’s take a look and see how my five predictions have fared.
1.) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The traditional fear about artificial intelligence has AI becoming sentient and deciding that humans are a blight on the world. My position back in 2019 was a little different than that trope. I said that AI would bring out the worst in us and that we would manipulate and abuse AI to everyone’s detriment. Understanding that this is a technology article and no in any way a political statement, I would have to say that the last few years have made me even more sure of my position on this.
While there are some folks using AI to improve our quality of life and to automate mundane activities, an increasing number are using it to sell us things we don’t need and get under our skin politically. Not all manipulation has nefarious intent, but it is increasingly used to overshoot other perspectives. We all like to think that our hearts are in the right place and that we know best, but we should understand by now that there are so many different definitions for concepts like “good” and “right.”
AI doesn’t inherently know right from wrong. It has to be taught and when the folks teaching right from wrong, good from bad, love from hate, can’t agree, what chance does AI have? In fact, humanity could probably spend the rest of our existence just debating the one question of, “Is it possible to have more than one definition of ‘good’?” AI needs to get out of the business of opinion.
2.) Autonomous and Connected Cars
Much of the initial excitement surrounding self-driving cars evaporated with a few high-profile collisions. However, I don’t see the pace nor the end result slowing or changing. Autonomous motor vehicles are inevitable. The biggest challenge to widespread adoption of self-driving cars isn’t in the technology or in regulations. It is in understanding and adapting to the neighborhood. Today, most laymen are expecting a completely in-car self-driving system. But in reality, it will require modifications to our roads and other infrastructure to make it all work.
In-car and on-car sensor suites just have way too many blindspots. Many navigation and safety decisions must be made before the scenario is even visible. Take the fabled trolly problem. As stated by Merriam Webster: “The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics about a fictional scenario in which an onlooker has the choice to save 5 people in danger of being hit by a trolley, by diverting the trolley to kill just 1 person.”
This ethical dilemma often shows up in the autonomous vehicle debate: What if the car anticipates a collision up ahead and its only viable action will save the family of five in a stalled car, but will result in the death of the driver? You can easily solve this problem if you have sensors that detect the stalled car far enough ahead. Then your vehicle can slow enough to stop before hitting anyone or can change to a different route. The trolly problem is only a challenge if you can’t see what's ahead, but with an integrated sensory system that includes other vehicles and the local streets, sidewalks, yards, lots, driveways, and intersections, the problem changes from a difficult ethical dilemma to a moot thought experiment.
With a fully connected road system, vehicles on the highway will know that a family of deer are strolling toward the road long before they leap in front of the family SUV. Your car will understand that kids are playing kickball around the corner before you turn and are presented with a child racing into the street after the ball.
We already add technology to our road system to accommodate human and natural behaviors. Putting money in to accommodate automated vehicle behaviors is just as reasonable and will be required to make all of this work. Before 2030 rolls around, there will be stretches of road that talk to smart cars as well as cars that communicate with each other. Once this becomes mainstream, the rest is easy.
Those of us deep in the electronics industry are about to get a big surprise. Since the mid-1970s, the silicon-based economy has been at the forefront of innovation. Everything has become “smart” and digitally managed. Today’s cars are computers with wheels and phones are compact computers with a phone app. There seems to be no end in sight.
However, even if there isn’t an end, there will be an eclipse. The biotech revolution has already started and COVID threw it into high gear. Biotech is now taking so many of the brightest and most ambitious minds as well as venture capital money. Soon it will be capturing the minds of the public and the electronics industry will start to feel like the timber and steel industries did in the 1980s.
Don’t get me wrong. Electronics-based tech isn’t going anywhere. It just won’t be the leading edge anymore. Like metallurgy, mills, and agriculture, silicon will be with us for a long time to come. We have advancements in crypto-tech, quantum computing, and virtual and augmented reality to look forward to, but the excitement, money, and revolution-paced innovation will be largely in an unstoppable march of biotechnology. The ethical dilemmas that come with biotech will make those of AI pale in comparison.
4.) The IoT (Internet of things)
I’ve seen significant improvements in IoT installation and interoperability in just the last three years that have passed since my prior article. Security notwithstanding, setting up IoT devices is a lot easier than it was in 2019. There is still a lot of room for improvement though. The smart phone as your identity and QR codes as the device's identity are big steps in the right direction, but the IoT won’t reach its full promise until all of the configuration happens with much less intervention.
The big change here is that people will stop talking about the IoT and smart devices. There will just be things and devices. Everything will have a brain and be connected. The novelty will be gone and with it the labels. And, yes, your refrigerator is going to be connected. Get over it.
I’ve gotten a bit more cynical on this one. My assumption back in 2019 was that we would all get more comfortable with biometric security by the end of the decade, and in doing so render social engineering moot. I still believe that assumption, but I’m not convinced biometrics will be secure enough.
In the final episode of the 2014 - 2019 Mike Judge TV series, “Silicon Valley” (spoiler alert!), just before launch, the protagonists determine that their AI-boosted self-learning new Internet will keep getting better at breaking codes until encryption essentially no longer exists as a viable technology. While the way they got there may seem improbable, the possibility exists that new compute technologies, such as quantum computing or bioarithmetic processing, will render all known encryption systems impotent.
It is necessary to get humans socially out of the loop with the use of automated biometrics. But that may not be enough. Bioengineering may give nefarious actors the ability to spoof complex DNA-based signatures, and AI software may still be able to work its way between the biometric scanners and the protected code base. Bad AI actors will likely remain either ahead of the defenders or never more than a step or two behind.
We still have more than half of the decade of the '20s to go. It’s been a wild ride so far, and it isn’t going to calm down much. Still, the technological upheaval of this decade may seem quaint when looking back from the year 2040. Change is messy, but none of us would be in this industry if we were satisfied with the status quo.
About the Author(s)
Duane Benson is a technology journalist and consultant. He has 30+ years in the electronics design and manufacturing industry as a developer, executive, speaker and writer. Duane has a recognized track record of making complex subjects easy to understand and of evaluating information from more than just the obvious perspective.
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